Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Here I Am, Send Me (Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17)

First United Methodist Church

Glen Rose, Texas

July 31, 2011


“Here I Am, Send Me”

(Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17)

Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn

INTRODUCTION:

[1]  In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.  

[2] Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.  

[3] And one called to another and said:     "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory."      

[4] The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

[5] And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"      

[6] Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.  

[7] The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out."  

[8] 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!"

     At the outset I want to tell that in the first part of this sermon you’re  going to be hearing a lot about me. But I want you to know that it’s not really about me. It’s about God’s movement in one person’s life and how that is reflected in each of our lives.

     I didn’t grow up in the church. My parents didn’t attend. I don’t remember my Dad ever being in church. He never heard me preach other than one funeral sermon for my aunt. Mom heard me a couple of times but not many. While we didn’t go to church, neighbors would invite us to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School at the First Christian Church of St. Ann. So, I started going every now and then; often enough that the teachers and leaders knew my name.

     When I became a teenager, The Curtis family invited me to the youth program at First Christian. They were the sponsors. Whenever anything was held at their house, I was invited. Both Sunday School and Youth group were safe places for me. Places where I felt wanted and welcomed. Maybe that’s what I remember most, that feeling of belonging and unconditional love.

     I didn’t feel that at home. When my Mother and Father divorced, my father chose not to have anything to do with me. I never met him. And I felt like I was the unwanted step-son. I grew up feeling disconnected from my family. I felt like the alien, like I didn’t quite fit in. And there in Sunday School and the Youth Group I felt a small sense of belonging. And now I realize just how inviting and formational that was in my life.

     In 1965, when I was 14, like most teenage boys I wasn’t the brightest bulb in the box or the sharpest knife in the drawer. I did a lot of sitting on my brains. My best friend, Tom Cook, who lived across the street, and I decided to camp out in his back yard one summer night. We set up the tent and set up our cots. And then it was time to do something. Well, that meant wait until everyone was asleep and then wander the neighborhood to see what kind of trouble we could get into. That’s not what we were thinking but that’s what it amounted to.

     I remembered that my dad and I had been killing groundhogs out on the little farm property we owned in Cuba, MO. We did that with M-80s, a huge firecracker that killed by concussion. So, as quietly as possible we snuck over to my house and got into my Dad’s truck and took about a dozen of those M-80s and stuffed them into our pockets. I don’t know what we thought we were going to do but we were ready to do something.

     As we were wandering the subdivision we saw a group of teenagers we knew out walking with their girlfriends. Here’s where our brains descended to our backsides. That’s when we thought it would be a “good idea” to light and chunk one of those M-80’s into the middle of them.

     So, we hid behind the bushes of this house. But we didn’t pay too much attention to how it was laid out. What we didn’t know was the area behind the bushes had direct line of site with the front door.

     So, we lit that M-80 and tossed it. Do you know what an M-80 sounds like when it explodes in the middle of a close built subdivision at about 12:30 at night? You’d have thought we were under attack as many times as it reverberated and echoed off of those houses. Lights started coming on all over the place. Women were quieting their babies. And all the girls were still screaming.

     Tom and I were still frozen in shock from the sound of the M-80 when the door to the house burst open at the same time that the porch light popped on revealing us completely. There was nowhere to hide. There standing in the doorway of that house was the Incredible Hulk. He was one of the biggest men I’ve ever seen. And to make matters worse, I recognized him. He had taken State in High School Wrestling, heavy weight division. His words to us were, “Hey, what are you two doing.”

     Tom and I did the only thing we could think of, we ran. We hit the road as fast as we could but the Hulk decided to chase us. So did the kids we had tossed the M-80’s at. We ran and we ran through places and down side streets but the Hulk was still there. So we did the only thing we could think of. We split up. Better for one of us to die than for both of us to die, which we were certain was going to happen. I pealed off one direction, Tom went the other.

     It so happens that I ran in the shadows and slid under a car in tall grass and from that vantage point watched as everyone passed by. And that was when I prayed. I mean one of those desperation prayers. It was the first time I had ever really prayed for anything but it seemed to be the right thing to do. I prayed and I started bargaining. Please don’t let us get caught God, please don’t let me get caught. Please don’t let Tom get caught and die. That was the night I told God I’d do anything God wanted me to do, anything at all; I’d become a priest, a preacher, a nun, I didn’t care, just don’t let us get caught.

     I waited for what seemed like hours, scared to move, scared to breathe. Then I began working my way back to the tent through all the shadows and every dark spot there was, wondering how I was going to tell Tom’s parents that he had been killed by the Hulk and how to tell my parents so I wouldn’t get killed. When I finally got back to the tent, there was Tom, sitting on his cot eating potato chips.

