Isaiah 6:1-8 NRSV
6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 6:2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 6:3 And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 6:4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
6:5 And I said: "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!” 6:6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 6:7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out."
6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!”
Many are called -
From 1940 until 1973, during both peacetime and periods of conflict, men were drafted to fill vacancies in the United States Armed Forces that could not be filled through voluntary means. To put that in historical context, the draft began in August 1940, when America was not yet involved in the 1-year old Second World War, because President Roosevelt considered it a prudent step to train American men for military service, just in case. It continued through the Korean War and ended in January, 1973, a few months before direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam ended. During that time period roughly 13,500,000 draftees entered the Armed Forces. There were also many volunteers, many of them men who had received their draft notice and preferred to serve in a different branch of the military than the Army. Many were called, indeed. And most answered that call, serving with honor and distinction. Today our military is once again all volunteers, men and women who have heard and answered the call to serve our nation in uniform. However, registration for the Draft through Selective Service is still required of all men ages 18-25 - both citizens and immigrants living in the U.S. This weekend, we honor those men and women who answered their nation’s call, and served and have died. We remember them with dignity and with all the honor they deserve.
People are called to all sorts of different work. We often think of teachers, doctors, dentists, fire fighters, police, social workers, community organizers, and others whose lives are dedicated to helping others as having a calling, or vocation. Ministers. Even attorneys and politicians - I know. I know all the jokes about attorneys and politicians. But truthfully, many serve because they sincerely want to be of service to their community. One young person I know went to law school so he could help protect the environment. Another so she could help protect those who can’t help themselves. Many of these who know they are called to a particular field have gifts that make this a obvious choice for them. For others, however . . .
Something Gary Woods said in his message last week struck me. He said that if we simply use our gifts in God’s service then it’s all about us, not about God. I disagree, in that it was God who gave us those gifts in the first place. But there’s also the matter of God sending us places where we have to call on gifts we didn’t know we had. For example - When I got to college, I really didn’t like math. And I was willing to swear that my dislike of math stemmed from the fact that I was in Mr. Hornberger’s Algebra class when we were told that President Kennedy had been shot. So when I got to college and had to take a math class I found something called Math for Non-Math Majors, which was like a Math Sampler. There were the usual algebra, calculus, and geometry, but also fractals and logic and number systems and optical illusions. It was cool. But the coolest thing was the instructor. She was not your typical Math teacher. She told us that her calling in life was to help those of us with Math Phobia get over it. And she told us why. You see, she hated math. She was a dancer, who majored in Dance in college. And in her college, Dance majors did not have to take math! But after graduation, discovering that it is difficult to make a living as a dancer, she started substitute teaching, where she discovered that the most urgent need by far was for math teachers. So she bit the bullet, went back to school, and became a math teacher. And discovered the joy of opening the eyes of students to the beauty of Math. She went back to school again so she could teach math at the college level. Math was not her gift - dancing was. But she received a call to do something she really didn’t want to do, and thus improved the lives of many - including me. We really never know what God has in store for us. But we do know that no matter what God calls us to do, the gifts and talents we need will be provided.
And then there’s me. I was a secretary. I was good at it. I liked being a secretary. I liked having someone else in the position of authority. I disliked being the person in charge. I was terrified of speaking in front of people. Then one Sunday in church, while Pastor Betsy was preaching, God said, “You need to be doing this for me.” A few weeks later, when I was talking to women in the County Jail about changing their lives so they didn’t have to keep going back to jail, God said, “You need to be doing this for me.” I did not want to be a minister. I kept not wanting to all through college and a year or two into seminary. Oh, I was willing to do what God said, but I didn’t have to like it. Likewise, after leaving Chapman University, as much as I loved Chapman, I did not love California, and I swore I would never come back. And so, here I am. In Selma, California, serving as your pastor. Not where I thought my gifts and talents would take me. Certainly not my plan for my life. But it is, apparently, God’s plan for my life. And I wouldn’t change a thing. I love what I do. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Last Friday afternoon a colleague of mine was on his way to work when he ran into a police roadblock. Later he would write about his experience.
“As I sat on the highway, the radio announcer shared there was an active shooter. Soon, our daughter Emily sent me a text. Suddenly I realized I was stopped on the highway because the crime scene was growing and traffic had been stopped. I was within a mile of the school, looking behind, and realizing, that they were diverting traffic away from the area. [A little later] The police who had stopped the traffic were … going from car to car, asking where those of us who ended up within the blocked area were heading, so that they could then direct which way to go.
When the sheriff's deputy had me roll down my window, he asked, "Are you a parent?"
I replied, "No, I'm a hospice chaplain on my way to visit a patient."
He then looked at me and said, "We could sure use you at the Junior High."
I didn't hesitate. I said, "Sure, where do I need to go?”
His boss would share later that day, "God had a divine plan." What's the chance of a hospice chaplain being in a line of cars in front of a school where death seemed to be everywhere?”
Todd Williams could have gone to work, to comfort the dying in their homes and hospitals. That is his calling, after all, and his job. Instead, he went where God called him that day. The folks in hospice care needed him. But not in quite the same, immediate way that he was needed at the High School in Santa Fe, Texas.
We never know when God is going to call us to drop whatever we thought we were supposed to be doing and go someplace else entirely. We never know when someone is going to say to us, “We could really use you over there.”
Isaiah was very sure he was not worthy of being where he was, seeing what he was seeing, and hearing what he was hearing. But God found him worthy, and acceptable, and just exactly the right person to send. His doubts were removed, his sins were forgiven, and he stood before God saying, “Here am I. Send me.” Let us be like Isaiah. When we are called, even though we may be quite sure that we are not gifted in the ways that this call requires, let us trust God to know us better than we know ourselves. Let us trust God to know where we are needed. Let us hear that call, and answer that call saying, “Here am I. Send me.”