Isaiah 6: 1-10
Last week, Steve and I began our sermon series on call stories where Steve preached on the call story of Jesus. This sermon series is an opportunity to look at the ways God has called different people throughout history, to look at the diversity of ways God calls people and the unique people God uses. Scripture tells beautiful stories of people being called in surprising, unique ways, looking at these stories through our sermon series we hope will help us to recognize our own sense of God’s call on our lives.
Our scripture reading this week comes from the 6th chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah. This passage is the call story of Isaiah which interestingly occurs 6 chapters into this book, after the prophetic work of Isaiah has begun, reiterating the ability of God to call us over and over again in different times of our life.
Listen now to the call of Isaiah from Isaiah chapter 6, verses 1-10:
Will you pray with me—God, bring your spirit among us that the words we hear may encourage us, inspire us, strengthen us to do your work, to be a part of your work in the world. Move among us that we may come to know your presence a little more, move among us that we may listen to your call today, move among us that we can tell the story of your son Jesus with confidence. And now Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, O Lord our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Almost 10 years ago someone said to me, “you don’t see it now, but you’re going to be a great minister.” I quickly, easily and eagerly shrugged that off my shoulders, I simply was not going to be a minister.
A few years later, I sat in my tiny one room apartment with no electricity and one plastic chair in Nairobi and wondered what in the world I was going to do when I had to leave Kenya in a few short months. I sat on my bed and did the only thing I could think to do, I prayed. I prayed and asked God what was next.
And when I prayed I didn’t see seraphs dancing and singing, I didn’t hear loud shouts of a deep-voiced-God telling me what to do, I saw no burning bush, the hem of God did not descend upon me in a vision. No, but rather, I felt a small, faint, uncertain, unspecific idea, a little seed planted in me from who knows where, but a small seed that suggested, in the most faint of ways that perhaps ministry might be that thing for me.
The call God places on our lives isn’t necessarily as dramatic, loud, obvious, explicit, or exciting as the call of Isaiah. That doesn’t mean that God isn’t calling, that doesn’t mean God isn’t speaking in your life, that doesn’t mean God can’t use you, that doesn’t mean God won’t use you.
The Isaiah passage paints a sort of Renaissance era picture, a picture of puffy white clouds, golden wings, harps, a six-pack long white bearded Isaiah touching the hem of the cloak of God, a perfect picture of excellence and harmony with God.
But, perhaps we’ve experienced this picture in our own way. Perhaps the seraphs, the celestial beings, Isaiah sees in this passage, perhaps we see them too, in the anthems of our choir, the high and lofty songs of praise they sing to God. As we sit in the pews and the choir joins their voices together in beautiful harmony praising God, might those be our own seraphs flying high and lofty?
Or the hem of the robe of Christ, might that be the work of the church we see everyday, the Room in the Inn guests that fill our fellowship hall on Wednesday nights, the beauty of God’s children gathered together sharing a meal despite differences in race, income, life experiences, or neighborhoods?
Or maybe the six wings of the seraphs that Isaiah describes, maybe we do see those, perhaps we see them in conversation with friends, in laughter shared around a table, in joy that we experience while being with one another that lifts our spirits high..
Perhaps we haven’t seen the renaissance style painting that the imagery of Isaiah describes in this passage, but maybe we have experienced it, maybe we have experienced these beautiful images in different ways. In ways that lift our spirits so high that it can only be described as holy, or in a moment so unexpected that it must be divine, or such a beautiful sight or song so beautiful it must be the song of God singing to us.
When I felt a sense of call, an odd stirring in my heart, a moment that was so unexpected, so unprecedented but so oddly right, there is no other way to describe it then to describe it as God’s work in my life.
After I felt this sense of call, undramatic, unromantic, unexciting, I moved back to New York and then traveled to Princeton, NJ to start my first semester of seminary. I had some time to think about this call, to wonder if that was right, if I was right. I mean, how could it be, how could it be that God would call me to ministry?
I moved to Princeton the following fall and started a whirlwind of seminary—getting used to a new place and spending a lot of time wondering—wondering why had God called me to this place, why God would want me to be a pastor, and then a little less of why did God call me to this place and why does God want me to be a pastor and a lot more of did God call me to this place, could God want me to be a minister?
