God said, “Whom shall I send?” And immediately, without hesitating, without knowing what on earth he was getting into, Isaiah responded, “Here I am, Send ME!”
Now, I have thought and thought and thought about this sermon. In some ways, it is the inspiration for this whole series on worship – because fundamentally, I believe that what we do in worship gets us ready to say yes. What we do in worship helps us to place God at the center of our lives as we praise. What we do in worship helps us to let go of the pasts that weigh us down. What we do in worship re-presents us with the Word of God. And ALL of those things prepare us, shape us, form us, so that when God cries out, “Whom shall I send?” we will all cry together – SEND ME!!!!
If you look at the structure of our worship services – about a third or more of our time is spent responding. We respond to God by lifting one another up in prayer. We respond to God by giving generously to the work of Christ’s church in the world. We respond to God by coming forward to the table of the Lord and sharing in the heavenly banquet. We respond to God by heading out into the world with a blessing. And the most important part? We respond by living every minute of our lives between 10:00 on Sunday morning to 9:00 the next Sunday in a way that says yes to God.
That, my friends, is the tricky part. We read in James that we are supposed to be doers of the word and not hearers only. That we shouldn’t just talk about loving God and others, but we are actually supposed to go out there and love God by loving others.
As we have talked about all this month, the core of our gospel message is: God loves you, God forgives you, and God has a job for you.
Every single day, in a thousand different ways, God is inviting us to participate in the reign of God’s kingdom. Just on Thursday as I sat down to write down some of my thoughts, I was struck by four invitations in particular.
1) Mary Lanning passed away on Thursday morning and I heard God say, “Whom shall I send to comfort those who are grieving?”
2) The rain kept falling all day Thursday and I heard God say, “Whom shall I send to fill sandbags in Palo and Central City and Marion and bring hope to those who are flooded?”
3) I looked at some of our curriculum for Sunday School, and I heard God say, “Whom shall I send to teach the high school class and provide support and encouragement for our young people?”
4) Our lay leadership team met on Thursday evening, and I heard God say, “Whom shall I send to serve the people of this church in Marengo, Iowa?
Now – in school, I was always the kid who wanted to answer all of the questions. And so I’d be sitting there in my seat, eagerly raising my hand, halfway standing out of my chair so the teacher would notice me.
That’s kind of how I picture Isaiah. He just had something AMAZING happen to him – He is standing before God and in spite of all the things he has done in his life, he has lived through the experience. Even more than that – he was forgiven, given a whole new lease on life. And now this same God that is full of grace and mercy needs someone to help him out. And Isaiah raises his hand and says “Hey God!!! I’m over here!!! Send ME!!!!!!”
If I took each of those questions from Thursday individually and just stood up here and asked them, I would be willing to bet that you wouldn’t be eagerly responding. I myself have gotten out of that habit of eagerly saying yes to things that come along. Our lives are so busy. We have legitimate reasons to be gone. We are already committed to many good and wonderful other projects. We are serving the community through our jobs or through the school already.
We have lots and lots of good excuses.
Or are we just letting ourselves off the hook?
There is a twenty year old young woman is a missionary in Uganda who has adopted 13 children who have been orphaned. She also shares God with the people in the village through bible studies and worship. One day recently, she was handed a baby that she thought was dead… until the baby breathed. The mother had HIV and had stopped breastfeeding the 9 month old, for fear of passing it to her child, but there was no other food for the baby or the mother to eat. None, at all. The missionary pleaded to take the baby to a hospital, scooped the infant up in her arms and also purchased formula.
She brought the child into her home to nourish the little girl back to health. She wrote “For the first 24 hours, I could hardly stand to look at sweet baby Patricia … The hurt and the hunger in her lifeless little eyes was simply unbearable…”
“I am sad and I am angry…but this is my blog and I am going to say what I feel like. I am MAD. I have been sad and broken for these children for so long and it has finally turned into a hardened anger… I am angry that in the “Pearl of Africa” and the most fertile region of it at that, a mother has literally NO food to feed her baby, not to mention herself or 6 other kids. I am angry that the result of this is that these sweet ones suffer in their innocence.
“I have said it before and it still holds true: I DO NOT BELIEVE that the God of the universe created too many children in His image and not enough love or food or care to go around. In fact I believe that He created the Body of Christ for just that, to help these little ones, the least of these. And I believe that except for a handful, the Body of Christ is failing…
“According to several different resources, there are 168.8 million needy children like … Patricia. Seems like a big number, huh? It shouldn’t, because there are 2.1 BILLION people on this earth who profess to be Christians. Jesus followers. Servants. Gospel live-ers. And if only 8 percent of those Christians would care for just ONE of these needy children, they would all be taken care of.” (http://kissesfromkatie.blogspot.com/)
Katie the missionary is right – there are 2.1 Billion people on this earth who profess to be Christians… but Gospel live-ers? That might be a different story.
In our epistle from James, his main concern is that people aren’t living out their faith. They aren’t letting God’s truth become planted in their lives. And in verses 22-25 he gets to the root of this problem. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listening when you let the Word go in one ear and out the other. You have to ACT on what you hear! If we just hear the word and do nothing about it , then you are like someone who looks at themselves in a mirror, walks away and two minutes later has no idea who they are or what they look like.
It’s the same wisdom that school teachers know well. Edgar Dale once said that we remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see… 70% of what we discuss with others, 80% of what we personally experience and 95% of what we teach others.
We can spend all the time we want reading the bible or listening to sermons – but if we aren’t actively engaging with the Word of God – if we aren’t discussing it with one another, and living it out – then we quickly forget what God has said.
Real religion, James says, is reaching out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, orphans and widows in their distress, and keeping oneself unstained by the world.
Real religion is for merely 8% of us Christians to live out the gospel by caring for the orphaned, hungry, homeless children of the world.
Real religion is speaking up on behalf of the “least of these” in our country – the homeless, the unemployed, and the underinsured.
Real religion is listening for who God wants us to care for here in Marengo, Iowa and getting on board behind it 110%.
And… real religion is clothing ourselves not with excuses for why we can’t do something, but with the whole armor of God.
The thing I realized, just this week as I felt God calling me to speak up and say something concrete about health care reform, is that it was incredibly scary. I felt very ill equipped and I was incredibly worried about what other people might think. About what you might think.
Perhaps you have noticed this, but I tend not to take sides in big issues. I would be willing to bet that most of you don’t know who I voted for in the past three elections and that most of you would be surprised at the answers. And that is intentional. Because I take seriously the call in James to be quick to listen and slow to speak. I have been working very hard at biting my tongue so that I can be the pastor to all of you: republicans and democrats, liberals and conservatives, libertarians and well, whatever the opposite of a libertarian is.
But when I read from Ephesians the passage about being strong in the Lord and the strength of his power, I felt like God really wanted me to respond. In particular, verse 12 spoke to me because it reminds me that our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh – this is a life-or-death battle with cosmic powers. In this debate about health care, we are not enemies because there is a more important battle to engage in.
“But in the framework of hope for God’s kingdom they [stories of Jesus healing] cannot be forgotten, for in that framework they become reminders of hope.
“All severe illnesses are heralds or foretokens of death, and we have to see Jesus’ healings as heralds or foretokens in just the same way: they are heralds of the resurrection… In every serious illness we fight for our lives. In every healing we experience something of the resurrection. We feel new-born, and as if life had been given back to us.”
– Jurgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World.
(remainder of sermon to be posted later)