Send Me

“Send Me!”
by the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen
Hingham Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
Hingham, Massachusetts

May 31, 2015

Isaiah 6:1-8

In every generation, there is something to be excited about, something to believe in, something to join, something to fight against or fight for.

As we look around at each other today, we know that for some of us, that “something” was war, and then building a new life afterwards. Maybe you were a soldier or a sailor or someone trying to serve your family, country, or community in some other way. Everyone has to serve something. It’s human nature.

Maybe your “something” was the social upheavals and Civil Rights movements of the 1960’s, or navigating the rapidly changing role of women during the second half of the 20th century.

Or maybe it was something much more personal. Maybe your family or your own life was in disarray and there was a moment when you felt called to step up, make yourself known, and become the person you knew were called to be. 

In our scripture reading for this morning, the young prophet Isaiah finds himself in the Temple – or some dreamlike temple setting – seeing angels flying this way and that and hearing the voice of God. He is overwhelmed by the experience – first saying perhaps too much and then…

Then he regains his wits. And when God asks, Who will go for me? Whom shall I send? Isaiah, full of love for God and for his people, answers: Here am I! Send me!

In that time and place, it was truly an extraordinary answer. The hero King, Uzziah, was dead. The Assyiran Empire was breathing down their necks. The northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen and it looked like Isaiah’s homeland, the southern kingdom of Judah, would be next.

What was going to happen to him and his people? What was God doing and what was a person of faith to think or say or do?

Isaiah doesn’t get caught up in the anxiety of the moment. He simply makes himself known and volunteers.

And he served as an inspiration to his people for the rest of his life, even through the awful times of oppression and exile.

Scholars tell us that the book of Isaiah actually contains the prophecy of three different men. So the original Isaiah not only gave direction and hope to his own community, but also to those who came after him. His successors inspired future generations — those who had to live through a second and longer exile in Babylon, and then those whose job it was to rebuild the holy city of Jerusalem once they were aloud to return home.

The prophet Isaiah makes me think of the 2014-2015 confirmation class. You – Brett, Graham, Nick, Sydney, Spencer, Brooke, Andrew, Kiernan – You are coming of age in a time when the church is threatened by decline. And yet, you have knelt before God today and proclaimed your commitment to Jesus Christ and to the church.

This is not only a personal act on your part, but an act that is inspiring those who are here today to witness it.

As young teenagers, you may not be aware of all the talk that has been going around in churches over the past couple of decades. To put it simply, the numbers don’t look good. Historically, most people have taken time away from church as young adults, but have returned when they had children. These days, fewer and fewer are coming back. Young adults are claiming to be “spiritual but not religious.” Weekly worship attendance is steadily eroding and so is giving. Churches are shrinking. Churches are closing.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

To be honest, I have grown tired of this narrative of decline. Not only because it’s depressing, but because is does not describe the exciting things that God is doing in our world; it does not describe what is happening here in our church; and it does not describe what is happening in your hearts.

The future of Hingham Congregational Church is bright for a lot of reasons. We are in the midst of a long range planning process that will transform (for the better) the way our church looks and feels. Before you graduate high school, this place will look very different.

There are new people in our pews every week. Two of our members are pursuing seminary degrees and ordination. The truth is that people are hungry for God; it’s in our DNA; it’s part of being human. The vast majority of teens like you — even college students and young adults – long for a connection with the Divine. All the studies show that this is true.

So, confirmands, what can we do as a congregation to make sure our church remains vital as we move into an unknown future? How can we create a church that the spiritually hungry of all ages in our community will want to be a part of?

I don’t ask that question because I am afraid we will shrink; I ask it because it is our job as a church to provide a meaningful, caring, inspiring spiritual home for those who need one.

Maybe a better question for the eight of you is, what would you like to do to help us be a church that you and your peers would like to be a part of?

I believe it is important in any church to include high school aged youth in leadership. You could lead here in worship (reading, praying, speaking, making music). You could be on the youth group leadership team (We’ll have elections in September). Each of our boards (Deacons, Christian Education, Trustees, Outreach, etc.) could use your insights and your help.

I have found the eight of you to be an inspiration to me this year. You have renewed my faith in what a 9th grader can be. You have reminded me that 14 and 15 year olds can be spiritually curious, deeply thoughtful, insightful, creative, and compassionate. And I pray that you will bring those wonderful qualities to bear here at our church — because we need you.

Here are a few quotes from your final confirmation essays:

I believe that having faith in your life is important… I want to create new memories in this church and to remember the old ones… The church has grown to be a second home to me… it is a place of happiness, hope, and new friends… I want to keep the church as a constant part of my and my family’s life… I would like to try and become more involved in the church. Outside the church, I will act with compassion towards all and try to help everyone I see who is struggling… Through the church, I hope I can develop and strengthen my beliefs… This church has become my family and become part of me… I love my church!

This place, this life we share, this way on which we are traveling, is obviously very important to you. And so, when you are called upon (and you will be) to be a part of our future as participants, as servants, as leaders, I look forward to hearing you say, Here am I. Send me!