Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Holy Hot Sauce

Isaiah 6:1-8

Often when we think of encountering God, it is a rather peaceful encounter. God is the still, small voice. The one that brings us peace and calm. And yet, the encounter with God can be a violent, loud, and humbling experience. That is what Isaiah experiences here. He is overwhelmed by the power and majesty of God. The angels shout so loudly that the doorframes shake. Like being caught in the sound of a jet-plane taking off. And Isaiah’s reaction is: “I am a man of unclean lips!” That seems an entirely reasonable reaction given the situation.

To which God’s solution seems a bit harsh. Take a glowing coal from the altar and touch it to Isaiah’s lips. That sounds more like a method of torture than a means of conveying grace from a loving God. I mean, I like hot sauce, I like food that burns my lips sometimes, but not quite that hot!

One of the things this reminds us is that the same God who comforts us, who holds little lambs, like Jesus does in the stained glass windows back there, is the same God of power and might who shaped the mountains and the stars, and the same God who calls nations and kings to bow before the throne.

Sometimes God is silent and still, calm and peaceful, but sometimes, like in the days of Isaiah, God must blare the message in order to be heard over the noise of the time.

You see, in Isaiah’s day, the nation of Judah was under threat. Their neighbor Assyria was looking very scary. They were building their army, they were taking over Judah’s neighbors. So you can imagine what the people are feeling. They have a powerful enemy, and are worried about invasion.

The king, whose name is Ahaz, then does something that sounds politically wise, but is religiously very wrong. He starts to make an alliance with Egypt. Remember the history of Egypt? This is the country that made slaves of the Israelites, until Moses led them to freedom. So the king of God’s people is making an alliance with one powerful former enemy in order to protect themselves from another powerful current enemy.

And into this political turmoil steps God, on a throne, shaking the foundations of the earth, and reminding Isaiah, that they should be trusting the one with real power – not politicians, not kings, not other nations, not armies, but God and God alone. And God calls Isaiah to tell the people that. To remind the people that there is a different way out of this situation, that rather than living in fear, rather than consorting with one enemy to protect themselves from another, they can trust in God’s awesome and incomparable power.

It is a reminder that as awesome as it is to know that God is tender and loving, and that Jesus holds sweet little lambs. Sometimes what we need is the purely breathtaking, awe-inspiring, forcing you to your knees, worship-inducing strength of God. Because our world is also often a world of fearful situations, where there noisy voices shouting for attention trying to convince us that we are too weak or the situation too awful and we need something more than God to help us. The voices forget, and sometimes they make us forget that God is way more powerful than our problems.

As I was looking for ways of talking about God’s power, I ran across this wonderful children’s book, called Is a Blue Whale the Biggest Thing There Is, by Robert E. Wells. –[read the book] http://a.co/3KvToeM

And we add to that our own ending – And we know – that God made all of this. So why do we act like God is so small, and that we need to be afraid of so many things in life?

So let’s step back for a moment and make this personal. In your life, what situation is like the situation of Judah?

Where are you overwhelmed or afraid? Where is the noise of life trying to tell you to trust something other than God? And what does God shout to you? What message must be blared loud to be heard over the others?

When Isaiah heard God’s message he immediately felt unworthy to heed this calling of God, so God makes him worthy. So keep thinking abour your situation, What is God calling you to that you do not feel worthy to pursue? And how does God address that?

I was reading the story of Linda Down. Linda Down “had dealt with the limitations of cerebral palsy all her life. One day, she got this crazy idea of running the New York Marathon. But Linda walked with difficulty, so running seemed out of the question? She used Canadian canes with arm clamps to steady her arms. On top of this she was 25 pounds overweight and jobless.”

“In a state of depression, she began reading in the scriptures about the power of God at work in people's lives.”

“She read Phil. 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." While training, she listened for God. She thought as she was running in the dark at night: "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction about things not seen" (Heb. 11:1)

She thought about her limited dreams, her inability to see beyond the obstacles of life. Faith, she said to herself, was running in spite of the insurmountable obstacles.”

“As the NY Marathon began that cold morning, . . .she wore gloves on her hands to soften the impact of the crutches. It was windy on the bridge and uphill. She had not expected the beginning to be so difficult. As she finished the mile-long Verrazano Narrows bridge, there were no runners in sight ahead of her. Spectators were gone for the most part. But one little girl ran out into the street and cheered her on, "You can do it!" Others on the curb later applauded and cheered and shouted. They brought tears to Linda's eyes and helped her to keep going.”

“Ten hours later Linda was still running in the dark ... Some admiring spectators walked with her for safety. Then an ABC-TV camera crew showed up and followed the story of her courage. She continued to run. She wore a hole in one sneaker from dragging it across the ground; her hands ached and throbbed; her arms became black and blue and swollen; she couldn't speak to anyone because of fatigue, but she continued to run because she prayed: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me...I can do all things."

“Then two parks and recreation trucks in Central Park came by and stayed with her to light the way. After 11 hours of struggle and over 27 miles, Linda crossed the finish line. People were crying -- even the TV crew was crying --and Linda was crying at the response and support that she had received from God and these people. She thanked God for the power to do such a miraculous thing. Later she was invited to the White House and was pictured on the front page of the New York Times. Her story was not just a story of a noble effort, it was the story of the power of God at work.”[1]

God overcame her weakness, her inability, and gave her the strength. Just as God overcame Isaiah’s weakness and inability and gave him the words to speak.

God is loving and awe-inspiring, like a nurturing parent and thunderstorm over crashing surf. And God calls us in times of peace and in times of turmoil to be faithful in serving and leading. When God calls us, God also prepares us to be partners in that work, helping us to overcome our shortcomings, and strengthening us to the task!

Do not forget that the one we worship is not just the one holding the lamb, but it also the one that made the blue whale, Mt. Everest, the earth, the sun, the galaxy, and the universe. God’s strength is beyond imagination, and there for you to take hold of.

[1] Gary Ritner at Hillcrest UMC on April 17, 1994, Adapted by Brett Blair, ChristianGlobe, Inc.

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