In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.’
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’ And he said, ‘Go and say to this people: “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.”
The call of Isaiah is a favourite of many of those who recognise that they are called by God to service in any capacity. In the context of wonderful, pivot-shaking worship in the Temple, the Lord himself appears and asks ‘Who will go for us?’. Often we end our reading with Isaiah’s response “Here am I, send me”.
The word “I” appears, meaning Isaiah, eight times in this passage and it is easy to be blinded by this personal account into thinking that any call from God is all about ‘me’. “Here am I. Send me.” It could be all about ‘me’.
But in fact the really amazing parts of this account are all about God – his robe, his seraphs, his glory. Only once God has got the attention of Isaiah is he able to cleanse and commission him. And then the work of ministry begins – to go to the people and tell them the message God is giving them. It’s a rather odd message, that points to the destruction of the land and the punishment of the people. Only after all that will there be a time of hope. Yet however discouraging at first sight, this is God’s message to God’s people voiced by God’s prophet.
A Methodist colleague of mine is very fond of asking the question, ‘For whose benefit is this ministry?’ If when we are considering the purpose of our lives we cannot truly answer ‘For the service of God and the benefit of God’s people’ then perhaps we need to read the sixth chapter of Isaiah again – and get past the part which is all about ‘me’.
Dearest Lord, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve You as You deserve; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and not to ask for reward save that of knowing I am doing Your Will. Amen.
St Ignatius Loyola
The Rev’d Ruth Whitehead is currently serving as South Western Synod Moderator.