Called Up

Scripture:  Isaiah 6:1-8

            It is often reported that in the United States Football is the most popular sport, and the  reason for this is because of all the major leagues football generates the most revenue.   However, I think there is a case still to be made for America’s favorite pastime baseball.   Football may generate the most ad revenue and draw bigger crowds per game, but NFL teams only play 16 games a year, compared to the 162 games that make up the MLB season.   However, I think the biggest case for the popularity of baseball is the number of teams.   For instance there are only 32 teams in the NFL and currently that is the entirety of professional football teams in the United States. Baseball is a different story.   There are a total of 247 professional baseball teams in the United States.  Even though our state does not host a MLB team, we have four professional baseball teams in the state.    The support of that many teams across the country speaks a lot to the popularity of baseball.   One of the reasons why there are so many baseball teams is because of the extensive farm system that baseball has.  The origins of this system is now over 100 years old.  The way it works is that each major league baseball team has multiple teams associated with it.  This goes from the high level AAA teams like the Indianapolis Indians all the way down to rookie league teams.   In these leagues players can continue to develop skills until their affiliated major league team has need for them.  With rare exception, MLB draft picks start off in the farm teams.  Most start at the rookie level and they work their way up.   It is obviously the dream and the goal of these baseball players to make it out of the minor leagues and play in a major league ball game.  These players work hard to try and get their chance to get called up.    The reality is the majority will not.  Of all players drafted by a major league team, only 1/5th will actually play for that major league team.  The other 80% will spend their entire professional careers in the minor leagues.   Despite those slim odds, hundreds of young men pursue this dream year after year.   This morning’s scripture is the call story of the prophet Isaiah.  It is the story of what led him to become one of the most influential prophets of the old testament.   This is one of several different call stories we found scattered throughout the Bible.   These are stories of how seemingly regular people are called up to a higher, grander, world transforming purpose.   In baseball only 20% of the players get called up, so I wonder what is our percentage of people called up in the church? 

            Because the book of Isaiah is so expansive and because he is the most quoted prophet in the New Testament, Isaiah is sometimes today referred to as the prince of prophets.   Outside of what little details are revealed about his life within the book of Isaiah, very little is known about Isaiah-especially before he was called to be a prophet.   Isaiah was a prophet for somewhere between 35 and 50 years.  While not guaranteed, we can presume that he was a young man when this morning’s scripture took place.   By and large this morning’s scripture picks up in the middle, and we do not have any context.  The scripture tells us it was the year that King Uzziah died, but we know nothing about Isaiah.  The scripture does not tell us who he was until this point, what he was up to, or why he of all people was called by God. 

            And what a call story that Isaiah has.   In serving the Indiana conference of the United Methodist church on the district committee on ministries as well as the board of ordained ministries, I have been able to hear the call story of several clergy colleagues.  These stories are the personal experiences of pastors and how God worked through those experiences to bring them to serving in ministry.   I can say that I have never heard someone share a story like Isaiah’s!   This morning’s scripture is wild.   Isaiah had a vision of God sitting on his heavenly throne.   The imagery of the seraphim with all of their wings is akin to passages out of the book of Revelation.   It is quite the call story!   In most of the call stories I have heard a theme that emerges again and again is that the people were not sure if God were truly calling them or not.   I do not think Isaiah had that problem.   Seeing God on God’s heavenly throne surrounded by multi-winged angels seems like a pretty hard to deny affirmation.   You may have noticed that in the pew bible’s the sub-heading for this morning’s scripture is “Isaiah’s commission”.   This is the scripture about how Isaiah was called up to be a prophet.  However, we can get so distracted by the grandeur of the vision that we miss an important detail.  

            This scripture is when Isaiah was called up to be a prophet, but notice God did not initially tell Isaiah what to do.   This scripture is not God telling Isaiah that he has proven himself, and now God has a mission for him.   That’s not how it goes down at all.   Isaiah volunteers.   Verse 8 records, “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?”     There is nothing to indicate that this was explicitly directed to Isaiah, but nevertheless he is the one who responded, “Here am I, send me!”

            Now typically we do refer to this as Isaiah’s call story, but for Isaiah his calling was more him volunteering.   Remember, Isaiah served as a prophet for three to five decades.  It was quite the commitment he signed himself up for.   That is not a decision that should be taken likely, so I wonder what motivated Isaiah to volunteer so quickly?   While we do not know all of the details of Isaiah’s backstory we do get a clue to his motivations in this scripture.  

