Questions-Day 11 (2/23/13)
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Isaiah 6:8 The Question
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!”
Isaiah and his people had lived through good times under the rule of King Uzziah. It was a period of peace and stability. And it was also a time of unprecedented prosperity. The people felt affluent and secure. But suddenly King Uzziah died and everything changed overnight. The people no longer knew what to expect. There was uncertainty about the future. There were even threats of war. The way of life that they had enjoyed for so long was coming to an end.
We can identify with Isaiah and his contemporaries, can't we? It seems with each new year in this century the days are filled with uncertainty. Corporations are downsizing. For the first time in our history, economists and futurists say our children may not live as well as their parents. Random acts of violence leave us with questions and the immediacy with which the media in print, radio, internet and television brings us in-depth stories of tragedy triggers our fearful nature. Everything seems to be changing right before our eyes, and we have a difficult time coping. The economic report is negative and our politicians on both and all sides of the aisle immediately begin blaming each other. Things just don't seem as certain as they used to seem. So what are we to do in such stressful times?
Well, we can do the same thing Isaiah did: turn to God. In a time of uncertainty Isaiah went to the temple to pray and to seek direction and comfort. There he experienced some things you and I need to experience.
While in the temple, Isaiah's vision was dramatic. He saw God sitting upon the throne. He heard the creatures singing praises. And he smelled the smoke that filled the Temple. It was a once in a lifetime experience and one he would never forget. Now he knew: God was still God. Earthly kingdoms might be swept away, but one thing remained eternal: the holiness of the Lord God Almighty, the Holy One.
When everything seems out of control, that is the time when we most need to put ourselves in the presence of the Holy. That's what Isaiah did: he went to the Temple to pray. And there he experienced the holiness of God. In the presence of absolute holiness Isaiah became intensely aware of his own inadequacy, his own sinful nature.
"I am lost," Isaiah exclaimed, "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!" (Isaiah 6:5)
Isaiah felt unworthy. But there is nothing surprising about that; most of us feel that we are not worthy when we are in the presence of the Holy One. God hears Isaiah's cry for forgiveness and responds: (Isaiah 6:6):
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
In the midst of Isaiah's intense awareness of his own un-holiness, Isaiah hears the voice of God speaking from his heavenly throne. God asked a question, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And without a moment's hesitation, Isaiah volunteered, "Here am I; send me!"
In the midst of Isaiah's confession of his own sinfulness, God hears his cry and issues an invitation in the form of a question. He had experienced the forgiveness of God, and it was time to make a new beginning.
I love Dan Schultz's hymn "Here I Am Lord" (number 593 in our United Methodist Hymnal), which is based on this passage. Listen to the words of the refrain
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.
If I were given permission, I would go through each hymnal and change two of the underlined words above. I would mark through "if you" and I would insert "where you". I believe that our following God is never conditional upon God's willingness to lead. God is always willing to lead, to reach to us first, to offer us forgiveness even before we ask for it. As one prayer reads, "You know our needs before we ask".
Where is God leading you? And when you reflect on your life and feel inadequate, cry out to God a confession of who you are. When God responds with loving forgiveness how will you answer God's question -- “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
©Dr. Burt Palmer, Sr. Pastor Polk Street UMC
All Scripture references are from the New International Version.