FromĎWoe is meí to ĎSend meí
Message preached February 4,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Isaiah 6:1-8
Order of Worship
The Prophet speaks "for himself"
[We know little of the background of the prophet Isaiah, except his fatherís name - Amoz (not to be confused with Amos). Was Isaiah familiar with, and did he have access to, both the Temple and the King, leading us to speculate that he may have been a priest, and from a wealthier family? The evidence is inconclusive. However, such will be the assumption for this message, a monologue "from the prophet" himself. The Ď42 is 742 B.C., according to John Bright1 "the year King Uzziah died."]
Iíve got to say, we were doing pretty well back in Ď42. I was a much younger man then, in the prime of my life, really. Times were good. The economy was rolling right along. Things may not have been as great as when Solomon was King but, then again, when people talk of the "good old days," they often forget an awful lot.
Uzziah was the big guy when I was growing up. I must admit, he wasnít a bad king - at least not in comparison with some of the other jokers weíve had. His reign was one of relative peace and prosperity. For the most part, the larger empires left us alone. By the time I was a teenager, though, King Uzziah was a sick man, and ran the country through his son, Jotham.
Ours was a religious family, and not doing too bad in the money department. Like my father before me, I was a priest... In the Temple, you get used to handling everybodyís sin. That was our job. In the holy of holies, we would make sacrifices to God for the people. Over time, I suppose, sin becomes "old hat." You get used to the Ďway things are,í to the darkness that lies under the surface of everyone. Hey, itís life. People are people.
I was but a young man in Ď42. That was the year King Uzziah died. Leprosy finally took its toll on the old man. It was a time for change, but what would change bring? Were we heading uphill or down? Perhaps you wonder the same thing of this year, for your own nation has changed leaders also. Of course, in my time there were no elections. A son replaced a father on the throne, unless there was no son, or someone else forced their way in.
It happened in Ď42, the most pivotal year in my life. The "it" Iím referring to wasnít the changing of the guard in the palace, the shifting of one administration to the next. No, the big event for me in Ď42 was the day God flipped my world upside down. The great "I am" has a habit of doing that, you know. Did it to Abraham and Sarah, sending them from the comfort of Haran toward who knows where, all on a promise. Did it Moses, disrupting his life as a privileged member of the Egyptian court, then yet again as a shepherd at peace with his wife and in-laws. "Let my people go," was the mission then.
Yup, the Lord can sure shake us awake from our daydreams of life "as usual." That was the case for me. To be honest, I canít remember exactly where it happened, or whether or not it was in a dream. But, I tell you, it was as clear to me then as a dip in the chilly waters of the Jordan. What I saw made me shiver.
Imagine, instead of the throne room of King Jotham, or even the royal palace of the Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser (the biggest head honcho of the day), I found myself in the presence of the One whose name is so holy we dare not speak it. This was no burning bush I saw that day. It was the throne room of God. There he was, sitting, surrounded by angels I canít hardly describe.
The Lord was so awesome, the whole place just overflowed with his presence. How can I convey it to you? To say that the hem of his robe filled the Temple there would be an understatement. This was the Master of the Universe, far greater than any earthly ruler - the real power. Everything else is but a meager imitation, even/especially those who claim to be in charge on this earth. There is no other god but this One.
As my eyes struggled to see, my ears were overwhelmed with the sound of a mighty chorus. "Holy, holy, holy," they sang. "Holy is the Lord of host; the whole earth is full of his glory." I thought at first that it was only me, but then I noticed that the very place was shaking with the thunder of those heavenly voices. Imagine being in my shoes at that moment. What would you have done? There was no corner in which to go and hide. Believe me, I looked.
"Woe is me," I said. Does that sound like a silly thing to say? Thatís how I felt in that moment. Anything but blessed, thatís for sure. In the presence of such awesome holiness, I felt anything but holy. Just the opposite, really.
Here I was, a priest in the Temple, a young man in the prime of my life, and I had already grown used to "the way things are." Sin is just a part of everyday life. People are people, after all. We do what we have to in order to get by - everybody does, kings included. Then we come to the Temple to make it right, to wash away what we pollute ourselves with every day. And I, as a priest, was in the washing business - taking peopleís offerings and presenting them before the Lord in the holy of holies.
