The scripture we look at today details the beginning of Isaiah's ministry. Prior to receiving this formal commission from the Lord, many biblical scholars believe that Isaiah engaged in ministry, but perhaps without a definite purpose. After his encounter with God, Isaiah had a definite plan and message. These eight verses contain several messages that we can learn from. This morning, we are going to look at two of them.
When Ed asked me to preach this morning's sermon, he approached me with the question: "If I gave you enough advance notice, will you be willing to preach at the Contemporary Service again?" About a year ago, when I preached at this service, I had a great time, so I eagerly agreed - but certain to emphasize the caveat of being given "enough notice." Ed told me what day he wanted me to preach and I quickly agreed. He gave me the scripture reference for today and I went home and looked it up.
After reading these verses, I though to myself that I was really lucky that I was given such an easy passage to prepare a sermon about. If you look at verse eight - "Here am I, Send me!" - a sermon about being obedient to God's will and willing to go where he calls you and do what he calls you to do practically jumps off the page. In fact, obedience to God is such a basic staple of Christian life, I'm willing to bet that most of you here this morning could prepare a good message based entirely on Isaiah 6:8. As I worked on preparing today's message, however, I realized that a sermon based on Isaiah 6:8 would be a secondary point. So, we'll look a little bit about that later. First, we will look at the main point of today's lesson - how Isaiah responded to God when he met him face-to-face.
Isaiah's call to ministry is an example of how The Gospel works. We're all familiar with the first four books of the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) being referred to as gospels (The Gospel of John, e.g.). In a broader sense, The Gospel is God's "good news" to humanity. These four New Testament books are referred to as gospels because they present the good news of Jesus Christ and how Jesus fits into humanity's relationship with God. In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul also provides a rendition of The Gospel. Sometimes it is referred to as "The Romans Road to Salvation." We will be looking at Paul's "Roman Road" to help illustrate how Isaiah's call to ministry is an example of how we can use The Gospel in our own lives.
The first thing to note about humanity's condition is that everybody has sinned. ("For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard." Romans 3:23) God is perfect. We are not. Ever since that day that Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, humanity has struggled with sin. Every one of us here this morning has sinned. We have each probably already sinned today - and it's not even lunchtime!
Sin. It's not a pretty word. We don't like to think about it. We try to hide from it. But the simple truth is we are all consumed with it. It is real easy to skirt around the issue. To dance around the fact that we are sinners and jump straight to the part where we embrace God's love. But before we do that today, let's spend a little bit of time earnestly considering the sin in our lives.
That's exactly what Isaiah did. Picture his encounter with God. "In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord." Isaiah saw the Lord! That in itself is amazing! We're not talking about the ways we all can see the Lord every day - in the beauty of a flower in nature, in the melodic song of a bird, in the smiles and laughter of little children (all of which is important) - we're talking about physically seeing the Lord. Isaiah said he saw God "seated on a throne, high and exalted." He saw angels hanging out with God, he heard the angels singing about how wonderful and magnificent God is. At this moment, Isaiah is surrounded by the awesome majesty of God's glory and beauty.
But instead of being able to enjoy the wonderfulness of God's presence, Isaiah immediately cries! "Woe to me!" "I am ruined!" Isaiah knows he's a sinner and does the only thing a person can do when confronted with God's perfect holiness - he repents. The New Living Translation renders verse five as "...I am a sinful man and a member of a sinful race...." That statement exactly describes us today, as it has described humanity for all time. We are sinful people.
This despair that Isaiah is experiencing leads to the next part of The Gospel. Because we sin, we are doomed to die. ("For the wages of sin is death..." Romans 6:23) If you're used to thinking about God being able to do absolutely anything, what I'm about to say might shake you up a little bit - but it shouldn't. Because there are some things that God cannot do. Specifically, God cannot do anything that is against his nature. For example, God cannot sin because God is perfect. That same perfection requires that God only associate with other perfect beings. Unfortunately, humans aren't perfect.
If you study the fist several books of the Old Testament, you will discover that God is constantly trying to "connect" with humankind. He lays out his rules and the penalties for disobeying the rules. You can read all about them in the book of Leviticus, but I'll give you the "Cliff's Notes" version - don't do bad things. If you do something bad, you have to be put to death. You especially can't expect to be able to stand in the presence of God with all that nasty sin dripping from your soul.
