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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?

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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.