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Isaiah 6:1-12, John 3:1-12

I hope you have read the Charley Brown cartoon strip, you know the one with Snoopy sitting on top of the dog house writing his novel. He always starts out with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Sometimes, that’s what it feels like in my life, the sun can be shining and all can be going well. Then I get notice that someone has gone into the hospital, or someone has died and my world becomes dark and stormy. Perhaps you too have felt this way? No matter what is going on around you, deep inside, in your soul it is dark and stormy, you may be smiling and laughing but inside all is turmoil and it feels like a dark and stormy night.

Perhaps it was a dark and stormy night of grief and despair for Isaiah, we read that King Uzziah had died, and Isaiah had gone to the temple, he went to the place where God was said to be so he could lift the darkness of his heart and soul and perhaps find comfort and relief. In the midst of his worship of God, Isaiah has a vision, he is given a glimpse of the throne room of God. The ultimate worship experience, to be allowed that much intimate contact with the divine had to be an awesome, and frightening experience. Seraphim, singing out with voices that shake the very building, “Holy, Holy, Holy” singing the holiness of God, Isaiah, looking upon the glory of God. Beloved, what a sight, what a glorious sight. What would your reaction be to this?

Isaiah, realizing his own sinfulness, and the sinfulness of the people among whom he lives, reacts, “Woe is me” says Isaiah. He has seen the glory of God, and fully expects to be struck down, he is about to die because he is a sinner. SURPRISE – SURPRISE: God instead offers Isaiah mercy and grace. His lips are touched by God’s cleansing fire and the seraph tells him that his sinfulness has been cleansed. That hot coal, straight from God’s fire has touched his lips, no longer are they unclean. In this way Isaiah is shown that repentance and forgiveness have a price, that there is pain and sacrifice involved in this cleansing. He has been touched by God’s cleansing fire, his sins have been burned away.

How does worship affect you? Do you experience God in worship? Do you expect to encounter God in worship?

Isaiah was so overwhelmed with what God had done for him, that he asked God to send him out as God’s ambassador, as emissary for God, to proclaim the message of mercy and grace. He wanted others to experience what he had experienced. SURPRISE – SURPRISE: the word God gives him to speak is not sweetness and light. It is not the “God loves you, live as you want,” that many are preaching today, and as many were preaching then in his day. King Uzziah had died, and already the people had begun to return to the altars and the Asherah poles in the high places, they had begun to bring back the worship of idols and other acts of abomination, just as has happened and is happening today. People begin to think they are their own gods, or they worship gods fashioned in their own image so they can have control.

The message then, was that the people of Israel are not to be healed. In verse 11 Isaiah asks how long must he deliver this message. God answers him: “Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant. The houses are without a man.” How can you do that, how can you deliver a message of despair, how do you speak the word that God has for you to speak? Especially when it is a hard word, a word that calls for repentance, and even in that repentance, suffering and destruction.

We have to deal with these things today. When you find out your child has come home from school with a report card that has a bunch of “F’s” on it. How do you deal with that? What can you say to a neighbor who has built a building that has a part of it on your land. That has actually happened in the town of Spofford, a house was built that actually was on city property. The previous mayor had given permission, it was a hard thing, but the city closed the street. What can you say to the neighbor who was beaten last night by her husband. What do you tell your friend who drinks too much, and drives home. What do you say or do, when a friend comes to you and says, my spouse has just been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, will you pray for us? How do you do that? How do you speak a word, knowing that it may not be received?

Truth is, it is much easier to say, “God loves you, God wants you to be happy.” It is not easy to say that judgment is coming, it is not easy to say, “God’s will be done” when you want to shout, no! No more death and destruction. How about the opposite?

How do we speak of God’s goodness and mercy, when children are killing children, when people are walking into schools and churches, and gunning down innocent men and women and children, when churches and synagogues are being destroyed all over the world. When 1.5 million babies are being killed every year in our nation, and when our society also wants to kill those who are old. We may call it assisted suicide, but it is really murder. How can we speak God’s word of love and reconciliation in the midst of hatred and terrorism? How can we stand up and say, no this is wrong, how do we work to stop the killing and destruction of innocent life?

What can we do? First and foremost we must start with a personal relationship with our God. That was Isaiah’s starting point, he came from that personal experience and knowledge of God and of grace. He came to understand his task in the personal presence and power of God.

