A Sermon from Isaiah 6:1-8
Here’s Isaiah, standing in the presence of Almighty God and these Seraphs with six wings a piece and the very foundations of the ground are shaking and the house is filled with smoke. God’s glory is so incredible that even the Seraphs are covering their eyes. One of the Seraph’s has declared, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.” Not just one holy, but three! And Isaiah says, “Yes, the Lord is amazing.” No… Isaiah says, “Woe is me.” “Woe is me, I have unclean lips and I live with a people of unclean lips. Yet I have seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces.” Isaiah knows that he is experiencing something superbly majestic, but it is too much to handle in the presence of his own guilt. I hate to put words in Isaiah’s mouth, but you can almost feel him saying, “Why am I even here?”
It makes me think of some of my friends. I’ll say, “Hey, you want to come to church?” And their response is, “The place might burn down if I walk into church.” You’ve heard that response, and if you haven’t, you’re not inviting enough people to church. The great fear that pervades is that of unworthiness. I’m not good enough to go to church. Now, you’re all here at church, so you’ve gotten over that first part. You’re here and, despite your unworthiness, the building has not, in fact, burned to the ground. But where is that limit for you?
Tomorrow night, Bishop Paul Leeland will ask me, “Do you believe that God has called you to the life and work of an elder?” and I will respond by saying, “I do so believe.” But I haven’t always so believed.
I grew up in Fresno, California and Mom would take my sister and me every Sunday to Life Cathedral Church of God. Dad didn’t go with us. Growing up, I thought it was because he didn’t really care for Jesus. Later, I found out that it was more because the charismatic, Pentecostal style worship was just not for him. When our family moved to Oak Ridge, TN in 1998, my parents decided that we would start going to church as a family. A lovely idea, right? But my mom had grown up in the Pentecostal Holiness Church; that’s where she felt comfortable. My dad had grown up in the Presbyterian Church; that’s where he felt comfortable. Now, I don’t know if you’ve been to a Pentecostal Holiness Church and a Presbyterian Church, but here’s a bit of news—they’re different. Choosing a church each Sunday morning became a battleground. Before long, I became a 15 year old refusing to go to church with her parents. I was done with the whole church thing.
As I dug a little deeper, I realized that everything I believed, I believed because someone had told me to. I knew what the scriptures said, I knew the Bible inside and out. But the emotions I felt surrounding the Triune God seemed contrived. Not really an act, but an elaborate self-deception. And people had such terrible explanations of their faith. I couldn’t take, “you just have to believe,” anymore. Why? Why do I have to believe? For fear of hell? That wasn’t a good enough reason for me.
As I went off to Huntingdon College, I was focused on getting the most I could out of my college experience. I was going to grow in knowledge, play a lot of softball, and have a good time. And I did. And it was good. But this God stuff was out of the question. I was done with it. I had grown out of it. This sat just fine with me, but it didn’t sit very well with some of my friends. Finally, in October of my sophomore year, I agreed to go to church with a friend; if, for no other reason, than to prove to her that it wouldn’t do or mean anything to me.
I don’t know what it was that morning. No one had said anything in particular to me, no one had done anything significant; heck, the worship service hadn’t even started. But I heard this voice, not audibly, but so real that it could have been. A voice saying, “That’s enough. Just. Enough. It’s time to come back.”
I am a child of unclean lips and I am of a people with unclean lips, but God was calling me, even me.
And maybe you’re sitting there thinking, “Gee, that’s a great story. I have never had that sort of experience. I’ve never felt that. God isn’t calling me like that.” Well, you might be partially right. God might not be calling you in the same way. God might be using other ways and other means to call you, but I *promise *you this: God. Is. Calling. You. And if you’re thinking you’re not worthy, you’re absolutely right. Neither am I. God doesn’t care. God is calling you anyway. I mean, have you seen some of the people God calls?
God called Noah to build the ark. This is the same guy that got off the ark, planted some vineyards and got black out drunk. God called him anyway. God called David. This is the same guy that saw a lady he thought was pretty on a rooftop and decided he had to have her, even though she was married with a husband. And then he had her husband killed. God called him anyway. God called Deborah. Let’s be clear—in her time, in her situation, women had no power. She didn’t have the right to make those decisions, to lead. But God called her anyway. God called Peter, the smart allec of the disciples. He denied Jesus three times at his death. But God has used Peter as the foundation of the church. God called him anyway. God called Saul and made him Paul. This is a guy who was going around killing Christians. He wasn’t just anti-Christian, he was trying to eliminate them. God called him anyway.
Stop thinking you aren’t qualified, you aren’t good enough, you aren’t skilled enough. Just stop. You’re a child of God. I can’t tell you who said this first, and, by the way, neither can Mr. Google. But it seems to ring true.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Right now, in this place, it may feel like the ground is shaking and the room is filled with smoke. The idea of standing before God in God’s great majesty may be too much to bear. Heck, you may not even be able to imagine it because you’ve just never felt anything like that. In all of God’s majesty and power, God is calling you. Yes, even you.
I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that following God’s call is easy. Our boy Isaiah had a burning coal placed on his lips to signify the removal of his guilt. But I will tell you this—if you follow the call God has placed on your life, it will be the best decision you have ever made. Because God’s got big things planned for you. Even you.
The voice of the Almighty is saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?” Your line is, “I’m here; send me.”
-- Rev. Samantha Lewis