How to Respond

(Sorry this is one is so late! This is the meditation from Confirmation Sunday, God bless, Josh, Adam and Grace!)

Have you ever looked at the ocean and realized how small you were, standing there on the beach watching the churning surf and the blue-grey water surge upon you? With your back to the beach looking out all you see is blue as far as the eye can see and looking back from that blue you are a pinpoint standing on the beach.

It’s easy to forget about that smallness when life is going well. When our health is strong and whether it be career or school are working out the way we want them to. When house, family relationships all seem to be on track, we forgot about how easily things break down and how quickly life can change. Part of what happens as well is that we forgot about God, life is good we don’t need God right now, faith and worship can take a backseat, we’re too busy doing what we want to remember where all good things come from. But there is nothing quite like the vastness of the ocean to cut through a lot of the illusions we wrap ourselves in, especially when life comes crashing down upon us like waves, one upon the other and we realize how small we really are.

In our First Reading today on this Holy Trinity Sunday and also very important day of Confirmation for Adam, Josh and Gracie, we read from the prophet Isaiah the 6th chapter. Before this reading we assume life for Isaiah was going on as normal, he was doing his job as a prophet, much like a pastor, working with the people, convicting them of sin, calling them to return back to God. Where Isaiah served the King Uzziah ruled for 52 years and those years on the outside were very prosperous financially and politically. There was a sense of stability in the land and things we’re working out pretty good for everybody. Near the last decade of his reign, Uzziah began to turn from God, there was a horrible earthquake (a magnititude 8.1 hypothesized by archeologists) and the King himself was struck down with leprosy; it was like wave upon wave crashing down upon them. Then Isaiah tells us that it was in the year that King Uzziah died and that last pillar of earthly stability was gone that he saw, “The Lord God sitting upon the throne, high and lifted up; and the train of His robe filled the temple.”

Isaiah was standing beside the ocean. All of his earthly pillars that lent a sense of security and stability had all gone away; like all things of this world must always eventually do. Now Isaiah was standing beside the ocean, he had been brought into the presence of the Most High God and all of his notions that we have that we are somehow the center of the universe were shown for what they really are, an illusion we wrap ourselves in. Notice how Isaiah describes the immensity of God that all he can really focus upon is the very lowest part of the heavenly robe, that is all he can see clearly, like only being able to see the waves as they come near and not what is out towards the horizon.

But it wasn’t simply the immensity of God that so filled the heavenly courts that struck Isaiah so, but it was God’s holiness that confronted Isaiah. The holiness of God set apart from all others, was not a matter of size but of purity and truth, that which is lovely and right and good. God is all of that without blemish or stain. Let me give you an example. In High School I did stage acting for a while, just for fun. Before I would put on the stage makeup I would brush my teeth, clean up and smile in the mirror to make sure my teeth looked white. For one character I played my face was covered completely in white makeup and the first time I had that make up on, I looked in the mirror, smiled and gasped. Because my teeth, that looked good and white before the make up, after the make up they looked yellowed and stained. When compared with something so glaringly white my teeth never had a chance.

This maybe gives us a small sense of what Isaiah experienced being in the presence of God’s perfect purity and holiness, all that is good and right without blemish or stain. For Isaiah, who may have seemed and felt like an ok guy with it all together, was now compared to God’s holiness and the stain of sin was glaringly obvious. The reality of his own need before God strikes home and he says, “woe to me, for I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” The translation of this Hebrew word נִדְמֵ֗יתִי (Negmeti) is sometimes “lost” but more accurately it means to be undone. Imagine that, every illusion, every false security and every false hope, every sinful pride and self-illusion, all of it is completely undone in a moment in God’s presence, like pulling the end of a bow and watching the ribbon unravel. Isaiah had nothing left, he was completely undone, he didn’t even have enough to ask for help he recognized finally how deeply lost his situation was.

Without even knowing or being able to ask for help, it is God who comes to Isaiah and sends help. An angel takes a burning coal from the altar of sacrifice and touches his lips. Touching someone’s lips is a personal expression done by someone close to the heart. This act touches Isaiah and heals the darkness reaching down to his very heart. Those beautiful words are spoken, your guilt is taken away; you are forgiven. This was all an undeserved act of God because of His love for Isaiah and for all of His creation. Notice the coal comes from the altar of sacrifice and it points to the day that God’s son Jesus would be the ultimate sacrifice that would take away our guilt and make us right in God’s presence. In that forgiveness is the reminder and promise that even though all earthly pillars may fall away it is our God alone that will remain and He gives to us the security we need in this life and eternally.

Isaiah doesn’t say anything yet; maybe he doesn’t have the words to speak for such a wonderful gift given. But God doesn’t force a response from Isaiah or from anyone else. God freely showers all with his love but doesn’t force us to respond in faith and love and service back to Him. But maybe Isaiah needed an opportunity to respond to the gift given, so God asks all that are there, “Whom shall I send?” Who will go and speak the good news of God’s love and the warning of sin to all people. Isaiah responds, “Here I am, send me!”

That is what our confirmads are doing today, because they too need an opportunity to publicly respond to the wonderful gifts that God has given to them in their baptism, in faith and in Jesus. It is the same opportunity all people are given, every Sunday, to let our illusions that cannot save be undone and fall to the floor and instead to receive the good gifts that do save and the eternal security that God gives so freely and to respond in faith and love and service. That is part of what this is about today, the response of faith, in our young ones and in us as well. This is never forced but it is a loving response of faith to the love of God.

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