It was my privilege to preach on Monday of Christian Focus Week at Ouachita Baptist University. The them for the week was "Here I Am." Batting lead off, I got to take the very text from which that phrase comes, Isaiah 6:1-13. Another speaker from the week posted her message to her blog. That gave me the idea to do the same thing. Here is my message: Here I Am, Send Me …
Excited to float the river, you put in your raft under bright blue skies. Not three miles downriver, a storm blows up out of nowhere. Lightning flashing. Thunder crashing. Wind whipping. Rain pouring. River rising. Heart racing. Frigid white water splashing into your raft. Clothes soaked. Feet and hands growing numb from the cold. Current taking control. Raft spinning in circles. Oar ripped from your hands as you try to push off from a rock. Helpless now to steer your course, you hold on for dear life … and just up ahead, the falls.
That was Isaiah in the temple. Hear the word of the Lord … (read the text).
I wonder if Annie Dillard had Isaiah’s experience in mind when she wrote these words …
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' … hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. 
Isaiah had come to the temple that day seeking the Lord. He may have been filled with some grief and uncertainty. King Uzziah was dead, and the whole nation was on edge. Uzziah had ruled Judah for 52 years. He was the only king Isaiah had known. The splendor of Uzziah's reign, recorded in 2 Chronicles 26, was impressive. He had modernized the army, conquered territory in Philistia, extended commercial activities into Egypt, and boosted agriculture. Not since Solomon had the nation known such peace and prosperity. Had Judah been a democracy, Uzziah, like Franklin Roosevelt, would have been elected over and over again. Not only was he a political giant, until he got arrogant near the end, he mostly did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He was a pretty good king. And now this man who had done so much for his country was dead.
To make matters worse, Assyria, the new bully on the block, was coming into her own, beating her chest, harassing her neighbors, and slaughtering enemies in the most ruthless ways. Assyria was a terrorist nation: ISIS, Alqaeda, and the Taliban rolled into one. Twisted, evil, bad to the bone. The Northern Kingdom was already dealing with these animals. How much longer till Assyria set her sights on Judah?
And why not? Judah’s righteousness—filthy rags. Judah’s sin—off the charts. Judah’s future was uncertain. Perhaps, Isaiah felt his own future a bit uncertain. Uzziah was off his throne. Was God still on his? So Isaiah came to the temple seeking God.
And got more than he bargained for! He saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and lifted up. His train filled the temple. Seraphim were flying around tending to the Lord. "Holy, Holy, Holy!" was the anthem of the day.
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
his glory fills the whole earth.
God's train filled the temple, and his glory filled the whole wide world. The Lord is too big to be held comfortably in the walls of a building. So as the seraphim sang and God's presence filled that place, the door-posts shook, the foundation trembled, wafts of smoke billowed about, and Isaiah reached to his head to make sure his crash helmet was on good and tight.
What does a person say in the presence of such things? Well, if he can say anything at all, he echoes Isaiah. "Woe is me!" That's funeral language. He thought he was going to die. "Woe is me!" he said. "I am ruined. For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty." How can a sinner stand in the presence of a holy God and expect to survive? Isaiah figured he was a goner for sure.
And if the place hadn't been heaving like a ship in a storm, he'd have probably made a run for it. Instead, he tightened his seat belt and hung on for dear life. When suddenly one of the seraphim, with tongs in his hands, took a white hot coal off the altar and made a bee-line for Isaiah. "Oh, no!" Isaiah must have thought. "If I have to die, why do I have to be burned to death."
Fearing for his life, his eyes red and stinging from the smoke, Isaiah hunkered down and hoped for the best. The seraph took the coal, touched Isaiah's lips and declared, “Your guilt is gone, your sin forgiven.” What? Good news instead of bad news! A little cross before the cross. A little Jesus before he even came. “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that save a wretch like me!” “Your guilt is gone, your sin forgiven.” What an incredible turn of events! Isaiah thought he would die because of his sin, but God killed his sin and kept Isaiah alive.
And when Isaiah saw that he was going to survive, he was so moved by the grace and mercy of God that when God gave the invitation: "Who should I send? Who will go for us?" Isaiah was the first one to step out from his pew, walk down the aisle, and say to the Lord, "Here I am. Send me!"
