Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Crying Out to God

Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17
June 3, 2012
© 2012

I.                TV news broadcasts have made a standard feature of every week’s stories to report on military parents, usually fathers, surprising children in their schools. We all get caught up in the emotion of children running to their fathers crying out, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”

A.           Today, on Trinity Sunday, we see that Father, Son and Holy Spirit cooperate to turn our cries to God from “Woe is me!” to “Send me!” from “I’m lost!” to “Abba!”

1.              Language is inherently limited. The distance between current English usage and the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible and the Aramaic Jesus spoke is far more than vocabulary and syntax, it is social and cultural. Our recent sensitivity to gender in language can obscure some of the essential core of the Trinity.

a)              Let me be clear. God does not have gender the way Emily and I have gender. Our inheritance laws and customs are far more flexible than in ancient Israel or the Roman Empire. So when Roman 8:15 speaks of God as Father, it is in the sense of the holder of a great estate that is to be delivered to his heirs.

b)             But that is not all. Paul goes on to put the Aramaic abba next to the Greek pater. Yes, they both mean “father,” but pater is more formal and descriptive. For a child to address his father as “Father” would seem a pretentious throwback to upper-class families a century or more ago. “Dad” or “Pop” are more comfortable. Abba is the familiar address a child would use. Abba is what Jesus used to speak to his Heavenly Father, and in the Lord’s Prayer he encouraged us to do the same.

c)              The RSV pew Bibles and many other translations of this passage use “sons of God.” The NRSV and some other more recent translations use “children of God” because of our gender sensitivity. Again, this has nothing to do with gender but with inheritance. This passage is saying that we who trust Jesus are the inheritor’s of God’s great estate. The expression “joint heirs with Christ” makes this abundantly clear.

2.              The other place we can get easily lost here is in trying to explain the mystery of the Trinity with too much precision. If we make the distinction between Father, Son and Holy Spirit too sharp, we sound like we’ve got three Gods. If we blur them too much, we miss the relational love that exists within God. Barton Stone, one of our leading Disciples of Christ forbearers, did not use the word “Trinity” because it does not occur in the New Testament. Some controversy has recently surfaced because certain Christians who are persecuted in largely Muslim areas and some groups in this country do not use Trinity to explain their understanding of God.

B.            Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all quite evident in Romans 8:15-17. However, it makes no attempt to explain how these three are one God. Rather, the point is the role of each in making us God’s heirs.

1.              The Father is the holder of the estate who has adopted us as his heirs.

2.              We become joint heirs with the Son. As Christ’s siblings, we inherit the estate with him.

3.              The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s heirs. That is, the Holy Spirit vouches to God and to us that we are legitimate heirs.

C.            On the strength of the Holy Spirit’s corroborating witness, we cry to God, “Abba!” We are not just permitted or even encouraged to address God in familiar terms, to do so is natural for us as the joint heirs of God’s estate with Christ.

1.              Though I know our gender sensitivities have introduced some understandable awkwardness in speaking of God as Father. Nevertheless, most of us are comfortable with taking our cue from Jesus and addressing God as “Our Father.” That has taken on a liturgical flavor, much like the Greek word pater. Not to push our prayers into stilted artificiality, but when Paul put Abba alongside Pater in Romans 8:15, he followed Jesus lead from the Lord’s Prayer. Strange as it may feel to most of us, Abba suggests we cry to God as our Heavenly Dad, Daddy, Papa, Pop.

D.           Father, Son and Holy Spirit cooperate to turn our cries to God from “Woe is me!” to “Send me!” from “I’m lost!” to “Abba!”

II.            Children running into the arms of their fathers returning from military deployment do not analyze the proper way to address them. They just cry out, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” When we are thrust into an instant crisis or an agonizing dilemma, we do not analyze the proper way to address God. We just cry out with whatever is in our hearts.

A.           Isaiah 6:1-8 is one of the most familiar and most dramatic passages of Hebrew Scripture. In the 52 years Uzziah was king, Judah experienced the greatest economic prosperity, diplomatic effectiveness and military dominance in the two centuries since Solomon. He had led the nation with his personal righteousness. But pride got the best of Uzziah, and he took it upon himself to burn incense in the Temple, which was the sole prerogative of the Priests. His judgment was leprosy. At the same time Judah slipped into economic decline in which those with power and wealth increasingly oppressed the poor. The rising political and military power of her neighbors became a growing threat to Judah. [Tell Isaiah 6:1-8]

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.2Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.3And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

5And I said: “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!”6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.7The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”8Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

B.            Isaiah had his vision of God in the year King Uzziah died. From the first five chapters, we can tell that Isaiah was in anguish about the uncertainty and instability threatening Judah.

