From "Woe Is Me" to "Here I Am" #79-39
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on June 3, 2012
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Isaiah 6:1-8
Grace, and mercy, and peace to you from the Lord who comes to bless you with His life-giving Word, Amen!
I don't know if you pay attention to the NBA finals, the professional basketball tournament that's happening right now, but if you are a sports fan at all, you have undoubtedly heard about Jeremy Lin, right? Lin, a professional basketball player for the New York Knicks, was a benchwarmer for the team earlier in the year. In fact, the Knicks were on the verge of cutting him, almost certainly ending his short NBA career. Then, suddenly, when a key player was injured, Jeremy was put into the starting line-up. The result was called by the New York press: "Linsanity!"
Jeremy Lin, not only did well, he tore up the basketball court! He led the New York Knicks to a string of victories that electrified the city. He scored last-second winning shots. He engineered heroic plays. He made believers not only out of the fans, but of others on the team as well. Jeremy Lin went from benchwarmer to high scorer. He went from an unknown to a national celebrity. He went from thinking he was useless to stepping up as a team leader.
That success story sounds a lot like the prophet Isaiah in the Bible reading today. The same prophet who is ready to answer God's call, the one who said, "Here I am Lord, I am ready to go wherever you want me to go," just moments before said that because of his sin, he was ruined, with a woe is me view of his life. Isaiah knew that he was an unworthy benchwarmer in life. He knew that he was a sinful, unclean person before the Holy God. But something happened to change all that. In the sixth chapter of Isaiah, this prophet suddenly stepped up with a new attitude. He went from "Woe is me!" to declaring "Here I am!" He went from ruination to redemption and restoration.
But how? Why? Can that happen to you and me, too? Can we say with Isaiah today, "I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us.' And I said, you said, we said, 'Here I am Lord, send me!'"
Isaiah's story is one of transformation. And everybody likes a story like that. Everybody likes a Cinderella story: where a nobody becomes a somebody, from rags to riches, from ordinary citizen to hero. When a team or person wins the victory against all odds, when a completely unexpected comeback happens, who doesn't celebrate? But are there really comeback stories in this life? Isn't that just wishful thinking or themes for fairy tales?
Well, maybe you haven't heard about the ultimate comeback story, the story of the person and work of Jesus. Just think about that with me for a moment. Remember, He was crucified, on a dark Friday afternoon, 2000 years ago. Remember, He cried out in agony to God, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Then He breathed His last. There's no greater "woe is me" place in the universe than hanging on a cross, forsaken by God the Father for sins you didn't commit. It was a place to which He willingly journeyed, though; it was a place of our woe, of ruin because of our sin.
And as Jesus died, everyone who witnessed His suffering thought His story was over. They thought He had failed. But, remember also with me today that on Sunday morning, that first Easter morning, the greatest comeback ever happened. Jesus rose from the dead! It was a miraculous comeback that defeated darkness and death. It was a miraculous comeback that overcame sin and guilt for you and me. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God establishes for you and for all the victory of eternal life. Jesus takes you from the "Woe is me!" of hurt and hopelessness, and failure to the "Here I am!" place of God's restoring grace.... Because of Christ, your life has been redeemed from sinful, self-ruination, to God's gracious, life-giving redemption and restoration.
The true and powerful comeback story of Jesus has echoed throughout the ages in people's lives around the world. It's a powerful true story of transformation, not just for Jesus, but for all who put their faith in Him. Maybe it's one of the reasons we like comeback stories so much.
But what about me? Can such a transformation happen in my life? Do you ever wonder if that story of transformation can happen to you?
Well, if such a transformation depended ultimately on you, such a comeback story would be wishful thinking. But that's why Jesus' comeback is so important for you. He is God in Action for you. He is God in Action to transform your "Woe is Me" reality to the joyful, "Here I am" place of victory before Him by grace.
The comeback story that God wants for your life doesn't depend on your best efforts. It doesn't depend on whether you ultimately have the stuff that champions are made of, because even our championship best is not enough for the kind of victory that God wants for us now and forever. And, that's good news for us all for when the woeful reality of life in this sinful world hits, strewn with missed opportunities and failed expectations, that's exactly the place for the power of God's transforming Word.
