Do you know what I love about you folks? You are very cooperative! Almost any time I ask someone if they will do something, they say yes! Not always, but usually. Last week, I approached 4 people about the possibility of us having a student from the Atlantic School of Theology in January, two said yes, immediately, 2 wanted more information, and we are all connecting via Zoom next week to explore what that might look like.
Our Covid Team, the team who refreshed the entryway, the team who refreshed the community room, the team who took the lead on the Community Free Market Exchange, the team who looks after decorating, the team that is putting together Advent in a Bag.
Most people are quite open to taking on a short term, or clearly defined task. What is proving more challenging is having people step up to leadership roles. Those places of longer-term commitment where the work isn’t so easily defined. And is sometimes uncomfortable as we wrestle with decisions that are best for the congregation even if not the most popular.
I struggle with some of the same challenges when asked to serve the wider church. Do I have time, energy, gifts for what I am being asked? The ministry I’ve done in the wider church has been some of the most rewarding, frustrating, challenging and affirming ministry I’ve undertaken. Ministry that I have found the most rewarding is when I’ve either been told why I am being asked to serve or I ask, and they are able to give me a reason. Because sometimes others see gifts in us that we do not see in ourselves.
Sometimes, I was like Jonah, the reluctant prophet, who we heard about last week, who ran in the opposite direction when God told him to go to the people of Nineveh. Sometimes, I responded more like Isaiah.
The prophet Isaiah lived in the 8th century BCE, when the Assyrian empire was expanding, conquering the northern kingdom of Israel and destroying much of the southern kingdom of Judah. Isaiah lived in Jerusalem, the only city relatively unharmed in this war, and he spoke primarily to the kings, priests, and their wealthy advisors. Isaiah insisted that being God’s people involved not only worshipping the One God, but also behaving in ways consistent with God’s plans—and that God’s concern was primarily for those outside the halls of power, without wealth or connections. Much of the first section of Isaiah is about God’s vision of justice and righteousness, and how the leaders of the nation fall short of that vision, and therefore both oppress their people and lead them astray. In today’s reading, the king has died and the nation is in turmoil.
We hear about Isaiah’s vision of a visit to the throne room of God, where heavenly beings worship and where Isaiah receives the difficult grace of confession and call.
Let’s listen closely as Isaiah tells of an encounter with God in the temple, its written in chapter 6: 1-8: (Adapted from Teri Peterson)
6:1 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.
6:2 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.
6:3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
6:4 The pivots (doorposts) on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
6:5 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!”
6:6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.
6:7 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.”
6:8 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!”
“Here am I, send me!”
One of the things that I do to get ready to preach each week is to listen to a podcast called Bible Worm, it’s hosted by two biblical scholars, a Christian man and a Jewish woman and they unpack the text in a way that’s helpful for me and I trust is helpful for you.
Their synopsis says: We step into the incredible sense of awe Isaiah describes as he stands among the skirts of God’s robe and witnesses the angelic liturgy. We understand why, standing there, he would feel lost and out of place — and see a God whose angels both recognize Isaiah’s human inadequacies and help him address them rather than sending him away. https://www.biblewormpodcast.com/
For some reason, that phrase, ‘the skirts of God’s robe filled the temple,’ gave me a sense of the awe that Isaiah must have been experiencing. Imagine, God’s skirts filling this place.
And it made me wonder. Is our God too small? Have we imagined our God too small?
In our taking on the responsibility to be co-creators with God, have we forgotten that God is so vast that she’s beyond our comprehension. Confined her to an hour or so on Sunday, but not much else. Whoever just bristled at me referring to God as she… perhaps you have imagined God too small… 😉
Or if you imagine that ‘church’ only means pews and organs and choirs and people lined up in rows. Or if you haven’t wondered or imagined what God might already be up to in the neighbourhood. Have we imagined God too small?
After worship today and then this evening, you will have an opportunity to hear the results of the Listening Circles many of you participated in last year. And together, determine next steps.
Together, we will imagine our way forward. As we do, let’s not put any limits on what God might be inviting us into. And may we respond, as Isaiah did, with the words, Here am I, send me.”
Thanks be to God for prophetic words, amen.
Isaiah 6: 1-8 – Stairs Memorial United Church