To God, there is no difference between the sin of killing someone, the sin of stealing something, and the sin of breaking traffic laws because 35 miles per hour is too slow to expect to drive on Lawndale. To God, it's all black and white. There are no degrees. Sin is sin. And any sin deserves death.
Isaiah understood this. He says that he is "a man of unclean lips." Whether Isaiah is using that phrase in a literal sense or as a metaphor for his sinful nature, the important thing to realize is that Isaiah recognizes and acknowledges his sinful nature. And faced with experiencing God first-hand, Isaiah thought he was a goner. He knew that as a sinful person, being in the presence of God was essentially a death sentence. That's why he's crying "Woe is me!" That's why he exclaims astonishment that his "eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." At this point, Isaiah thinks he is going to die, because that is exactly what he deserves.
When we started looking at this, I said that The Gospel was the "good news" of how God wants to have a relationship with humankind. At this point, The Gospel doesn't sound like much "good news" at all, does it? We've established that each one of us is a sin-stained miserable wretch. And we established that because of that, we all deserve death. Well, brothers and sisters, here is where the "good news" kicks in.
God hates sin. He detests it. But he loves the sinner. After all, he is our father. That's why I call you brothers and sisters instead of friends. Every one of us shares the same father, and that is the Lord. Especially on Father's Day, it's important to realize what it means to have a common heavenly father. That means that everyone you see, everyone you meet, is on equal footing with God. You may not be a murderer, you may not be a thief, but God loves murderers and thieves exactly as much as he loves you. Exactly as much as he loves me. And it's a love that is totally beyond our comprehension to understand.
Those of you who are parents are probably understand the concept of loving people but hating their actions much better than I do, because children have a tendency to really try a parent's patience at times. I remember growing up if I did something wrong, I would be faced with the prospect of having to endure my parents disappointment. Even when we were so mad at each other that the house would be full of yelling, I knew my parents continued to love me. I also knew that they didn't like what I was doing. It's the same way with God. He loves each and every one of us more than we can comprehend, but he hates our sin.
That provides a difficult problem for us, because we can't be in God's presence when we're stained with all of this sin. But because God is so powerful, he is able to create a way to make us right with him again. In the Old Testament, God provided animal sacrifices as a way to atone for our sins. If you sin, you can be forgiven if you sacrificed a certain bird, or goat, or bull, or other animal. Each sin had a corresponding acceptable sacrifice. For Isaiah, God provided a symbolic cleansing of his mouth with a burning coal - "Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, 'See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.'" (Isaiah 6:6-7) Isaiah says that he's a man of unclean lips, and God cleans his lips. For us today - for humanity in general - God provided his son, Jesus Christ, to take the penalty for our sins. ("But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." Romans 5:8, also "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it." John 3:16-17) Yes, the penalty for sin is death, but God took on that penalty himself for us in the form of Jesus Christ dying on the cross about two thousand years ago. It is important for us to see that God meets us exactly in our point of need. For the ancient Hebrews, he provided something they could understand in animal sacrifices. For Isaiah, he provided a symbolic cleansing. And for us - for everyone - he provides Jesus Christ. God forgives us and cleanses our soul of sin.
The question now is how do we receive that forgiveness? Isaiah received it by openly acknowledging his sin. ("I am a sinful man and a member of a sinful race." Isaiah 6:5) We are to do the same thing. ("Salvation that comes from trusting Christ - which is the message we preach - is already within easy reach. In fact, the Scriptures say, 'The message is close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.' For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved." Romans 10:8-10) This is how you ask Jesus to be a part of your life. This is how you invite him in. And once he comes in, he won't leave you.
Now that I've talked about how Isaiah's call to ministry is an example of The Gospel, I'd like to spend a few moments looking at what appeared to be the obvious message of this passage - obedience to God. Let's look at how Isaiah's response to God should mirror our own. I'd also like to look at what God's call for us is.
I think the most important thing to learn from Isaiah about how we should respond to God's call is the immediate response Isaiah gave. Notice that as soon as God asks for a volunteer, Isaiah eagerly accepts the opportunity to serve him. Isaiah doesn't even know what God has in mind for him when he accepts the mission! Remember the TV show "Welcome Back, Kotter?" Well, when God simply asks "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" I picture Isaiah as one of the characters from "Welcome Back, Kotter" - I think it was Horshack - the one who always responds with enthusiasm. "Oh! Oh! Me! Pick me! I'm right here!" This is exactly how we should respond to God's call. Be confident that God will never ask you to do something you're not capable of (with his help). And accept any charge he gives you - even if you don't know what it is yet.
