Choose Somebody Else! Reflections on Isaiah 6:1-8 for Trinity Sunday

So, quite rightly, and perhaps now with a decided reluctance in his voice, Isaiah replies to his call, not "here am I," but "How long, lord?" Just how long do you want me to confuse, confound, and turn aside the people you have called me to attend? And here is the answer: "Until cities are blasted without inhabitant, houses without people, and the land is completely shattered; until YHWH sends everyone far away and the emptiness in the land is enormous. Even if only a tenth part remain, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump still stands after it is cut down" (Is. 6:11-13). Isaiah is called by his God to make the people of Israel unaware of the terrible spot they are in. Due to Isaiah's ministry of the word, Israel will inexorably be decimated, annihilated, sent off to exile. Because of him, they will not be able to "turn and be healed." The results of his work will be disaster. "How long, lord" indeed!

A tiny flicker of hope ends this appalling ministerial call. Isaiah 6:13 ends in three words: "A holy seed is its stump." After the felling of the tree and after the burning of its stump, all that remains of the tree is its seed. And that seed is somehow holy, somehow sacred, somehow able to start things anew. It is the smallest of hopes, but it is hope nonetheless. And on that slim hope rests the ministry of Isaiah, and on that slim hope rests our ministries as well.

"Here am I, send me" often is the first response to those who sense a call from God, but once we see what God may have in store for us, "Choose somebody else" may fly from our lips more readily.

Rather than find our model call in Isaiah 6:1-8, perhaps Moses' call at the flaming bush may be a truer mirror for us. YHWH's appearance in the bush elicits from Moses not an Isaianic "Send me," but exactly a "Choose anybody else" (Ex. 4:13)!

It could be said, I suppose, that we who are called need both these responses to encompass in our ministries just what this call from God is fully like. Sometimes it is the triumphal "Here am I," and at other times the defeated "Send someone else." That call is mysterious, both dark and light, both joyful and burdensome. What else ought we expect when it is this world, not some eternally pleasant and peaceful place, to which we are called?

5/28/2015 4:00:00 AM
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  • John Holbert
    About John Holbert
    John C. Holbert is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, TX.