Rev. Danielle K Bartz May 30, 2021
Isaiah 6:1-8 “Touched by God”
God knows what we can each achieve in this world, even if we are not sure. And often, we are not sure. We wonder if our dreams are too big. We worry that our goals are impossible to achieve. We fret over past mistakes. And we make assumptions about our worthiness, or worse yet – we make assumptions of what God knows of our worthiness. Isaiah had those assumptions about himself and God, but God’s grace once again proved to be more than any human could comprehend. The prophet Isaiah came to understand that, and he went on to become one of the most important prophets in our religious tradition. Isaiah’s journey to accept God’s call for his life is mirrored in the lives of many of us.
The summer before I began seminary, I was given a long list of books to read before the first semester began. They were meant to prepare incoming students for graduate work. Some were about academic writing. Others were about time management. But most were about preparing us to accept our call from God. There is one in particular I remember well. Entitled “Who Will Go For Us: An Invitation to Ordained Ministry” by Dennis Campbell, it continues to sit on my book shelf. The book can best be summed up like this: ‘You decided to become an ordained minister, huh? Are you quite sure you know what you are signing up for? It is going to be hard work, and God needs you to do your best. If you don’t, the church will fail and it will be all your fault. Maybe you should think about something a little easier.” At least, at just 21 years old, that is what I took from the book.
I was sure, at least as sure as one can be, about my call from God to serve the church in this way. And I was sure the Eden Seminary was the place to prepare myself. But I was not sure if I was worthy of the task. While reading the book, I reviewed my life, too focused on the things I was not proud of. I kept wondering: does God know what I got up to in college? Does God remember the lies I told as a teenager? All the times I was unkind? My frequent laziness? Am I truly worthy of accepting this call? The book, meant to prepare me, instead filled me with doubts.
The questions and doubts I was plagued with, and continue to be from time to time, are not unique to me or just ordained ministers. We have all heard a call to do something extraordinary – to teach, to write, to lead, to care, to create – and we have all found ourselves questioning whether or not we can really do what we are called to do. There is a term for this: Imposter Syndrome. This suggests we have a nagging voice in our heads that says we are not capable of what we want to do and achieve, and that if anyone found out just how incapable we are, we will be forced to stop. The prophet Isaiah, I believe, struggled just like the rest of us with a bit of Imposter Syndrome.
The scripture we heard this morning is the first vision the prophet had, a vision which occurred before he or anyone else considered him a prophet. He was living in Jerusalem and was grieving over the way the inhabitants of the city had turned away from God. Isaiah was furious the people had forgotten God helped them escape slavery, sustained them in the wilderness, and led them to the promised land. Isaiah felt a call from God to show the people of Jerusalem the error of their ways, to remind them of God’s presence and power, and lead them to follow the commandments of God once again.
But Isaiah felt completely unworthy of the task God was calling him to.
In the vision we read this morning, Isaiah saw God in the form of a figure he understood to be powerful – a mighty king. This king sat upon his throne, but the hem of his cloak filled the temple. Isaiah, a human just like you and me, had a human’s imagination of God, in this case a king, but also understood that God was far too vast to be contained in a temple. So, the hem of the king’s cloak over-flowed the space. Isaiah stood in God’s presence, feeling ashamed and unworthy. “Woe is me!” he says. “I am lost. I do not belong here in this sacred space in the presence of God. I have said and done things that are wrong, and I am from a people who have done worse.”
Isaiah, in this amazing vision was only able to think of the mistakes he had made and the people he had come from, in all their complicated and imperfect humanness. Isaiah understood he was being called to speak for God, but he was not sure God understood him to be worthy of such an extraordinary thing.
But God did not have the same idea of Isaiah’s worthiness that Isaiah did. God had created Isaiah to do this important ministry in service of God’s Kingdom, just as God has created us all to extraordinary things. In the very act of creation God knows what each of us can accomplish, and how we can serve. The Psalmist says it best: “For it was you who formed by inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.” (Psalm 139: 13,15-16). In our creation God knows we are worthy of what we are called to do. And God also knows we sometimes need to be reminded of our call and given permission to accept it.
The hot coal the angel took from the altar and touched Isaiah’s lips with in this vision was God giving permission for Isaiah to follow his call. It allowed Isaiah to set aside his past mistakes, to let go of his doubts, and to recognize that he was not an imposter in this work. It was a touch from God that gave Isaiah strength. But I do not believe God was waiting for the hot coal to touch Isaiah’s lips. God already knew what Isaiah was capable of, indeed God knew it in the moment of creation. It was Isaiah’s need, not God’s, that the hot coal fulfilled. And when God asked, at last, “Who will go for me?” the reminder had been giving and Isaiah was ready to accept that call. The rest is history. It is the prophecies of Isaiah that shaped our faith and gave Jesus a guide for his ministry centuries later.
My Beloved Community, I hope you know that God created you to do something extraordinary, because all of God’s creation is extraordinary. We are not all destined to be prophets like Isaiah. But we are each called to make real the Kingdom of God in some way. For some it is ordained ministry. Others it is teaching. Perhaps you are called to create something beautiful, or maybe care for a neighbor in a unique way. Some are called to be voices for justice, and others are called to tend to the land. Maybe you are called to gather people together to create community. Whatever extraordinary thing you have been created to do, in every season of your life, God is not waiting for you be someone other than you are. But, if you are waiting for permission, or need help shouting down that nagging voice in your head saying you are unworthy, then seek out God in prayer. It may not be a hot coal to your lips, but I promise you will find you are touched by God in some way. And that touch is a reminder you are a beloved creation of God.
We have each seen the world as it is, and we have all had visions of how the world can be. God has created us to be extraordinary, to serve in our own ways, and to be co-creators of the Kingdom of God. And we at times question that call and our own God-given abilities to achieve it. When we are able to let go of what holds us back and recognize the way God has touched our lives, then we can be transformed to live out our call. That is my fervent hope and pray for you, for me, and for all of humanity. And God is ready for us, God has been ready from the moment we were knit together. When we hear God ask, “Who will go for me?” let us all answer, “Here am I, send me.” Amen.
Creator God, you know our very souls in a way that feels comforting and overwhelming. You knit us together, each unique and yet created in your own image. You infused us with your love, and put within each of us a call to do something amazing. We thank you for your creation, and we ask that you help us to respond to that call and follow where it leads us.
God, we also know you have created us as human. We are often filled with self-doubt. We hear the voice of critics, and too often pay more attention to those voices than yours. You do not shout, but you are always calling and seeking that we listen. Help us to quite the internal and external voices that can drown you out. Help us to hear your still-speaking voice.
On this day as we seek your call for our lives, we also give great thanks for those who have served you. In particular, we give great thanks for all those who served to keep others safe in our armed forces. We remember and honor those who have died, and pray heartily for the safety of those in danger today. And we pray, unceasingly, that war may cease and your Kingdom of peace may reign.
We pray all of this in the name of Jesus Christ, a living example of your hopes for each of us, who taught us to pray together by saying…Our Father…