Whom Shall I Send?
Power is impressive. One of the privileges of working in the garden is that, after dad was done tilling the soil, we got to go out and play in the dirt. We got to take out our Tonka trucks. One day, instead of toy dump trucks, we saw real ones. They were paving the road in front of our house. So what do you do when that happens and there’s nothing else to do? You go out and watch. I just sat there for many minutes watching the big machines at work. But then, there was the back-hoe. I remember seeing it dig a trench. And that huge arm swung out and around. And even though it was a safe distance away, for the first time, I could imagine what that machine could do if it swung out to me. Power is impressive. But when you begin to see that that power can be used against you, it becomes terrifying. In our gospel this morning Peter came in contact with true power as Jesus performed a miracle and it was terrifying. This morning in our first lesson we see much the same pattern. In Isaiah 6, we read: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1 NIV11-GKE)
All of God’s word deserves our attention. But there are some that deserve our imagination. Here in these words Isaiah sees the Lord. The real and true God that we worship—the same God that we all have wanted to see with our own eyes—that is the God that revealed himself to Isaiah in this amazing imagery. Isaiah saw heaven itself and God seated there in heaven. But then what happens? “Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.” (Isaiah 6:2 NIV11-GKE)
Isaiah sees angels. And these unique kind of angels, called Seraphim, were flying around the throne with two of their wings. But what were doing with the others? With two pairs of wings they covered their faces. And with two others they covered their feet. There’s a visual sermon there. Even though these angels are powerful and without any sin, nevertheless, when it comes to the Triune God, there are facets of their God they are not allowed to see and there are places they are not allowed to go. And as Isaiah sees this he begins to put the pieces together. If holy sinless angels cannot see some facets of God and if there are places they cannot go, then what about me? And as this thought is swirling around in his mind, he sees and hears what happens next: “3 And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.” (Isaiah 6:3–4 NIV11-GKE)
The angels continued to sing this triple song of praise to the Triune God. And as they sang, the temple began to come apart. It’s important if a wall shakes and shatters. But when a load-bearing wall begins to fall apart, it begins to be scary. Bit by bit, moment by moment, Isaiah begins to stack all these details up and they add up to a very scary and fearful conclusion. There are facets of God that even angels cannot see. There are places that even angels cannot go. If they are holy and cannot go there, then what about a guy like me who is not holy? And God’s power is truly powerful. He could destroy anything he wants to. And that drove Isaiah’s mind and heart into a very specific direction. We read: ““Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”” (Isaiah 6:5 NIV11-GKE)
Isaiah shouts out that he is a man of unclean lips.1(Isaiah 6:5 BHS-T)}} Here there’s so much that needs more time and attention in explaining. When Isaiah says, “unclean,” he does not mean “a little dirty.” Today we’d use words like viral, infectious, contagious. Notice how he speaks. He says that his people have infected him with their sins and he has infected them with his own sins. And my dear friends in Christ, what do you do with infectious diseases? First, you have to quarantine them. Second, you need to eradicate them. That’s why Isaiah says, “I am ruined.”2 (Isaiah 6:5 BHS-T)}} That is Isaiah saying, “I am as good as dead; I am as destroyed.” Because the God that his holy three-times-over cannot be in contact with infectious sin.
Now, my dear friends in Christ, before we look back at Isaiah and make fun of him concluding that he was over-reacting and being melodramatic, realize that he saw every detail clearly. And where he was is where we need to be this morning. Years ago I met a young woman who was terrified of being married. She was terrified because she knew that along with marriage usually comes children. And there was the terror of having a child and not knowing what to do with the child. But there was more to it than that. She was terrified that her son or daughter would catch her sins. She knew herself well. And she knew that if she had a child she would teach that child her own sins. Whether actively or passively, directly or indirectly, she would teach her child how to sin. She saw how infectious and contagious sin actually was. She saw clearly what Isaiah saw here. And what she saw and what Isaiah saw, we too need to see this morning. We need to shout out with Isaiah, “Woe to me! I have infectious words that flow from contaminated lips.” But what happens next? “6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”” (Isaiah 6:6–7 NIV11-GKE)
What do you do with contagion and contamination? First, you quarantine it. Second, you burn it away. And usually that means burning the person along with the contagion. That imagery of burning is precisely and exactly what the Lord uses for Isaiah’s benefit. One of these powerful angels goes to the fire and takes one of these burning coals. And the same infectious, contagious lips that deserve to be destroyed are now burned and cleansed. In a miraculous way, instead of destroying both the person and the contagion, just the contagion of sin is taken away.
And my dear friends, what happened to Isaiah has happened to you. You deserved to be thrown into hell forever where both your body and your sin would burn forever. For what has come out of your lips has infected others. And you have allowed what others have said to infest your heart. But instead Jesus suffered the punishment and torments of hell in your place. But that salvation didn’t just stay there on Good Friday on the cross. No, instead, God came to you with his word, delivering that forgiveness to you, so that just the sin is removed and atoned for. And after that you are left standing. These words end in a very beautiful way: “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 NIV11-GKE)
The Triune God burns away Isaiah’s sin. And then what happens? The persons within the Trinity speak to each other. There is this great and glad task they have. They want someone to go out and share this forgiveness with others. To begin with Isaiah would have shouted, “do not ever send me!” Now he says, “send me, send me!” He does this for one simple reason: those who are forgiven are glad to share that forgiveness with others.
Let’s travel back in a sermon a little. What would you say to the young woman who was terrified to have children because she was terrified of handing those sins down to her children? You would tell her what the Lord told Isaiah: Your sins are forgiven. Your contagious words are burned away and you are left still standing, forgiven. You would tell her that there is no person better qualified to raise children than her. But that worthiness does not come from her. It comes from pointing her children again and again to the cross where salvation was won and to the word where that forgiveness is delivered to us. You’d tell her that every day her child will see you, a mom, who is full of contagious and infectious sins, who takes those sins to Jesus. There can be no better parent than that.
So we too, can and should start out by saying, “Don’t dare send me.’” Because our sins are infectious and contagious. But, let us end this morning by speaking just as Isaiah did: “Send me, send me!”