When we look at Isaiah's response, it's important to see how Isaiah did not respond. Isaiah did not do what a lot of us would likely do in the same situation, i.e. wallow in our misery. Just before accepting God's mission, Isaiah was about as miserable as a person can be - he thought he was going to die because of his sin! But instead of dwelling on that, he accepted God's forgiveness and went on with his life. It would have been so easy for Isaiah to mope around in a depressed state because of his sin: "Oy, vey! Woe is me! I'm a sinner! Please, please, please, God, help me!" If Isaiah had stopped there, God would probably not even have had the opportunity to ask Isaiah to go out for him. Instead, Isaiah said, "Yep. I'm a sinner. I'm sorry. Please forgive me." And when God did forgive him, Isaiah accepted it and moved on. There is absolutely nothing to be gained by wallowing about in forgiven sin!
This is what it looks like to God when we don't accept his forgiveness. [Ask someone in the congregation for a copy of the bulletin, but don't take it from them. Beg, make promises, etc. Finally, take the bulletin and move on.]
Do you see how absurd that is? But that's exactly what we look like to God when we don't' realize we have the forgiveness he offers us. More important than how ridiculous we look is the fact that if we don't accept his forgiveness, we can't go forward in his service. Just like I couldn't know what was coming next in the service until I finally realized and accepted that I had the bulletin.
So we have to accept God's forgiveness before we can be open to hearing what he would have us do. Then we have to listen for God.
Once we're all primed and ready to hear from God about what his mission for us is, how can we know what he wants us to do? In the scripture passage we looked at today, we never did find out what God was sending Isaiah out to do. As it turned out, God had Isaiah preaching to an unrepentant nation and prophesying that severe judgment is on the way. That probably wasn't too much fun. But God also made Isaiah one of the greatest prophets of all time. Isaiah made many prophecies about the coming messiah - Jesus Christ. Isaiah spoke of hope.
Is that what we're supposed to do? For some of us, maybe. But probably not for all of us. What is our mission - our call? When God asks us "Whom shall I send?," what is he asking us to do? When you think of being called by God, you usually think of someone entering the professional ministry. As some of you know, I currently feel that I am being called by God to enter the professional ministry in some way. That's another reason why I was so excited to be able to preach on this passage today. For some people, once they realize that God is not calling them to the professional ministry and just hang it up at there - they don't think God is calling them at all.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. God calls each and every one of us to an important purpose. I can't know what that purpose is for all of you, but I do know that all are called, and we all can't be called to do the same thing. The apostle Paul talks about this in I Corinthians 12:12-31. This is the section where Paul makes the analogy that the church is like a body - there is one body, but with many parts. If a body were entirely made up of fingers, or feet, or lungs, it wouldn't be very useful. The same is true if the body lacked fingers, or feet, or lungs. Yes, the body can compensate, but it works better when it all the parts are there and doing their jobs. The same is true with what God calls us to do. God calls some people to preach in a church. He calls some people to minister to the sick. He calls some people to be a good example of what a Christian should be in an office full of heathens. He calls some people to be exceptional parents to children who need special attention. And, yes, God calls some people to speak a kind word and give hope to the clerk at Wal-Mart.
What is God specifically calling you to do? I don't know, but God calls every one of his children to an important, specific task. If you prayerfully listen to him, he will tell you what it is. And when we all are able to positively respond to God's specific calls in love, we make the world a better place.
Even with such an opportunity for so many different missions, God also calls each of his children - each of us - to a common task. And that is to spread the word! After he died and was resurrected, Jesus told his disciples to "go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation." (Mark 16:15) That command did not only apply to the disciples that were gathered around him on that day two thousand years ago, it applies to us today. Let everyone see the love of God in your life by the way you act and the things you say. Mark Christy often quotes Saint Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel at all times. And if you must, use words." That applies here.
When you hear the call from God: "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?," how will you respond? We should respond with the same eagerness that Isaiah showed - "Here am I. Send me!" On this Father's Day, make your heavenly Father proud. Tell his other children how much he loves them and what it means to be a child of God. Share The Gospel.
as written and delivered by Greg Cohoon
Mount Pisgah United Methodist Church
June 16, 2000
Last update: May 5, 2003© 2000-2003 Greg Cohoon