Isaiah 6:1-8 â€“ First Sunday in Ordinary Time, Trinity Sunday â€“ for June 3, 2012
â€œThen one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altarâ€¦â€ (Isaiah 6:6)
Most Bibles, regardless of the translation, contain footnotes . . . and for good reason.
Thousands of ancient manuscripts, from fragments to fully intact books, were used to compile the â€œOldâ€ and â€œNewâ€ Testaments. Some documents had multiple versions of the same verses and a footnote highlighted the different sentences or words. One well-known example is the end of Markâ€™s Gospel. Does Mark officially end at 16:8 or, because of other reputable, and very early, source material, does it end at Mark 16:20? That footnoted example is not one of a few, but one of thousands found on the pages of the â€œsacred text.â€
Frankly, Iâ€™d love to create a personal footnoted version of scripture to make the Bible less intimidating! Since I read the 6th chapter of Isaiah this week, Iâ€™ll use the â€œOldâ€ Testament prophet for my example . . .
6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: â€˜Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.â€™ 8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, â€˜Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?â€™A,B,C And I said, â€˜Here am I; send me!â€™
ASome authorities add:Â And I looked around, hoping the seraph did not mean me, but it became clear I was the only one in the throne room of the Holy of Holies.
BOthers include:Â And verily, desirous of pleasing the Lord and yet fearful of making a mistake, I kept mute until the seraph smote me with its sixth wing.
CA few reliable sources instead read:Â And I said, â€˜Why not choose Hosea or Jeremiah? I predict they will be excellent prophets for any task the Lord God Almighty might desire.
This passage from Isaiah, a vision of angels, divine thrones and fiery coals able to burn away guilt, is one of the Bibleâ€™s best-known call passages. Who will I send, God asks. As written, the Hebrew prophet answered quickly and boldly. Why couldnâ€™t Isaiah be more like me? Have him hem and haw when God calls. Or how about an awkward silence when God asks, â€œWhom shall I send?â€
Or . . . a response from Isaiah like, Let me pray about it before I give you an answer. Truthfully, thatâ€™s often what I prefer before tough decisions. I need time for self-reflection and a selfless openness to Godâ€™s gift of a new future. Or, more truthfully, I plead Let me pray . . . to buy a few extra minutes hoping the Lord God Almighty will come to His or Her Holy Senses and realize Iâ€™m the worst person possible to respond to Godâ€™s call for witnessing or whatevering.
About a month ago the director of the Center for Grief & Healing program asked me to consider a part-time position at the hospice where Iâ€™d been volunteering. I knew the potential job meant Iâ€™d likely continue making phone calls to grieving families, but there might be additional responsibilities. I asked for a job description. The director emailed it to me the next day, a Friday. My first glance at the document caused me to think it was a boilerplate form, not yet including all the details. On my third or fourth read-through, I noticed the title on the job description included Angel Babies.
Gulp. The Center for Grief & Healing also supervised the Angel Babies program . . .
The Angel Babies program offers a perinatal hospice program designed for families whose unborn child has been diagnosed with a terminal condition, offering support during pregnancy and providing ideas for creating loving memoriesâ€¦
Gulp again. Was I being asked to support families â€œwhose unborn child has been diagnosed with a terminal condition?â€ I admired the current counselors involved in this work. But could I do that? I stewed and prayed and doubted and trembled and anguished all weekend long after discovering Angel Babies at the top of that boilerplate form.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, â€œWhom shall I send?â€ Could I, a cranky old pastor with a thousand clichÃ©-filled sermons and a thousand failures in my past, a person with gray hair, no children and an ample supply of self-doubt help any family face this worst of experiences?
The director and I met the next Monday.
â€œDo you really want me to help with the Angel Babies program?â€ I choked out, barely able to make eye contact.
Her eyebrows arched. She smiled. â€œWhat makes you think that?â€
I mumbled something about the job description, about my weekend of endless anguish.
She laughed. And then explained it was indeed only a boilerplate form, an incomplete job description hurriedly sent to help my decision. She reassured me Iâ€™d still be focused on contacting families struggling with the death of a spouse, a parent, a sister, a grandfather and so forth. None of those are easyâ€”and all feel like a response to my restless, ongoing call to ministryâ€”but none, in my view, are as demanding as supporting a family grieving a childâ€™s death.
The director added, â€œMaybe it was good for you to struggle with this.â€
She wondered if I could help in the Angel Babies efforts in the future.
â€œOften,â€ she said, â€œwhen a child is diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, the focus is with the baby and mother and a fatherâ€™s feelings can be overlooked. Would it help to have a man be part of our response, to make sure a fatherâ€™s not ignored?â€
Who knows? Maybe Iâ€™ll have more anguished prayers down the road! I believe itâ€™s good to struggle, to honestly ponder what weâ€™re called to do and become. Each person has gifts. How terrible to keep them only in dreams or regrets. I also believe every true call to ministry (or teaching or medicine or engineering or _______ . . .) needs affirmation from others in a personâ€™s community. Sometimes a supportive friend or colleague will discern gifts we donâ€™t yet see.
Still, I prefer my version of Isaiah 6:1-8. I want to put brakes on the old â€œOldâ€ Testament prophet before he shouts, â€œSend me!â€
But whatever version you claim, this I believe . . . God never ceases calling. And yes, it was your name spoken and you are the only one currently near the throne of thrones!