When Storms Come: Where Do We Find Hope?
Hanging of the greens
Sermon on Isaiah 6:1-8
The nation is divided and God is naming it. They have forgotten to take care of the widow, the orphan, and the most vulnerable. God calls out, “I don’t want your worship. I don’t want the platitudes of your songs. Stop it with words because they are just that when you lives say something else.”
The pressure today is to not rock the boat, to sit down. But friends, no matter if you are sitting or standing, the seas are already rocking. We are divided. This is the setting of our story today. The comfortable were doing okay, prosperous even. This promise of the land of milk and honey was not supposed to lead some to have so much excess that others were without. It was a promise that God had something better in mind for all. “Remember where you came from—that you were slaves from the land of Egypt.” But the milk and honey had become a commodity to be leveraged on the S&P 500. God’s vision is in direct conflict with the religious elites as faithfulness that was to be for God had built itself up to being for empire.
This is the setting that opens the book of Isaiah and leads towards our text today when God says I don’t want your worship, a worship that should be a reflection of God’s justice. Worship should be a reflection a just God who leads our lives to walk in the ways in this direction that God has been trying to teach all along. God follows this whole ‘enough of your worship’ with the thesis of Isaiah: A thesis statement that says, “You have forgotten about me. You forget about me when you have forgotten to care for the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, and the poor.” The thesis of God’s warning to Israel is that the people have been busy leveraging for themselves God’s provision of milk and honey at the expense of the most vulnerable.
It was in the throngs of our own civil war when Abraham Lincoln was asked what side God was on. Please consider the division that led to this as brother had turned against brother, and sister against sister. Abraham Lincoln replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side. My greatest concern is to be on God’s side. For God is always right! “
We are divided. People want unity. Unity? The Apostle Paul speaks of unity when he is addressing the church in Corinth. The people are divided. He speaks of a unity requiring the gifts of the full diversity of the body. But look at what this requires: it begins with placing the greatest honor with the most vulnerable. Unity cannot be forced. It is a bottom up proposition. As the Bible puts it, “how can you say peace, peace, when there is no peace? (Jeremiah 6:14, 8:11, Ezekiel 13:10) This results in a disruption in shalom.
My greatest concern is to be on God’s side. What does this look like? It looks like the thesis of Isaiah in chapter 1: “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” What does God want from us? How do we restore shalom? How can we find unity? True peace does not come from top down, but from the bottom up.
In times of conflict, change begins with one. If I were God, I would have done it differently. I would have started with the king—the one in power, the one with the authority to initiate change. But I am thankful that God is God, and I am not, for God does this again and again throughout our story reminding us that God’s power comes in the form of weakness, in the form of humility. Perhaps in the rise to kingship, one has lost sight? Perhaps it is too hard to hold on to earthly things? But God surprises once again as God does not start with the king, but through a lowly servant, Isaiah. God calls Isaiah—but Isaiah resists. Maybe it is to much shame? Or there is too much conflict? Or this will be too hard—for how will this affect my standing in my family? My friends? My neighbors? And the shame seems too much as he says , “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
In response to confession, the angel of God picks up a hot ember of coal and placing it upon his lips saying, “you are made clean. You are forgiven.” Isaiah’s heart is opened because in all of his shame he has come to know God’s grace. Knowing of God’s grace, he can now hear clearly God calling, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
In a nation divided, a people who have forgotten to care for the oppressed, the widow, the orphan; In a nation where there is a disruption in shalom as the call for unity has been at the expense of the immigrant, black and brown people, the poor, of our LGTBQ brother and sister, it begins with “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
And then God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
Friends I am hurting. Our community is hurting. I was greeted Wednesday by one of our eight your old boys running into my arms in tears because he was afraid. We have young women in our congregation who have shared their stories of being raped who are hurting. These are women who have devoted lives to addressing rape culture. Our Spirit of Life family is blessed with many immigrant families who know tyranny and are scared. We are a congregation that is welcoming and affirming for LGBTQ and home to same gendered couples who have continued to experience trauma this week. I have shed many tears this week with people I love.
