Sermon for May 27, 2018Read Isaiah 6:1-8 and John 3:1-17 ....
I want to turn our attention this morning to the first reading from Isaiah - this strange vision of God and his calling to be a prophet.
Now, to fully understand what is going on here, we need some background of what is happening in this book. The first five chapters of Isaiah lay out the spiritual problem of the Judeans. They have forgotten and forsaken the Lord; their worship is futile; corruption marks their leadership. Greed has led to injustice. Isaiah 6:1 then describes the political crisis: the long-serving king who brought stability has died.
Basically, the country is a mess, when one day Isaiah goes to church. Because unlike any other prophet, Isaiah receives his prophetic call in a vision during Temple worship. That’s right, during one worship service Isaiah drifted off, and instead of listening to the rabbi, had a full blown vision of the divine.
Not something that happens on an average Sunday, huh?
Isaiah’s vision is intimate and close, but also frightening and dangerous and disturbing. Isaiah is filled with awe at the experience.
Now awe is a word that has been thoroughly battered in the way we use it these days, mostly in the form of awesome which can mean anything from a sunset to a good ice cream cone. Awesome is meant to mean something that fills the viewer with awe.
And what awe really points to is greatness and wonder with a touch of fear. Fearful respect at the majesty or greatness of something. Which is a good way to look at God.
One of my favorite books as a child was The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. This is C.S Lewis' famous children series, where the central figure, Aslan the lion, is the Christ figure for a group of children in a fantasy land where animals talk. At one point, the Beavers are explaining Aslan to the children.
"Is—is he a man?" asked Lucy.
"Aslan a man!" Mr. Beaver said sternly. "Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don't you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the Lion, the great Lion."
"Ooh!" said Susan, "I'd thought he was a man. Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion."
"That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver; "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."
"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver; "don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
God isn't tame. God isn't safe and yet, so often we act like God is. Perhaps we need to recognize human limits more often, to really understand that God is indeed greater than us. To understand that one of the correct responses to God is wonder, but another is fear.
In response to the gift of YHWH's awesome presence, Isaiah can only express his complete unworthiness and his conviction that the people of Israel, especially those worshippers in the temple, are pathetically inadequate in the face of their God. A genuine experience of God leads Isaiah not first to praise and gratitude but to fear and awe.
Now, likely, most of us have never had such a mystical vision. And if we drift off in church some Sunday, chances are good we won’t get our own version of seraphim and coals being brought to our lips. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have our own experiences of God’s holiness. God breaks through to us in so many ways. We tell stories of how God breaks through to famous spiritual leaders.
Now Francis of Assisi was riding his horse and he reached down to touch a man filled with leprosy and sores. As Francis reached down to pick up the man, he saw the face of Jesus in that man with leprosy. He experienced the holiness of God in that moment and Francis was transformed.
C.S. Lewis got in his carriage and rode from his home to a cathedral through the countryside of England. When he arrived after his brief journey, he believed. He knew the holiness of Christ, the holiness of God.
And the great Martin Luther was up in a room. Up in that room, he was reading the book of Romans, in chapter three, the verses about the grace of God. In reading of those verses, he experienced the holiness of God, and was transformed.
One thing I know is that each person experiences the holiness of God differently, in different ways. But all of them are marked by a sense of real awe.When you live in communion with the Spirit of God, the splendor and beauty of God breaks through — often in unexpected times and places — in ways that lead us to awe. And awe, well awe can changes us.
In fact, new research in psychology indicates that more than any other emotion, awe leads us out of our narrow self-interest and to seek the well-being of the larger group. Awe leads us to mission in the world. Awe leads us to help others.
We are sent to join God in mission because we have encountered God, because we have been brought face to face with God’s holiness and our brokenness, and because we have been made whole by God’s grace. In response to this worshipful moment, we lay our lives before God and in God’s service. Isaiah hears the Lord say, "Whom shall I send and who will go for us?", and the prophet responds "Here I am, send me!"
At its root, Isaiah’s cry of "Here I am!" is a response to God’s presence and grace. Isaiah is not volunteering because he thinks he has skills God can use, or has time on his hands. Isaiah is laying his life before the God who encountered him and has made him whole. In this reading, the vision of Isaiah isn’t just regal; it’s inspiring. Isaiah isn’t dumbstruck. He’s compelled. He’s inwardly moved to do something for God.
How has it been for you? How have felt, seen, and experienced the awesomeness of God in your life? Take a minute and really think about the last time you felt God’s presence. How did it make you feel?
Because God says to you today. "Your guilt is forgiven. Your sins are removed. You are free."
How will you respond?