November 18, 2012 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato
GodStory, Part 11 of 37
Texts: Isaiah 6:1-13, Luke 5:1-11
Title: “Holy, Whoa-lly, Woe-lly!”
Focus character: Isaiah
We are more than ¼ of the way through the GodStory – –
Review: We are in the 3rd of 5 acts. . . (act 1: creation, act 2: fall, act 3: Israel. . . then Jesus, then Npog = New People of God).
And as we enter the book of Isaiah, this book (or collection of books: Is. 1, 2 & 3) is often called the “centerpiece” of the Israel story. No First Testament book other than the Psalms is quoted as much in the 2nd testament. . . the big themes of judgment, comfort & hope turn up time and time again (in this book) and in the grand story of God’s great plan to raise up for himself a people who will be a blessing to all the nations.
Can you think of your fave Isaiah quotes?
[invite feedback from congregation]
And what does it mean to fit these “faves” into the grand story. . . do most of them fit with judgment / comfort / hope? How do they fit into the grand story of Isaiah, and ultimately the grand story of God?
May we stretch our imaginations this morning. . . we will meet a God who’s comfort/hope is pre-cluded by judgment – – judgment is NOT doomsday in the hands of a generous God. . . a God who can hold this all in tension. . . a God who is bigger than our minds! Stretch!
Today we stand (and perhaps fall?) with Isaiah, as he finds himself surprised by God in the temple during the year that King Uzziah died. . . 740 BCE.
The temple that Solomon built is still standing strong about 140 years after it was built (built in 980 BCE)…Solomon has been dead for 100 years and the split kingdoms of Israel to the North and Judah to the south are in a state of continual weakening and compromise.
Isaiah comes along as another “nobody” in the line of God’s prophets. . . like Moses, or Elijah, he doesn’t come from a spectacular background and even as we enter the story in Isaiah 6 today, we have to assume that the only reason that Isaiah’s inside the temple is because he’s probably a son in a priestly family. . . he’s probably not a priest – – think more of the flunkout son who’s 38 years old and still living in his parent’s basement, playing video games online and trying to figure out what his “calling” is. He’s the one who gets tasked to do extra chores at the temple during off-hours.
This is the setting for Isaiah’s ominous encounter with God in chapter 6. . . he’s pushing a broom near the incense pots, cleaning up piles of ashes and putting them in a dustpan. . . looking up at the lofty ceilings of the temple when all of a sudden. . .
In a vision (dream), Isaiah sees the Lord.
Seated on a throne. . . this gigantic image. . . .the hem of YHWH’s robe, fills the temple (can you imagine that? The hem of the robe is 50 m high! This is a image, like looking up at the CN tower in Toronto, or the Eiffel Tower. . . )
And flying around the throne are not quaint angels, but 6-winged flying snakes…dragon-like creatures who cover their eyes and their feet and swarm around the throne of God. . .
And if these are flying dragons, then they do not necessarily sound/sing like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in an amphitheatre in Salt Lake City, instead they are crying out, perhaps even shrieking. . .
Holy, Holy, Holy. It’s not merely a beautiful hymn of our faith, but in this context of God’s unfiltered presence and radiance, it’s like the sermon title says:
Whoaaaaaaaaaaaaaa – ly (Way too Holy!)
Wooooooooeeeeeeeee – ly (Woe is me. . . I am undone here!)
This is our God!
A God who will not be tamed. . . A God who will not be domesticated! This is NOT little God Horner, sitting in the corner. . .
Imagine this kind of God as we enter into the story of God’s living word!
Q: have you ever had a “whoooa – ly” encounter with God?
I can think of 2 that jump to my mind. . . one was in university where I sensed God’s bright light overwhelming me. Another was while at a Christian conference in London, worshipping God with a thousand other Christians in downtown London and having my heart touched by God as I looked at Canada house and felt the call of God re-affirmed in my life.
But these (Whoaaa-ly encounters) aren’t just meant for mountaintop moments. . . even on a weekly basis, we come into this place of worship and we pause to make space or pay attention to a living God. . . and in God’s presence, we humble ourselves, through prayer, through song, through confession. . . and we meet a God who yes, is transcendent, powerful, glorious, even fierce in passion and compassion. . . but a God who meets us in our ordinary, unspectacular lives, whether we are paying attention or not. . . in wooden pews, in this community of faith. . . in the pages of our sacred text and in the rituals of sharing bread, cup, and prayer.
Isaiah’s encounter with God, though terrifying, does not leave him in a state of terror. . . in the midst of Isaiah’s woeful state, we see the actions of a God who (as we’ve seen in the past God stories) is always tipping the scales towards grace.
As the vision continues in v. 6 we read that one of the seraphs swoops down towards Isaiah with a burning red coal and touches the mouth of Isaiah and pronounces what we might call “a dragonly assurance of pardon”. . . he says:
“Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
And at this point I imagine Isaiah laid out on the floor. Overwhelmed, overcome, exhausted. And perhaps he laid there for an hour and as he is coming to, he recognizes that the dream continues. . . not only has he seen the living God, but now he hears God speaking. . .
