‘Listen continually, but don’t understand!
Look continually, but don’t perceive!’
10 Make the hearts of these people calloused;
make their ears deaf and their eyes blind!
Otherwise they might see with their eyes and hear with their ears,
their hearts might understand and they might repent and be healed.”
11 I replied, “How long, sovereign master?” He said,
“Until cities are in ruins and unpopulated,
and houses are uninhabited,
and the land is ruined and devastated,
12 and the LORD has sent the people off to a distant place,
and the very heart of the land is completely abandoned.
13 Even if only a tenth of the people remain in the land, it will again be destroyed, like one of the large sacred trees or an Asherah pole, when a sacred pillar on a high place is thrown down. That sacred pillar symbolizes the special chosen family.”
This reading is of the calling of Isaiah when King Uziah died. Most often, people read the first part, and focus on God’s purification of Isaiah’s lips, though they are unclean, or they focus on the fact that he said “Here am I, send me”. Though these words immediately follow as the message Isaiah receives, I have never heard a sermon on this message. I can only guess its because the preacher wants to give an encouraging message. These words are not encouraging.
Poor Isaiah is called to give preach an unwanted message. The people will not hear this message until Judah and Israel are depopulated and taken into captivity. Isaiah has a lifelong vocation without seeing his success.
Instead of going into Isaiah’s message, I will consider this call.
Consider John Woolman. From his young adulthood, he felt that slavery was wrong, and built his life so that he did not use the labor of slaves. He further preached and wrote against slavery. He traveled, and he spoke the unwanted message of social justice. Though he wept over the plight of slaves, Friends in the Americas did not form policy against slavery until Woolman’s death. He spoke prophetically, according to God’s call, and he did not see his own success.
Though slavery was eventually eliminated in the US,another issue that touched Woolman’s heart was the plight of the poor; we know this because of his essay “A plea for the poor”. Woolman saw that the system of greed and injustice went deeper than slavery — his message was for people to radically alter their lifestyle and create a new system. Even now, people resist this call to radical change.
Friends, many of us are studying social justice — because feel a leading to practice radical change, and to invite others to share this change. I tell you, that message is unwelcome. Short of social collapse, people blind their eyes and refuse to listen. We do not want to know about those who starve. We do not want to know about the working conditions which bring us inexpensive conveniences. We do not wish to know about child labor, or sweatshops, or China’s complete environmental negligence. We do not want to know the human price, or the ecological price of our lifestyles. I remember seeing homeless workers sleeping on the street, then going to their places of work, yet I stand here as a hypocrite who really does not want to know the price of the life I lead.
Though we might find minor victories, the complete conversion that is necessary will likely seem beyond us. This failure does not invalidate the calling, for God does not call us to be successful, but he calls us to be faithful. We can look upon those who followed those calls bigger than their own lives as encouragement to follow our leadings throughout life. We are not called to be successful, or popular but to be faithful.