What Did You Expect Would Happen Today?

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Sermon - Isaiah 6:1-13

I don’t know what Isaiah thought was going to happen when he entered the temple for worship that day but what did happen was pretty spectacular – God sitting on a throne, robe so large that the hem fills the entire temple, six-winged seraphs in attendance and calling out so loudly that the entire building shook, and smoke everywhere!  This is nothing less than what The Rev. Stacey Simpson Duke refers to as “the dazzling, devastating presence of a holy God.”[1]  When you walked in the doors today, what did you expect would happen? Did you come here for solace and for pardon?  Did you come for rest for your soul? Or did you enter this space fully prepared to encounter the transforming power of the living God?  I ask because I think we sometimes miss an opportunity.  All of our music, our prayers, and, I hope, my preaching point to the presence of this God and yet, I share Simpson-Duke’s fear that our experience of God “is limited less by the border between heaven and earth [but instead] by the firm boundaries around our own imagination.”[2]
And if we can open up those boundaries, what might we see and hear?  Might we, like Isaiah, be so overcome that our only response is “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”[3] Might we experience God’s cleansing touch, God’s assurance of pardon that removes any feelings of unworthiness so that we we, like Isaiah, can hear the question God asks of us each and every moment of our lives: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”[4] Did you come here only for solace and not for strength? Did you come here for pardon only and not for renewal?  Because the fact of the matter is this, we who believe in Jesus Christ are called to “serve the world in Christ’s name.”[5]  We are called, like Isaiah, to respond faithfully, “Here am I; send me!”[6]
This faithful response often marks the end of this reading. Those who prepared the lectionary set apart the remainder of the text in brackets to say it is optional.  I suppose when we stop with Isaiah’s response we can highlight Isaiah’s faithfulness, as a way of suggesting that Isaiah’s faithfulness is something to be emulated by all of us.  And so it is.  But when we read the rest of the passage we find out what Isaiah is saying yes to:
Go and say to this people: “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; Keep looking, but do not understand.” Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.[7]
Hearing that this is the task he has assented to, Isaiah panics a bit and thinks to ask “How long, O Lord?” and God’s response is far from reassuring as God says, “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate.”[8]  But despite this task - a task that Isaiah assented to before he even knew what it was – despite this horrible ask from God, Isaiah remains faithful to God’s calling, Isaiah remains true to his word, “Here am I; send me!”
I believe that God’s calling of the Church in our day and age is no different than God’s calling of Isaiah.  And when we sugar-coat the Gospel of Jesus, turning it into a neatly packaged soundbite of niceness or politeness; when we welcome the stranger in our midst but never tell them what the Gospel demands; or when we come into this place for worship open only to rest for our weary souls, then we have fallen short of our high calling. A calling that asks us to be God’s servant people, delivering God’s message of hope and reconciliation to a hurting world. 
And there is so much hurt to attend to.  Where to begin?  Just this week Jacob Soboroff and Dennis Romero of NBC News reported that the Trump administration has admitted that it may not be possible to reunite thousands of children separated at our nation’s southern border with their parents. The Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement “doesn’t have the resources to track down the children.”[9] The department’s deputy director went on to say that “reunification of minors … could interfere with the child's routine and currently established relationships” and would, more importantly, “substantially imperil [the department’s] ability to perform its core functions.”
https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-06-06/mother-and-daughter-separated-year-ago-southern-border-trumps-zero-tolerancePhotographer Barbara P. Fernandez We are called to be a servant people, delivering God’s message of hope and reconciliation to a hurting world.  But our response must begin just like those biblical saints who have been called by God. Our response must begin like Simon Peter’s - falling down on his knees saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”[10] Our response must begin like Paul’s – “I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle.”[11] Our response must begin like Isaiah’s - “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”[12]  We must ask ourselves what part do we play in this? If we are going to transform this systemic evil that is happening in our names we must first admit “our own part in the mess.”[13] What have we done to help immigrants and refugees? How have we held elected officials to account?  Where have we expressed our moral outrage?  How have we closed our hearts and minds to these atrocities, have we gone numb?  
And then, having named our complicity through acts of commission or omission, then, like Isaiah, we receive God’s good news that we are forgiven, that our “guilt has departed and [our] sin is blotted out.”[14]  And then God calls again because with forgiveness comes our ability to respond with faith - “Here am I; send me!”  into the desolate places, the broken places, the hurting places, here we are; send us!
I don’t know what Isaiah thought was going to happen when he entered the temple for worship that day. But what he received was nothing less “the dazzling, devastating presence of a holy God.”  When you walked in the doors today, what did we expect would happen? And will we remain open to the possibilities?

[1] Stacey Simpson Duke, “Commentary 2: Connecting the Reading with the World,” in “Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany: Isaiah 6:1-8(9-13)” in Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship, edited by Joel B. Green et. al. (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2018), p. 226.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Isaiah 6:5a
[4] Isaiah 6:8a
[5] from Eucharistic Prayer C, BCP, p. 372.
[6] Isaiah 6:8b
[7] Isaiah 6:9-10
[8] Isaiah 6:11
[9] Jacob Soboroff and Dennis Romero, “Finding all migrant children separated from their families may be impossible, feds say,” NBCNews, February 2, 2019, accessed February 6, 2019.
[10] Luke 5:8b
[11] 1 Corinthians 15:9a
[12] Isaiah 6:5a
[13] Duke, p. 227.
[14] Isaiah 6:7b