     He told me he had been thinking the same thing, how was he going to tell my parents. And then he told me the rest of the story. It seems the Hulk continued to chase him. As he ran, Tom decided to cut in front of the next parked car and then cut back to a dark spot in a yard which he knew lead to a trail in a small grove of trees. However, when he tried to cut in front of the car, he realized the car wasn’t parked, it was moving slowly, keeping up with him. That’s when he noticed it was a local Police car. Tom just stopped. He knew he’d been busted.

     When he did, the Hulk grabbed him. Luckily, the officer got out at just the right time and stopped the Hulk from killing Tom. Of course the Office asked what was going on and the Hulk said, “This kid was throwing firecrackers at me.” Tom immediately replied, “No, you were throwing them at me, that’s why I was running.” 

     The Officer intervened and decided to frisk them both. Tom still had 4 or 5 M-80’s in his pocket but when the Officer frisked him he didn’t find anything. I know he still had them because they were on his cot next to him when I got back. So they all concluded that I had been the one tossing M-80’s. The Officer took them both home. Tom and I both sat and marveled that neither one of us was dead or in jail or worse. And then we promptly forgot about it.

     In the summer of 1969 the music of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar was being played on our local FM station. That fall I went off to college and that’s where I met and fell in love with my wife Mary. Because she went, I attended the events at the local campus ministry. By December we were married and in February of 70 I enlisted in the Coast Guard so I wouldn’t be drafted.

     In 1974, after I got out of the Coast Guard, we took over the operation of Mary’s Grandparents’ farm and started going to church regularly, I gave my life to Christ and was baptized by Rev Robert W Core.

     Everything was rocking along just fine until 1975. That’s when God and I started having a major falling out. We were in conflict. It became apparent that God wasn’t happy with me and I certainly wasn’t happy with God or my Pastor. I knew, without a doubt, that they were in cahoots together. You see, one night before Administrative Board meeting where I was the Youth Ministry Representative, I went to ask Bob something but when I opened my mouth and started talking, what came out was “How do I become a preacher?” I promise you, that’s not what I was going to say.

     And that’s what started the argument between me and God. For the next several months, I fought with God about it. The next day I went into the church office and told Bob I did NOT want to be a preacher, I was happy farming, working with the youth and singing in the choir. After he let me rant and deny and all that good stuff, he said something that haunted me and ticked me off. He said, quietly and calmly, with a little grin on his face, “When you decide to answer the call to preach, let me know, I’ll get the ball rolling.”

     I left mad and it only seemed to get worse. It seemed like all of Bob’s sermons were aimed directly at me. And when he gave the invitation each week, sometimes the pew would actually get hot and I could hardly sit there.

     Then One Sunday Bob announced he was going to be gone. Our DS came to preach and I thought I could just relax and listen to a good sermon. I showed up that day and my defenses were down. The irony of it all was that DS preached about Jonah running from God.

     Well, it was like a baseball bat between the eyes. But I still resisted. I left out the back door that day. I clammed up and didn’t say a word to anybody. I just kind of grunted and avoided everyone for the next two days.

     And then on Tuesday night, about 6:30, I was out bailing hay. When I rounded the corner of the field there in the clouds back lit by the sun was the figure of the Risen Christ with His arms outstretched. I can explain it as the light through the clouds but to me it was an encounter with the risen Christ. So I ducked my head and said, “If you’re still there when I come back around, we’ll talk.” He was still there and I finally said: “Here I am, send me.” You see who won the argument. On June 6, 1976, I received my license to preach. On June 6, 1979, I was Ordained Deacon in the United Methodist Church. And that’s when the memory of that desperation prayer under the car came flooding back. It was almost as if God was saying, “Gotcha!”

     That’s one of the reasons I warn people about bargaining with God. God might just keep you to your promise. But to be honest, I can’t think of doing anything else. In 1984 I was Ordained as an Elder. And each day I continue to say, “Here I am, send me.”

I. THE CALL:

     A. In June I attended my 35th Annual Conference as a preacher and one more Ordination Service. You’d think after 35 years it would lose some of its glamour. But to me it’s kind of like Christmas Eve, a moment I look forward to as I watch friends and young people I’ve known for years, step forward to be ordained because they too have answered God’s call and said, “Here I am, send me.”

     When they kneel before the Bishop, a part of me kneels with them. And a part of me goes back to that night in 1984 when I too knelt before the Bishop and heard the words, “Take thou authority for the office of an elder. . .” In those moments I both relive and renew the vows of my own ordination, just as every clergy person I know does. You see, it’s a sacred moment, a holy moment, a time when we remember and relive that moment when we first heard God’s call and we said with the same conviction as Isaiah “Here I am, send me.”