He hears the community of God speaking to one another. . . a holy, holy, holy roundtable. . . pondering, reflecting. . . and asking:
“Who will go for us?”
And Isaiah, foreshadowing the impulsive and ambitious nature of a future YHWH follower (Peter!) blurts out:
“Here am I, Send me!”
And too often, the public reading/preaching of this text ends here at v. 8, and the church service closes with a rousing singing of the hymn “Here I am Lord” or if you were a teenager in the 90’s, there was a video clip of Keith Green playing piano and singing in his pleading, falsetto voice: “Here am I, send me. . . what I have seems so small, but I wanna give it all to you.”
BUT THAT’S NOT ALL! Because it might have been easy for Isaiah to say “yes” to the sending, but would he would say the same boisterous/bold “yes” to his “assigned” message?
In vv. 9-10, the counsel of God seems to send Isaiah on a puzzling task:
Tell the people that:
– they’ll hear but they won’t understand
– they’ll see but they won’t perceive
– their calloused hearts will make them dull
– and they won’t turn and be healed!
And Isaiah’s initial spiritual fervor gets cooled off pretty quickly doesn’t it?
Instead of exclamation, he now questions the counsel of God: “How long will I do this? How long will I have to spend time with a dull and depraved people?”
And YHWH replies: Until the cities are ruined, until the farms and fields turn into wasteland. . . until only 10% of creation is left standing or viable. . .
And this is where we hit the biggest trouble in today’s text. Dullness? Depravity? Ruined? Deserted? Forsaken?
Where the good news in this mess? I thought we were in Church! I though this was the place where I was supposed to get filled up, wound up, and sent on my victorious Christian way with rah, rah, rah hymns like: “Onward Christian Soldiers, Marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus, going on before!” (Do you notice that we NEVER sing that song here at FBC Edmonton?)
It’s because the good news of God is not found in victory marches, or crusades, or powerful Christian-ese battle cries.
The good news is found in the messy places of the God story & creation.
And thus it’s found, too, in the mess of our lives.
When Eugene Peterson reflects on the story of Isaiah, he reminds us that our mess is the fodder that God works with to proclaim good news for all. He writes:
The impressive art of Isaiah involves taking the stuff of our ordinary and often disappointing human experience and showing us how it is the very stuff that God uses to create and save and give hope. As this vast panorama opens up before us, it turns out that nothing is unusable by God. He uses everything and everybody as material for his work, which is the remaking of the mess we have made of our lives. (The Invitation, pg. 108)
The good news in the midst of Isaiah’s perplexing message of indifference and dullness. . . this is often the fodder (stuff!) of our lives. . . we don’t come into this place of worship claiming that we have our lives perfectly together. This past week our lives have experienced ruin or dullness, or have come into contact with others who are feeling forsaken and deserted. God does not expect us to just toughen up and pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. God is not a lifecoach, whispering “feel good” mantras into our ears, saying “you look good, feel good, you look good, feel good.”
God is using everything and everybody as material for his work. . . remaking the mess of our world, and the mess of our lives.
Look at the final verse of our text for the day, v. 13: “BUT. . . the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
In the midst of the shock and awe and desolation of this vision, there is still promise. The promise of a holy seed who will emerge from a stump. . . this holy seed, who in just 2 weeks, we prepare for [this seed’s] arrival and advent. . . this holy seed who doesn’t come stomping in as a king on a white horse, but a holy seed that is carried by a pregnant, unwed, teenager. . . born not in a palace, but in a rented, feeding trough.
God is using everything and everybody as material for his work.
So, bring your “undoneness” to the God of mercy this morning. Encounter a God who fills the whole world and even this sanctuary of ours with the glory of splendor . . in our imaginations, in the mystery, and even in one another (Christ in you, the hope of Glory!). It’s in these places of being undone & unraveled, that we experience God’s slow & gracious work of renewal and re-creation. . .
Dwelling in this ancient text; alongside this surprised & ambushed prophet. . . might we say:
Here we are, send us. . .
Not in pomp and power but in gentleness and humility
Not with a message of shame, but with a message that will find a welcome in the tired/broken places of humanity and creation,
Not because we have you on our side (in our pockets like a good-luck charm),
but because you go before us,
And we will join you as you restore the world, choosing to do so with our feeble efforts, our frail voices and our nervous, trembling hearts.
Here we are. . . send us.
In the silence, allow yourself to encounter the living presence of God in this place.
Perhaps a word/image will fill your heart, mind, imagination. . . don’t work too hard to get it, allow it to come to you, to catch you by surprise, to find you. Carry that word/image with you into the places that you are sent this week.
(Words of comfort from Isaiah 41:11-13,
The Message translation)
Count on it: Everyone who had it in for you
will end up out in the cold—
Those who worked against you
will end up empty-handed—
nothing to show for their lives.
When you go out looking for your old adversaries
you won’t find them—
Not a trace of your old enemies,
not even a memory.
That’s right. Because I, your GOD,
have a firm grip on you and I’m not letting go.
I’m telling you, ‘Don’t panic.
I’m right here to help you.’