Diocese of Hong Kong IslandDiocese of Hong Kong Island   Hong Kong Sheng Kung HuiHong Kong Sheng Kung Hui   St. John's Cathedral, Hong KongSt. John's Cathedral, Hong Kong

 

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Here I am: send me
10-February-2019
Preacher: The Revd Will Newman

 

In the year that King Uzziah died, a man called Isaiah living in Jerusalem had a religious vision which changed his life and led him to become a prophet. This was a real event in history. King Uzziah was one of the great kings of Judah, ruling in Jerusalem from the age of 16 for 52 years until his death in 739BC. You can read about him in the 2nd Book of Chronicles, chapter 26. After such a long reign there was likely to be a period of turbulence, and no doubt this is connected with Isaiah’s calling to become a prophet.

 

In his vision Isaiah saw God. He saw God as a towering, majestic figure sitting on a huge throne. Imagine how Isaiah felt: the Temple in Jerusalem was almost certainly the biggest building Isaiah ever saw in his life, but in his vision just the hem of God’s robe filled the Temple. If a massive structure like the Temple was filled by the hem of God’s robe, then God must have seemed gigantic, all-powerful, far bigger than any puny human being, way bigger than anything Isaiah could even imagine.

 

In Isaiah’s vision, God was attended by flying seraphs, creatures who called out – as we do in our service every week,
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of your glory!
The sound of their voices is so loud that the huge building shakes, while smoke fills the house –not just a little bit of smoke, but clouds of smoke rising from the burning fire on the altar; the smoke of sacrifices, burnt offerings, or the smoke of incense, both signs of the presence of God.

 

All through the Old Testament only two people up to this point have ever seen God. The first was Jacob (who was given the name Israel), the old man in the story of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Jacob was the father of Joseph and his 11 brothers, the 12 tribes who made up the nation of Israel; he’s the founder of the nation. The second person to see God was Moses, the great liberator of the people from slavery in Egypt. Only Moses is allowed to go up on the mountain and see God, the sight of God is so awesome that nobody else can see God and live. And now, in his vision, there’s a third person who has seen God: Isaiah. And Isaiah’s vision is so real that his reaction is terror: ‘Woe is me! I have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’ Isaiah knows he is totally unworthy, he’s no Jacob or Moses. Nobody can see God and live, certainly not Isaiah, an ordinary person who, as he tells us, has unclean lips, sometimes stained by sin.

 

But here is the astonishing thing Isaiah discovers, and it is something that we sometimes need to rediscover for ourselves, more than 2,700 years later: God doesn’t only deal with righteous people. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to be a bible superhero like Jacob or Moses to come close to God, to see God. Turning for a moment to our gospel reading, Simon Peter has something of the same experience, when at Jesus’ command he lets down the nets and catches a huge haul of fish, and his reaction is like Isaiah’s: ‘Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ But Jesus doesn’t reject sinners. Quite the reverse, he seeks them out. The righteous Pharisees were scandalised by this religious teacher who ate meals with simple fishermen, sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes, and called them to be his followers.

 

In his vision, Isaiah’s guilt is removed by a seraph with a burning coal that touches his lips, burning away the sinful words. It’s a difficult image, sounding more like extreme pain than healing; but healing it is: the live coal burns away all impurity, leaving Isaiah free to speak the words of God, unhindered by unclean lips. And when God asks ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’, Isaiah replies: ‘Here I am: send me.’

 

Isaiah’s answer to God’s call is a model answer. This ordinary fellow, a self-confessed sinner, gives the simple answer which even the great Moses failed to give. When God called Moses from the burning bush, telling him to go and tell Pharaoh ‘Let my people go’, Moses’ reply could be characterised as: ‘Here I am: send him!’ Here I am, send her! Here I am, send someone, send anyone, not me!’ But God doesn’t let Moses off the hook.

 

What does it mean to be a Christian?
We could discuss that all morning, but I want to suggest that there are three important things, and then a fourth, that make up what it means to be a Christian.
• Coming to church regularly is part of it. Making that sacrifice of our time on Sunday mornings to give worship to God; and being part of a community of Christians, strengthening, encouraging, and supporting each other – as I hope we do here at St Stephen’s.
• Believing in God is part of being a Christian. Not only believing, but seeking to come close to God in prayer. And seeking to learn more of God through the bible and spiritual writings, and especially through the eyes of Jesus in the gospels.
• Believing in Jesus: not only believing, but trying to follow his teaching and his way, bringing compassion and healing into our world.

 

Coming to church, believing in God, believing in Jesus – and not only believing, but living out our belief, putting belief into action; three things that make us Christians. And the fourth?

 

Paying attention to God’s call.

 

Why did you come to church this morning? You could say ‘This is what I decided to do this Sunday morning.’ But you could also say ‘God called me; God called me to come, and here I am.’ If you can have that sense of God calling you, then you have taken the first step into a greater awareness of God in your life.

 

Being a Christian is not only about what we believe and what we do, it’s about allowing God to play a defining part in our lives. It’s about taking the risk of opening ourselves to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and through us. It’s about opening our eyes to see God, not high and mighty on a great throne, but God who was one of us, Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ.

 

The Prophet Isaiah, of course, was not a Christian, he lived long before Christ, so how could he be? But he had that sense of God calling him, inviting him to allow God to work through him. And he said yes. Not because he thought he was specially holy, not because he thought he was specially good, or well-qualified; he said yes in spite of the fact that he was just like anyone else.

 

God calls us. God calls you and God calls me. We don’t have to be perfect. We just have to be willing to take a risk and say Yes. Here I am; send me.

 

Amen.