And with that act of surrender, the smoke cleared, the temple settled back on its foundation, Isaiah took off his crash helmet, unbuckled his seatbelt, and walked away with a job to do, his life never again to be the same.
It was not an easy job. No cush assignment for Isaiah. It wasn’t a mission trip to Maui. It wasn’t, “Open a spiritual retreat center at the top of Mt. Hebron.” It wasn’t, “Go bring spiritual revival to the land.” No. You heard God’s assignment for Isaiah in our text: “Dull their minds. Make them deaf. Blind their eyes … lest they see, hear, understand, turn back to me, and be healed.” Huh?
When I was ordained, the church told me, “Go preach the gospel. Preach people to salvation and shepherd them to Christian maturity.” My commission was, “Open eyes. Open ears. Convince minds.” God had a different commission for Isaiah. Judah was growing sick with sin. Granite hearts toward God. God had taken about all he was going to take of their idolatry and rebellion. They had crossed some line of no return. “Dull their minds. Make them deaf. Blind their eyes. Judgment is on the way.”
Isaiah was confused. He asked in v. 11 – “Lord, how long do I have to preach like that?”
And God said, “Until cities are piles of rubble, houses are empty, the land doesn’t grow a thing, I drive the people far away, and Judah looks like a forest of stumps.” Good grief! So much for preaching for growth. Isaiah’s going to have one lousy ministry resume.
I heard an African-American pastor tell about a church he knew that was one sorry church. The pastor got so discouraged that he left for greener pastures. The church had a hard time finding another pastor, so they asked the only deacon in the church who had any commitment, “Would you be our pastor?” He prayed about it and said yes. In telling his story, the pastor said, “My first act was to get the deacons together and tell them how things were going to be and what I expected of them. They balked: ‘That’s asking way too much. We’re not going to do that.’
“So, you know what I did? I fired those deacons. I preached that church down from 50 people to 8. And then God started growing that church every way a church could grow. We’re more than a hundred now, and most of those folks are on fire for Jesus.”
God’s assignment for Isaiah: fire those deacons, fire those priests, fire those idolaters, fire those leaders who lead people astray. Preach Judah down to a tenth, down to a forest of stumps.
God gave Isaiah such a hard job to do, that on first read, I thought, “Maybe it’s a wise thing that God got Isaiah’s commitment—'Here I am. Send me’—before God gave him his job.”
But God almost always works that way with his people. He wants us to respond to him, not to a job opportunity. He wants us to worship him, not the mission. He is God, not some headhunter in Human Resources. Unless you get a compelling vision of God, your “Here I am. Send me” is going to be nothing more than a flash in the pan. “Here I am. Send me … until the job gets hard … or the job gets boring … or the results don’t happen … or the pay’s too small … or the people to whom God sends me don’t like me very much.” If your “Here I am. Send me” is going to weather storms and downturns and hard times; if it’s going to last, it must begin with a compelling vision of God …
· the one true God
· King God high and lifted up on his throne
· the holy, holy, holy God whose glory fills the whole wide world
· the forgiving God of grace and mercy who sees your sin and forgives your sin not by a hot coal from the altar but by the blood of his own Son Jesus nailed to the altar of the cross for you and for me.
Do you know this God? Or do you worship some lesser god, some little-g god, some pipsqueak god?
· Some worship the god of my comfort—the god who exists to make me happy and keep me healthy, wealthy, and comfortable.
· Some worship the god of my convenience—the god who never interferes with my life and who always works with my schedule.
· Some worship the god in my pocket—the god I can take out and use whenever I need him but tuck him away when things are going my way.
· Some worship the god of my prejudice—the god who likes the same people I like and hates the same people I hate. What are the odds?
Little g gods all. Is that all the god you want? Wilbur Rees wrote …
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of Him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant worker. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please. 
Some worship any host of little g-gods. False gods. No gods. Gods who exist for me rather than the other way around. Gods who are in it for my glory rather than their own. Pathetic, useless idols of my own making. Three-dollar gods.
Our little g gods are not compelling. They can’t fill a temple, let alone the earth. They have no authority. They have no glory. They offer no forgiveness. They inspire no obedience. They can’t call anyone to a mission. If you worship some little g god of your own making, here’s the only response your idol compels: “Here I am. Serve me.”
