The majesty of God overwhelms in Isaiah’s call story, which is fitting for this Sunday, Christ the King Sunday. God is big, no God is HUGE, in Isaiah’s vision, so huge that the hem of God’s robe spilling over fills the heavenly throne room. The magnitude of God’s divinity and the relative triviality of Isaiah’s humanity are contrasted starkly. The temple fills with smoke, the accumulation of offerings made to God for centuries, and as the seraphs call to one another “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory,” the thresholds shake violently. Isaiah knows, without a doubt, he is in the presence of majesty and power, holiness and perfection, righteousness and purity.
And suddenly, in the presence of that purity, Isaiah is acutely and shamefully aware of his own imperfection, his own impurity. He cries out in confession, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!” He realizes the incongruity of a sinful, imperfect human being standing in the presence of the perfect King, the Lord of hosts. Seeing the righteousness of God, Isaiah becomes much more aware of his own unrighteousness. Standing in the presence of perfection, knowing God’s desire for him to serve, he sees even more clearly his own imperfection.
And how many times does THAT happen?!?! It seems pretty common to me. Right when I become aware of a nudging, right when I seem to start to get an inkling that God might have a job for me to do, a particular calling toward a new direction, especially a DIFFICULT new direction - - maybe there’s an injustice I’ve noticed that it seems necessary to speak out about, maybe there’s a mission that needs financial support that calls for sacrifice of my own desires, maybe there’s a need for leadership and I just don’t think I can do the task good enough, or strong enough, or with enough integrity. Often times a call to an individual or even a congregation is so humbling that it’s paralyzing because all we can see is how unfit we are for the job. And for me, I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s when the excuses just start flowing from my mouth and my heart.
You know, this is really not a perfect time to encounter you, God, to follow you. I am really busy with the kids, with work. You know you asked me to do those things, too. Maybe in a few years I’ll have more flexibility, more time for something new, something different.
Or maybe your excuses are different. Maybe you say something more like this, “The house is empty now, God, and in a way so is my heart. I think I need to find myself first. I need to find support here on earth before I can tackle one more thing. I need to do that before I can find and follow you somewhere different.”
Or “I’m fed just fine with what I’m doing. Why isn’t everyone else? If they can just see how important this is to me, God, we won’t need to try something new. We won’t need to go to that new place. They’ll come along. I’m sure of it.”
And sometimes, like Isaiah, our excuses aren’t so much about avoiding the change, they are just simply doubt in our own worthiness, doubt in the wisdom of God for calling our names in the first place. I’m not good enough. I’m disorganized. I don’t know enough. I’m not faithful enough, Christian enough, or sinless enough to serve you, God.
We make these excuses in hopes that it will turn the asker away. We hope that we will convince God that we can’t possibly serve, that we can’t possibly change, and that God will move on to ask someone else. We point out to God all that is wrong with God’s choice, so that hopefully the burden of the call, the transformation will be lifted when someone more suitable is tasked with the call that was first made to us.
It would be easy to say that the first kind of excuses, those of are unfaithful and maybe even outright disobedience while the second are actually words of faithful humility, but that dichotomy would be false because when God comes calling, when God starts giving us a glimpse of the divine presence and purpose, God has a clue. God has more than a clue. God doesn't just throw out mass Facebook invitations to follow and serve to everyone who is half connected hoping that someone, anyone will show up to do the job. God, who brought Isaiah into the divine throne room, God, whose majesty filled the temple, God, whose perfection brought Isaiah to his imperfect knees, knows exactly what is going on. God knows our worries. God knows our schedules. God knows our commitments. God knows our loneliness. God knows our emptiness. God knows our fears and our doubts and, yes, God even knows our sin and our unclean lips. We aren't pulling anything over on the holy, holy, holy Lord of hosts. God knows all of these things, but God calls anyway!
Without saying a word God tells Isaiah, “You’re right. You’re not clean. You’re right. You’re not holy, not perfect, not ready to serve me. I know that, but I’m calling you anyway.” With the actions of the seraph God’s full message is delivered. “I will cleanse you. I will make you more holy. I will get rid of your imperfections. I will make you ready to serve me. Only I can do it, and I will because I long for your partnership and your worship.”
In Isaiah God did not call a perfect man to deliver a divine word. God did not wait for Isaiah to get his life in order and learn more and believe more and understand more and develop his gift more. God did not expect this servant to be the perfect package from the start, but God knew how to use him anyway. God knew how to take an imperfect human, confessing his faults and his impurities, and clean him up, purge his sin from him, and use him for a great service in God’s own time, not according to his own calendar and sense of preparedness.
Not one us alone or all of us together lives in the perfect condition, worthy of serving God who calls us. But in calling us, imperfect men and women, young and old, individuals and the church united, God makes us ready for our service – cleansing us and forgiving us when we confess our imperfections, clearing our ears and preparing our hearts to answer the call willingly and enthusiastically, “Here am I; send me!”