'Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here I am. Send me!" (Isaiah 6.8)
Bold words from Isaiah. And yet seconds, earlier he had been cowering, reeling under the power and splendour of a bright and dazzling vision of seraphs. He had assumed that because of his human and so sinful nature, the only explanation for God to appear to him in this way was to signal his destruction. 'I am ruined!’ he had cried 'Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.' But God as we know had a job for him to do, to be a prophet, attempting to spread God's message to people who are '.. ever hearing, but never understanding; ever seeing but never perceiving.' The apostle, Paul, writing to the Corinthians, has no illusions about his own worthiness for the task that God had given him. 'I am the least..' he says ' I don't even deserve to be called an apostle because I persecuted the church.. but by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.' (1 Cor 15.12). And in the Gospel when Simon, who was to be called Peter, understood the revelation of the true identity of Jesus he also reacted by saying, 'Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.' And yet minutes later he had put down his nets, his regular job, his livelihood, and followed Jesus.
In each case where man is aware of his own unworthiness to act for God, God is swift to reply with a show of grace, commissioning each to take on a role that was to become legendary. And each stopped what they were doing and followed. Each, in their time and in their way worked for the establishment of the vision of the Kingdom of God.
God's call, to those who hear and understand, to work for the Kingdom, is still strong. Isaiah 6.10 is a wonderfully symmetrical verse, loaded with irony and sarcasm. One wonders if the church today is at times fulfilling the first half of that verse: 'Make the heart of the people calloused, make their ears dull and close their eyes.' how often do we sit in our chairs or pews, not hearing what is said, allowing it to pass over our heads, our ears dulled our eyes half asleep, and yet the consequence of failing to do this is that people might actually '..see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn and be healed.'
We may be forgiven for thinking, looking around at empty seats, that our work for the church has been like the fishing success of those brothers before meeting Jesus. We've worked long and hard and have caught nothing. Like Isaiah we acknowledge both our own imperfection, and the seeming ignorance and hardened scepticism of the society that surrounds us. Maybe, like Paul we have done our best to persecute those aspects of religious life that we don't understand, the traditionalists with their bells and smells, the progressives with their new prayer book.
God calls us to see past the limitations that we place upon ourselves. The ideal of the kingdom of God is far greater than any differences that lie between us. The problem to be solved is how do we open the eyes and ears of those around us in our daily lives so that they may understand in their hearts and become part of the healing of the world. Not to answer that call is in itself an indication that our faith itself is not firmly founded on Gospel principles. Paul urges us 'Hold fast to the word I have preached to you, otherwise you have believed in vain.' If we cannot be part of the solution then we are undoubtedly part of the problem.
In Isaiah's prophecy of the demise of the Jewish nation, when they were to be scattered, decimated, leaving only a tiny remnant of what had been a great nation, draws upon the image of trees that had been cut down. He compares the 'Holy seed' to the stumps and roots of those trees. They have the potential for new growth, as anyone who has ever cut down an elderberry bush will know. But Isaiah takes the metaphor still further. The trees he spoke of lined the route between the king's palace and the temple. This was an elevated causeway. In the heat of the sun such a raised road would easily crumble and fall into decay. It is the roots of the stumps of those mighty trees, now cut so low, that prevent the route to God's special place from crumbling away, keeping us in touch with that which is Holy. In the same way we who worship here and all those who remain true to the ideal of God's kingdom on earth, we who by faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus are already saved individually, are the means by which the hope of establishing God's kingdom in the here and now is kept alive. We may not be worthy, but by God's grace we will be made equal to the task.