I had already gotten so used to it all that I hardly gave it a second thought, until that moment I found myself in the presence of the Almighty. Was it a dream? I donít honestly know, nor does it really matter. In that moment my eyes opened to how much sin pervaded every nook and cranny of my being. Like decay eats away and gradually consumes an apple, so my life was being eaten away by the spiritual decay of myself and Godís people. I had become blind to it all. The closer you come to God, the more you see by the light that shines from the throne.
"Iím lost," I said, "I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips..." And yet, and yet, and yet - hard as it is to comprehend - "these eyes have seen the real King, the Lord of hosts."
Right then, one of those strange looking angels flew toward me with a pair of tongs holding a live coal from the altar. What would you have done? I mean, this Seraph had six wings. Nearly scared the living beegeebers out of me! What was this being going to do? Was this what the angel of death looked like when it swept over the land of Egypt, taking the life of the firstborn of all but the children of Israel? Was this my last moment, before being consumed by the fire of God? After all, as the Lord said to Moses, "no one shall see me and live." (Exodus 33:20)
Well, amazingly, I did live. The hand of God through that angel did not seek to do me harm. Rather, the Lord touched my lips with that coal, and the seraph said, "your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." Just like that. I wish I could say I felt all that garbage fall away, but there was no feeling at all - not even the immense heat of the live coal. I had to take God at his word.
I had to take God at his word, indeed! The next thing I heard was the Lord asking, "Whom shall I send, who will go for us?" Everything grew silent in response to that question. I looked around to see who might answer it. Surely one of these angels would make a great messenger. Which one would it be. I was blessed with the opportunity to see the heavenly host come to a decision. Which seraph was God going to send? Who was going to volunteer?
And then I realized that all eyes were upon me - Isaiah, son of Amoz. It slowly dawned on my feeble brain that this was not an open-ended question, addressed to everyone in the room. God was asking me. Was I willing to be the representative of this One who long ago said, "I am who I am. Tell them ĎI amí sent you." (Exodus 3:14) Was I ready to do this? Is anyone every ready? All I could say was "Here am I, send me!"
The rest, as they say, is history. From there I was led into some pretty strange situations, trying to convince Godís people to trust in the One who led them out of slavery. When Ahaz became king of Judah, my task was to keep him from trusting in the king of Assyria for our nationís salvation from the attacks of others. God sent me to say, "donít be afraid," but "stand firm in faith," this trouble "will pass." (7:3-9) I even had my son with me, whom God told me to name "the remnant shall return" (go figure!).
But King Ahaz wouldnít listen to me, even when I encouraged him to ask for a sign from the Lord, who was ready and willing to give one. Of course, God gave one anyway, "a young woman will bear a child and name him Immanuel." (7:14) I guess Ahaz didnít believe God was with us. Instead he joined arms with Tiglath-Pileser, and fell in love with the might and glory of Assyria. It was like his ears were stopped or, more accurately, he listened, but did not comprehend. (6:9-10)
When his son Hezekiah (who did listen and comprehend and, at first, do what God desired), was tempted to make the same mistake as his father, only to trust in the opposite direction - in the power of Egypt against Assyria, God sent me in a really strange way. Imagine this one, I was told to take my clothes off and walk naked through the streets of Jerusalem as a sign, a symbol of how powerless Egypt really was. Youíll have to picture that one on your own. I wonít do it again. Hezekiah got the message, though, especially since God had me do it for three years. Never did get used to that one. You know how cold it gets in winter? I nearly froze my.... well, you understand. I hope. (20:1-6)
Iíve got to warn you, when you respond to God, "Here am I, send me," realize what it is youíre saying. The Lord will, I promise, help move you from "Woe is me" to "Send me." I wonder what "Woe is me" means to you. Are you aware of all the ways in which you have grown used to sin, to just accept it as the price of doing business. People are people, after all. Have you gotten so used to it that itís almost invisible to you, that wrong happens and all you do is "sigh," if even that? May you be blessed with a waking dream such as mine, a "waking up" dream, a vision that turns your world upside-down. Once there, I pray for you the touch of Godís burning coal, and the God-given courage to say, "Here am I, send me."
1 A History of Israel (3rd edition), ©1981, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, PA, p. 290.
©2001 Peter L. Haynes
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