“Here am I” Colchester Federated Church, May 27, 2018—(Isaiah 6:1-8) Trinity Sunday

Today we heard the Prophet Isaiah’s vision of God.  There’s a mighty throne and God’s robe filling the Temple and the Seraphs (Angelic beings) attending God proclaiming: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  It’s a holy moment depicted as a personal religious experience.  Though when Isaiah comes to (if you will) he immediately feels convicted because of his sins: “Woe is me!  I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”  In the vision, Isaiah has an encounter with one of those Seraphs who holds a hot coal to his mouth, not to burn him but to declare that his guilt has departed and his sins have been blotted out.  God speaks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And how can Isaiah say anything but, “Here am I, send me!”[1]

We’ll contemplate two ways to use Isaiah’s call story in these times.  First, Isaiah’s call story emphasizes the necessity of knowing how we view God.  And second, the power of religious experiences helps us turn our faith into action.

Okay, so we can get at this story by seeing it as a vision, as a religious experience.  It’s not meant to be taken hyper literally, but was how Isaiah could understand God.  This morning we see how Isaiah understood the moment that God called him to be the prophet God needed for probably 60 years.  That’s right, Isaiah of Jerusalem AKA First Isaiah who we attribute Isaiah Chapters 1-39 to in the Bible, prophesized during the reign of four different kings of Judah.  Isaiah spent decades working for God.  His call to this work took the form of a vision, a moment that dramatically changed his life.

Now when we picture God perhaps we don’t see God sitting on a throne with a long flowing robe that fills up our sanctuary.  Maybe we do.  Though this image was deeply meaningful for Isaiah when he lived in the 8th Century B.C.E.  The question becomes: what’s the image, feelings, or thoughts about God that we have that helps us to understand who God really is?  This story, among other things, is about God meeting us where we are and people understanding God within the context of their life and times.

After all, it’s Trinity Sunday in the Liturgical Calendar—a day where we’re meant to engage the mystery of God.  The Christian doctrine of the Trinity can be tough to understand.  And it’s often been one of the historical beefs that Jews and Muslims have with Christians because it can seem like we’re worshiping three gods and not one God.  You’ll never find the word “Trinity” in the Bible.  But we have interesting passages like when Isaiah hears from God, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?”  There’s weird singular and plural vocabulary going on sometimes in the Bible where it seems like God is more complicated than we may imagine.  Even the Angelic Beings declare that God is “Holy, holy, holy!”  Three times the holiness up in here!

Thinking of God as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer or the more traditional Father, Son, and Holy Spirit points to how we understand God as active in the world.  Catherine LaCugna who was a Feminist Catholic Theologian speaks about the Trinity as thoroughly relational. That God is attached, personal, and responsive.  She prioritized the Trinity and even wrote a book called God For Us: The Trinity and the Christian Life.  LaCugna argued that the Trinity is a theology of relationship which explores the mysteries of love, personhood, self-revelation, and communion.  Early on, Christians tried to figure out how to make sense of God’s presence in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  The theological concept of the Trinity was birthed from a relational view of God-with-us and early believers trying to reconcile God as immanent and transcendent, right here with us and mysteriously outside us.[2]

The ways that we understand God affects how we live as Christians.  I’m a fan of the idea that the Trinity points to God being relational, attached, personal, and responsive.  Do we always feel God right there beside us?  Maybe not.  But is God with us in the midst of everything we face?  Yes.  And if we believe this about God, it affects how we live out our relationships with each other.  Just as God is deeply relational, we are called to be deeply relational.  We’re called to be in community, in this thing called life together.  And just as God questions Isaiah, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  We can respond, “Here am I, send me!”

