"Here I Am! Send Me!"
Feast of St. James the Apostle. July 25, 2015. Christ Church, Sheridan, MT.
About 740 years before Christ was born, a young man named Isaiah, a member of the royal family, was worshiping in the Temple in Jerusalem and saw a vision. He wrote about his vision later in these words:
“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!’”
This passage is generally known as “The Call of Isaiah,” and it’s often read at ordinations, because the Church expects that people ordained as bishops or priests or deacons should be called by God to their ministries. But if we think carefully about what Isaiah wrote, we can see that he wasn’t really “called,” he volunteered!
The Lord of Hosts, sitting on his heavenly throne, says, “Whom shall we send, and who will go for us?” I imagine Isaiah standing there like an excited student, jumping up and waving his hand to get the teacher’s attention, crying out: “Me! Me! I’m right here. —Send me!” And when he does, then the Lord commissions Isaiah to speak for God’s to his People.
When Janis invited me to preach at her ordination, which is always a great honor, I hoped this passage would be one of the readings, because it’s perfect for the ordination of this particular priest in this particular church. Knowing the need of Christ Church in Sheridan for the stable, ongoing ministry of a priest and pastor, and aware of the limitations and conditions that apply here (as well as her own limitations and conditions)— Janis Hansen said to the Lord, “Here am I. Send me!” She volunteered.
Sure, she had to be endorsed by the Vestry, approved by the Commission on Ministry, Standing Committee, and Bishop, and meet the Church’s requirements for ordination. But she DID stand up and wave her hand and say, “I’ll go! I’ll serve! ‘Here am I. Send me.’” She offered herself for the job. And
we’re glad she did, aren’t we? You bet! And we know she didn’t volunteer for the job just because of the big paycheck!
Janis is a fitting priest for Christ Church, because this is very much a “DIY” community. (DIY means, “Do It Yourself.”) Almost everything except major construction is done by volunteers. There’s no payroll, no staff of professionals. Everybody pitches in to do what needs doing. No one expects to be a “free rider.”
Everybody understands about being a do-it-yourself church. If people don’t step forward to offer their service, the senior warden of the moment is going to tap them on the shoulder and asked, “Say, would you be willing to take on this-or-that?” Christ Church is the volunteer-oriented congregation where “volunteer” Janis Hansen will be offering her priestly ministry, at least for now. Priest and parish are well-matched.
But before we forget all about Isaiah’s famous vision in the Temple, where he volunteers to be sent on God’s sacred mission, let me read you a bit of what God says to him after he so eagerly announces, “Here am I. Send me!” This part is left out of the reading assigned for ordinations, and when you hear it, you will understand why.
Isaiah says, “Here am I. Send me!” And God answers, saying:
“Go, then, 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.
That was a very hard commission to hear! God sends Isaiah-the-eager-one to carry His word to people who don’t want to listen, who don’t want to receive a word from the Lord, to a nation that will pay formal deference to God, but whose heart will always be unfaithful, and whose mind will be focused on
other things—not on pleasing God.
Of course, my good Sheridan friends listening to this, will say, “Oh, but that’s not US! WE’RE not like the people that God sent Isaiah to preach to. No, no. We’re different! We want to know what the Lord is saying. We’re good disciples of Jesus Christ!”
Of course. We all have the best intentions, especially today. And maybe the whole “Isaiah thing” does not fully apply in this context. (We can reserve judgment on that question.) But the job of the preacher at an ordination is to speak as much or more to the person being ordained than to the congregation
gathered for the occasion. And I particularly want to convey this word of the Lord to Janis, who is about to be ordained as a priest. —Janis, would you please stand?
My sister, listen to Isaiah today. You have said, “Here am I. Send me!” You’ve volunteered to serve God as a priest in the Church. This will be rewarding and fulfilling work, but it WILL also be frustrating. At times it will bring you to tears—as Isaiah’s ministry brought him.
You will receive a new Bible from the Bishop today and he will give you authority to preach the Word of God and administer the Sacraments. But there will be many days when your people pay no attention to the word you preach and times when the Sacraments you administer will be neglected. Are you
prepared to face frustrations and disappointments?
In times when your ministry is bearing no fruit that you can see and when your people are difficult to energize for work of the Kingdom, you’ll feel discouraged. A number of priests and pastors are here today, and I assure you that we all deal regularly with discouragement. There are two primary resources
for us in such times:
- The first resource is prayer. Keep short accounts with the Lord. Never neglect your rule of daily prayer. Jesus himself is always with you to sustain you, encourage you, guide you, and correct you.
- The second resource isthe counsel of your Bishop and fellow priests. The Bishop is your shepherd and your fellow presbyters are your partners in ministry. They stand ready to sustain you. Never be reluctant to open your heart to a trusted colleague and seek to learn from him or her.
. . . Stay open. Stay teachable.
Although there will be frustrations in your ministry, just as there were for Isaiah, there will also be great joys. There will be sunny, mountain-top moments. You’ll be welcomed into the lives of the people you serve. They will trust you, love you, and turn to you for help and advice. Individuals and families will invite you to walk with them in their joys and in their heartaches. This is the deep privilege of a pastor. They will open themselves to the Spirit in new ways, and they will credit YOU with enabling them to see God’s hand at work in their lives. In those sweet moments, give thanks to the Lord. Whatever we achieve, whatever our people may imagine is our good work, we know is really Jesus Christ himself working through us. —Give thanks for being an agent of God’s grace.
Finally, my sister, never forget that the Church—even in its smallest units—is the Body of Christ. Together, pastor and people reproduce the life of Christ in the world. Together, we serve. Together, we bear witness to the Truth of the gospel and convey the power of the Spirit. Though you are ordained, the priesthood you will exercise is a ministry which Christ has given to his Church, and which the Church has merely delegated to you. —Rejoice in the unity that only the Holy Spirit can bring . . .and, like the Good Shepherd who commissions you to his service, bear whatever burden and pay whatever price it takes to keep your little flock united and moving forward together as one.
May God, who heard your cry, “Here am I, send me,” equip you with every gift necessary to fulfill your sacred calling.