St Stephen Lewisham
10th February 2013
[775 words – exactly 10 minutes]
“Here I am: send me”
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord seated on a high throne… then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: ‘Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?’ I answered, ‘Here I am, send me’.
Some 800 years before our Lord came to earth, two men with rather similar names lived in Jerusalem. One was King Uzziah; the other Isaiah the Prophet. Prophets were not so much people who forecast the future, but what today we’d call ‘elder statesmen’. The two men knew each other because Isaiah had been Uzziah’s tutor, and Uzziah looked like being a ‘star’ pupil’.
Uzziah was only sixteen when he became King. For several years he fulfilled the early promise he had shown. He ruled God’s people wisely, under Isaiah’s oversight, and worshipped God as he had been taught. But sometime in his twenties or thirties he picked up some bad ideas. He thought that, as a layman he, would be just as qualified as any priest to lead the Temple worship, and assumed (as many people do today) that Priesthood was just a matter of ‘Equality’, or ‘Justice’. So, deaf to the warnings of Azariah the High Priest and his colleagues, he forced his way to the altar and offered the incense. There was suddenly a great earthquake, and he was struck with incurable leprosy. He was expelled from the Temple, had to abdicate in favour of his son, and died in an isolation unit.
We can imagine what a disappointment Uzziah was to his old tutor, Isaiah, who had taken so much trouble to bring him up in the fear of the Lord, and after such a promising beginning. It was in the year of Uzziah’s death that Isaiah went into the Temple, with the heavy heart of someone whose star pupil had let him down so badly.
But then an awesome thing happened (as it often does when someone in distress turns to God for help). He saw Almighty God, ‘high and lifted up on His throne; and he not only did he see Him, but actually heard Him speaking.
Isaiah at once recognized his unworthiness. ‘Woe is me’ he cried, ‘I am a man of unclean lips, and I live with people of unclean lips’ – for many lay-people had followed Uzziah’s example and started ignoring God’s laws.
But listen to what happened. A seraph flew and touched his lips with a burning coal, assured him that his sins were forgiven. Next, Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord speaking to him appealing for someone to go to His People as His messenger to bring them back to their Saviour God. God said, ‘Whom shall I send and who will go for Us?’
Well, we all know Isaiah’s reply: ‘Here am I: send me’. Five words which really say what you and I ought to be saying all through Lent. God first forgives us our sins. Then He invites us to go into the world as His servants.
In practice all of us ‘see the Lord’ whenever we come to Mass. That’s the easy part of Christian discipleship because He ‘does all the hard work for us’. What’s much harder is to ‘listen to His voice’ – and, harder still, when we’ve heard what He is saying, for us to answer Him with those five crucial words, ‘Here am I, send me’.
Sometimes, like Isaiah, we tell ourselves that we’re not worthy to be God’s messenger. Well, none of us is ‘worthy’ – but that doesn’t stop God purifying and calling us. Or if we think that we haven’t the skills to know what to say, or how to say it: the Bible remember is full of examples of how God gives ordinary people the necessary skills, or puts the appropriate words into their mouths, turning them from mere Persons into Prophets. Skills and speech can be acquired with God’s help – and He thus enables us to become His Prophets today as He did Isaiah in his day
And that brings us (literally) to the crux of the matter. We’re really quite good about coming together to behold the vision of the Lord when He makes Himself present in the Liturgy. But we’re not so good at saying (or meaning) those crucial Five Words which Isaiah uttered, ‘Here I am, send me’ – even less good at doing what He suggests!
Do you remember that chorus which children used to sing in Sunday School?
Mine are the hands to do the work,
My feet shall run for Thee,
My lips shall sound the glorious News,
Lord, here am I, send me!
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