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  • The Rev. Matt Welsch

"Here am I, send me!"

Have you ever had a vision? If you have, what was it like? If you haven’t, what do you think of when someone says they’ve had a vision?

I used to have a hard time with the idea of visions. The whole idea just sort of sounded ridiculous to me. And yet, scripture is full of stories of visions. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Moses. Joseph - the one with the coat, Samuel, Elijah, Jeremiah, Daniel, the Magi, and on and on.

In scripture, visions are moments of revelation: encounters with God, wherein God reveals something about Godself and discloses God’s desires before sending the prophet out to respond to God’s words. The implication is clear those who receive them are called to talk about

That’s why people who have visions are so often called Prophets. They are Spokespeople for God.

“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.”

This morning we hear Isaiah’s call story. In it, Isaiah recalls having a grand, dramatic vision of God as he was participating in worship in the Temple. And if we listen carefully to his words, we’ll see he ties this vision to a specific time and place. To ordinary things.

In the year that King Uzziah died. He is standing in the Temple, which he sees, understands to be God’s throne room. At the same time, God is too big to be contained within the temple - just the hem of God’s robe fills the temple. He looks through the smoke from incense and the fire on the altar and sees Seraphim swinging the censers. They even sing liturgical song - Holy, Holy, Holy! As we sing every Sunday.

And as he sees and feels and smells God’s presence, his mind turns where all our minds go in such moments: I am not worthy. And then he has his revelation: he sees a seraph pick up a hot coal from the fire before flying down to touch Isaiah on the lips, saying: your sin is blotted out. You are worthy. So when he hears God as, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” Isaiah is able to respond with almost naive boldness: “Here am I, send me!”

Simon Peter had a vision too. This morning we hear that Peter and James and John had just come in after some early morning fishing. Jesus asks to borrow their boat and rows out a bit from shore to teach. And then something miraculous happens. Simon Peter recognizes Jesus for who he is. In his teaching, in the miracle of the fish, Peter has a revelation: Jesus is the Lord. And how does he respond? “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Jesus says: “Do not be afraid.” He may as well have said: “your sin is blotted out. You are worthy.” And, with these revelations: That God is holy, that Christ is holy, and that he, Peter, is holy: he leaves everything he has to follow Jesus. This is a different, less dramatic vision than Isaiah’s - but it’s still a vision. A moment where God made Godself known.

When we hear the word “vision” we often think of something like a full-immersion Imax experience. Almost like a divine Facetime session produced by Cecil B. Demille. But the truth is, even if they are often described that way in scripture, visions are often more simple. More subtle.

Visions are glimpses of deeper meaning in the midst of ordinary things. Moments where God invites us to pull back the veil of this reality and recognize the ways God is moving and working in the world around us. And God is inviting us to join in that holy work. If hearing that makes you think “Yes, but I am not worthy of that,” You’re in good company. Every prophet says that. And every prophet is told, by God: no, you are worthy. Chosen. Loved.

In 2012, I was in my second year of seminary and my classmates and I went on retreat. Now, this was a silent retreat. As we continue to get to know one another, you’ll understand why that was the last thing I wanted to do. Me? Three whole days of silence? No way.

It didn’t help that I was struggling. I’d reached a point where I was doubting my sense of call to the priesthood. Was I doing the right thing? How could *I* actually be called? Was I sure God had actually called me to do this? Was it all a waste of time? So, we drove out to a retreat center in the beautiful Connecticut countryside.

When we arrived, we were told that this was an Ignation retreat. We were invited to reflect on the Ignatian principle that God is present and speaking in and through all things - things we saw, felt, desires or no desire. And the invitation was to let ourselves be guided by the movement of the Spirit.

We were assigned spiritual directors and I met mine that afternoon. I told her about my doubts.

Her advice? Take a walk in the woods. Go and look and listen and pay attention to my thoughts and feelings. How was God speaking to me in and through all of that? “Go walk through the woods and keep an eye out for God,” she said.

So, I did just that. I gave myself permission to imagine and pay attention. It was a powerful, transformative experience. I’ll share a small piece of it with you.

On the last day of the retreat, I went out to meet with my Spiritual Director. And as I rounded a corner, there, in the middle of the path, its feathers all fanned out, was a large, beautiful peacock. Staring at me.

Some of you may know that, in some cultures, peacocks are used to signify Christ in art and architecture. It was as if Jesus was saying “Yes. You’re on the right path. Yes, I am with you.”

After a few minutes, he walked away. When I told my Spiritual Director about this encounter, she said, simply: “Sounds like you’ve had quite the vision!”

A thousand years after Isaiah’s vision showed him that he is worthy of bearing the word of God on his lips, God lived among us as one of us. Jesus called the least and the lost - tax collectors, fishermen, sex workers, and foreigners and shared the truth of God’s love and grace. These people who were constantly being told: you are not worthy. He invited them to imagine a world in which God’s vision was tangible here on earth. And then, he sent them out to make disciples. To share the Good News. We are here this morning because this band of outcasts and sinners told the story of their visions, their encounters with God.

And we are called to do the same.

Where do you hear God speaking to you? What is God asking you to say to the world?

“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!’”

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