Our faith is a last shall be first kind of faith. It is faith that says to be great is to be a servant to all. We are a carry a cross kind of people. This is what unity looks like. That means if you are first, you give of all that you are. We talk about it all the time in comfortable places. But when it gets real, what are your actions? To have privilege and positions of power, it means giving agency and giving up power. When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment, he said to love God and neighbor. When he then asks who the neighbor is, we answer “the one who showed mercy.” When it gets real, whose side is God on? Isaiah answers this question.
God doesn’t want our religion. God want our lives, our hearts to be a reflection of caring for the widow, the orphan, the disenfranchised, the vulnerable, the discriminated against, the powerless. And this means we form relationships. Not only the easy kind, but the hard ones.
We are a mess. I know what it is to lose my way. I know what it is to be unhealthy. But my nature when I am not healthy is to avoid the pattern. It is like this… I was doing really well. I was taking care of myself and this was reflected in how I felt about myself, and how I was doing better with relationships around me. My workouts had become routine as I made it through the pain part and actually kind of didn’t hate it. But then I scheduled an extra meeting here, another commitment there—and began justifying that I will do better tomorrow. Then on the mornings I had time, I justified needing that extra little time in bed. I then enjoyed an extra cup of coffee—it was comforting. And as the cycle goes, I ignored my denial all through self-defeating behaviors. It gets to the point where I would avoid the scale—because if I was honest, I would not like what I would see. I was going the wrong direction. But by avoiding it, I could trick myself into believing everything was okay. And when I kind of knew but preferred denial, I would compound the problem further by going to the fridge.
America, we have a history of walking to the fridge and settling ourselves with extra cups of coffee. But we have been forced to step on the scale. We see what it says. How are we going to respond? Are we willing to do the hard work—and we are talking the no quick fix kind. Or are we going to choose transference—scapegoat another for our problem. There is not a short cut to repair the divisions that are in place. We didn’t just get out of shape over the last year, or the last eight, or the last twenty. We have been walking to the fridge for a long time.
Building relationships with people who are different than us is really hard work. It means a willingness to be open, to share in another’s struggle, and to risk. We have seen the scale. We have heard God saying I don’t want your platitudes, your songs that build you up, your worship. We have work to do. It will be easy for those old voices to sneak back in. The voices that promise comfort—immediate gratification—denial. These voices are seductive. Self-preservation is seductive. It is seductive to blame something else. But Christianity is not a self-preservation sport. This is a team sport, a sport where if we are on God’s side, we are on the side of the oppressed, the widow, the orphan, and the vulnerable.
Here I am Lord. This begins with confession.
Here I am Lord. We move forward because of God’s grace.
Here I am Lord. Knowing God’s grace, we are forgiven.
Here I am Lord. In Radical love.
Here I am Lord. We bring hope.
Here I am Lord—where faith has us pouring out
Here I am Lord—where Jesus who influences us to care for the most vulnerable—so this means speaking up at the Thanksgiving table when someone says something racist, because for far too long we have felt maintaining peace required remaining silent…but this is not peace—quite the contrary. To remain silent disrupts peace and emboldens hate. Shalom is not the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.
Here I am Lord means not saying “get over it”—but it means fully being present and entering into another’s suffering. For entering into another’s suffering doesn’t fix what happened—it doesn’t make it better—but helps by knowing we are not alone.
Here I am Lord is not accepting thing as the way they are, but actively working towards a more just, more loving, more caring community.
Here I am Lord—where this story of Isaiah is leading to a prophecy where “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”
God is asking “Whom shall I send, and will go for us?” We are a Here I Am kind of people. As Here I Am people I am going to send you out with homework this week. First, spend time each day in prayer, prayer for our community, for our nation, and for our president-elect. Second, I would like each one of us to spend the week in the book of Luke. Read together with others if you can, but together we need to be in Scripture along with our prayer. As you read, I ask you to be thinking about not being concerned if God is on our side, but if we are on God’s. To help think about this, form two columns. On one column I want you to write ‘Mercy.’ In this column list all of the people and places where Jesus shows mercy. On the second write ‘admonishments.’ In this column I would like you to consider and write all of the people, places, and systems of power that Jesus challenges.
There is way through this, and the answer is the way. The one who is the way, the truth, and the life. This way is one that is inclusive, that is loving and merciful. God is asking us in this time of division “whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Here I am. Send me.