When Nicodemus came to Jesus as we read today in John’s gospel, Jesus instructed him that he had to be “born again.” Jesus told him, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” We can’t do the spiritual stuff in our own power. When we are born again into that personal relationship with God, we see God for who He is, just as Isaiah did. Unfortunately, we also see ourselves as we are, weak and sinful, just as Isaiah did. George Younce of the Cathedrals, a group that has been disbanded now, and George has gone to be with the saints, sang a song, the song has a line in it that says, “I’m just a sinner, saved by grace.” You and I are just sinners, we have been offered that which Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Peter, Paul, Mary and Martha, Luther, and Wesley and Jose and Harry, Mabel and Jane have all been offered. Mercy and grace, are what God offers us, it is through that mercy and that grace that we are empowered to speak the word that God has for us to speak. We realize that we are totally dependent upon His power and not our own.

Gary L. Carver tells this story: “Come and see Donald’s museum, they said. I will never forget the day I first saw it. The ‘museum’ was in a building out behind a very ordinary looking house in Vevay, Indiana. The museum itself was far from ordinary. It would easily take several days to go through it. We saw incredible antiques — fifty or more coffee mills from six inches to four or five feet high. I saw beautiful old music boxes that had been re-created in the hands of Donald King. I saw the lock taken from the prison door at The Bastille.

I saw an indescribable museum of artifacts and Indian arrowheads. Donald worked with wood. He carved a statue of Christ twelve inches high, for which he had refused $5,000. One could literally see light reflected through the wooden robe! He carved a wooden map of the United states that had been used as a pattern for a commercial board game. He had reconstructed a scale model frontier home to the most minute detail. He was an amazing individual because of the things he had made, but even more amazing was Donald King himself. Donald King was three feet tall. He was born with no legs. On one hand he had a nub of a thumb and a nub of a finger. On the other hand he had a complete thumb and two nubs for fingers. Yet this man had accomplished so much. He had composed over 150 poems, all of which he still kept in his head. Some were over 20 minutes in length. A secretary was in the process of transcription for a publication.

Donald King went to school one day in his life. On the first day of the first grade the other children laughed at him so much he never returned. But his education was boundless. He had lectured widely and could speak with clarity on almost any topic. I once asked Donald, “If an ordinary person had accomplished one half of the things you have, he would be considered a genius. How have you done it?” He paused in reflection and stated, ‘I guess that sometimes God likes to brag.’” (Out from the Ordinary, Gary L Carver, Copyright 1995, CSS Publishing).

It is in the power and grace of God that we accomplish the tasks that God has for us to accomplish. In order to be sent out, we must begin with a personal relationship with God, allowing His strength to be shown in our weakness. Then we must proceed from a cleansed heart. Just as Isaiah was cleansed in the fire from the altar, so too must we be cleansed in the blood of the cross. Our heart must be clean, our motives must be God’s motives so that we may speak His word.

Cleansing begins with confession. Isaiah cried, “I am a man of unclean lips.” There is a story told of the Emperor Frederick the Great. The emperor was on a visit to Potsdam prison. In speaking with the prisoners, he heard one after the other protest their innocence, victims of the system they said.
One prisoner however, sat quietly. The Emperor asked him, “And you, sir, who do you blame for your situation? No One,” he replied, “I am guilty and I deserve my punishment.” Surprised, the Emperor shouted for the warden, “Come and get this man out of here before he corrupts all these innocent people.” (James F. Colianni, The Book of Pulpit Humor (Ventnor, NJ, Voicings Publications 1992) p. 28.)

Cleansing begins with confession and proceeds with the awareness that forgiveness is not without cost. When I went to licensing school in 1990, I met a man there who had been a Russian Orthodox Priest. He had escaped from Soviet Union with almost nothing, he spoke of having been shot by the KGB, having awakened in the morgue and escaping from there. He said that he encountered Christ in a vision in which he saw his apartment burned to the ground, Christ appeared to him and lead him from the flames, and told him to send his family away to safety. He said that he was told that he would come through the refiners fire and be made a new creature if he would be willing to follow the word of the Spirit who would testify of himself. My friend said he woke and the apartment was burning, he was able to lead his family through the smoke and flames to safety the same way he had been led. He sent his wife and child to safety in America, with some United Methodist missionaries.

He began preaching what the Spirit of God gave him to preach. He was shot twice by KGB agents, his bishop told him to stop preaching because he would be killed if he did not do so and finally, the KGB came looking for him and he escaped to the American Embassy. He was helped by the same UM missionaries to leave the country, and so he decided to become a UM Pastor in the Texas Conference.

