Monday, October 29, 2018

Isaiah: Prophet, Poet, Pastor for the Present Moment




And he said, “Go and say to this people:‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears,and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.”  Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the Lord sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.  Isaiah 6:9-13

Isaiah goes to the temple one day.  Not a special or sacred day.  Just an ordinary, average, I don't have anything else to do...I guess I will go to the temple kind of day. 

At some point, Isaiah encounters and experiences God. 

Not just warm, fuzzy feelings kind of experience of God.  We are talking angels sing, smoke feeling the room, floor shaking kind of experience of God.  Not just, "Ah, sweet, it's God."  We are talking, "What in the world is happening" kind of experience of God. 

It is what Annie Dillard pointed at when she wrote, "Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return."

An experience of the divine that is drastic and dramatic.

Isaiah initially thinks, "Good Lord, make it stop!"  (Okay, he actually says, "Woe is me."  But I really think my translation is worth consideration too.)

Then, the angel flies to the place where sacrifices were done, takes a coal that is white hot with tongs and touches Isaiah's lips.  You know, the usual, ho-hum, nothing out of the ordinary here Sunday experience.  Never mind Isaiah's lips now have third degree burn.  Never mind that the whole scene seems like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie...so appropriate for Halloween week I think.  Never mind that Isaiah then seems perfectly chill with the whole thing.  As if, "Oh yeah, the coal to the lips thing is even better than Prozac." 

And if all this wasn't enough...which it is...Isaiah then volunteers to serve on a church committee.  Clearly we are not dealing with reality as we know it.  Most of us would have been out the door if not during the smoke and shaking floor thing...when God started to ask for volunteers.  "Would you look at the time, God, I gotta go.  See you...well after this worship experience I think I am good for several weeks now." 

Again, Isaiah, unlike most of us when someone asks for volunteers and we are studying the ground intently, Isaiah volunteers and is given: THE....WORST....SERMON...EVER.  (feel free to let that last word, "Ever" echo as you say it aloud for effect).

I mean read the above quote from Isaiah 6 again.  Talk about your Debbie and Donald Downer of a sermon.  Tell the people they are blind, deaf, and ignorant.

Try taking an offering after that!

Tell the people that all they hold as holy is about to be stripped away.

Talk about kicking a person when s/he is down.

Tell the people everything is going you-know-where-in-a-handbasket...not one of those fancy Longaberger Baskets either...one of the flimsy ones where weave is coming out, the bottom is sagging, and the handle is only half hanging on.

Preach that? 

I love to say that Isaiah may be geographically and chronically removed from today, but it is as close as the newspaper you read this morning. 

Right now the news is being dominated by a person who sent pipebombs in the mail; political ads telling us that if the other side is elected you will see the four horsemen from the Apocalypse coming down...never mind the communities still trying to clean up from hurricanes and the environmental strain crying out and children homeless and hungry and pain of those grieving. 

Go to people and tell them this, really?

I know, if you read the whole thing...or if you can GET through the whole thing...eventually it talks about a seed in a stump. 

If ever we think we understand God...it is good to go back to Isaiah 6.

Mystery
A bit of mayhem
And quite a bit of more than we can really comprehend.

A single seed in the stump...that we have to wait to see if it ever sprouts. 
A single seed in the stump...slowly working out of our sight so we can't even measure progress.
A single seed in the stump...that at some unpredictable moment could break forth with a fragile sprout.

That is the way God works...which confounds me and causes me to re-think everything I think I know.  Suddenly I do feel blind to God's movement.  Deaf to God's still singing voice.  Unaware of the ways God is creating and crafting even here and now.  Just as Isaiah said.

Suddenly I do feel what the world gives me to make me feel confident and in control has been stripped away.  Just as Isaiah said.

Suddenly, the world as I see/know/understand it does seemed turned upside down.  Just as Isaiah said.

So maybe that seed is here and now if we are willing to watch...wait...wonder...and stay open to the One who is still calling and commissioning us to be God's hand, heart, and head in the world today.  It is just as Isaiah said.

May there be more than a trace of grace in your life as we sit together with anticipation of the holy movement here and now.

Blessings ~~

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