May 30, 2021
The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy
Our passage this morning is a rich one—the record of Isaiah answering God’s call. To better understand the fullness of Isaiah’s response to God, let’s take a moment to look at the context and some details of this passage.
Who is King Uzziah? Why would he be important in Isaiah’s call? Uzziah had been king in Judah for over 40 years (some say he was king for up to 52 years). He was one of the “good” kings, though he wasn’t perfect. He had repaired the defenses of Jerusalem, reorganized the army and secured many trade routes running through Judah. This was all good for Judah. But, he allowed pride to get in the way as he tried to usurp the role of the priests, leading him to be plagued with leprosy for his last years of life.
With the death of a “good” king, Judah faced uncertainty. What would the new king be like? Would he be good or harsh? Would he be a democratic leader or be a tyrant? Would Judah’s neighbors to the north and east see this as an opportunity to wage a take-over? He would be missed by the people of Judah, but he would also be missed as an individual as well, especially by Isaiah. He was a friend of Isaiah’s and some evidence points to them actually being cousins.
So it is with heaviness of heart that Isaiah enters the temple and it is written that, in the year that King Uzziah died, he saw the Lord. He was worried about his homeland and feeling great personal loss at the same time. There in the midst of sorrow and emptiness of heart, God made his presence known. God drew Isaiah in.
Picture this: Isaiah standing in the temple filled with grief. He sees the Lord sitting on a throne. God is being lifted up as the seraphs sing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord”. Let’s stop here for a moment. What are seraphs? One just doesn’t hear about a seraph every day. In fact, they are only mentioned once in the Bible, and it happens to be in this passage. Seraphs are celestial beings, with six wings, who are in the presence of the enthroned Lord. So it is with these celestial beings that God would reach out to Isaiah to pull him out of the valley of loss and darkness and draw him into a “mountaintop” divine moment that would lead to the next chapter of his life. As the seraphs praise God, the temple building where Isaiah stands, shakes and smoke rises.
Having heard the seraphs say “Holy, holy, holy” one would think that Isaiah would be drawn into the praise of the God he knew and would lose himself in God’s holy presence. But that did not occur. The first words out of his mouth were, “Woe is me!” He responds to the glorious presence of God with despair. He is very much aware of his smallness and his brokenness. He feels unclean and unworthy to be in God’s holy presence. He could have easily chosen to run away and dash out of the temple, removing himself from the glorious moment that he didn’t think he deserved. Not really knowing why, Isaiah stayed.
Immediately, a seraph responds to Isaiah’s confession by flying to him with a live coal. The seraph touches his lips with it, but they are not burned. What is burned is his guilt, and his sin is seared away.
Isaiah experiences a huge transformation before our very eyes. We just heard how Isaiah said, “Woe is me!” when experiencing God’s glory. And now after the seraph blots out Isaiah’s sin, he responds to the Lord’s question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” with an enthusiastic, “Here am I; send me!” The task before him would not be easy, but he would stay true to his mission and remain willing to be called by God to go out and deliver God’s word.
Alfred Mendes enlisted in the British Army in January 1916, at the tender age of 19. He was soon sent off to France to train to be a signaller. Signallers were responsible for signaling communications from the front lines back to the command position and vice-versa. Often, it involved laying landlines down in dangerous enemy territory.
On October 12, 1917, having been drawn into the war to do his part, Alfred faced his most daunting test yet. Hundreds of British soldiers had been charged with reclaiming the village of Poelcappelle in Belgium from the Germans. It was an important location from a strategic standpoint, and Allied forces resolved to have it back under their command. The British troops attacked on a day that poured down rain, suffering heavy losses. One hundred fifty-eight men in Alfred’s battalion of 484 were killed, wounded, or went MIA. No one could locate the missing men as they were scattered across miles of sucking, waterlogged foxholes and craters in the mud. Stuck in the middle of No Man’s Land, they were unable to communicate their positions back to their allies in the safe zone without being killed.
When Alfred Mendes’ commanding officer asked for a volunteer to do the almost certainly fatal job of running out to locate the positions of the surviving men and then report back to the troops – Alfred volunteered for the job. (Here am I, send me.)
Miraculously, he survived and . . . located a number of survivors, enabling them to be rescued. It was an act that later won Alfred the Military Medal for bravery. His actions became the inspiration for the film 1917. In an interview, writer and director Sam Mendes explains the source for the film: “I had a story that was a fragment told to me by my grandfather, who fought in the First World War. It’s the story of a messenger who has a message to carry.”
Being drawn in to go out doesn’t just happen to big-time prophets or to soldiers in critical battle moments, but the opportunity comes to you and me, as well. It comes to the adult who has been drawn into God’s message of salvation in a powerful way and goes out to share the good news of the gospel. It comes to the teenager who has been drawn into appreciating the gift of life from God who goes out to her peers encouraging them to embrace all life has to offer, especially to a close friend that has started ’cutting’ and needs to hear that God is in it with her through all of life, including her pains. It comes to the child who is drawn into the love of Jesus and goes out to say to Mommy, “Why are you crying? Jesus loves you.”
We must be on alert, however, as we find ourselves drawn in to do all we can to ensure that it is God that is doing the drawing in—not our ego or pride, our desire for power or prestige, or other people’s agendas for our lives.
Not many of us will have dramatic calls from God such as seraphs flying in our midst or lightning bolts thundering before our eyes or burning bushes at our side, but we all can have ears open to hear God’s call in the everyday that can then draw us into a place of faith and offer us an opportunity to go out on God’s mission.
In the early days of his Christian life, Os Guinness believed that he had to prove his commitment to Christ by becoming a minister or missionary. So, urged on by his spiritual mentors, he worked for a well-known church, but he was miserable. God changed his heart and refined his calling through a random encounter at a gas station. Here’s how Guinness described it:
[In the days before self-service gas stations], I had just had my car filled up with gas and enjoyed a marvelously rich conversation with the pump attendant. As I turned on the key and the engine to [my car] roared to life, a thought suddenly hit me with the force of an avalanche: This man was the first person I had spoken to in a week who was not a church member. I was in danger of being drawn in a religious ghetto … . Ten minutes of conversation with a friendly gas pump attendant on a beautiful spring evening in [England], and I knew once and for all I was not cut out to [work full-time in a church].
Instead, as Guinness continued to pray and seek God’s guidance, he discovered that God was calling him to work in the world so he could use his gifts and build relationships with people who didn’t know Christ. After God released Guinness from what he was not supposed to do, Guinness found the freedom to pursue God’s true calling for his life.
I encourage you to invite God into your life, that you might be drawn in to hear your call, and respond —“Here I am, send me.”
Let us prayerfully sing together.