The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


  

    




Sermon - May 27, 2018
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 6:1-13  
Sermon Title: “Here I am Lord”



The Rev. Robert Vodra

    

     It was a beautiful Saturday morning, probably in the spring.  Young Isaiah really would like to have been anywhere but in temple that day.  Lets face it, sometimes temple, or church, are not the most exciting places to be on your holy day.  But the Jewish, especially at that time, were serious about Sabbath.  God worked hard to create all of this wonderful stuff around us, so it is only right that we take one seventh of our days, not only to not work, but also to pray and reflect and worship that God. 


     Isaiah was probably doing a bit of day dreaming.  I imagine that boys those days were not too different than boys today, at least in many ways.  Leave a group of boys together and soon they will create a game with whatever is available to them, even just a stick or a rock.  Isaiah was probably thinking how much more fun he would have outside, with a couple of his friends, thinking of that new rule on the game they played yesterday, rather than listening to this priest drag on reading old stories that didn’t have much to do with today.  Sure, some guy named Moses brought us out of Egypt a long time ago, heard it, know the story.  Then the canter sings, and we sing our replies.  They don’t mention a coffee hour in the Bible, but they would probably at least gather around after the services, share some food or talk with your neighbors. 


     But for young Isaiah, the priest’s voice just dragged on and on.  And then he has a vision, maybe a day dream, maybe he saw it.  And it sounds pretty frightening.  God seated on a throne, cannot see his face.  Seraphs were flying around.  We don’t know much about them, they have something to do with fire and love, but are also described as the winged head of a child.  And these had 6 wings each, two to cover their eyes, the sight of God is too powerful to look at, two covering the feet, not holy, not something that God wants to see, and the last two for flying. 


     And something happens to Isaiah, maybe it has happened to you in church at some point.  Something is said, maybe in a sermon or in another part of the service, or maybe in a pastoral prayer, maybe in a hymn, and feels like a punch in the gut.  Takes the air out of your lungs.  Sometimes you can not really identify what was said or sung, but it catches you on that day.  Often it is not a warm, fuzzy, happy feeling, but it can be frightening.  And it causes you to ask, “Was that for me?”  And to be clear, I don’t do this on purpose.  I like it when people come up after church and say “That was a really good sermon.”  I don’t like it when people come up and say “I didn’t like that.” 


     Isaiah had a “I didn’t like that” experience.  Not something that the priest said, but this vision caused young Isiah to say “Woe is me!  I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet I have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”  You may hear something that causes you to see a glimpse of God or hear the voice of God.  Suddenly you realize that maybe the path you are headed down is not the one God wants you to go on.  Maybe you see something that you did wrong in the past, or should have done something differently.  Woe is me.


     Many people stop there.  Yes, I should not be on this path, or I did do something wrong.  But our God is one who forgives us, when we admit our sin.  I have defined sin as anything that separates us from the love of God.  So if you cheat or lie, but are not sorry about it, don’t want to change your way, there is no forgiveness.  But when you realize what you are doing is wrong, and want to change, God will forgive you and give you another chance.  Isaiah’s vision was that one of these Seraphs takes a coal from the altar of God and touches his lips.  Your guilt has departed you, your sin is blotted out. 


     The next line is one of the most interesting in the Bible, yet skipped over by many.  [This is Trinity Sunday, a week in which I am supposed to explain how God is three in one.  Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.  Creator, redeemer, and sustainer.  Three separate things, yet only one.  I have heard some bad sermons and really bad children’s sermons on this.  I will be honest, this is a mystery of our faith.  St. Patrick’s clover leaf, kind of works.  One leaf, three parts, but you can pick off one of those parts and it is still mostly a clover leaf.  I have thought about some kind of metal alloy, several individual elements that combine to form something new, but if you combine them you lose the qualities of each individual one, and separated, they are very different.]


     But did you catch what Isaiah heard the Lord say, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  Isaiah reports the singular “I” and the plural “us.”  I don’t believe this was a mistake in translation, but rather confirming that God is both singular and plural, a mystery of our faith. 