Just look at it when it happened to the Prophet Isaiah in our text. He was an ordinary person like you and me. And he became very much aware of his own flaws, his own weaknesses, his own insignificance. One day, God appeared to Isaiah. The Lord was seated on His throne in the glory and grandeur of heaven. Angels surrounded him. They sang of God's perfection and splendor, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." Isaiah came face to face with his own smallness and imperfection. He cried out in response, "Woe is me! For I am lost; I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"
"Woe is me!" You may not say it like that, but I know there are times you feel it. You feel lost because life hasn't gone the way you planned. You've taken a few wrong turns. You may have disappointed some people in your life, or people in your life may have disappointed you. You may feel like Isaiah, a person with "unclean lips." What did he mean? He wasn't just a person who made a few mistakes. Maybe now he realized the full extent to which he forgot about God. Perhaps now, the full weight of his ungodliness came clear, because he was caught up in his own desires, his own plans, his own agenda, his own grief, his own pain, and his own troubles. Isaiah, like us, learned that when you try to figure it all out all by yourself, in doing so, you push God out of the picture.
"Woe is me!" You may be feeling that right now. You may feel useless and sad, forgotten or frustrated. You may feel like a failure, a disappointment. Maybe you feel like you just don't fit anywhere, that life is hopeless.
But don't lose hope, dear friend. Your story is not a story of hopelessness for God is still in control of this world and God is in action for you this very day. Even now, yours is a story of transformation in Him.
That's exactly what Isaiah learned, too. As Isaiah stood hopelessly before the Holy God, an angel flew to him and touched his lips with a hot coal from heaven's altar. The angel said to Isaiah, "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, your sin atoned for."
Isaiah's heart was changed by God's holy touch. God reached out to him and changed his life.
That's your story, too, dear friend. Today, God reaches out to you through His Son, Jesus. Jesus, the Eternal Son of God, left the glory of heaven to come to earth. He fought the ultimate battle against sin, death, and the devil, the very forces of eternal woe in this world. And in that battle, Jesus gave His life. The Son of God, Jesus, was nailed to the cross with all of your hurt and failure, grief and sin and hopelessness. He took humanity's "Woe is Me" reality on Himself.
And when Jesus rose from the dead, defeating the enemies that would to crush your life, He wrote your transformation story. Today, because of Him, you have a new life. Today, your success story isn't about what you've done or who you've been or where you find yourself at the moment. It is about what Christ has done for you, who He has declared you to be, and where He will bring you by His grace. Through Jesus, your heart is changed, your life is brand new.
That's why the Bible says, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (1 Cor. 5:17).
Jesus takes you from a purposeless and painful "Woe is me!" to a new and forgiven life, a life with purpose and value that declares, "Here I am!" From ruin to redemption, your sins are forgiven. Your guilt is removed. You're not alone. Your grief has His answer of comfort. Your hopelessness has been swept up by the One who gives us His hope. Your life is a story of transformation because God calls you by name in baptism to be His. He touches your heart with the burning coal of empowering grace. Jesus offers you His life today through His living, transforming Word.
I can only imagine how Jeremy Lin felt when his name was called that first night, off the bench, in the game at Madison Square Garden. Well, I don't think it even compares to the good news that because of Jesus, God is calling your name, calling you into the game, calling you off the bench into the eternal game of life! In Him, you are rescued and you have eternal life to start living today! In Him, you have purpose in life now, no matter what the circumstance. In Him, you have a message of hope to share with others, because it's a message of God's hope, God in Action for you and for all.
That's purpose for us all! That's meaning! That's faith in Christ in action. That's transformation, being brought from a "Woe is me!" reality of life to "Here I am!" Lord, ready to be your graced person for others. Imagine what such hopefulness can do when it is unleashed in this sinful world.