Now tomorrow is Memorial Day and we remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  People who were sent to places where many of us would not choose to go.  People who didn’t return home.  There’s more than one origin story for how this national holiday began.  One involves African Americans honoring soldiers who died in the Civil War in Charleston, South Carolina.  The story goes that in May of 1865 the African American community in Charleston wanted to honor 257 Union soldiers who were buried in a mass grave in a Confederate prison camp.  They dug up the bodies, which must have been very difficult and disturbing to do.  And those folks worked for two weeks to provide a proper burial in gratitude for these Union soldiers fighting for freedom.  After the work was done, a parade was held.  And those gathered marched, sang, and celebrated.  This loving act of providing a proper burial and having a ceremony of celebration for their sacrifices happened years before women in the South began decorating the graves of soldiers.[3]  While we can’t say for sure that all of those African Americans in Charleston in 1865 who provided a proper burial for Union soldiers were Christians, this was certainly acting in such a Christ-like way.  Their actions show what it looks like to believe in a God who is relational, attached, personal, and responsive.

Here and now we can experience God in our midst because God is attached to us.  Out of this relationship, we have the strength to be God’s hands and feet in the world.  We can honor one another through acts of loving-kindness and service.  Perhaps it’s not going to look as dramatic as those African Americans in Charleston on what could have been the first Memorial Day.  Though their example is something to think about this weekend.  How do we live out our Christian beliefs by honoring one another?

This ancient story in Isaiah that grounds our actions and our thinking today still rings true.  The very order in Isaiah’s Call Story is echoed in the way that we worship God in the Christian Church in 2018.  Praise, confession, forgiveness of sins, listening to the Word, and responding to the Word.[4]  The order in which we worship has some majorly significant roots, my friends.  God’s forgiveness and granting us new life in Jesus Christ gives us strength to go out and make a difference.  Our praise of God helps us to remember that God is “holy, holy, holy” and worthy of our worship both in our words and deeds.  This ancient story has modern implications.

So Isaiah’s call story emphasizes the necessity of knowing how we view God because that affects how we live out our faiths.  And the power of religious experiences helps us turn our faith into action.  Encountering the Holy changes us for the better and we have a responsibility afterwards to respond.  Hopefully with, “Here am I; send me!”

Feels like we’re hearing a lot about being sent out lately with it being graduation season.  Whether it’s high school, college, or graduate school, speakers often contemplate the places we will go.  We might come across commencement addresses that truly capture our attention, from politicians to actors to athletes to authors to heads of corporations—there are many inspiring messages.

One amazing commencement addresses that was actually made into a small book is from J.K. Rowling.  She gave the address at Harvard, and her words ring so true!  Here the author of the Harry Potter series who came out of poverty in Scotland looked out at the graduating class and said, “But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other peoples’ lives?  Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status and unique responsibilities . . . if you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your families who celebrate your existence but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change.  We do not need magic to transform our world; we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already.”[5]

Now don’t these words ring true?  Intelligence, capacity for hard work, and responsibilities—this can be addressed to the Christian Church in the United States.  It doesn’t take magic to transform our world.  We already have that power inside of us for we have God-given gifts and a great deal to be thankful for.  Some days it sure may not feel that way.  Yet as we used to cheer in Seminary, “God is good all the time!  And all the time, God is good!”

Our good God needs us.  “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”  Will we slink away and avoid eye contact or will be declare, “Here am I; send me!”  Send me out into my community to witness to your love.  Send me out to speak to my friends about what our church family means to me and could mean for them.  Send me out to serve others in your name, O God.  Send me out to work for justice and peace.  Send me out to be kind and pay attention.  For we believe that you, O God, are holy, holy, holy—and here we are, send us!  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Isaiah 6:3, 6:5, and 6:8, NRSV.
[2] Notes from Dr. Benjamin Valentine, Systematic Theology I, Andover Newton Theological School, Fall Semester 2007.
[3] “Memorial Day,” Snopes, http://www.snopes.com/military/memorialday.asp
[4] Kristin Emery Saldine, Pastoral Perspective of Isaiah 6:1-8 in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Volume 3, 30.
[5] J.K. Rowling, Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination, 65-67.