(sermon note: 11-15 sermon note)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/9Y7EVq-8QHg)
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!’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about a young farmer who was standing in his field one day and observed a peculiar cloud formation. It appeared that the clouds formed the letters G, P, and C. He pondered over the letters for a while until he finally decided they were a call from God and the letters stood for, “Go, Preach, Christ!” The farmer rushed to the deacons of his church and insisted that he had been called to preach. Respectful of his ardor, they invited him to step into the pulpit which he did the following Sunday. As it turned out, the farmer’s sermon was long, tedious, and virtually incoherent. When it finally ended, the leaders sat in stunned silence. Finally, a wizened old deacon muttered to the would-be preacher, “Seems to me the clouds were saying, ‘Go, Plant, Corn.'”
Believe it or not, not all of us are meant to be preachers. It’s just not God’s calling for most of us. Even the ones who think it’s their calling can put a lot of time and energy into it only to find out that it wasn’t God’s calling for their lives after all. They somehow mishear God’s calling and are forced to listen even harder for clarity on God’s calling…”What did you mean, God, because my words are falling on deaf ears.” God’s calling can mean so many things for so many people. We all have our own unique story, our own unique experience in this world, that God can’t expect each of us to have the same callings. No, God tailors his callings for each of us. God expects different things from each of us and our lives. No two lives are exactly identical so no two callings can be exactly identical either. We all have unique callings and expectations from God. And we each have the responsibility to figure out exactly what that calling it is.
But before we get all fired up for figuring out our callings, keep in mind that most callings are simply revealed instead of deciphered. God, in his boundless grace and mercy, reveals most of our callings to us. That farmer wasn’t trying to figure out his calling–it was revealed to him through the clouds. Isaiah wasn’t trying to figure out his calling–it was revealed to him at the heavenly throne in response to his confessing of his unholy words and the unholy words of those around him. “Got a problem with words? Here, let me take this hot coal and burn your lips as a reminder to keep your words holy and help those around you keep their words holy.” His mission and calling was revealed to him, not deciphered.
I look back on my own calling into ministry and can see how it was also revealed to me instead of deciphered. I certainly wasn’t looking to become a minister! Sure, I grew up in the church, was active in Sunday school and youth group, went on several mission trips, even went to a Lutheran college, but at no point did I ever consider becoming a minister. It took a stint in the military and countless encounters with God to really motivate me to dedicate my life to listening to him. The dialogue him and I shared had gotten too loud to ignore. Finally, I was sitting in service one Sunday morning and the preacher seemed to be simply sharing his own dialogue with God. Not preaching, just revealing, and it had a profound impact on my life. I said, “heck, if he can share his dialogue and people are somehow edified by it, why can’t I?” Well, I took the risk, talked to the pastor after service about what it took to become a preacher, and the rest was history. Here I am, 15 years later, sharing my own dialogue with you all, hoping and praying that it’ll speak to you too. Callings are more often revealed, not deciphered…
And once they’re revealed it’s hard to ignore them. Better yet, it’s hard not to act on them. But that doesn’t mean we won’t try! By now in the biblical narrative, you’ve probably caught on to how God likes to use very non-assuming, rather average people to reveal his glory to the world. Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Jacob, Samuel, and David were all leaders with humble beginnings. And when God came to them and revealed their calling to lead his people, they all realized their own shortcomings and failures. “Why me, God? What makes me so special? Are you sure you’ve got the right guy?” Along comes someone who behaves quite differently: Isaiah. “Here am I. Send me!” He knew his shortcomings and failures. He confessed them in the verses leading up to that bold statement! And yet they didn’t cause him to hesitate in responding to God’s calling. I asked the Bible study group earlier this week what they thought might have allowed him to respond without hesitation. Was Isaiah braver than the rest? Was Isaiah’s faith stronger than the rest? It’s a question to consider but ultimately it’s enough to note that Isaiah responded quite differently than the rest.
Now, just because we all have unique callings and expectations in life, revealed to us by our good and gracious Father, doesn’t mean we can ignore the similar callings we all have as children of God. Not all of us are called to be preachers (nor should we!) but we are all called to love and serve God and each other. Like that mistaken farmer, we can all become confused about our calling in life. But we shouldn’t be confused about our calling as Christians. We all share the same calling and expectations as Christians. Can’t recall what that calling consists of? The wisdom of Proverbs says, “speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (31:8-9) Speak but speak well…something our friend Isaiah and those around him struggled with doing. We each have a voice and words to speak in this world. How do we use our voices and words? To build up or tear down? To help rather than harm? To defend rather than offend? As Christians, we are called to use our voices and words for building up, helping, defending. In Micah, we hear, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God?” (6:8) Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly…these are the acts which we are all called to do. It doesn’t matter what profession each of us is called into, we are ALL called as Christians to perform acts of justice and kindness and walking humbly with God.
Make no mistake about it, each of us is first and foremost a beloved child of God. As such, each of us has a calling and expectations that go with that calling. Don’t get confused by that calling! Get confused by what trade you want to learn, what company you want to work for, but don’t get confused by your calling as a child of God. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father or all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (4:1-6) Friends, we have a calling: to love and serve the one, true God and to love and serve each other. Fulfilling this calling takes wisdom, patience, humility, gentleness, kindness, and righteousness.
Isaiah responded to his calling without hesitation. Let us respond to our calling to be faithful Christians without hesitation. God loves us and wants us to love him and each other. Don’t be confused about that calling! Let us give thanks for such a calling. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.