Here I Am, Send Me
It never ceases to amaze me how an ordinary day can turn into an extraordinary one in just a matter of seconds. Isaiah was at the Temple in Jerusalem, minding his own business. It was a time of uncertainty, as King Uzziah who had reigned over Judah for 52 years, had died. Isaiah might have been in the Temple to pray for his people in that unsettling time; he may have been there as part of worship; perhaps he was even working at his vocation. In any case, as he was going through his day, all of the sudden, BAM, he was aware that he was in the presence of the Living Holy God.
God often has a way of interrupting us in the middle of our ordinary, daily experiences and in essence saying to us, “Hah! I made you look!”
The Temple in Jerusalem was a large structure, made with the best building materials and decked out in its finery. Yet, for all its size and grandeur, Isaiah became aware that just the hem of God’s robe filled the whole place. Smoke filled the place and fiery seraphs attended God who was enthroned. Isaiah heard the heavenly song of praise to God: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” He also overheard the divine conversation God was having.
Isaiah had two responses to his sudden encounter with the holy God. First, he realized his state before God. He cried out, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” In the awesome holy presence of God, Isaiah recognized just how unholy he was. He was doomed to die, expecting to be struck down for his sinfulness before God.
In the presence of the Holy God, like Isaiah, we are faced with our own human sinfulness and our human limitation as we are overwhelmed by God’s otherness, purity and goodness. We find ourselves in awe and wonder, yet overshadowed and even afraid before God.
But God did not abandon Isaiah in that state. In an act of mercy, God chose to cleanse and purify him with a hot coal. Isaiah experienced God’s grace for himself in that moment, and he was now holy.
In the same way, God has not abandoned us in our state of sin, struggle and stress. God came down in Jesus Christ to live among us, to take on our suffering, to restore us through the Cross, and to give us new life and hope through the Resurrection. We have received God’s mercy, grace and love, which free us to live for God.
Now that God had Isaiah’s attention, Isaiah was ready to listen for the voice of God. He listened in on God’s Divine conversation and heard, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Without giving it another thought, without raising his hand to request additional information, without demanding to know the details of who, what, why, where, when and how, apparently without hesitation, Isaiah answered God’s call, saying, “Here I am, send me.”
It doesn’t usually go this way when a person hears God’s call. Most often, when God calls someone, they respond with at least one question or objection. For example, when Mary was called to bear God’s Son Jesus, she asked, “How can this be because I’m a virgin?” When Jesus called Simon Peter to follow him, the gospel writer Luke tells us that Peter claimed he was too sinful and told Jesus to get lost. (Can you imagine?) When Moses met God in the burning bush, he offered not one, but five objections to why he was not the right person to serve God!
But Isaiah essentially raised his hand and said, “Pick me!” In response to God’s grace and mercy in his life, he was ready to serve God in any way he could, without reservation, without condition, without bargaining, without knowing the details.
That’s a good model for us as disciples who have received and experienced grace – when God calls, to respond simply, “Here I am.”
It was only after he answered God’s call to serve, that Isaiah discovered the details. He was being called to take warnings to God’s people that, if they continued on the path they were on, bad things were going to happen. If it weren’t enough that he was to be the bearer of bad news, God told Isaiah that the people would not listen to his message. Isaiah’s response in verse 11 is a lament, a complaint: “How long, O Lord?”
Despite being called to hard work and wondering how long he’d have to do it, Isaiah answered God’s call and faithfully ministered among his people for the rest of his life. In those “how long, Lord” moments, when things weren’t going the way he’d hoped, he held on to his experience with the holy God and his call to help him persist.
Sociologist, author and preacher Tony Campolo, in a video presentation called “Being Upbeat in a Downbeat World,” tells the story of a pastor who was trying to motivate a man in his church to become involved in ministry. Finally, the man felt the only thing he could do was to take the youth group to a local retirement community so they could lead a monthly worship service for the residents. As the youth led the service, this man stood at the back of the room. Suddenly, an elderly man in a wheelchair rolled up beside him and took his hand. He held it all throughout the worship service. This continued month after month, until one Sunday afternoon, the elderly man didn’t show up at the service. The man went to the nurses’ station and asked, “What happened to that man?
“Oh,” she said, “he’s near death. He’s just down the hall. Maybe you should go in and visit him. He’s unconscious though.”
So the man walked down to the room and entered. There were tubes all over; the man felt uncomfortable. Yet he took the elderly man’s hand and held it. Almost instinctively, led by God’s Spirit, he prayed for him. And when he said, “Amen,” the elderly man gently squeezed his hand.
Shaken by that little squeeze, the man tried to quickly leave the room, but he bumped into a woman coming in. She said, “He’s been waiting for you. He said he didn’t want to die until Jesus came and held his hand. I tried to tell him he would see Jesus after death, but he said, ‘No. Once a month, Jesus comes and holds my hand, and I don’t want to leave this world without holding his hand once more.’”
Like Isaiah, that man said, “Here I am, send me.” And he didn’t go alone.
Today’s scripture is the theme passage for this year’s work at Appalachia Service Project, and in a few moments, we will commissioning members of the team of 35 people from various places, including St. Andrew’s, who are going to Lawrence County, Kentucky, on the border of West Virginia, to serve. We leave on June 9 and return on the 16th. The key verse is “Here I am, send me.”
Some of you here today have gone on mission trips before; others have sought to help others locally in answer to God’s call. When we answer the call, we go to serve the Holy God, who is far bigger, more majestic, more loving and more merciful than we can imagine. We go to serve the Gracious God who loves us and forgives us, even though we might feel unworthy or unable.
But that doesn’t mean that our efforts to serve God will bring us glory or praise or fame – maybe not even a “Thank you.” Yet we are still called and sent to serve faithfully, meeting people where they are and as they are, without judgment.
Many on our team have gone to ASP before. This year will be different in that we’re used to going toward the end of the season and to be there when projects are completed and families have already gotten used to strangers coming to help them. This year we are going during the very first week of the season. It is unlikely that we’ll see a porch or room addition or ramp completed. Instead, we might spend all our time doing clean up and removal or organizing equipment and materials for future teams. We will be the ones who have to break the ice and start building relationships with the families we’re sent to serve; we might experience more hesitation and fear. We might leave at the end of our time and wonder if we really accomplished anything.
Yet we are still called and sent by God to be faithful and obedient and to offer the love of Jesus Christ to those we serve and to our team.
As disciples of Jesus Christ, whether part of our ASP team or not, we are reminded to keep our eyes and minds open for God’s interruptions in our daily routines; to keep our ears and hearts open to receive God’s grace and to hear the call, “Whom shall I send?”; and with our mouths and whole beings to respond, “Here I am, send me.”