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!" (Isaiah 6:8, NRSV)
It's a passage I first paid attention to when the choir at Woodfords Church prepared an anthem based on the text for the installation of our new Senior Pastor, Bill Gregory, in the long ago year of 1991. Isaiah is in the Temple and encounters the Almighty, surrounded by seraphs, so enormous that the hem of God's robe fills the Temple.
God tells Isaiah to go out and give an important word to the people, but Isaiah resists: "How can I speak for you, God? My lips are unclean! I'm not a good enough person!!"
"Woe-oe-oe is me," we sang, "for I-I am undone."
God, of course, has an answer for Isaiah, a ritual act of cleansing the lips with a live coal. God has ways of convincing us.
The text confronted me again a few months later when I visited Andover Newton, considering the possibility of enrolling in the M.Div. program.
"Woe-oe-oe is me," I thought, "for I-I am a Mom!"
How in the world would I be able to do all the things seminary and ministry required at the same time I cared for my family? I wanted to do both things well.
I tell this story now because I believe it is the story for the church I'm serving, looking ahead and considering contrasting ministries to people who already comprise the church and to people who have not yet walked through the doors. It sounds exciting; we feel moved by the possibilities! But there may also be awe at the task lying ahead of us, worry about whether the message will really communicate to the existing congregation or to the community-to-come.
Isaiah faced a challenge; he had to deliver some bad news to the people, warnings of hard times to come as a result of not paying attention to God. The words passed down to us are difficult; we don't want to think of a God who dulls the minds of the people, and stops their ears, in order to show them real devastation and disconnection.
Well, I don't want to think of that God.
But the good news for us is, well, the Good News! The good news is that these ancient stories containing images that still speak to us, and rightly so, are not the whole story. The whole story tells of a God who walked among us, as one of us. The whole story tells us that with God, all things are possible. The good news is that no matter what the details are of the new story we are called to tell, we are not telling it alone.