|Union University Church|
By Reverend Laurie DeMott
June 7, 2009
Weaver, one time manager of the Rochester Red Wings and later (and probably
more known for) long time manager of the Baltimore Orioles, holds the distinction
of being ejected from more baseball games than any other manager in American
League history, 97 times to be exact. Weaver had a fierce temper, but he
also had a sharp sense of humor and the two combined for some memorable
scenes. During one particular argument with an umpire, for example, Weaver
stomped to the dugout screaming over his shoulder, ‘I'm going to check
the rule-book on that!’ The ump yelled back, ‘Be my guest. In
fact, you can use mine.” Weaver yelled, ‘That's no good - I
can't read Braille.’”
Weaver was rough mouthed, opinionated, and fierce, which makes his choice of a title for his autobiography even more profound in its humility. He titled his book: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
Though perhaps none of us are quite as forceful in our opinion as Earl Weaver was on the baseball diamond, nevertheless, many of us can easily think of times in our lives when we were sure we knew it all. When we were at college, we would come home over break ready to display our new-found knowledge about the world to our parents who seemed suddenly so quaint and ignorant in our eyes. We entered the work force prepared to show the previous generation how real change is made. Listen to call radio any day of the week to find out just how many people out there are certain of their superior grasp of the issues, plumbers convinced they can argue economic theory, shoe salesmen making pronouncements about national security. My father loved to tell the story of the day he went to the hardware store to buy some nails and waited in line behind a man who needed some supplies for a home repair. The man clearly had no idea of what he was doing but he refused to admit his ignorance and so, as my father watched, the clerks proceeded to sell the man a whole slew of supplies that he didn’t really need and laughed at him behind his back the whole time.
Many times in our lives we have come to a place where we were sure we knew it all. There you were standing on the pinnacle intellectually, spiritually, emotionally, creatively – a well oiled machine functioning at peak capacity. And then what happened?
Well, when you are at the peak, there is only one way to go – down – and so our choices are limited. We can choose to refuse to come off that pinnacle; we can choose to spend the rest of our lives frantically playing a version of King of the Hill, continuing to assert our superiority to everyone around us no matter what the evidence to the contrary, never listening to anyone else’s opinion, and arrogantly judging others for their lack of wisdom and knowledge, or we can humbly come back down to level ground with the rest of humanity, and admit that maybe we don’t know it all after all. Earl Weaver suggests that it is only those who choose to climb down from their positions of self-certainty that will ever develop real understanding and wisdom.
In Isaiah 6, we read the account of the prophet’s call to service. This is one of the most quoted passages in the Bible and has produced countless hymns including all of the hymns in today’s service because we are inspired by Isaiah’s brief yet powerful words of commitment to God’s call: “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” Isaiah’s words sound so full of confidence and vigor. We imagine the prophet stepping up to the plate, burning with a spirit of love for his Lord, and ready to take on anything God sends his way certain that he can meet the challenge.
“Here I am, Lord! Send me!” we hear him boom out with a prophetic declaration of unwavering commitment.
“That’s who I want to be,” we think as we picture the stalwart prophet. “I want to be that strong. I want to be that sure of myself and my abilities.”
And so throughout the centuries, hymn writers and preachers have turned to this passage to stir up the emotions of their congregations and instill the people with a confident resolution to stride forward to service. They’ve used Isaiah’s example to encourage us to believe in our ability to meet the challenges before us – because we too are that good, because we are the chosen, because we alone stand at the pinnacle of faith, well oiled machines of service for God!
Only, the problem is I don’t think Isaiah actually boomed those words. It’s more likely that he winced as he spoke them pretty carefully because, after all, he was talking through burned lips.
Let’s look back at that passage, at the verses that come before Isaiah’s famous line. In Isaiah’s vision, his first response to God’s call is not, “Here I am, send me;” it’s something more like, “I’m sorry. I think you have the wrong number.” Isaiah protests his sinfulness to God. He admits that he has been a pretty lousy person up to that point and moreover that he lives with a whole host of pretty lousy people.
“There is no one here worthy of answering your call, God,” Isaiah protests.
Isaiah’s words echo the words of Moses at the burning bush: “You can’t mean me, God. I’m terrible at talking,” Moses says, “For Pete’s sake, I stutter.”
And they echo those of Gideon’s – “You talking to me, God? I’m just a farmer.”
Over and over again in the Bible, God calls people to service and their first response is not a confident “Here I am, Lord!” Over and over again, their first response is to protest their unworthiness, and over and over again and over again, God chooses them anyway. In Isaiah 6, Isaiah is clearly expecting God to move on in the search to find someone better qualified, but God refuses to leave. Instead, God answers Isaiah’s protest by sending an angel to touch Isaiah’s lips with a coal, a symbolic act of forgiveness.
A young woman once told her father that her boyfriend had proposed marriage to her the night before. Being an old fashioned sort, her father said, “Before he proposed, did he ask to see me?”
She replied, “He said that he had already seen you, but that he still loved me anyway.”
From Abraham and Sarah right through to the 12 disciples, the Bible reminds us constantly that it is not the perfect, the strong, the wise, and the wonderful who God chooses to serve – it is the ordinary, the weak, and the foolish God chooses. And Isaiah 6 tells us why God does this. God chooses the forgiven. God chooses only those who are fully aware of their imperfections, who have confessed their sinfulness, and have accepted the forgiveness of God. Only the forgiven are able to serve.
God isn’t just being nice by choosing the least among us, namely us, to serve. On the contrary, God is choosing the only people who will be of any use to God’s needs. You see, when you are at the pinnacle, when you are at the peak of perfection, you are simply too full of yourself to leave room for anyone else. It is only those who have been to the mountaintop and then humbly come back down to join the rest of humanity, only those who have recognized the propensity for sin within themselves and gratefully received the grace of God in spite of that sin, who will have any room in their hearts for the rest of sinful humanity in all of their imperfection.
An Episcopal priest leading worship was having some difficulty with the sound system in the sanctuary. As he began the liturgy, he said, “I think there’s something wrong with this mike.”
“And also with you,” the congregation dutifully replied.
This is the beginning of true worship and true service, the acknowledgement that there is something wrong with all of us and that we are all in need of forgiveness. There is only room for one person on the pinnacle so if we are going to be able to open our hearts to other people and to be truly useful to God, we have to come back down to the valley and acknowledge that our place is among the sinners.
God calls not the best and the brightest but the least and the dimmest
– you and me – because it is only the forgiven who can serve.
It is only what we learn after we know it all that will give us the wisdom
to accept God’s grace, empty our hearts of ourselves, and make room
for all of God’s people.