What Moves Us
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.
Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.
And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
And I said: "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!"
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out."
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!”
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
It’s not everyday that someone sees God.
In scripture, God is usually present, but tends to communicate through messengers, a burning bush, or whirlwind. Something a little more indirect.
So despite the fact that Isaiah casually drops in that he sees God, it is noteworthy.
I just wish he shared what God looks like with the rest of us.
The lack of description is not because Isaiah is a taciturn sort of fellow. He describes the temple God is sitting in, that there is an altar and a throne. He tells us of the seraphs, God’s celestial beings, and gets so specific that he details what each of their wings are used for.
He writes that there are doorframes capable of shaking, and of smoke that fills the room.
In vivid imagery, Isaiah paints a picture of what he is seeing, but when he gets to God, just above the hem of God’s robe…?
He leaves that section of the canvas blank.
Perhaps, Isaiah is feeling a little bit of imposter syndrome.
His eyes have seen God, but he’s not quite sure his mouth is up to the challenge. Who is he to speak of God?
I get it.
I spend a lot of time talking about God, and still all my words come up short. Most days, describing God feels like an exercise in failure.
It’s not that we shouldn’t try: People have filled books upon books, written volumes of poetry and songs, painted ceilings of chapels and doodled in the margins of their Bibles about who God is and what God looks like. But even the best art, the most eloquent theology, cannot fully capture all of who God is.
How can Isaiah’s unclean lips even attempt to speak of an experience so holy?
So maybe it’s imposter syndrome, and Isaiah recognizes the distance between what his eyes can see and what his mouth can say, but perhaps there is something else going on here too.
What if Isaiah doesn’t want to share his vision of God with the rest of us?
I don’t mean that Isaiah is selfish or stingy, but that there might be reason he gives us 90% of the vision and then leaves out some key details.
Isaiah is gifted enough with words that he could have finished the painting of God. Even if it couldn’t fully capture the glory of God, I think he could have given us an outline of what he saw above the hem of God.
But perhaps by leaving it blank, he allows us to fill the space in with our moments where we may have seen God.
He lets us consider what we might see if we were in his shoes, knowing that God may look different to each of us.
Think, for a moment, of an experience in which you saw God. Maybe not in a throne room or at an altar, but at a summer camp, or in your kitchen, or in a hospital room, or maybe in this building.
Think of moment where it felt like you were in God’s presence.
Now think of how you would describe it to others.
If you’re anything like me, the description would pale in comparison to the memory. You could try to explain why sitting at that kitchen table, sipping a cup of coffee and the sun shining into the window just so was so profound, but it just ends up sounding like a story about a really good cup of coffee.
You could try to tell the story of the time you were having a bad day, maybe the worst day you’ve ever had, and someone offered you empathy and compassion, and even now, to speak of their kindness brings tears to your eyes, and the words fail.
Upon reflection, I’m not sure Isaiah skips over what God looks like because he’s not up to the challenge of describing what he has seen, but because he is moved beyond words by it, just as we can be moved beyond words by our own experiences of God.
These experiences of God, whether we choose to share them widely or keep them to ourselves, are what move us.
Move us toward God. Toward one another. Toward new life. Toward service.
It is what moves Isaiah to speak up and become a prophet.
Something about this experience moves Isaiah to answer the call.
Or, more accurately, volunteer for it.
Because unlike some of the other people who are called by name by God in scripture, Isaiah volunteers for this role.
In other stories, God calls out for Abraham and Moses before telling them what they are called to do, but here, it is as if God is on a nominations committee. I need a new prophet God says, do you know of anyone? Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
And Isaiah, in that beautiful room full of glory and majesty that would make the most confident of us feel inadequate, raises his hand and jumps at the chance.
Here I am, send me!
Because what may be indescribable is still transformative, and so Isaiah answers a call he didn’t have to answer.
Here I am, send me.
Sometimes the call to serve comes not because we know we are perfectly suited for the job, but because after experiencing the holiness of God in our lives, we are moved to say: Here I am, send me.
Though we meet Isaiah today at the beginning of his call into service, we are gathered here, in part, to honor the end of others’ service.
Steve and Karen have faithfully served this church, and many churches before, in ways that they were specifically called to, and ways for which they volunteered.
They have said: Here I am, send me.
They have shared their gifts of music and stewardship of this building with us. They have done what is asked of them, and they have gone above and beyond in creatively and energetically serving the Church.
You’d have to ask them, but I imagine that at different points over their tenure, they may have felt unsure they were up to task before them, or maybe they wished that someone else could just take care of it. Perhaps no more so than during this year when pre-recorded all the music for worship and overhauled the building’s internet system.
But more importantly, Steve and Karen have cared for the people of this church, a task that is not necessarily written into their job descriptions, and yet is integral to all that we do— as church staff, as volunteers on committees and groups, as children of God.
Like Isaiah, sometimes we answer calls that may not have our names written all over them. But something in us moves us to answer the call regardless, and to do the work set before us.
In the coming months, we are entering in a transition period, not just because of the departure of Steve and Karen, or because of the sabbatical of Nick and Kathy. Even without these staffing changes, this summer would still be one of transition as we begin to gather together more and more, as we reinvigorate our common life, as we feel hopeful that this fall will look very different than the last.
All of this means that there will be moments where we all have the opportunity to say: Here I am, send me!
Because the work of the church doesn’t just happen; it takes all of us, working together in ways we are specifically called to, and sometimes in ways we volunteer for.
Isaiah says: Here I am, send me! A hopeful affirmation of his and all of our callings.
But Isaiah’s story doesn’t end on this positive note. This is only the beginning. And in fact, the verses right after this tell us a very different story of what Isaiah has volunteered for.
Because the work of a prophet, the work of someone who speaks for God, which— on occasion— upsets others and makes them uncomfortable, is difficult work.
It’s not glamorous, nor does it come with a constant stream of praise. It can be difficult, and I imagine, it might have made Isaiah wonder— why did I sign up for this in the first place?
Why did I not let someone else do this job? Maybe they would have more luck at it, they would be better speakers for God, more eloquent than my own unclean mouth will ever be.
But then Isaiah remembers his vision, that moment that moved him in to this calling.
He remembers what the temple looks like with its altar with hot coals and throne and seraphs with wings and songs.
He remembers the smoke that fills the room,
and he remembers what God looks like.
He remembers how he felt when his eyes gazed upon God’s glory.
He remembers what he cannot put into words,
But what first moved him to service,
Even if he wasn’t sure he could do it,
I imagine he remembers all that,
what first compelled him to utter those words:
“Here I am, send me.”
And it moves him to repeat them over and over again.
Thanks be to God, amen.