But Isaiah’s God, the God of the Scripture, the one true God, our God, inspires worship, obedience, mission …
And hope! Even when the mission is hard like Isaiah’s. Even when it seems beyond us. Hope! Even after God commissions Isaiah to preach Judah into a forest of stumps, God can’t help himself but to work in a little hope. Alec Motyer says, “Typically of Isaiah, hope is the unexpected fringe attached to the garment of doom.” Hope. It’s in that last line in v. 13—“The holy seed is the stump.” All that hard preaching, but in the end, hope: “the holy seed is the stump.” What seed? What stump? Maybe a remnant of God’s holy people through whom God could keep his covenant, do his work, and send Messiah to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. Hello, Jesus.
· Isaiah 7:14 – “The Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.” Hope.
· Isaiah 9:6-7 – “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.” Hope.
· Isaiah 11:1-2a – “Then a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him.” Hope.
· And Isaiah 53:6 – “All we, like sheep, have gone astray, we’ve turned everyone to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Hope.
“The holy seed is the stump.” Even when the mission is hard, we serve with hope. That hope is Jesus. Even before the foundations of the world, as Trinity contemplated how to rescue us from our sin and the wreck we make of our lives and God’s world, Jesus said to the Father, “Here I am. Send me.” And when the time was right, Jesus put on flesh and came all the way down. Jesus showed us the Father. Jesus died on the cross. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus ascended to the Father in heaven, and one day Jesus will come again in glory and power and prove that his mission triumphs no matter what things look or feel like in the moment.
We’re talking about the same Jesus who continues his mission through you and me. You may feel God is sending you to a dry hole. You may see little results as the world counts results. But there’s hope. Jesus is with you. Because his glory fills the whole wide world there is no place he can send you where he is not already there. Across the campus, across the world, he is there. Get a vision of God high and lifted up in the temple. Get a vision of the resurrected Jesus who holds the world in his nail-scarred hands. And that vision will so propel your mission that its place or ease or hardship won’t be a factor in your “Here I am. Send me.”
Can you say that today? Back in the 50s and 60s a man named Clarence Jordan used to manage a place in Georgia called Koinonia Farm. It was a community to demonstrate in a most racist, Jim Crow time and place that people of different color can live together in equality in Christ. As you can imagine, they were a misunderstood and persecuted lot. Clarence had a brother named Bob who was an attorney, and Clarence asked him if he would represent Koinonia Farm in legal transactions.
“Clarence, I can’t do that,” said Bob. “You know my political aspirations. If I represent you, I might lose my job, my house, everything I’ve got.”
“We might lose everything too, Bob.”
“It’s different for you, Clarence.”
“Why is it different? I remember, it seems to me, that you and I joined the church on the same Sunday, as boys. I expect when we came forward the preacher asked me about the same question he did you. He asked me, ‘Do you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’ What did you say, Bob?”
“I follow Jesus too, Clarence … up to a point.”
“Could that point by any chance be the cross?”
“That’s right,” said Bob. “I follow him to the cross, but not on the cross. I’m not getting myself crucified.”
“Then I don’t believe you’re a disciple, Bob. You’re an admirer of Jesus, but not a disciple of his. I think you ought to go back to the church you belong to and tell them you’re an admirer, not a disciple.”
Yikes! Two boys. Same upbringing. Same church. Same service. Same sermon. Both sensed something of God’s call in that worship service: “Who should I send? Who will go for us?” But I think Clarence got a vision of a bigger God than Bob did. Clarence saw the one true God—high and lifted up, the God whose train filled the church and whose glory filled the earth, the God who had the authority and power and gravitas to compel even the most difficult of missions. Clarence got a vision of the one true God. Bob must have seen a little g God. Because on that Sunday when the brothers professed faith in Christ, Clarence said, “Here I am, send me,” and Bob said, “Here I am, send Clarence.”
God is here this morning. He’s looking out on the room. He’s looking at you. “Who should I send. Who will go for us?” How will you answer?
Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk, (New York: HarperPerennial, 1982), 58-59.
Cited by Charles R. Swindoll, Improving Your Serve: The Art of Unselfish Living (Waco, TX: Word, 1981), 29.
J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 79.
I have no direct source from this story other than to say I have heard it in more than one venue.