“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

Lectionary Reading for today:

Psalm 139:1-12

Isaiah 6:1-8

is6-8

Verse 1 of chapter 6 sets the scene of God’s call to Isaiah: “In the year King Uzziah died.”

It’s one of those brief interludes in scripture that bible scholars love. Because for all the prehistory and ambiguous narrative in scripture, it is a scholarly goldmine to find statements like this – in the year King Uzziah died. We know when that was! It was the year 742 BCE. It’s a place marker on the biblical timeline.

Major world and national and personal events have ways of marking time.

That was the year the Berlin Wall came down.

That was the year I moved to Chattanooga.

That was the year Donald Trump was elected president.

I am not sure if you were paying attention to the news, but we had an election last week. It’s probably one that will serve as a marker in time for many people for years to come.

And how interesting that on the Sunday after a national election, the Narrative Lectionary text reminds us that God calls people into the midst of political situations?

King Uzziah had ruled in Judah for 52 years. His reign was considered a relatively stable and prosperous time for Israel. Therefore, his death (and thus Isaiah’s call) comes at a time of political anxiety.

Biblical Studies Prof Roger Nam: “The context of Isaiah 6 is dire as introduced by the death of King Uzziah, who had a remarkable reign of five decades. His death naturally evokes questions regarding stability and royal succession. [Plus] The Judeans faced threatening encroachment from the Assyrian Empire.”

And then, just as quickly as we are given Isaiah’s political situation, we are also given his theological situation.

Isaiah’s vision begins with one of the Lord sitting on a throne – a reminder that earthly kings will come and go, but God still reigns.

Of course, this reminder that God still reigns should not make anyone think we do not bear any earthly responsibility. For it is directly into the mess and beauty of God’s people that Isaiah is called.

And it is into the mess and beauty of God’s people that we are still called today.

It has been a strange week. Perhaps not the one everyone anticipated, regardless of how they voted.

This was an incredibly divisive campaign season, and it ended with an incredibly divided electorate. Those divisions have not magically been erased now that a president has been elected. If anything, the divides seem deeper, the anger feels more raw, the responses feel more upsetting.

How are we to respond as Christians? As people and communities called to offer both healing and justice in our world?

First we pray. I pray for our president-elect. I pray for his success. I pray that he leads with integrity and seeks the welfare of our entire nation.

Just as I have prayed for every president.

And like we should with all of our elected leaders, we hold them accountable.

But I am more concerned with a different result of this election.

I think all of us can agree that the rise of violence and hate-speech in recent days has been very troubling.

We have seen what should have been peaceful protests descend to violence.

And we have seen a troubling flood of reports of individuals in marginalized groups experiencing a level of intolerance that we should all be denouncing.

No matter who you voted for, I think we can all agree that nobody wants a Muslim teacher to receive a threatening letter from a student telling her she can’t wear her head scarf anymore, and that she should instead use it to hang herself.

That happened just south of us in Georgia.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?

We don’t want to have our children come home from school talking about how the teachers had to stop a group of middle schoolers who were marching through the halls shouting in the presence of Latino and Latina classmates: “Build that wall!”

That happened in my hometown on Wednesday.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?

I don’t think any of us want LGBTQ individuals to wake up to messages from acquaintances warning them that they should not expect any protections under a new Trump presidency. Connie said I could share this story from her gay friend, who sent her the following message on Wednesday morning: He wrote: “Well folks, it is official. I’m packing my bags and preparing to move. Looks like, as someone so delicately called me this morning, ” you and your kind ” are gonna be carted off to “Conversion Therapy Camps”. Or as “me and my kind” like to call them “Concentration Camps”.

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?

My seminary friend Rayvn works as a mentor for African American young women in Minneapolis. On Friday, one of the women she mentors at the University of Minnesota had an altercation with another male student after class. She was talking with a white classmate outside when the male student muttered something as he walked by. Then, he yelled at her, using a derogatory term for our black brothers and sisters that I cannot and will not speak, and told her, “You will be going back to slavery soon.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?

These are not urban legends. These are stories of real people close to me and you and those we care about. I know they are in no way representative of an entire electorate. But we cannot pretend these things are not happening. This is why people are afraid. And we must denounce these kinds of actions at every turn,

I am not naive. I know this kind of hate and intolerance did not magically start the day after the election. It’s been there. In fact, on Monday, Bridge here at the church and other Refugee Services agencies around the country were sent an official message by their national offices, telling them it was ok for them to choose to be closed on Election Day if they didn’t feel safe. That was before the election was decided.

People didn’t feel safe before Tuesday. The hate was there before.