As this feeling sat on my heart, I went one evening to an opening worship service for one of the campus student groups led solely by seminary students just like me, but who surely had things a little more figured out than me. I sat in the pews of that chapel service, torn about whether or not I could be good enough to be there, whether God really did call me, was this whole thing a big misunderstanding? And as I sat there the preacher started to hand out little pieces of felt and I don’t know what she said before or after but she said, “we all have them, write them down, write down the reason you think you aren’t good enough to be here.” How could she see so straight through me, to the very thing I was wondering. So I wrote on my little piece of felt while the people around me scribbled away. I wrote “because my faith isn’t strong enough.” And then I walked up and hung my piece of felt next to the others. And there I was shocked, shocked to see that all those people in the pews who surely were more fit for this than me, they had reasons too. People wrote things like “because I’m a woman” “because I’m gay” “because I am not good enough” “because I have a stutter” “because I’m not smart enough” “because I am a sinner” not just a few reasons but a whole tapestry of reasons, a whole tapestry of reasons people thought they might not be good enough to be called by God.
And, as it turns out, that feeling I had, that feeling all those seminary students had, that feeling I’m guessing you’ve had– that uncertain feeling of “I certainly couldn’t be good enough,” well it turns out its a common theme in the Bible. The idea that surely God can’t be calling me to do something, God certainly wouldn’t use that person to be the bearer of the good news? Can God really use her for any good? God chooses some pretty funky, unsurprising characters to do God’s work, we have good company:
Isaiah – a self-proclaimed man of unclean lips from a people of unclean lips
Amos – who just tells it like it is: “I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet”
Moses – a man in a strange land who stutters and suffers from stage fright
David – a shepherd boy, little brother, called to be the King of Israel
Esther – an orphan girl raised in exile
John the Baptist – a wilderness man with a questionable wardrobe
Rahab – a harlot who lived in the wrong part of town
Hannah – mocked by her sister wife
Paul – the great persecuter of the church
And Jesus – a poor Jew born into an occupying Roman Empire
Time and time again the Bible tells a narrative of funky people who think they aren’t worthy to serve God, who think they aren’t the right person, who think they couldn’t do it but who indeed God calls to do amazing things, to tell prophetic messages, to deliver the people of God, to share good news to the world.
God shows us over and over and over and over again that we are not called because of what we have done, our holiness, our own abilities, our worthiness, our perfection–God calls us because God can, because God can use you to do amazing things.
God repeats this narrative over and over in the people he uses, but if you need to hear it from another person, hear it from Cam Newton, the panthers all star Quarterback, potential MVP of the NFL who said in a postgame interview: “it’s a God thing…I’m just his instrument and he’s using me on a consistent basis. I’m a prime example of how God can turn something that was bad and turn into into something that was very great.” God takes us how we are, not because we are already worthy or able or perfect, God takes us and works in us to do amazing things.
I recently came across a quote from Australian preacher and activist Christine Caine, who wrote, “often the very things that you think have disqualified you are the ones that qualify you to do what God has called you to do.”
Perhaps you aren’t sure that your call story was dramatic enough, perhaps you’re not sure you’re holy enough, or you read enough of the Bible, or you don’t go to church enough, or you sinned real bad recently, or this or that. But those things, those are the things that God can use, the things God has used, the things God will use as God uses you to serve the people of God, to bind up the brokenhearted, to deliver good news to God’s people, to share love with the lost, to grow the church. God can, God will, God does use funky and unexpected people to do really wonderful and amazing things.
It’s not that you aren’t good enough, it’s that you are a child of God, called to work for God’s justice in the world.
It’s not that you aren’t able, it’s that you are a child of God, called to serve God’s people.
It’s not that you aren’t worthy, it’s that you are a child of God, called to tell that good news.
So, whatever that thing is. Whatever it is that is keeping or has kept you or will keep you from seeing yourself as a called person of God, that your sense of call isn’t dramatic enough, or that you are not holy enough, or that you have sinned, or that you don’t enough, or aren’t brave enough or somehow aren’t enough. Don’t let that get in the way of sharing the good news is because that just may be the very thing God uses to help share the good news.
In the name of God our Creator, Sustainer and redeemer.
* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.