     Isaiah replies to God’s invitation, “Here I am, send me!”  It is a three-step process.  Isaiah has an experience of seeing a vision of God.  He realizes how small he is, and how great his sin is.  God forgives his sin and invites Isaiah, and Isaiah accepts the invitation.  This is where the lectionary ends for this week.  In many churches this week, they end with Isaiah saying “Here I am, send me.”  And honestly that is a good part, and a fine place to stop.  When we experience that punch in the gut in church, we should ask for forgiveness, and then do something about it.  Often it is an invitation from God to do something new and different, change your path, make amends. 


     As easy as it would be to end there, I chose to continue the reading, because when we leave it with Isaiah saying “Here I am, send me,” we assume that God rewards Isaiah.  And everyone listened to what Isaiah had to say… the end.  Not even close. 


     God tells Isaiah that he will speak, and nobody will listen, nobody will hear, nobody will see, nobody will comprehend.  For how long?  Till cities lie in waste, until most people are sent away.  If even a tenth of the people remain, the city will be burned again. 


     I have said before that Christianity is counter cultural.  When the world says that war is the answer, we can say no.  Even on this Memorial Day, when we are honoring those killed in war, we can still say that war is not the answer.  I have never met a veteran who liked war.  It was a necessary thing they were asked or told to do, and they did.  Peace is harder.  Nobody wins at peace, but that is what we are called to work toward.  If peace is the lack of war, we are called to work toward the absence of something, not toward something.


     Whenever anyone claims that Christian values are the values of the world, we have to question that.  Our message of love for neighbor, and caring for others, even the poor, and the refugee, seem to be at odds with what many claim the United States stands for today.  And with our Christian values at odds with the world’s values, many have turned off.  There is no way to hold Christian values and support a plan to cut medical care and food for those who need it.  And our voice becomes smaller and smaller.  In many ways we ignore at least parts of Jesus message because it is too hard; it is easier to follow what everyone else is doing.  We don’t listen as we should to the prophets of yesterday and today. 


     Bad news Isaiah, nobody is going to listen, people are going to leave the churches and the synagogues and the temples.  And even if only a tenth are still around to hear your message, that is too many.  Eventually nobody will be left to hear you.  “But hidden away there is a small holy seed.” 


     Have any of you seen the movie “The Lorax” or read the book recently, not the one that came out a few years ago, but the first.  It has been out for years now, published just after I was born.  It is the story of the Once-ler—who chances upon a place filled with wondrous Truffula Trees, Swomee-Swans, Brown Bar-ba- loots, and Humming-Fishes.   He chops down the Truffula trees to make Thneeds. "It's a shirt. It's a sock. It's a glove. It's a hat."  Eventually all the Truffula trees are gone, the animals have left, and we find that the Once-ler has saved one last Truffula tree seed, which it gives to a child who becomes the hope for our future. 


     And thousands of years ago, God tells us that when we think all is lost, nobody is listening to our message, nobody is seeing, nobody is understanding, and our Temples, synagogues and churches are empty, there is still a Holy seed that remains.


     And what can happen with a single seed?  If you are like me, you can pretty easily kill it.  Plant it, forget about it, it dies.  But with some care, some water, some sun, some nutrients, it can grow.  Eventually produce more seed, and spread, and that continues.  Those grow up to produce more seeds, and it spreads more.  Takes a long time, and requires care, but can happen. 


     And that is the good news that God shares with Isaiah - it will not be easy, but there is a Holy seed, there is hope for that seed to grow and flourish and produce good fruit. 


     So even if we get past the first part, hearing or seeing God, admitting we are full of sin, being forgiven and then accepting God’s call to go, none of which is easy, we should not expect success.  Any success may come long after we are all gone, but it is important work that we do today.


     So next time you get that punch in gut in church, your breath is taken away, accept that maybe it is God calling you, and respond like Isaiah did, even if we know the road will not be easy. “Here I am Lord, send me.”


Amen


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