If You Can Get Past the Special Effects, It’s Just Another Call Story (Isaiah 6:1-8)

You probably know the hymn, “Here I Am, Lord.”  It’s emotive melody and lyrics adapted from Isaiah 6 make it an ideal song for reflecting on God’s call in our life.

Who will bear my light to them?

Whom shall I send?  Here I am Lord.

Is it I Lord?  I have heard you calling in the night.

I will go Lord, if you lead me, I will hold your people in my heart.

The idea of being called and sent is centered on one line, “Whom shall I send?  Here I am Lord.”  Those words, as we heard a moment ago, come from the prophet Isaiah.  In one of the most dramatic call scenes of the entire Bible, the 6th chapter tells the story of how Isaiah came to understand his role as a prophet.  Isaiah shares an intensely personal experience which is difficult to describe. Instead, it’s Isaiah’s story to tell and ours to try and understand.  If these verses sound like science fiction or fantasy, you’d be right.  Isaiah is trying to describe a vision.  Visions, in the Bible, aren’t bound by the rules of reality.

The chapter begins with a frame of reference. Isaiah wants to tell us when his vision happened.  It was when King Uzziah died, and his son Jotham inherited the throne.  You all know when King Uzziah died, don’t you?  This is Isaiah’s way of saying, “it was just after JFK was shot and Johnson became president.”  The reign of the king is a frame of reference everyone knew.  In this case, he’s telling us around 750 BC.

Seven hundred and fifty years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah experienced a vision of God sitting on a throne in heaven.  Like lots of these visions, at one instant he is observing events and then all of a sudden, he’s part of the action.  That’s how these prophetic visions flow.  Isaiah’s understanding of God is rooted in the image of a king.  God’s palace in heaven is depicted as the most opulent home on Earth to an exponential level.

The Lord is seated on a throne.  His robe is so immense that it fills the temple.  Heavenly creatures with six wings each, angel-like beings, are flying overhead.  There is no space which is not occupied by God.  Because they’re in the presence of God, their feet and heads are veiled.  Not only are they flying, but these winged beasts are also shouting:  “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heavenly forces!”  Their roar is so fierce that the whole building shakes and smoke billows from all directions.

Isaiah realizes he’s seeing things no mortal has ever witnessed.  This is more than a glimpse of heaven.  He is experiencing a vision of God’s totality.  This is overwhelming beyond description. His reaction is simple, “this is too much.  I am not able to comprehend everything I’ve been seen.  I am too messed up to be standing in the presence of something so holy.”  Isaiah defines this apprehension as “sin.”  Sin doesn’t mean he’s an evil person.  Instead, he is acknowledging his humanity.  Question:  what does God want us to do in the first place?  God wants us to be who God created us to be.  God knows us inside and out.  Isaiah is in a place where he can be (or start to realize) the best version of himself, the whole person God created.  God wants you to be you, not as you compare yourself to others or your circumstances.  We are called to be the person God formed us to be.  Isaiah is finally becoming Isaiah.  When we take steps toward fully becoming the people God created us to be, we’re then in a place to partner with God and live in conjunction with God’s will like never before.

Here’s where it gets really strange. As if seeing God on his throne isn’t enough; one of the winged creatures approaches and speaks to Isaiah.  It’s one thing to behold this grand vision of heaven.  It’s another thing to be drawn into a conversation with a heavenly being.  Doesn’t it raise all sorts of questions?  What language did they speak?

The heavenly being responds to Isaiah’s concerns.  Before Isaiah goes any further, the story tells us, God makes an effort to reassure Isaiah.  His spiritual, emotional, and mental health are as important to God as the grand displays of smoke and opulence. The angel takes a lump of hot coal and symbolically touches it to Isaiah’s lips.  Remember, everything is symbolic.   This is still a vision, a representation of something beyond reality.  The angel says, “See, this has touched your lips.  Your guilt has departed, and your sin is removed.”  My question is this:  was it ever there in the first place?  Like many of us, does Isaiah carry baggage; weight we inherited, trauma passed down, bags we choose, and accept that whatever’s in our hands must be our sin and there’s nothing we can do about it.  Who knows?

Isaiah’s liberation from what he thought prevented him from serving God occurs in an instance.  He is still Isaiah.  What changed, because of the creature’s actions, was his perspective.  Sin wasn’t a permanent obstacle to serving God.  If that were true, the church could close up shop, and we’d all go home.   Isaiah needed to hear that guilt isn’t something which permanently defines us.  The angel helped him make a choice:  life or sin.

Remember, Isaiah is much more than a passive observer.  Isaiah is not watching God’s grand design unfold.  He is an active participant in his own redemption story.   Are we?  That is the Good News, the Gospel on display in this chapter.  Why do I say this?  Listen to the Lord’s question.  It takes us back to the beginning of the message.  This is the first time the Lord speaks directly.  “Whom should I send and who will go for us?”  That’s when Isaiah steps up to the plate.  He wants in the game he wants to be part and parcel of God’s ongoing love story with humanity.  What does he say?  “I am here, send me.”

Put me in the game, coach.  I will go, speak, and do what you need me to do and where you want me to go.  There’s no need for an elaborate monologue, it’s merely “Yes God, It’s me, I’ll do it.”  Why can he respond so quickly and effectively?  What’s the difference between verse 8 and verse 1?  It’s our baggage, guilt, and sin.  What he thought he couldn’t bear, the load too heavy to lug any further, through one gesture, Isaiah realized he might be his own worst enemy.  He also saw that God was providing help, freedom, and perspective he never considered.  Does that sound like anyone you know?

I think it reminds me of each of us.  We’re all carrying around more sin than we should.  It is as if we haul so much guilt about we buy luggage just for malformed spiritual lives.  Much of it is baggage we choose to lug through our lives.  When God shows up on the scene, we’re blown away.  How could God be with us in such a place as this?  Doesn’t God know what we carry and who we are?  Yes, and with the touch of a finger and being told “it’s going to be OK,” we can make the same transition as Isaiah.  We can go from gawking observers to participants in the Good News.  Will we listen?  Are you on the lookout for God’s presence?  I hope so; because your “here I am moment” is closer than you realize.

Richard Lowell Bryant