"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, heres 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 Gods service
Being drawn in to a deep world of silence
A Christian concert; "get-down worship!"
Our pick-up orchestra playing with congregational singing
Bachs 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
were 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.
Lets walk through a very familiar lesson this morning-Isaiah 6:-8. Here we
discover Isaiah, a court prophet. Hes 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 Kings
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 hes 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 Isaiahs
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. Thats 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 Isaiahs 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
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 Gods 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
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 whos saying that? This
guy hasnt even jaywalked. The guys impeccable by our standards. Doesnt
stretch the truth. Doesnt 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 Gods presence reduces this
Whos 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 wouldnt 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