Unleashing real hope....it can change things, now and forever. On March 1, 1974, Charles W. Colson was indicted as a part of the conspiracy cover-up in the Watergate scandal. His freefall from one of the most powerful men in the United States, the president's bull dog, to an inmate at the Maxwell Correctional Facility in Alabama, had just begun. His life was truly at the lowest "woe is me, I am ruined level" imaginable. But in prison, the Lord touched his life in a profound way. He came to faith in Jesus, after reading C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity." He began to really see the hopelessness and helplessness of not only his life, but others lives as well, especially those in prison all around him. Towards the end of his sentence, shortly before leaving prison, he was going about his business when he suddenly was confronted by an inmate named Archie. "Hey Colson," he said, "You'll be out of here soon. What are you going to do for us?" The whole room when silent. All ears were straining to hear the answer. The once "most powerful man in the country," now a believer in Jesus Christ, said, "I'll help in some way. I'll never forget you guys or this stinking place." From the depths of his ruin, from "Woe is me!" Colson was brought to a new purpose, an eternal purpose.
That's similar to what happened to Isaiah. God changed Isaiah's life. God forgave Isaiah's sin. God brought Isaiah out of the depths of "Woe is me!" to a new and refreshing life of purpose. As God saw a world in desperate need of hope, he called out as Isaiah watched: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" The newly forgiven and rescued Isaiah replied, "Here I am! Send me." That began an exciting, challenging, and life-changing journey as God called Isaiah to be His servant.
That's the transformation that God has in store for you and me today. Do you see that, that through Jesus, God has brought you from the "Woes of sin and guilt" to the "Here I am!" place of grace? And, do you hear God's call to be His servant for others, today?
Charles Colson didn't realize how that "Here I am" moment would change his life. Rather than reclaiming his position in government, he started a ministry called Prison Fellowship and 35 years later, it has become the largest prison-Gospel outreach ministry in the world, serving in over 113 countries as well. Because Chuck Colson said, "Here I am!" thousands upon thousands of peoples' lives have been transformed by God's grace.
That's all it takes, my friend, that is God's purpose for you. He needs you right where you are, as His "Here I Am" person to bring His redemptive and restoring hope to change people's lives with His love and grace.
The realities of life hit us all, but, maybe this is the place where God's transforming hope is just the cure.
Maybe you're feeling today that you're stuck in a dead-end job! I wonder if this might actually be the time when the Holy Spirit is replacing your "Woe is me!" struggle with a "Here I am!" purpose, as you see the opportunities you have to serve the people around you, to show the love of Jesus, and to demonstrate that you have hope in something greater than your circumstance. God needs you there!
Or maybe illness or failing health is making you feel like a prisoner today. Oh, that happens so easily, doesn't it? I wonder, though, if this might actually be the time when the Holy Spirit is replacing your "Woe is me!" challenge with a "Here I am!" opportunity, as you begin to see your challenging situation as a mission field, showing medical staff, fellow patients, and family that you have hope in Jesus Christ and that they can have that hope as well. God needs you there!
Or maybe today you are struggling in your marriage. But I wonder if this might actually be the time when the Holy Spirit is replacing your "Woe is me!" reality with a "Here I am!" miracle, as you receive the gift of new life in Jesus and take a new step to forgive and to bring that self-sacrificial, humble, love of your Savior to your spouse, unleashing God's love in your relationship when you feel your love is at its end. God needs you there.
God won't let you down, my friend. He will be there with you in the darkest of struggles as well as in the joys of success. His cross and resurrection demonstrates that to you. With His sustaining love, God has a "here I am" life for you to live. He's calling you off the bench!
He not only grants you His life as a gift, He walks the journey of that newness of life with you, too. Because of Him, even when you don't realize it, your life is bringing God's gracious transformation to people all around you.
What a comeback for Isaiah in our lesson today. What a joyful transformation. Put your trust, in the same God who can transform your life with His Word. He loves you with an eternal love. Take your stand with Him and let His declaration of grace, His transforming love move you to see the joy of what it means to answer God's call, to say, "Here I am Lord, send me."
