Jeremiah, looking back across his troubled life as a Prophet, could not remember a time when a God given sense of identity did not constrain the direction of his life.
The word of the God reminded him, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I...appointed you a prophet to the nations. "
In spite of his youthful objections the call of God prevailed: "Do not say, 'I am only a child; for you shall go to all to whom I send you....I have put my words in your mouth. ...I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
The consequence of Jeremiah's sense of call and inner view of life, as a prophet, was perpetual conflict with the society around him. What is it like to grow up with such a sense of vocation? What happens to the thought and priorities of a person who from the earliest memories has been marked by the transcendent dimensions of a profound spiritual encounter? Is it ever possible to escape the tug of broad loyalties in your innermost consciousness once you have lifted your eyes to the hills, felt the winds of infinity blowing against your face, and seen your own shadow shrink to a pinpoint in the presence of Almighty God? Is it ever possible to renounce what eyes have seen and ears have heard, and our hands have handled concerning the Word of life? If you have sensed the dimensions of the purpose of God with the heart and soul, can you ever shake loose of them again?
When you have seen a city from the air, at the confluence of great rivers, nestled in its hills, between a ranging single file of snow clad peaks, and the white rimmed sea, tethered to its neighbors by ribbons of road, by day ~ an island of lights in the darkness at night ~ I say, once you have seen a city from the air, in the setting that surrounds it, your vision of that place will never be the same. Spatial relationships become clear in an instant in the overview.
Or when you have loved, and your heart has soared ~ All of life looks different when you have loved and your heart has soared. Nothing will ever, be quite the same again. One way or the other, your psyche is shaped by the experience of being in love.
Or when you journey through the depths of grief, walking in the valley of the shadow of death. To know that life is fragile, each day a gift, to know that love is all that matters, to know the candor of eternity in the midst of limited time impacts our thinking and rearranges our priorities.
You see my point: there are indelible experiences in life that mold and shape our sense of reality. And a prophet is one whose experience of the transcendent is so real and strong that it cannot be denied, and whose experience of a transcendent God cannot be separated from our patterns of life on earth. A mystic, may be so transfixed with the experience of the mystery of God that the focus of life becomes the wonder of the experience. Whereas the prophet, somehow struck with the contrast between a vision of the purpose of God and the actual state of human affairs, can forget neither.
Isaiah, too, like Jeremiah, lived with an indelible sense of call. Was it a great temple festival day or an ordinary Sabbath when Isaiah caught a glimpse of the of the glory of God in the temple? He was looking up into the sanctuary where the smoke of incense swirled into the darkness of the holy of holies, and the antiphonal praise of the temple liturgy echoed in his ears:
Holy, holy, holy...
Holy is the Lord of Hosts
On that day, for Isaiah, the temple was full of the glory of God. Indeed, the whole earth was full of God's glory; the Seraphs of the heavens echoed the song until the door pivots on the threshold rattled to the sound of their praises.
Holy, holy, holy...
Holy is the Lord of Hosts
A lightening glimpse, a flash of insight, turned midnight to noonday for an instant, and the human landscape would never look same to him again to Isaiah. Woe is me! For I am lost: for my lips are unclean, and I dwell in the mist of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts! Petty measurements of others sins to bolster self-esteem were useless now. The scale of guilt and holiness is so utterly beyond anything Isaiah can fathom, that there is nothing to be done. Like insects before the ruler of the universe, the human family has no claim to make in the face of God's holiness-all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.
But in the smoke and trembling of self-discovery in the presence of God Isaiah sensed the purpose of his life. A coal from the altar made the difference. God 's forgiveness cleared his vision and opened his ears. The transcending power of divine grace opened his heart. The call of God was echoing in the temple, that day, addressed to one and all. Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? And Isaiah, a spectator, at the edge of things somewhere between the court and the sanctuary portal, responds "Here am I! Send me!"
Does the call of God ever come in response to impressive qualifications? Or is it always in moments of shattering and healing that the love of God moves our hearts? Like David against Goliath with a few smooth stones, Isaiah came forward with little but his willingness to serve. Equipped with a sense of the holiness of God and the contradictions of the human situation, and empowered by forgiveness, Isaiah signed on. The experience of Simon Peter (and James and John) was similar. They were ordinary luckless fisherfolk until Jesus joined them in the boat to preach to the people on the shore. When he had finished teaching, he said, put down your nets on the other side. "We toiled all night and didn't catch a thing" they complained, "but if you insist..." and he did, and their nets began go break because the catch was so great.
It was ordinary fishing one moment, and then an encounter with a reality so amazing that Peter fell at Jesus' feet saying, "Depart from me for I am a sinful person, O Lord." Jesus called them to follow, and they did-Peter and James and John, those three who were close to him throughout his ministry. Surely then, the Call of God does not begin with a list of qualifications. In a moment of shattering and healing or sheer amazement, the love of God moves our hearts. The point of all this is that to catch a glimpse of the glory of God is to know our selves as human beings with a calling. Jobs come and go. Occupations end and begin again. But in every change we have this to remember-our reason for being has not changed; our vocation has not been revoked; the calling that gives us identity is not subject to the vicissitudes of the economy or graduation to retirement.
Occupations are incidental to a calling. Teach that to your children. Your dignity is in your vocation, not your occupation. The calling of God is what gives our lives meaning. Ours is a life-long ministry shaped by the dimensions of our experience of God, and the empowerment of God's love. Just as when you have seen a city from the air in the setting that surrounds it, your vision of that place will never be the same. Just as when you have loved, and your heart has soared, all of life looks different and nothing will ever, be quite the same again. Just as when you journey through the valley of the shadow of death, and you know that life is fragile, and that love is all that matters.
You see my point: there are indelible experiences that mold and shape our sense of reality. And the people of God are those who live with God's purpose for the earth forever in their minds and hearts. That is our calling. No one is too young. No one is too old. No one is too simple, or too smart. No one is too weak. No one is too rich or poor. No one is too good or bad. Before God, our differences pale to the point of irrelevance. Once we were no people, now we are God's people; once we had not received mercy; now we have received mercy. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that we may proclaim the mighty acts of God who called us out of darkness into marvelous light.
Our calling, like Jeremiah, is to say aloud what God expects of a society, and to say it as a service to the world. Our calling, like Isaiah, is to live in response to the glory of God. There are a thousand ways to glorify God. A thousand ways to shape the course of history in response to the Spirit of God. A thousand ways to forgive and empower each other. To live as a community of faith--that is our calling, and to raise our children with eyes to see and ears to hear the seraphs singing:
"Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts,
the whole earth is full of God's glory"
There is only one possible answer to the question that echoes in the presence of a holy, forgiving God. It is, "Here am I send me. " Amen.