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Trinity Sunday - May 26, 2024

Isaiah recounts his call to service as a prophet of the Lord. The setting is grand. That is an understatement for this description of the court of the Lord. The Lord sits high on his throne, so great that the hem of his robe fills the temple. Seraphs cover their eyes so as not to look upon God. They cover their feet, that is their nakedness, in the presence of the Most High. As they fly, they continually praise the Lord. The foundations of the temple’s threshold shake. The house is filled with smoke. 

Amid this grandeur, we find a terrified man, Isaiah. He must appear small and insignificant. His plight is obvious. He is in the wrong place. A sinner from a people of sinners, he has seen the Lord of hosts. This can’t end well.

But then a seraph purifies Isaiah. The voice of the Lord asks whom he should send, who will be his representative. Isaiah courageously and in full acceptance of his destiny cries out, “Here am I; send me!”

The reading from Isaiah is a favorite among clergy. These eight verses are one of the readings the Book of Common Prayer permits at the ordination of a priest or bishop. The takeaway line from these services is “Here am I; send me!” The person about to be ordained not only has been found worthy but willingly accepts the new ministry. For priests and bishops, it can all be pretty grand. I seem to remember Mother Jo telling me that at her ordination to the priesthood a seraph did the whole hot coal experience to her, flying around and blotting out her sin. I don’t think every priest’s ordination comes with a supernatural being, but Mother Jo would deserve it, so it makes sense.

Deacon ordinations are more subdued. Deacons get a reading from Jeremiah in which the Lord alone comes to the prophet, stating that he knew Jeremiah before he formed the prophet in the womb and the Lord consecrated Jeremiah before he was born. When Jeremiah speaks of his unworthiness, the Lord himself touches the prophet’s mouth. Not as fancy a scene as seraphs flying around the temple in the smoke and the noise and no need for tongs and red-hot objects to purify, just a prophet humbly talking one-on-one to his God, but you can see why each story is appropriate for the order of clergy being ordained.

The calls for both Jeremiah and Isaiah to be prophets both strike me as having the beginning stages of the hero’s journey. The writer Joseph Campbell made the hero myth pattern famous in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, revealing heroic elements that are common across time and cultures. Early stages of the hero’s journey include the call to adventure, the refusal of the call, the meeting of the mentor, and the crossing of the threshold, which begins the transformation of the hero. The word of the Lord comes to both Jeremiah and Isaiah. Each demur, pointing out how unfit he is for this sacred ministry. The Lord himself is the prophet’s mentor. With the Lord’s cleansing and blessing, each prophet begins his journey.

The hero’s journey is a type of discernment. Who am I? What am I to become? Through trials, challenges, and temptations, through experiences that are akin to death and rebirth, through revelations and atonement, the hero is transformed and, at the end, returns to the ordinary world with a reward. That reward can be something material or it can be knowledge. The hero can use the reward to benefit others. 

Look around in books and movies, and you will see the hero’s journey. We see it in mythology, famously in Odysseus’s ten-year return to Ithaca from the Trojan War. J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit and especially his Lord of the Rings series contain hero journeys. The character of the hobbit Frodo Baggins checks every box of the hero’s journey. George Lucas structured the Star Wars saga around the stages of the hero’s journey. Once you recognize that structure, it will come as no surprise that the author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell, mentored George Lucus.

The hero’s journey is not just for mythological figures, hobbits, and Jedi knights in a galaxy far, far away. Each of us can face a call for adventure. That adventure need not require us to travel far, but it will require us to leave in some fashion what is familiar, what is comfortable. Like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Odysseus, Frodo, and Luke Skywalker, we may initially refuse the call to adventure for we may be content with our lives. We may have other plans. We may be afraid to lose what we have or be afraid of what awaits. Deep down, we may be afraid that the adventure will change us. 

We may find a mentor who will help us to accept the challenge. The mentor may have gone on a similar adventure before. If so, the mentor can guide us through parts of our journey. The mentor teaches.