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions and Answers) for June 3, 2012
Topic: God's Will for My Life
Announcer: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. We hear a lot about God's plan and purpose for our lives. Well, how can I know what God's will is for my life?
Seltz: Well, Mark, at one time or another, that's a question that a whole lot of people ask. They wonder about the deeper purpose for their lives and if God really has a plan for them.
Announcer: You have to agree, it's an important question. If God has a plan, we should find out what it is.
Seltz: Well, and there is a starting point for knowing that plan. It's clear. The Bible says that the foundational will of God, His deepest plan and purpose for our lives, is expressed well by Jesus. Jesus says in John Chapter 6, "And this is the will of him who sent me. My Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:39-40 NIV).
Announcer: So, God's first priority for us, then, is eternal life through Christ.
Seltz: Exactly. He wants us to live life with Him, abundantly, eternally even now. Sometimes as people search for God's will concerning their career, or their relationships, or their decisions, they miss out on what God desires most: that "all people are saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" as 1 Timothy says. God's will is that we know Jesus as our Savior.
Announcer: All right. That's a wonderful plan; it's a precious gift of God, but what next? Is there more to God's will for us even before He takes us to heaven?
Seltz: Well, there sure is and when we come to know God's gracious will for our eternal life, we start living that life now, for us and for others. Jesus said it clearly when He spoke to His disciples: "Go into the world and preach the good news to all creation" (Mark 16:15 NIV).
Announcer: But, He's not necessarily talking there about career choices or personal relationships. He's giving us the big picture there, right?
Seltz: Yes and no. God's will is that as His saved and redeemed people, we show the love of our Savior, Jesus to others, and when we share the gift of forgiveness and eternal life with people around us, we display the difference Jesus makes in our lives and in this world. While that isn't a career decision per se, it does permeate every aspect of our lives. Our careers, our relationships, these are the places where we bring God's blessings to others.
Announcer: But what about God's guidance when it comes to every day choices? Does He have a specific will for those issues?
Seltz: Well, sometimes He does. For instance, some of the decisions we have to face have to do with doing what is right or doing what is wrong. The Bible guides us in those decisions. There are ways to please God and to bless people, and there are ways to hurt people and disobey God. Of course, God wants people to do the right thing.
Announcer: Okay, I can see that. We need to pay attention to God's guidance there.
Seltz: Yeah, we sure do. In fact, I'm amazed. We live in a very confused culture; it is very easy to overlook God's wisdom and guidance for these basic moral and ethical decisions. I'm amazed at how much grief people knowingly bring into their lives because of that. God does indeed have much to say about how we live purely, how we honor and treat one another, and how we do the right thing, and why we do those things.
Announcer: All right then. Does God have a particular will or desire when it comes to the job we pick or the person we marry?
Seltz: Well, He deeply cares about those choices, but His will and plan are not what we might expect. God doesn't control our lives in such a way that we become robots or that if we veer off course we're hopelessly lost. God's will for those ordinary decisions is a will that, first of all, gives us freedom; freedom to follow Him, to be faithful to Him, and to love others. And, if we get off course, if we make the wrong decision, we are all the more dependent on Christ's forgiveness to bring us back, to restore us, and to provide a new beginning.
Announcer: All right. So, then, if we pick an honest profession that pays the bills, uses the talents God gave us, if we love and honor our spouse and remain faithful to them, we can be sure that we're not living outside of God's will?
Seltz: Right. If these choices don't involve sin or disobedience to God's Word, of course we can. And we can trust that God is the One who is guiding us, that He is showing us His will even there.
Announcer: All right. Well, that makes it simple. With God's Word, with prayer, with the help of other believers, we can be confident, then, of God's will for our lives. Thank you Pastor Seltz, this has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Father Most Holy" arr. William Braun. From Hymns for All Saints: Psalms, Hymns, Spiritual Songs (© 2011 Concordia Publishing House)
"Triune God, Be Thou Our Stay" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Toccato in d minor" by J.S. Bach. From Glory to His Holy Name by John Vandertuin (© 1999 Artisan Classic Organ, Inc.)