            This morning’s scripture makes it known that Isaiah was terrified by what he saw as he exclaims in verse 5.  “Woe to me!  I cried, I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips.”    Several centuries later, Paul wrote about the source of Isaiah’s existential angst in the book of Romans when Paul wrote, “for the wages of sin is death.”  Isaiah knew that he was a sinner from a sinful people, and he knew that out of God’s rightful and swift justice the meant he deserved to be doomed.   Yet that is not what happened.   Isaiah was redeemed.   He was set right with God, in verse 7 the angel tells Isaiah, “your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for.”   It is after this happens, it is after Isaiah is informed that he is forgiven, that he then responds “here am I send me.”   God had provided for Isaiah in a way that he could never provide for himself and God had given Isaiah a gift he could never properly return.   Perhaps, for Isaiah, the only right feeling response to God was to respond when God asked for volunteers.  

            If that is true, if part of what motivated Isaiah was responding for God taking away his guilt and forgiving him of his sin, then that has incredible implications for us.    Because if you consider yourself a Christian, if you consider Jesus your savior and the Lord of your life, then your guilt has been taken away and your sin atoned for.    Because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross you are no longer a person with unclean lips and you are no longer belong to a people of unclean lips- you belong to God.   I feel obligated to remind you that this forgiveness, this salvation we profess is a gift offered to us without price.   We do not deserve it, we are not entitled to it, and we certainly do nothing to earn it.   We are offered reconciliation with God as a gift, and we are only saved because we have received that gift.  What then should our response be?   If we take this gift of eternal life and keep it to ourselves that would be the height of selfishness.  God has offered the gift of his son to the whole world, and after we have received the gift the only right, good, and proper response is to seek to share and invite others to open that gift.   Like Isaiah, our response to God’s grace should be to volunteer. 

            When it comes to being called by God, I think this is something that we sometimes get wrong.   I think a lot of good church folk who are sitting on the sidelines, are open to the idea of serving God’s kingdom in some way.  However, they are waiting to be called up.   They are waiting for their own grand vision with smoke, lights, and six winged angels where God delivers unto them their calling.   What if is not meant to work quite like that?   What if God has already called us. . .because he has.  If you are a Christian, then you have already responded to God’s call out of the world to be one of his children.   What if now God is actually waiting on you to call yourself out, to step into the game, and volunteer?   If that is true, then it means you are already called up to serve in God’s kingdom.  The question is what are you going to volunteer to do about it?  

            With that question in mind, there are  some points for you to consider.  First, while God is waiting for us to volunteer, God still has created and us gifted us with unique gifts and abilities.  This means that not everyone is called or equipped to be a preacher, not everyone is called or equipped to be a missionary, and not everyone is equipped or called to be a children Sunday school teacher.   This naturally leads us to wonder then how do we know what we are supposed to volunteer to do for God?    Honestly, that is a question we have to answer for ourselves but thankfully it is often not a hard question to answer.  Again, in hearing the call story of many clergy there is a common theme.   Even if they ran from their calling for years, they could not deny it.   It is as if their calling was written on their hearts.   Again, Paul touches on this in Romans where he writes, “If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”   Whatever it is you feel God has best equipped you to do, then just do it.   Whatever it is, if God has truly gifted you to do it, then you can fulfill that role in a way that no one else can.  In whatever way you feel equipped, God is asking “Whom shall I send?”   God is waiting for you to volunteer.  

            There are many ways that we can volunteer to serve God’s kingdom.   Being a missionary, a Sunday school teacher, or a preacher are perhaps the most visible upfront ways but they are not the only ways.   Perhaps you are equipped to make the difference in people’s lives one person at a time by visiting with the sick and home bound or even by tutoring students.  Perhaps you are equipped to put the physical needs of others first through doing things like volunteering for a food pantry or delivering meals on wheels.   Perhaps you have been equipped to partner with others to take on major systemic problems like inadequate low-income housing or drug addiction.   Or perhaps you are called to teach and preach, and that is a calling you have been running from for awhile.  

I realize some of you know all of this because you are already doing what God would have you to do.  If you have already answered that call if you have already said “Here I am, send me” to God, and you already doing what God has equipped you to do, then may God’s blessing be upon your service, may it be fruitful, may you make disciples, and man you transform the world.    If have not responded to God’s question of “whom shall I send?”  Why not?   Let’s work together to remove those barriers.  If really are not sure what steps you need to take to be faithful to God in your faith journey, then I would love to come along aside you and help figure that out together.  If you feel like that is where you are, then let’s sit down and talk about it sometime.  

All of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ are called up.   The question is are we going to step up and volunteer to serve God’s kingdom.   If you are already doing so, then may you continue to fulfill God’s specific calling in your life.   If you are still on the sidelines, then may you hear the voice of God in the depths of your being asking “Whom shall I send?”   And it is my prayer you can respond “Here I am Lord, send me.”