But a small number of too many people woke up on Nov 9 and felt that their hate was given a bullhorn.

Isaiah was called by God into an uncertain and scary time.

What is God calling us to today?

As Christians, we are challenged to see the world with new eyes. New commitments for transformation.

We must resist the urge to become indifferent.

We cannot be silent.

The Talmud says

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now.

Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete

the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

So what do we do when we are faced with the enormity of the world’s grief?

When we see and hear the fear of people of color, women, LGBTQ folks, immigrants, Muslims?

What do we say to children who think bullies always win?

How does the church respond?

Do we tell them they’re unreasonable?

Do we diminish their experience because it might not be our own?

Or do we listen. Honor their story. Hear their fears and say, “I got your back.”

Our affirmation of faith this morning comes from the Confession of Belhar. It is the newest one received into the Book of Confession of the Presbyterian Church (USA). And it is the first of our confessions to come out of the global south.

It was adopted by the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa in 1986 as a response to Apartheid.

Jack Rogers once wrote that “Belhar presents a Christian view of racism, separation, and suffering by those who had experienced the realities of these evils.” It offers a witness that the church should not ignore.

The part we will read today deals with reconciliation and unity.

“ c hurch as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another; that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit, it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain.”

There has been a lot of talk of unity these past few days.

But as Christians, we are talking about something deeper than party unity or national unity.

Notice here in the confession that unity is predicated on there first being reconciliation.

True unity first requires repentance.

Unity doesn’t water down differences, but works earnestly and continually to be the body of Christ as diverse yet reconciled people.

It is hard work and requires the Spirit’s help. We don’t do this kind of unity very well on our own.

This isn’t unity that comes by saying, “The election is done. Get over it.”

This kind of unity doesn’t shy away from the hard conversations.

This kind of unity involves listening to each other.

This kind of unity involves the humble realization that we don’t all experience the world the same way.

We don’t all grieve the same way.

We don’t all vote the same way or for the same reasons.

We don’t all have the same anxieties and concerns.

And as long as we spend our precious little time pointing fingers and telling other people how to feel, we miss the opportunity to engage in the hard work of reconciliation that can ultimately lead to the kind of unity the confession professes.

And like most callings in our lives and in the lives of God’s people, it is even more important for us to do this when it feels the most impossible.

Remember the anxiety and insecurity to which Isaiah was called?

Prophets don’t get called into times and places where the Dow is up and racial divides have been mended and everyone has rights and everyone agrees and women are paid the same as men and the poor are cared for and the hungry are fed.

The voice continues to ask us. In a broken world, with injustice all over the world, and brokenness in our own homes, who will speak for the Lord?

God asks, “ Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

Isaiah said, “Here am I. Send me.”

What do we do?

What can we do?

We can call out violence and hate speech – whether it was inspired by the election or not. It’s always wrong.

We can listen to the experiences of members of our human family who are afraid and give them safe space to be real. We don’t tell them they are irrational just because we might not feel the same way. Those of us with more privilege should try to keep it in check as we evaluate the experiences of others. (I hope I never think I don’t have to work at this every day, because I do.)

We work for the things that matter.

Jesus compels us to care for the widows and orphans, advocate for the marginalized and oppressed, offer healing to the sick, and speak out for the voiceless. To work to embody an upside-down kingdom where the poor are lifted up, the hungry are fed, swords are beaten into plowshares, women and children have a voice, and all of creation is treated as unconditionally beloved.

Jesus didn’t compel us to do this because it was easy.

He told us to do this because no one else was doing it.

It is not always easy or safe or popular.

But our polite silence will not serve anyone but ourselves.

So we will keeping loving as God loves – with fierce and ridiculous generosity.

We will work for justice and seek out ways to use our privilege and our power to lift others up. Because this is not about you or me. This is about all of us. We belong to each other.

We will collect coats for refugees and continue to be places of welcome and sanctuary.

We will teach our children that difference is not something to be belittled, but something to be understood and appreciated.

We will advocate for the care of God’s creation.

We will celebrate babies and work tirelessly to ensure that they grow up in a world that values and loves them and every other person as the unique and beautiful beloved children of God they were created to be.

We will remember that Jesus said other people would know we were his followers by the way we love others.

Kid president. “Letter to a Person on Their First Day Here” (It’s great. It’s worth a listen to the whole thing.)

“You? You’re awesome. You were made that way. You were made from love, to be love, to spread love. Love is always louder. No matter what. Even if hate has a bullhorn. Love is louder. So let your life be loud.”

God asks, “ Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

Into this mess of a world our God took on human flesh and dwelt among us.

Into this mess of a world, our God calls us.

Here am I.

Send Me.

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