We draw our breath and speak the word that God has for us to speak, because we have a personal relationship with Him. We come to understand that Christ gave His life to give us Life. Our freedom has been bought with a price. We can therefore proceed through life with a grateful heart, a cleansed heart, a humble heart. As we go about our daily lives, we may faithfully speak of God and His word to us, for we have lived that mercy and grace. The word is our own word, it is our story.

Living our story is living our worship, worship becomes a way of life and the experience of God with us becomes our reality. Paul speaks to us of praying without ceasing, that is what he is speaking of. Knowing God is present all the time, in all the situations of our lives, so that we can be in worship with him in all those situations. That is unceasing prayer, that is our ongoing conversation with our God.

E. Carver McGriff tells of going to a worship service at Evanston, IL. He says that he had other things on his mind and was not very attentive to what was going on around him. It was Communion Sunday and he was even contemplating leaving early, hoping he would not be noticed. He came to understand that that was unlikely and so he was examining the walls and looked up to see some wonderful artwork over the altar area and his eyes came to rest on a carving of the face of Jesus. Suddenly, he felt as if the eyes of Jesus were boring deep inside his soul, for a brief moment those eyes held him transfixed. He blinked and everything returned to normal, however, something had happened in that brief moment and he was deeply moved. Holy Communion has become a special time for him, and he has become convinced that Jesus is present in worship, especially in the Communion service.

What is your experience of worship, what do you expect from worship? Is God present, has Christ made His presence felt to you? Have you been called to speak a word and been reluctant to actually speak? God is present beloved, today, here and in all the situations of your life no matter where that may be. Can you speak of your experience, have you experienced Him? Do you know that you too are called to be a witness to the work of God in your life, that you are called to introduce others to Jesus, so they too may experience life in the Spirit? When you go out of Church today, will you offer them Christ?

In today’s reading from John 1:1-18 NKJV  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  (2)  He was in the beginning with God.  (3)  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.  (4)  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  (5)  And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.  (6)  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  (7)  This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.  (8)  He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  (9)  That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.  (10)  He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.  (11)  He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.  (12)  But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:  (13)  who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.  (14)  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  (15)  John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ ”  (16)  And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace.  (17)  For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  (18)  No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

We hear “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God.” In Genesis 1:3 we read: “Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” God said and the creation was. That is how the Bible shows us God, it is the way in which God reveals Himself to us, and it is the way in which we see that God keeps His word.

So many of us, want some kind of proof of God’s being, of God caring, yet that evidence is all around us and we don’t see it. There are schools of thought that want us to believe that God created the world and everything in it and then left it to its own devices, but scripture tells us that God acted throughout history. When God first created the world, He also created a man and a woman, in His own image they were created. We read this in the first chapter of Genesis, where God says: “Let us make man in our image…..male and female created He them.” He then goes on to put them in the garden to till it and to care for it. However there is more to it than that, God also was the one who came and walked with them in the garden in the cool of the evening. God did not create man and woman to be robots but to be God’s own companions. Why would God create a companion and then go off to someplace else and abandon His companion?

Later, when they sinned and God banished them from the garden, He was still around. When Cain killed his brother, God was there to judge the actions, and to mitigate the punishment. When man became so depraved that God grew weary of him and his activity, He also acted to save a remnant through Noah and his family. Is that a God who has forgotten about His creation? Again we find God calling Abram to come out of Ur and go to a land he was not familiar with, then walking with Abraham and talking with him in a personal way. We find that God came and ate a meal with Abraham and even that Abraham had a conversation where he was able to speak to God as you and I would to one another. Remember the conversation? “God would you destroy the city if there were 50 righteous people, or 40 or 10?” God spoke to Abraham as to a friend, as to a companion, as to one He loved. God came and wrestled with Jacob and called him Israel, that is one of those great stories in the Old Testament, God comes down to wrestle with His people, to talk with them and to help them to understand.

The Bible is full of these wonderful stories, stories that help us to understand God and that help us to see how the people of God have changed their own understanding of God through the centuries, reading today in Jeremiah 31:7-14 we find a wonderful example of God’s working with His people. In verses 10-14 we read:

Jeremiah 31:10 through Jeremiah 31:14 (NLT)

10″Listen to this message from the LORD, you nations of the world; proclaim it in distant coastlands: The LORD, who scattered his people, will gather them together and watch over them as a shepherd does his flock. 11 For the LORD has redeemed Israel from those too strong for them. 12 They will come home and sing songs of joy on the heights of Jerusalem. They will be radiant because of the many gifts the LORD has given them—the good crops of wheat, wine, and oil, and the healthy flocks and herds. Their life will be like a watered garden, and all their sorrows will be gone. 13 The young women will dance for joy, and the men—old and young—will join in the celebration. I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them and exchange their sorrow for rejoicing. 14 I will supply the priests with an abundance of offerings. I will satisfy my people with my bounty. I, the LORD, have spoken!”