     B. And I believe each of you has heard that call as well. At some point in your life, whether it was at confirmation, Christmas Eve, a revival, camp, VBS, a youth rally, a Mission Trip or a Sunday morning it doesn’t make any difference. With Isaiah, you said, “Yes” to God. In your own way and your own words you said: “Here I am, send me.”

     I know the youth and adults who went to Gonzales, LA heard that call. I know of at least 2 youth in our congregation who have already said “Here I am, send me.” They’re trying to figure out what that means for them and how that will play out in their lives and where God will lead them but they’ve said, “Here I am, send me.”

     Shelli Statler and all the teachers and leaders who have already been invited or recruited for Vacation Bible School have heard God’s call to lead and they’ve said, “Here I am, send me.”

     Our Sunday School teachers have heard God’s call and said, “Here I am, send me.”

     Our Evangelism Committee, Missions Committee, Worship Committee and all the other committees have said, “Here I am, send me.”

     And God continues to call and continues to ask the same question of every individual who has given their life to God through Christ. That question is still: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"

     Our response should always be, “Here I am, send me.”

II. YOUR MINISTRY:

     A. Tony Campolo tells a wonderful story about a pastor friend of his who had a deacon in his church. The pastor had tried to get the deacon to really open up and let the spirit lead him in some form of ministry. Finally the spirit led the deacon to conclude that there was one thing he could do in service to God and to others. He could take the youth group to the retirement home. Once a month the youth group of this church went to the retirement home and put on a little church service for the residents.

     Once this deacon went with the youth and stood in the back of the room. The youth were performing and an older man in a wheel chair rolled his chair over to where the deacon was standing, took hold of his hand and held it all during the service. That was repeated the next month and the next month and the next month and the next month and the next month. Then they went one Sunday afternoon and the man wasn't there. The deacon asked the nurse in charge, "What happened to that man?"

     "Oh," she said, "He's near death. He's just down the hall, the third room. Maybe you should go in and visit him. He's unconscious, though." 

     The deacon walked down and went into the room. There were tubes everywhere. It wasn’t pretty. The deacon went over and took hold of the hand of the gentleman in the bed. Instinctively, led by the Spirit, he said a prayer. And when he said "Amen," the old fellow squeezed his hand.

     The deacon was so moved by that squeeze of the hand that he began to weep. He shook a little. He tried to get out of the room and, as he was leaving the room, he bumped into this woman who was coming into the room. She said, "He's been waiting for you. He said he did not want to die until Jesus came and held his hand, and I tried to tell him that after death he would have a chance to meet Jesus and talk to Jesus and hold Jesus' hand. But he said, ‘No. Once a month Jesus comes and holds my hand and I don't want to leave until I have a chance to hold the hand of Jesus once more.'" (1) 

     And, in truth, that gentleman had been holding Jesus' hand. Like Isaiah that deacon said: “Here I am, send me.” And he didn’t go alone. Neither will we.

     We never go alone as we venture forth to share to Good News of Jesus Christ with those around us. As we venture forth on this leg of the journey of our journey of faith together, let’s seek to discern the vision God has for us and this Church so we can be the people God has called us to be.

     B. The Apostle Paul reminds us that we are not only children of God but heirs of the Kingdom. And remember, in Gospel of John, at the Last Supper, Jesus told the Disciples and through them, us, “I no longer call you servants . . . . now I call you friend.”

     Friends, brothers and sisters, children of God, you and I have a very unique relationship with God through Christ. It’s one that calls for action. One that calls for reciprocity. One that calls for outreach and  involvement. One that calls us to answer "Here I am; send me!"

     The first step, the very first step, is to step back to that time when we first gave our lives to Christ, or to that time when we first heard God’s call in our life. So, close your eyes for minute. Think about that moment when God was the most real for you. When you felt God’s presence the clearest.

     Maybe it was at your confirmation. Maybe it was at your baptism. Maybe it was the day your children were baptized. Maybe it was during a sermon. Or at summer camp. Step back into that moment.

     Are you there? OK, now listen. Listen to God once again. Hear what God is saying to you today. God continues to call, even today. So, listen and discern God’s call in Your live. That’s the challenge this morning, Will you answer “Here I am, send me?”

CONCLUSION:

     Today as we close in prayer and take time for reflection, I want you to focus on how God is Calling You, for God IS calling you. We are all called to follow Christ, we are all called to live Christ-like lives. We’re all called to let go of those things which separate us from and from each other. We’re all called but some of us are called to a specific task of ministry or place of service.

     Focus on what God has placed in your heart today. Ask what God is calling you to do today. Then act upon it, give yourself up to that call. Give yourself up to Christ. Remember, God’s been waiting for you, calling you, longing to hear you say, “Here I am Lord, send me.” And then ask God to empower you to fulfill God’s call in your life.

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

________________________________

Bibliography

1.   Tony Campolo, "Being Upbeat in a Downbeat World"

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