Sermon – 8 February 2004

The call of Isaiah was the first reading that we had this morning and it is the one that I am going to concentrate on this morning.

Let me give you warning too, part of the ministry of the word this morning will be silence. At the end of the sermon, I will be inviting you to listen. To wait on the Lord. To hear. To know. To worship.

But for now, we will take refuge in words and think about Isaiah?s vision.
It is something which will be quite a familiar one to many people. Isaiah?s vision of worshipping the one true God in the holiness of the temple is one which has endured. It is a majestic, wonderful scene. Isaiah is captured, taken up, lifted high into the worship of heaven itself as he experiences his call. It is a call to hear the word of God and speak it. A call to share his experience of God with the rest of the world, something which Isaiah did and his words inspire us centuries later.

This morning I want to talk about Isaiah?s call, our own calling by God and also to try to say something about the words which come immediately after that call in the bible reading, words which are probably unfamiliar and a little difficult.

I don?t know what you make of Isaiah?s experience. We could get into a long discussion about whether his experience was a mystical one or whether it was an aesthetic one or whether this is merely a literary device of a writer high on worship. It does not matter really. What matters is that Isaiah was called by God. Called to witness to the fact that God could be known. And that God can be known. Known indeed by mystical experiences, which are part of the experience of many people. Known too in the experience of beautiful things ? that aesthetic of holiness which captures and entrances. And knowable as Isaiah?s words come to life as we read them off the page.

In the midst of all of this, Isaiah was called by God. So precise is he, that he puts a date on it. It was, in the year that King Uzziah died.

Isaiah?s call follows a classic pattern. There is a formula by which he is called which is repeated throughout the bible and throughout human history.

Firstly, there is a sense that something out of the ordinary is happening. Then there is a perception of the call itself. Then a rather human response, the rejection of the call by the person through fear or trepidation and then ultimately the acceptance of the call and God?s reassurance that it is possible.

Actually there is a further stage, and I will come onto that in a minute. (The further stage is the person starting to say unlikely or difficult or incomprehensible things). I will come back to that.

For now though, I want to focus on the pattern of the call. Call. Refusal or hesitation. Reassurance. Acceptance.

If you know your bible, you will know that people who are getting to know what kind of God we worship seem to go through the same kind of pattern.

Call. Hesitation. Reassurance. Acceptance.

Furthermore, this pattern is repeated so many times. So very many times, that it seems to be characteristic of God.

If you want to know God, then you can expect this to happen to you. I know not whether you will know God through a vision as majestic as the one that Isaiah had in the year that King Uzziah died. I know not whether you with experience God in a mystical sense. Or through beautiful things. Or through words. Or through worship.

But I know that if you experience God at all, then you might expect something of this pattern to occur.

It is my belief that the kind of God whom we worship here, week by week, is the same God whom Isaiah experienced in the year that King Uzaiah died. And it is my belief that people are called even yet.

And I ask you this morning to dwell for a moment on this and ask yourself what your calling is. There are any number of ways of phrasing this question.

? What is God calling you to do?
? What is your sense of self in the world?
? Is there something undone which you need to do?
? Who are you really? Truly? Honestly?
? Are you the person whom others see?
And I further invite you, if you are a member of this church to ask that question not only of yourself as a person, but for this congregation.

Who are we really? Truly? Honestly? Who are we before God and what is it that we are called to do?

Now, what was the further stage of being called that I referred to a minute ago? Yes, that stage following the call where the prophet begins to speak. And almost immediately to find it hard to put his experience of God into words.

Isaiah has this message from God. ?Go and say to the people: keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.? It is a strange thing for the prophet of the Most High to come out with.

Could God say this?

There are several ways of understanding this, and all I can do is invite you to take your pick.

I can think of three possibilities.

1. That God really does hide himself from us sometimes. I find this a hard concept, though it is a way of understanding God which is ancient and still very popular. God is bigger and wiser than we are and chooses to reveal only so much as we can cope with. Only very occasionally does this make sense to me.
3. That the Bible is a record of the way people have felt in their dealings with God and thus a better indication of what it means to be human than what it means to be God. This, I find more compelling, more often. Seeing the Bible as a record of the how it feels to get to know God. All the highs and the lows. The times when we are taken up in our worship and along with Isaiah are lifted into the presence of God. And also the times when this is not true. The times when we just do not understand and faith seems hard or impossible or just plain silly. As though God has turned out the lights. This is a way of understanding human spirituality which is also ancient and very persuasive. More often, this is the way I read the bible.
5. That God is giving us an instruction to keep on listening even when things do not seem to make sense. This too is a valid reading of this prophecy. For persistence in listening is persistence in prayer. And hanging onto God even when things do not seem to make sense is an experience which gives birth to holy wisdom.
Take your pick of these interpretations. They are all possible. And there are many more and you can choose between them.

I?m not sure whether thinking about a call is optional though.

If you are a human being, you are a spiritual person. If you are here on this earth and here in this place, it is my belief that you are called by God. And if you do not want to be called, the you are in good company.

You may not like it any more than Isaiah or any of the other prophets, apostles, martyrs, saints or other holy fools whom God has called.

But called you are. And I invite you to listen now, in the silence for that call.




  1. Kelvin says

    Re: Sermon – 8 February 2004
    I wonder if God ever tires of calling us, such is our human aversion to responding?
    Who me? No, not me! Can't possibly be me!
    Thanks for the reminder, Kelvin, to seek the silence and wait for the call.
    It will come again and again and again and again……….until we hear AND listen.


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