God did just that, He brought His people back from their captivity to again inhabit the land. Yet God’s people just as quickly forget that they are God’s people and sink, over and over again into apostasy. Not only the Jews of ancient times but you and I today. We forget that God is sovereign, that God is present, we don’t really want God to be present, except when it comes time to collect on the promises. Yes we want the goodies but we don’t want the responsibility of being a people set apart for a good work. We like to accept the gift of God, the life of His Son as our redeemer, but, since Jesus has already done the work we want to just rest on that, and go on and do as we please with no repercussions. It didn’t work for the people of Israel, it will not work for you and I.

The truth is that we look back at what God has done in the past for His people, Israel, and we think we are better than they are, that because Jesus died on the cross, all persons will be saved, all will be OK. We expect God to have infinite mercy without Justice, but that has never been so, and will not be so today either. God requires of those who would follow Him to do Justice as well as Mercy. For He is a Just God as well as a merciful one.

Just as God looked for the people of Israel to be changed into new persons, just as He looked for them to be holy, and to do justice to one another and to those who lived in the land, so to does He expect us to be holy and righteous. We read in Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus that God has adopted us into His family in Christ, that we have a purpose and that purpose is to praise God and to be His people. All of the gospel centers around our being God’s people, set apart for good works, and for holy living.

God tells us that we are His, because of the redemptive acts of Jesus Christ, and that we are to be a holy people, set apart, not to be a people of the society around us, but rather we are to influence that society so that it will be changed as well. We who have received the Spirit of God and have been transformed into the image of Christ, are also the recipients of eternal life in the presence of God, through that same Jesus Christ. We have received the gifts of the Spirit as we are told by Paul, and those gifts help us to live in a way that sets us apart and helps us to bring the gospel to those around us.

In remembering that past, and in looking forward to that future where we will be in the presence of our savior always, we will today renew our covenant with God and with one another, simply because we need to remind ourselves and each other who it is we are. We have taken on a name, we have taken on a task, and we have said that we will be the people of God. After we renew that covenant we will also partake of the communion meal, and have a time of fellowship together with one another, a time for us to renew ourselves and to remind each other that we are family, we have been adopted into the family of God and as such are brothers and sisters together in this journey toward the promised land.

Let us come together today, as we renew our covenant with one another and with God, and as we participate in the Eucharist understanding that we are moving toward a bright and beautiful future, because God has acted, is acting and will continue to act in the lives of His people. We are striving for perfection, perfection in love that we might perfectly reflect the love of Christ in our lives and for those around us. Let your light shine beloved that the world around you may come to know that Jesus Christ is alive and well right here where you are.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

I was enjoying some quiet time this morning and came across this verse: ” Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” As I thought about this verse, I began to think about all the different opinions there are about the Scriptures. I have to note that there are way too many opinions, and not enough agreement as to what the scriptures hold for those who claim the name of Christ. It has been said that this is a good thing, since we have so many denominations each of them has their own view of scripture. There, of course is the rub, each of the denominations has their own view of scripture. So which of us really has the truth? The verse above from Psalm 119:105 says that the word of God is a light to my path. If it is a light to my path, why then do I believe one thing and someone else believes another?

Perhaps if we look at the truth of society we may see a glimmer of that light. The sun shines brightly, and we can see well in the light of the day, yet the best eyes cannot see very well on a moonless night. Then too one who is blind cannot see what the sun reveals and therefore even though there is plenty of light, cannot see the green grass or the rose in bloom. That person percieves the world around himself differently than we who can see do. It is the same with the light of God’s word in the world. There are those who can discern what the word says, yet, cannot see the the beauty of that word, nor the truth that is imparted by it. Some read the word of God only so they can dispute what it says. Some come to it with preconceived notions about what it should say, and so they find in it what they want to find, instead of what God has to say to them.

Some will come to the word when yet new to Christ and others with many years steeped in the life of Christ, that too gives a different perspective. Others come with prejudicial views, such as having grown up in an abusive household, knowing that their father was a very harsh man. When the word of God says that God is our Father in heaven, it paints a picture that is not pleasant for that person, so they refuse to see that God is referred to as male because God is the creator, the builder and not because God is male. God is Spirit not male or female, yet when Jesus walked the earth, God in Man, he came as a man and is the human personification of God. Jesus was loving and caring, so God is loving and caring, yet there are those who cannot see that.

