Home » Spiritual Direction » Lectionary Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Lectionary Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Isaiah 6:1-13 We Need to Listen

How would you react if you suddenly encountered God in God’s divine splendor as Isaiah did? Use your imagination for a moment. Imagine getting up on a Sunday morning, picking your clothes, getting dressed, eating breakfast, and then coming to church. But as you walk into the sanctuary instead of seeing what you normally see you see the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. No big deal, right. I doubt it. I would likely respond much like Isaiah, in awe and with a certain amount of fear. Or maybe I would just collapse after wetting my pants.

Do you think you would pay attention? Do you think this event was something important? I imagine so.

Isaiah has quite an experience. He encounters God. He confesses his sinfulness and the sinfulness of the people he serves. His sins are atoned for (notice we are not told if the live coal was painful or not). He hears the voice of God say, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Then, without knowing what God is going to ask of such a person he says, “Send me.”

Before his experience in the temple, it can be assumed, due to Isaiah’s words and actions, that he was a man of faith. We know that he was a priest. We can tell by his response to the Lord that he is aware of the lack of faithfulness in the land. His words indicate that he is troubled by the cultural conditions and sinful situations that surround him.

In the first five chapters, before this vision, these conditions and situations are clearly spelled out. God’s people rebelled against God. They had abandoned the Lord who loved them and instead created a civil religion that God found offensive. The people allowed injustice and evil. The culture embraced depravity and violence. All this while suffering and darkness seem to prevail all around them. Despite the cause/effect reality that surrounds them the people do not realize their situation is caused by their unfaithfulness. God is calling them to repentance. God wants them to understand their problems come from their abandoning God and not God’s abandoning them.

I wonder if the church today understands that by embracing what has been called “Christian nationalism” is the same error embraced by the people of Isaiah’s day? I wonder if Christians can understand that we are in danger of, “Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.” There are plenty of false prophets out there preaching a gospel of allegiance to a political party in the guise of being faithful to God. There are plenty of people promoting hate and fear instead of love and trust. I wonder if we (even the church) are a people of unclean lips? If we are, I hope we can have the coals put to our lips.

As was stated earlier, Isaiah was a priest, a faithful priest. The Scripture states that the Church is the new priesthood. The Apostle Peter tells us, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pet. 2:9 NIV) The Church is the nation God wishes for us to be the primary nation to which we serve. The Church is to be a holy nation. Any nation, any leader, or anything that takes priority over our obedience to God is an idol. Remember, the people of Isaiah’s day thought they were honoring God when in fact, they grieved God greatly. I believe the church is in danger of doing the same thing today.

What can we do?

There is a story of a brilliant scientist who came up with an idea that could change everything for the better. He decided he need to change the whole world. Then he thought, “But the world is so big, I should start with my own country.” But then he thought some more and decided his country was so large perhaps he should start with his own city. But then there were so many people in his city he thought maybe he should begin with his own neighborhood. Yet he thought, “There are so many households in my neighborhood I wonder what I should do?” Then he realized, “I know, I should start with myself.” This is where we should begin as well.

French sociologist who studied the goodness of America, Alex de Tocqueville, said, “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” Goodness comes from faithfulness to God. Goodness comes from compassion and love.

If we want to see faith become relevant in our land it must start with us. We must desire to be forgiven, desire to love other people regardless of whether they are like us or not. We must pray for them, love them, care for them, and be willing to tell them of the dangers against us and the destiny God offers us through Jesus. We need to remember they are not the enemy.

Listen to what the Lord says to Isaiah, “And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

That stump, that holy seed, did turn things around. God did restore the people, but it took time in exile for them to awaken and rebuild. God had a faithful remnant. That remnant had deep roots. Those deep roots brought them back to faithfulness.

The church in this country was once the most significant influence in people’s lives. Now, it hardly has a voice. The church is a stump of what it once was. However, God has not changed. The holy Seed can again thrive in the hearts of the faithful. This is where renewal and revival begins.

I have heard a verse of Scripture misused time and time again as a supposed promise to a political nation. This promise in 2nd Chronicles chapter seven, verse fourteen states, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chr. 7:14 NIV) This verse is a promise to God’s chosen. It was a promise to Abraham’s descendants.

God has not changed. This promise is still good, not for geopolitical nations but to God’s people, the Church. We can still choose to move from simply survival (focusing on trying to keep the institutional church solvent and mildly relevant) or learn from these words from Isaiah and seek revival (a renewal of faithfulness and trust in the Lord). The choice is ours.

Also, I hope you realize that we will see such an awesome presence of God. The Scripture is clear, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Heb. 9:27-28 NIV) Will our experience at that time be one of justification or condemnation? The answer will depend on the choices we make in this life. What choices will you make?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.