June 2-3, 2012
This passage from Isaiah is remarkable on so many counts…
but I find the very first words especially extraordinary.
Hear them again: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord….”
I don’t know about you, but I think if I had a vision of the Lord like Isaiah did,
I wouldn’t wait until the 6th chapter to tell you about it!
Isaiah tellss it like it was an ordinary thing…
like the way you’d tell a friend about a story that happened during the year of the big snowstorm
or even the year of the queen’s jubilee.
But it wasn’t an ordinary event.
In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah saw the Lord!
If it were my story, I think those words would be in the very first chapter…the title even!
“My Vision of the Lord!” is what I’d call it – and I bet it’d be a best seller!
But no, Isaiah waits until the 6th chapter.
In the earlier chapters he shares a lot of what he heard from the Lord,
but not until chapter 6 does he say he saw the Lord.
Can you see it?
He sees seraphim, those angelic creatures which have not two wings, not four wings, but six wings each–
using two to fly but the other four to cover their faces and feet in worship to the Lord.
They are singing, “Holy, holy, holy…”
Over and over again.
One to another…
Holy, holy, holy….
Holy, holy, holy….
Holy, holy, holy…
They’re words we’ll say ourselves tonight before Holy Communion.
They are words which express awe before the Lord.
And some early church scholars say that the words of this threefold expression are addressed to the three persons of God – the trinity — God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We’re told that the song “holy, holy, holy,” of the seraphim is so powerful,
that a rumbling starts,
the frames of the doors actually shake with the sound,
and the house fills with smoke!
Have you ever heard singing like that?
I love to hear Wayne Hill and Dwight Michael sing here in our worship space,
but even with their two powerful voices together,
the door frames have never shaken,
and I don’t think we’ve ever had to pull the fire alarm because of smoke!
But when Isaiah hears singing of“Holy, holy, holy” – the house trembles and begins to smolder…
That’s powerful praise!
The word, “seraph” is derived from a word which means,
“those who kindle or make hot”
The seraphim burn Isaiah – it’s a burning that stirs him both literally and figuratively.
They take a pair of tongs, lift a hot coal from the altar,
and touch it to his mouth.
Isaiah’s lips start to burn…and his heart does too.
The presence of God overwhelms him and with a great big breath, he says “Here am I. Send me.”
If only it were so clear for us…
If only each of us had visions of heaven like Isaiah’s.
If only each of us saw those seraphim and felt the burning in our hearts.
If only each of us heard God’s voice telling us exactly where and what God wants us to do.
But very few people I’ve spoken to
have heard God’s call so clearly as Isaiah.
And sometimes I think it can make us wonder – why not?
Why doesn’t God tell me his plan for me now?
Surely you and I would say along with Isaiah, “Here am I. Send me.” — if we only knew what God wanted us to do!
When we lose a job, why doesn’t God just tell us where we should look for another?
When the economy tanks, why doesn’t God send a seraph over the airwaves instead of a politician to say what we should do about it?
When families are killed by violence in Syria, why doesn’t God tell us how to help stop it?
Why is God so silent, now?
He spoke to Isaiah.
He spoke to Abraham and Sarah.
He spoke to Noah and Jeremiah.
“Whatever happened to the talkative God of the Bible?”[i]
Well, the biblical prophet Amos knew this time would happen.
Amos says in chapter 8:
“The time is surely coming, says the Lord God,
when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,
but (a famine) of hearing the words of the Lord.
They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east;
they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord,
but they shall not find it.
In this land of abundance, we are in the midst of famine.
People are hungry to hear God’s word,
but they – we — are not finding it.
As the pastor and writer Barbara Brown Taylor has said,
“Very few people come to see me because they want to discuss something
God said to them last night.
The large majority come because they cannot get God to say anything at all.”[ii]
But, she continues, perhaps the voice of God is not a shout.
Perhaps the revelation of God comes to us as a whisper.
Perhaps in order to catch it, we must hush, lean forward, and trust that what we hear is the voice of God.[iii]
Her description comes closest to my own experience of God’s call.
Not a shout, but a whisper.
Not certainty, but trust.
As many of you know, I was a physician before I went to seminary to become a pastor.
People often ask me about this call to ministry – what happened and how I heard it.
For me it was a gradual unfolding over time.
In medical school, I had a sense of uneasiness within myself,
which I attributed to the fact that medicine was new to me, and I had not yet finished school.
I took a residency at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA.
The uneasiness continued and once again I decided that it was because I had not yet finished training..that once I was out in practice, I’d have the confidence I needed.
God was whispering to me.
But while I was in practice, the discomfort continued.
I couldn’t really put my finger on it, but I just wasn’t feeling that I was doing what God intended me to do.
I didn’t know why and it didn’t really make sense to me why I was feeling this way…surely a primary care doctor was needed in the community.
I took a mission trip to Peru – but despite a marvelous experience, knew deep in my heart, that I was not called to be a foreign missionary.
I was trying to lean forward and listen to God, but I still did not quite hear.
At the same time, I was very involved my home church – Good Shepherd Lutheran in Westborough, MA.
I was in choir and bell choir, the stewardship committee, church council, worship and music committee, and a volunteer physician at a church-run health clinic.
Good things to do! Great ministries! But still, that was not where God was calling me.
Then one day, my home pastor, out of the blue, during a social gathering asked me,
“So Jeanette, when are you going to seminary?”
And that blew me away.
I’d been praying for a sign if indeed I was called to seminary but I hadn’t told anyone.
How did he know?
From then on, my ears opened wider.
Others began to mention seminary.
I took a weekend retreat at Mt Hebron near Harrisburg,
and on a whim, drove back through Getysburg.
I visited the campus of the seminary here in town,
and from the airport, called my pastor and said I was applying to seminary.
And immediately it felt like a huge burden was lifted from my shoulders.
The unease and discomfort disappeared.
Colleagues, patients, and friends of mine affirmed my call.
My synod affirmed my call.
And I was given a scholarship to seminary.
I have not regretted my decision at all since then.
There had been a pretty much constant sense of anxiety
that has never returned.
Now I never heard God’s voice.
I didn’t have a vision of angels telling me to go to seminary (although it was interesting to note that one of my patients did!)
But God called me in whispers.
And God calls you – whether you are unemployed and looking for work, retired, in school, raising children, or disabled and unable to leave home.
God is calling – sometimes loudly like voices which make the room tremble but also sometimes in quiet whispers – but God is calling each of us to ministry in some way.
Let us say like Isaiah, “Here am I. Send me.”
[i] Barbara Brown Taylor, “When God is Silent,” location 174.
[ii] Taylor, location 336
[iii] Taylor, location 336