Here I Am, Lord (February 10, 2019)
Isaiah 6: 8-13; 1 Corinthians 15: 1-11
Here I Am, Lord.
In the summer of 1998 I went to Camp Chippewa. It was one of the two years that I went, and this particular year their theme was “Here I am, Lord.” And they talked about being ready to serve God, and answering yes to God. And the theme song they used for that year was the hymn Here I Am, Lord number 593 in the hymnal. And I love the hymn. I loved this song. It became my favorite hymn very quickly, and maintained that status for a very, very long time. I loved this hymn because I love what it was saying: that God had heard the cry of the people, that God wished to make their darkness bright, that God wished to save them, that he had borne the people’s pain, wept for love of them, sought to break their hearts of stone and give them hearts for love alone, that God would set a feast for the poor and the lame, providing the finest bread, and ultimately give his life for the people. And it goes on to say that God was looking for someone to give that message out into the world. In short, God was saying, “I want to tell the people all that they mean to me, and all that I will do for them. Whom shall I send with this message?” And the hymn says, “Here I am, Lord. Pick me. I’ve heard you calling, and I will go if you lead me.” A response that we all, every person here who has ever committed their life to Christ, should say. The song is a beautiful, beautiful message of faith and hope. Here I Am, Lord is a hymn that is based, at least in part, on this Scripture in Isaiah; when God asks “whom shall I send to send a message to the people?” And the prophet Isaiah responds, “here am I. Send me.” And when I found that this hymn was based off a Scripture, and I turned it to that Scripture, you can imagine my dismay as I begin to read around that Scripture that was read this morning. You see, God tells Isaiah to say something, but it is not the verses of the hymn. It does not sound anything like what we see the message on the song.
The message of Isaiah is to “tell the people to keep looking, but don’t comprehend. Don’t understand. Look, but don’t see. Listen, but don’t hear. So that they won’t ultimately follow God. Isaiah, preach and bring a message in such a way that they won’t listen to you, that they won’t turn; because if they turned they would be healed.” But instead their cities will lie in waste; their land will be utterly destitute; until they look, and their land looks, like an oak that has been reduced to nothing but a rotting stump. That sounds the complete opposite of what was said in the song! But this is the message that Isaiah is told to bring to the people. This is the message that God is looking for someone to send. And for much of the book of Isaiah, at least the first half of it, that is the message that is sent.
I will mention that after the land is destroyed after Israel and looks like a rotting stump, we get the second half of Isaiah which comes from the exile. And during that time Isaiah begins to turn in the message that is preached; and it begins to look a little more hopeful. Most of the verses you know from Isaiah come from the second half: the suffering servant, the the one that Jesus quotes in Nazareth “I have come to preach good news to the poor, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free.” All that comes for the second half. And you can see that second half of Isaiah message briefly in this set of verses, right at the end of what was read this morning from Isaiah, when God says that the stump shall be a holy seed. In other words God will grow something new, that is going to be great, out of this stump; out of what is destroyed will come new life. This past week there was been a picture that was circulating online of a massive tree stump, like 2 feet wide, and it was clearly cut down. And then in the middle of that stump is sprouting a new tree. New life, new hope, coming from what seemed dead; a resurrection if you will. There’s another hymn that goes to that kind of new promise. We’ll sing that one too. So the verse that inspired this song inspired the name of the song only really inspires the chorus. Where did the verses come from? Or is this song just simply a lie? I mean if they’re not following the Scripture, then is the song simply making something up? Is the song is lying to us? Where did the rest of it come from? That’s why I actually really liked being able to do the Lectionary today, because I got four verses that supposedly went together. And indeed I can see that we have another Scripture in the four that were selected for this week that points to where the verses came from. The verses of the song come from the New Testament, from the Gospels, and the book of Romans, and from Hebrews, and of course they come from Corinthians. Passages like the one that was read here this morning from the 15th chapter of the first letter to the church in Corinth; where Paul declares the good news of Jesus Christ. This is the news, the Gospel, that he presented to the Corinthians, and which they must return to. The very news that saved them at the beginning; and which saved us at the beginning, for those of us who are indeed committed to Christ. And Paul outlines again what the good news is. In summary; first, Christ died for our sins in accordance with, or in fulfillment of, the Scriptures. Now that implies obviously that there was a sin to be died for, and that the cost was indeed death. But that Christ has come, as had been predicted by all of those passages, to start something new; to raise a holy seed from the dead stump that was the world, to create a new life. Christ died in order to do that, and he was buried, and that this tree has risen from the tomb; a new tree, a new vine, upon which we all can graft ourselves if we only accept the gift God grants through Christ, and accept him as our savior, and commit to following his guidance in becoming all we were meant to be. And that too was in accordance with the Scriptures. But I will say that there were several who didn’t really think that that was something that could happen, who looked at Paul, and looked at Peter, and looked at all these messages and said, “people don’t rise from the dead. When they’re dead, they’re dead.” As a part of the good news that Paul talks about is that there were messengers that have been sent by God, people who had said “here am I, send me” to Jesus; and that Jesus had appeared to them. He appeared to Peter, and he appeared to the 12, and then he appeared to 500 people in Galilee. And these people were eyewitnesses of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. And many of them were still around, and the people of Corinth could ask them for their testimonies. For us, those testimonies have been written and preserved in the Scriptures we know as the New Testament. Their witness remains for us in this book. Their witness, their message that they had said “yes” to God to deliver remains for us just as it was available to them. And then Paul says, “Jesus appeared to me, as one late to the party, and I stand and witness as well of this amazing and awesome thing that God has done. This message that God has sent to us in Christ, I have given to you as well.” Paul’s message sounds a lot more like the verses doesn’t it? Paul’s message of what Christ did for us: that he came, that he taught us how to live, that he taught us what it meant to be a follower of God, and ultimately that he died that we might be able to live. Doesn’t that sound more like the verses; like a God who’s heard people cry, and wants to make the darkness bright, who has wept for love of them, who will break hearts of stone and give hearts for love, who will set the feast for the people, and ultimately give his life. The verses came from here. And that’s the beauty of the song. The song calls upon the call to the Isaiah for someone to be a messenger to the world, and then talks about how we have a new message. Most of us don’t have a vision like Isaiah’s when we’re called. I don’t know of any, or very many at least, pastors who have any kind of vision like that in their call story. Most of them are little feelings we have within ourselves that point us in a new direction where we say, “that would be cool,” and then “I think God wants me to do that,” and then “I really think God wants me to do that,” and then “I know God wants me to do that.” And all of us have calls. Whether it’s to be someone who stands up here and talks every Sunday morning, and goes out to visit people in hospitals and people in need, and tries to minister to the world, and organize a church into ministry; or whether it’s someone who goes to an office building and is the one who will be there for people who need to talk, or is the one who’s kind to the waitress at lunch when the rest of the office is mean, or maybe the one is merciful to the worker who just doesn’t have enough money this month to make it through. What the song recognizes that we all have a message to send. And I love the song has put these two ideas together, put these two passages together; because ultimately when we are sending our message, when we understand what the gospel is really about, we need both of these. We need Isaiah to know that sin is serious. When Isaiah gets up to the throne room of God and he sees all that is there, he says “I’m going to die, for I am a man of unclean lips.” We understand sin as serious. But the Isaiah passage also tells us that God can cleanse us, as it is God who directs an angel to take a coal from the altar and set it upon his lips, and God who declares “your lips have been made clean.” Isaiah teaches us that sin leads to distraction, as his prophecy foretold, unless God acts in the world. Sin makes us in need of God’s saving action; else it leads to our destruction and we are left a stump. And we need Paul to remind us that God has acted; that God has brought the coal out into the world, and has offered to touch our lips and make our lips clean, to make us new and fresh, to bring healing and a new life out of our stumps. The new beginning is seen in the message of Paul, and it continues to this day. And just as Paul brought that message the Corinthians, so we are called to bring that message to the people that we interact with; to show them the eyewitness accounts and say, “I have been witness to this phenomenon as well, even as one untimely born.” So I ask, will you take that message out into the world? God is asking today “whom shall I send?” And I say “Here am I, lord, send me.” What do you say? Amen.