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"Whom shall I send?"
a sermon based on Isaiah 6
by Rev. Thomas Hall

I want to get us started this morning by asking you to finish this sentence for me. Just say what comes to mind. Just say it out so we can all hear. Ready? Okay, here’s the sentence: "Worship is . . ." Is what? Finish the sentence...

As you can see, that sentence could have so many different endings that we could fill a book.

the choir offering a rousing anthem before the homily.

Singing How Great Thou Art and sensing God lifting you up

Movement, honoring God in a dance

Raising your hands to adore God
and offer your life anew to God’s service

Clapping hands

Being drawn in to a deep world of silence

A Christian concert; "get-down worship!"

Our pick-up orchestra playing with congregational singing

Bach’s Minuet in A Major

At the heart of Jewish and Christian life is worship of the true God. That is the single focus, the single mandate that we have from God. Worship of the true God pervades all of Scripture, runs from Genesis to Revelation. The Westminster confession sums up the Christian faith in seven words: "to worship God and enjoy God forever." So we’re here to worship God.

Worship is an old English word which originally meant, woerthship. That is, to highly value and see worth in something or someone. Christian worship is to highly value God and to use words and actions that express the value that we have of God.

Let’s walk through a very familiar lesson this morning-Isaiah 6:-8. Here we discover Isaiah, a court prophet. He’s a rough equivalent to the Secretary of State. He carries a lot of status. He has been hand-picked by the King of his nation to offer moral and spiritual guidance. Isaiah owes his comfortable apartment in the King’s royal court to King Uzziah. He could have been like most of the other prophets, wandering around in the hinterlands, trying to eke out a living in the desert. But he’s been hand-picked, educated, well-paid, and lives in the royal court. So Isaiah has a lot riding on old King Uzziah. Paycheck. Status. Security.

But the scripture says, "In the year that King Uzziah died." Can you imagine shock that comes to Isaiah when he fingers through the morning paper at the breakfast table. Gets as far as the obituary notices and spills coffee all down his tunic. "King Uzziah died this morning in his royal bedroom of massive heart-failure. Funeral will be held next Thursday." This must be shocking news to Isaiah in a society that was very unstable. Once the current king died, a new king would come into power, placing all of his own cronies in power. Out with the old, in with the new.

"In the year that King Uzziah died." Says it all. All Isaiah’s hopes, his connections, his comfortable life are suddenly squashed. So he goes to the Temple bent over with grief and fear, in a daze and wondering what he will do now that his hopes have been dashed. Remember that scene in the moves when some distraught character goes into a huge, empty cathedral to pray? You see the character hunched over praying all alone in the dim lights. That’s how I imagine Isaiah enters the Temple-just slips in unnoticed to a pew to pray.

But unlike the moves, Isaiah has a vision. He looks up to see for the first time in his life the REAL King! The air rises on the back of Isaiah’s head; he senses that he is in the presence of the King of the milky Way, the Creator of Alpha Centauri, the Maker of all worlds and all universes, all worm holes and black holes. King Uzziah is immediately and forever pushed aside in the presence of this King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

He looks to the top of the Temple and sees that the King of the Universe is so enormous, so huge, that just the hem of his robe fills the entire building. He watches as alien creatures with six wings each flutter around this King. Though pure and perfect, even they cannot look directly into God’s face, but must cover their face and their feet. One of them says-through mental telepathy or music-"Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of Hosts; the Earth is full of his glory."

Let me ask you, do you think Isaiah was looking at his watch during this moment? Was he concerned about what was for lunch? Or making a grocery list, or where he would go for summer vacation? When we have such a vision of God, all things are placed in their proper perspective.

The sheer power of the voice of just one of these creatures causes the entire foundation to quiver and quake. And then an eerie fog descends in that place and no one knows what to do next. Isaiah only knows that he is way, way out of his league. He is sitting very close to the God of the universe. And next to the real King, king Uzziah palls and nations are a single drop in the ocean. And not able to take all of this in, he collapses in a heap on the stone floor and cries, "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips." Did you catch that? Do you know who’s saying that? This guy hasn’t even jaywalked. The guy’s impeccable by our standards. Doesn’t stretch the truth. Doesn’t cheat on his income tax. He tithes a full 10%. He prays seven times a day. He gives generously beyond his tithe to help the poor. The guy could role model Christian faith at SUMC. Yet, sixty seconds in God’s presence reduces this Who’s Who from the status of Secretary of State to roughly that of a dust mite.

There is something powerful about being aware that you are in Gods’ presence. Annie Dilliard says that if we understand worship-it should kill us! We should have seat belts installed in the pews. Because of the one whom we worship. Annie Dilliard, by the way is an Episcopalian who simply has discovered the God of Isaiah.

When we completely offer ourselves in abandonment to God-we are changed. When we see just a thumbnail vision of God, when we sense just a bit of the awe surround the wholly other, God consumes our attention. We no longer care who is watching us, or how others are worshipping. We are free to discover God in new ways. For some of us that discovery will lead us to slip to our knees in the powerful awareness that God is here. For others, that worship will lead us to raise our hands, symbolizing that we surrender anew all of ourselves to God; for still others, we may express worship by singing or lying prostrate before God, or by being silent.

He stood in the front door of the parsonage wearing a vinyl-blue security guard coat. His mustache drooped giving his face a cheerless countenance. His words were heavily accented and clumsy. I finally got his name Tilemachos Peteris-Tilly for short. I knew he had some need so I invited him to go over to the church with me. In the course of our conversation he handed me a smudged, creased letter. The letterhead read Johns Hopkins and it told me the real mission Tilly was on. Shortly after arriving in America his wife had become seriously ill and had to undergo chemotherapy. So with a very sick wife and a long way from home, Tilly had traveled in ever widening circles from that hospital eventually arriving at my doorstep.

Tilly was proud and wouldn’t take any money-unless he could do some work; but he did have a book to sell. Business being done, I walked with Tilly into the sanctuary to show him our church. I had my cup of coffee as usual as I led the tour. I talked in my normal voice, strolling nonchalantly in front of the altar and between the pulpits before I noticed something unusual. My friend, upon entering the sanctuary space had immediately dropped his voice to hushed tones. He actually whispered. When I asked why he said something about "the Mysteries" being here. He meant by that, of course, the altar space where the bread and wine were kept; he was quiet and cautious because he thought he had walked into the same room as Jesus was in the form of bread and wine. It became obvious that Tilly sought to enter the mysteries-God mysterious present among us-in a way different from any other place on earth.

This stranger had walked into my life for a few minutes to remind me in the midst of his own troubles of how sacred the presence of God is and how profound such an encounter with God should be. At that moment I honestly felt undone. Like Isaiah I felt like crying out, "Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips!"

Well, no sooner does Isaiah recognize his own sinfulness, than one of the seraph’s grabs a sizzling piece of coal to purify Isaiah’s unclean life. He can now stand tall before the king of Kings and Lord of Lords and worship God. But Isaiah discovers that true worship will lead us into mission. So the service ends with a response to the word: "Whom shall I send?" "Who will go for us?" And right then and there while everyone is still singing I Surrender All for the final time, he runs down the aisle to say "yes" to God’s call. Isaiah walks out of the Temple with a new vision, with a new perspective, and a new enthusiasm to go back into the world as a servant. I pray that we will too. Amen