Another question asked of scripture might be, if it is light for the path, why do we need preaching? Good question there, if people would read in the Spirit then perhaps that would be true, but how can they read in the Spirit if no one told them about the Spirit. Yes scripture is the light, but the Spirit is the author of the Light for the Spirit is also God. Without someone to come and explain to him what he was reading, the eunuch would never have known about Christ, or about the grace of God, and would never have been baptized into Christ. He would have gone on in ignorance instead.

Another question for us is the idea that we cannot know the will of God for our lives and yet, the scriptures are very plain in their speaking of the will of God. Jesus said that the “Great Commandment” is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, body and mind. Then he says, and the second is like the first, Love your neighbor as yourself. The will of God is for you and I to live in grace and love first for the God of the universe, the one God who created all mankind, and all that we can see around us. Then to live in His love so that we can in turn love one another. If you, in truth, love others as yourself, you cannot break the commandments. Truly the word of God is a lamp to my feet and a light to my pathway, that I might walk with Jesus through life. Learning from the word of God as I go, not hating others, but offering instead love through He who first loved me.

How about your life? Have you discovered that God wants you to walk in His way and love one another, have you forgiven those who have hurt you? Remember the words of Jesus prayer that he taught the disciples. “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Matthew 6:12 ESV in other words forgive us our sins as we have forgiven those who sin against us. This is a tough thing, yet it is a light to my path and lamp to help me walk rightly. I am to forgive others then I open myself to be forgiven. There are many differences between us, but, we are to live as Christ not as others do. </p>

The Apostle Paul writes to the Romans in chapter 8 that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He goes on to say that it is because we who are followers of Christ have been set free from the law of sin and death. It is necessary for us who have been claimed by God as brothers and sisters of  Jesus Christ, to understand, though we have been set free from the law of sin and death, it is necessary for us to make that choice everyday, to live in the Spirit of God. It is really easy to slip back into the “flesh” and leave behind that life that God has for us to live.

Whether you call it backsliding or something else, it does happen, we have seen it all of us at one time or another. Whether one of those big time televangelists, or a friend at church, we have witnessed this choice to live in darkness rather than in the light. Even when we know that we are “saved” and are on the path toward heaven, we can still be lured off that path. Paul speaks of the difference between a life in the Spirit and a life outside of the Spirit.

Those who are going away from God, those who are at enmity with God are those who are focused on themselves. Idolatry comes in many forms, yet they all are self-centered. Whether it is the lust of sexual misconduct, the Scriptures call it fornication, or the lust for power, for prestige, for money. All of this is centered in self. There used to be a bumper sticker that said, “Whoever has the most toys wins.” We human beings tend to spend our lives trying to acquire the most toys. Cars, houses, the newest gadgets, beautiful friends, and spouses. The scriptures say we should be looking in a different direction.

The direction that scripture speaks of is one that is totally life changing, it is trust in Jesus Christ. For that is what brings us into a relationship with our God. When we come to that place where we ask Christ into our lives, where we confess that we are in reality sinners and enemies of God, it is then that we are filled with the Spirit of God. The helper that Christ promised when he left the disciples, and that came upon them at Pentecost. Now that doesn’t mean that you are going to speak in tongues or anything but it does mean that the Spirit cleanses the sin from your soul, and brings you to a right relationship with God. It is always your choice, every day of your life you must choose to follow Christ, and move closer to perfection in Love. For that is the great gift of God, Love flowing through you like a stream of life to all you meet. It is God’s love that leads to eternal life in the presence of His light. The opposite is to be in the outer darkness, where there is no light, only weeping and gnashing of teeth.

When you live in Love, your life is totally transformed, you are no longer centered on self, but rather on God, you think of others, you look to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and help those who are without, to find ways to earn a living so they too can become all that God has for them to be. It is easy to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, it is harder to take the time to teach them how to clothe and feed themselves. Yet that is our path, to bring to those who are in need the ability to conquer that need and move on in life, with the ability to care for themselves and others, and especially to know that God Loves them and wants them to have a relationship with Him as well. Life in the Spirit, is being like Christ, feeding and healing, and teaching what it means to know God and to walk with God through all of life.

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Pastor and Wife

John & Yvonne Quigley, John is a retired Pastor in the UMC. This blog is about the journey I am on with Christ.