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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service.
June 04, 2023
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
One of the fun things about the Narrative Lectionary is that, in the summer, it gives us the opportunity to do short series. And, as I mentioned at the beginning of the service, today we start a 4-week series on the book of Isaiah.
Each of these readings will be familiar. And together they’ll give an overview of the Judeans’ mistakes as a nation, the consequences of their actions, and – most importantly – the assurance that that isn’t where it ends. Because we will also hear words that promise God’s presence and comfort and restoration.
Where we start today, at this point in their history, the Judeans had basically walked away from God. They were going through the motions of worship, their leadership was corrupt, and political greed had led to social injustice. And King Uzziah was actually one of the better kings because he’d brought some stability to the people.
But as we just read, he died so now even that stability was gone, and things were about to get a whole lot worse for the Judeans. And it was going to stay that way for a long time. That’s the situation Isaiah was called into. And like most of the prophets in the Bible, he got a glimpse of the power of God when he was called.
When he finds himself in the throne room, with God’s presence so large that just the hem of God’s robe fills the space, Isaiah fears for his life. He knows how sinful he is and how sinful the Judeans are. But he doesn’t run away – he stays put and allows himself to be purified.
And he described all of this as best he could – all of his senses were active. But it’s still an incomplete picture. What Isaiah knew for sure, though, was that God loved the people. So, when God asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah responded, “Here am I; send me!” seemingly without hesitation.
And that’s where our reading ends for today, but it isn’t where Isaiah’s call story ends. In the verses right after this, there’s an “oh by the way” as God tells Isaiah that his prophesying won’t work. That the people won’t listen to him and won’t buy into what he’s saying. They’re not going to all of the sudden change their ways and come back to God because of what Isaiah tells them. But go and prophesy anyway.
That isn’t really the pep talk you want from your boss on your first day on the job. But what Isaiah’s experience and vision of God teaches us is that God loves the people enough to stay with them through what is to come. And God prepared Isaiah to go and speak the truth to them even when it seemed pointless.
And if we think about it in terms of getting the people to change their ways and prevent the consequences of their actions, Isaiah’s prophesying didn’t work. But what we’ll be reminded of in our readings over the next few weeks is that Isaiah spoke the truth to them about God.
That even when the Judeans figured out that they’d messed up – God still loved them. Even when the city and the temple were destroyed, and most of the people were sent into exile, God hadn’t abandoned them. And Isaiah knew that, and that’s what he told them over and over again.
That’s the work God called and prepared Isaiah to do.
We often think of “call” or “vocation” as only relating to work involving the church. But the true definition is that it’s where our passions and talents intersect with the world’s need. And each one of us is called to look for those intersections.
So, for some it’s teaching or being a parent. For some, it’s practicing law or medicine. For some, it’s accounting or owning a small business or being a CEO. For some, it’s being a janitor or mechanic or garbage truck driver. And for some, call or vocation does mean working in the church in some capacity. It really is anything.
And whatever it is that God calls us to do, God prepares us for it. Even if we’re not sure what it is, or where it will lead, God prepares us for it.
When I served in Costa Rica, I worked for the Costa Rican Lutheran church and my primary job was to coordinate short term mission trips for ELCA congregations and then accompany those groups while they were in-country.
Each group has a special place in my heart for different reasons. One group included a woman named Cheryl. When they held their first devotional time after arriving, I asked each person, “What made you say ‘yes’ and come on this trip?”
Cheryl didn’t know why she’d said, “Yes.” She just knew that she needed to – that God called her to. That type of travel wasn’t something she’d ever done before, and she didn’t speak Spanish, so it was a brand new experience for her in a lot of ways.
Their group helped run a Vacation Bible School and also, literally, begin laying the groundwork for a community building in that area. And they worked side-by-side with the people who lived there. On one of the afternoons, they split up and spent time in the homes of families in the community.
And I asked, “Does anyone want me to come with and help translate?” And they said, “Nope. We’ve got it.” Even Cheryl said, “No. I’ll be fine.”
During their devotional time that evening, they all shared how wonderful the afternoon was. And Cheryl said, “I had the best conversation with Ligia!” And I said, “Really?!” And she said, “Yeah!” And I said, “How? I know she doesn’t speak English, and you said that you don’t speak Spanish.” And she said, “We found a way.”
A couple of days later, on their last day in the community, there was a big party and celebration. Lots of laughter, sharing stories. And when it came time to say good-bye, Cheryl snuck off and got on the bus by herself and wouldn’t come back out. She was sobbing and inconsolable because she didn’t want to leave.
Because Cheryl said, “Yes” to going on that trip, her life was changed forever. She didn’t become a missionary or pastor or a deacon. In fact – she worked for their local office of the IRS and continued working there until her retirement. But in her time in Costa Rica, she found her voice and began to speak out and advocate for the issues that are important to her.
God had prepared her to say “yes” to the experience even though she had no idea why or where it would lead, and it changed her heart forever.
Isaiah’s work as a prophet didn’t change things in the short term for the Judeans. But it helped them rebuild their relationship with God. And his words about God’s character and God’s promise, continue to build and shape people’s relationship with God today.
On our own, none of us is prepared to answer God’s call. But God knows what we’re able to do because God has prepared us for it. It takes faith to answer and move forward in our calling, whatever it happens to be. And it can be different things throughout our lives.
But when we answer, it doesn’t only change us. It changes the people we interact with – and we may or may not know how far our impact reaches.
But because of who God is and what God promises, we can say, “Yes!” to God’s call with confidence. Because we know that God has prepared us for it. Thanks be to God! Amen.