1.              Regardless of our political inclinations, this election season heightens the feeling that not just the United States but the world is on the brink of crisis.

2.              This time between pastors for 1st Christian Church, Duncanville brings some anxiety and uncertainty.

C.            Isaiah’s vision of God elicited three cries in the crisis of ancient Judah.

1.              First is the cry of glory by the seraphs. God’s people may have slid into injustice and corruption, but God remains holy. The world may seem to be falling apart, but God is still in charge. The world may look dark, but God’s glory fills it.

2.              Second is Isaiah’s cry of contrition. Isaiah’s concern about unclean lips was not because he had a foul mouth, but that he was unworthy to speak on God’s behalf. Isaiah’s contrition was not just personal but was also for the community of God’s people. The sins of Judah were the problem, not those of their pagan neighbors.

a)              We struggle with this because we see things so individualized. We are prone to complain about the secularization of our country rather than address the spiritual laxity of our own congregations.

b)             Because of the translation “live coal,” we’re inclined to think the seraph is burning Isaiah’s sin out of him. A better translation might be “fire stone.” The image is of heating large stones in a fire to put in an oven to bake bread at the right temperature for rising and not burning. So Isaiah’s cleansing comes from vicarious contact with God’s holiness conveyed from the altar. This may be similar to the way the bread and cup of the Lord’s Table convey our forgiveness through the death of Jesus.

3.              Third is Isaiah’s cry of commitment. As I was practicing the story, I had to decide what emotional tone to use. With some scholarly backing, I decided to try to convey that Isaiah was excited, enthusiastic, even anxious to be sent by God. He had already seen the need. Now that his guilt was gone, he wanted to get out there and spread the word to others.

a)              Reading the rest of the chapter is essential to understand God’s call to Isaiah. God told Isaiah the people won’t listen and will refuse to be healed until all the threated judgments have been completed. God does not always call to success.

b)             That prompts me to say just a word about your next pastor, whomever it may be. Don’t compare with my preaching, or Mike’s, or Eldon’s, or Don’s or David Freeman’s. I suggest that you don’t even evaluate the quality of the sermons. Trust that the Holy Spirit has led the Search and Call Committee, the Board, the Trustees and the congregation through this whole process to get the pastor God is sending to you. Then your job is to listen for the voice of God, regardless of how the new pastor preaches.

D.           Father, Son and Holy Spirit cooperate to turn our cries to God from “Woe is me!” to “Send me!” from “I’m lost!” to “Abba!”

III.       Whether in Isaiah or Romans, crying out to God is not a wimpy, polite recitation. Whether joy or terror, whether crisis or celebration, we cry!

A.           A child who is sinking in deep water or sliding toward the edge of a cliff or bloodied in an auto wreck does not say, “Father, would you please take some time from your important schedule to help me for a few minutes if it’s not too much trouble.” No the child just cries, “Daddy!”

B.            The child who has just been rescued from disaster does not say, “Father, thank you for knowing what to do and responding so promptly and skillfully to my need.” No the child just cries, “Daddy!”

C.            When the Father, Son and Holy Spirit cooperate to make us God’s heirs, we don’t say, “In the Trinity, the Father is neither the Son nor the Holy Spirit, but is God. The Son is neither the Father nor the Holy Spirit, but is God. The Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, but is God.” No, we just cry, “Abba!”

In January 2004 my friend Christopher came to the end of his journey with terminal brain cancer at age 35. He was the center of gravity that held the church’s young adult group together. He was the one who encouraged them to talk about uncomfortable topics and was at ease with the ambiguity of not finding meaning.
By the fall of 2003 Christopher’s medical options had been exhausted. His decline became noticeable. Christopher’s balance and motor coordination were off. His speech halted irregularly. He became forgetful and confused. The first Sunday evening of Advent, the church held a service of prayer and support for those who had pain or wounds that seemed to clash with the approaching Christmas season. People were allowed to light a candle to represent their concern, spoken or silent. Christopher struggled to limp to the table. He lit a candle and said, “I’ve just been told I have about six weeks left to breathe. Whether that turns out to be six hours, six days or six years, I want them to be for Jesus.”

No comments:

Post a Comment