So today we gather together at the beginning of a transition time from one president to another. Change comes with every new president, of course. Every four years brings hope for some and despair for others. I know some are very happy that Mr. Trump won, and some are very sad. Some people are angry enough to protest. Some people are talking about leaving the country. We have neighbors who are afraid of being deported, or of losing health insurance. Many who have felt forgotten finally feel that they have been listened to. Some see the pendulum swinging the right way. Others still feel forgotten, pushed aside by those in power.
No matter where you sit on the continuum of responses to the presidential election, you can not help but see that our country is deeply divided.
Of course, it did not happen overnight, but the election results showed the divide in bright red and blue. The popular vote was very, very close. According to the US Election Project stats on voter turnout, shared on MSNBC, about 47% of potential US voters stayed home–that is almost half of us! Just over ¼ of eligible voters voted for Clinton and just over ¼ of us voted for Trump. Seems like it is going to be hard to get back to being the United States of America.
Every week I spend about 15 minutes with the elementary aged children in our afterschool program. We meet in the sanctuary for some holy time. Some weeks it is less holy than others. This week we talked about the election, and how some people were mad and some were glad and some were sad. Several shared their thoughts on the election and the new president-elect. One little girl said: “I don’t like Trump!” I am sure she was echoing words from family or other adults in her sphere. I reminded them all that Trump will be our president. We may not like him, but instead of saying, “I don’t like Trump!”, now it is time to remember that God is bigger than all of this and that God has not gone anywhere. God is here. I taught them a line from a song in our hymnbook in Spanish: Dios esta aqui. God is here. No matter who sits in the oval office, God still sits on the throne. God is here. And no matter who sits in the oval office, we are called to continue to focus on what God calls us to do and to be on an every day basis. Those who answer God’s call might be called “sent people”, people sent by God out into the world. I want to encourage you today to look at yourselves as “sent people”.
Isaiah the prophet was sent. Sent by God to proclaim a message to a people who he knew were not going to listen. Sent by God into a career that perhaps lasted over 60 years. Sent by God to speak to the people in a particular place in a particular time in history. Sent by God into the southern kingdom of Judah, whose long-time king had just died. The country was in a time of grief, upheaval, change and fear. The Assyrians (remember we heard about them last week, their capital was Nineveh) were an ongoing threat, and now the people were missing their leader. Who is going to be willing to listen to the voice of a prophet? Not an easy scenario to be sent into!
Isaiah’s call comes through a vision, a fantastic vision of God on the throne, powerful, full of majesty, demanding awe. Isaiah went to church that day and POW! He was blown away by God’s presence, which filled the whole place. Gathered around God were two seraphs, winged creatures who were praising God so loudly that the building was shaking! They covered their faces with their wings to protect them from God’s amazing glory. For Isaiah, it was both awe-inspiring and fear-inducing. Being in the presence of such an Almighty God created an immediate awareness of his own sinfulness. It woke him up! All of a sudden, he saw himself in a new light. Compared to God, Isaiah knew he was so very, very human, full of sin– he describes himself as a man of unclean lips– there was nothing about him that could compare to the grandness of God, no words of his that could compare to the praises of the creatures. And it wasn’t just Isaiah. He and his neighbors were all in the same boat. Unclean lips. But I think he means more than that. He means unclean hands. Unclean minds. Unclean hearts. He means mired in sin.
Throughout the Old Testament, seeing God was thought to be the end of life as we know it. Isaiah clearly thought this was his last trip to church. But it wasn’t. God didn’t shake a big finger at Isaiah and tell him what a sinful man he was. Instead, in his vision, one of the winged creatures touched his lips with a purifying burning coal. This was a sign that his guilt was removed, his sins were no longer what defined him. His lips, and the rest of him were no longer unclean. Isaiah’s life is completely upended with this God-encounter. Nothing will ever be the same again. The recipient of God’s unfathomable mercy, he is energized and equipped to be sent to a nation full of uncertain, fearful people who have their backs turned to God.
This morning you came for a God encounter in this sanctuary. You are touched by the music, or the light coming in the windows, or the presence of the children, or the words of a prayer, or by simply sitting in this holy space. The closer you get to God the more clearly you can see your own sinful character. You may not spew words of hate or ridicule or scorn, but like the rest of us humans, you and I also have unclean thoughts, words, and actions. You and I are a sinful people, unable ever to be compared to the glory and holiness of God. And it is precisely us sinful people who God calls with the questions: Whom shall I send? Who will go?
What is your answer? Will you go? Will you be sent? As you walk forward in a few moments to offer your commitments to God for the upcoming year, I invite you to really contemplate your response. It is more than filling out a commitment card with the same information as last year. It is responding to God’s calling to you at this time in your life. Are you saying to God: “Here I am, send me!” Or are you saying to God: “Here I am, but I can’t. I can’t because I’m too busy. I can’t because my bills are too high. I can’t because I am not well. I can’t because I am uncertain about the future. I can’t because….” What are you saying to God today?
There is no reason other than mobility that you should not walk forward this morning with a piece of paper in your hand as a way to answer God’s question to you. I hope you brought two cards with you, one for a financial commitment and one for a time commitment. If you did not bring one, find one in the pew. If you are not a church member, find a card anyway. If you are above 3rd grade, find a card to write on. God’s question is for each of us. Whom shall I send? Who will go? Think for a moment… What is God sending you to do in the coming year? If it is not printed on the card, you are certainly welcome to do a write in! Make a note of what God is sending you to do, either inside or outside this building. Please include your name and contact information. Will you go and teach children or youth or adults? Will you go and cook or do repairs or work on the website? Will you go and visit the sick or sing in the choir or greet others arriving for worship? Will you give of your hard earned cash to the work of a community of Christians located on this corner of Baltimore at this particular time? Will you give because you want to and not because you think you have to? Will you give because your God fills this place with glory, touches us with a purifying fire of forgiveness in Jesus Christ and sends us out?
You are sent people. You have talents and gifts and resources that are needed in this church and in this community. God sends you to use them, to share them, to develop them. God has not called you to hunker down and surround yourselves with people who agree with you. Now is the time to get out and be the person God is calling you to be at home, at work, in your neighborhood. When you see something that needs to be changed, what are you doing to move in that direction?
Since moving into our neighborhood, I have struggled with the tired, sparsely attended community association meetings. I have watched the way things are run and known that we could do better. I have tried to do little things like helping to clean up the park and leading a storm drain art project to remind people to keep litter out of our storm drains. But I am realizing that unless a change happens at the leadership level, we will continue in the ways of the past which really need to be revamped for the 21st century (in my view). I can not keep complaining with those unclean lips of mine unless I am willing to do something, to be sent. It will require a time commitment, a willingness to work with entrenched leaders and not against them, and lots of prayers! I am planning to put my name in for vice president. It is one step out the door. It is one way I can share my gifts, my people skills, my ideas.
Where are you being sent? What have the results of this election stirred up in you? What is God calling you to do and to be in this uncertain, fearful world we live in? I hope you are listening. Amen.