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A sense of awe

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November 13, 2016 – 26th Sunday after Pentecost

Isaiah 6:1-8 and Luke 5:8-10

When God calls Isaiah, it stand out that God is totally different to us as humans. A sense of tremendous awe strikes Isaiah.

There is a Latin expression mysterium tremendum which is a concept that we often don’t fully grasp. I remember a time when I was invited to preach as voluntary chaplain at a Lutheran Church in South Africa. When we did confession, an elder led us and turned to the wall behind the communion table. The wall was totally white and not decorated at all. The prayer of confession prayed on behalf of the congregation by the elder was directed towards this wall. It struck me that while we don’t know what God looks like, and when we approach this tremendous mystery, we approach this divine other with an awe that is beyond comparison. It is magnificent and overwhelming. It can be described as a mystery before which human beings both tremble and are fascinated, are both repelled and attracted.

While Isaiah meets God as the totally other, he gets a sense of absolute awe. It’s much more than even a type of goose bumps moment. The foundation of the temple shakes so much that there is smoke, or perhaps even dust, an it is terrifying. The seraphs appear, creatures that look like angels, complete with wings, and they cover everything in order to defend themselves against any possible danger.

Do we even grasp that this is who God is, the one and only sovereign God that rules over everything that exists? The knowledge that God is as totally different as this, inspires us to have respect for God, to rather stand in utter amazement towards this creator-God.

During the time that Isaiah received this calling there was great political struggle with disastrous consequences. Uzziah and other early kings essentially mess up and the people are left wondering where to put their trust. It hearkens to the feeling the world is expressing currently. Where should people place their trust and faith. In human rulers? No. God is the answer that will heal the world. The only way we are going to change is one by one as we move from professing our faith, confession, forgiveness, and then commission, like Isaiah.

We need less lip service and more burning lips calling to service. Serve with a faith in God. After all, didn’t God tell us that our desires for a king would be a corrupt oppressive disaster?

The question this morning would be whether we approach the Lord God with a sense of awe. What difference might that approach make? Would we be worshipping God the same way as we do? Would we be referring to godly matters in the same tone as we do it currently? Would I speak of God as easily as I do?

I suspect that a sense of awe would turn things around dramatically.

Moving back to world events, I picked up on a story that is playing itself out in Iraq. It grabbed my attention and it gave me a total sense of awe and trust in the God almighty whom we believe in 1)

After two years of Islamic State occupation, church bells are chiming again in Iraq’s largest Christian city.

Two Iraqi priests held a mass at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh two weeks ago on Sunday, October 30, the first mass there since the city was taken by ISIL in August 2014. Just 30 kilometres away, Iraqi forces are attempting to re-take Mosul from ISIL militants.

The church is Iraq’s largest, and used to summon more than 3,000 people to its Sunday mass. On that Sunday, dozens of people attended.

What does this say to you and me? I sense that the church that belongs to Jesus Christ cannot be crushed. It might be possible on external appearances, but when we look at how the church and the believers stand up again, there is something that stuns anyone that pays attention.

When we witness a city like Fort McMurray rising up out of the ashes, the awe of course is different, but still truly inspiring when you see a Presbyterian congregation forging forward.

What does the world make of all that has been going in the United States’ election campaign, the candidates, the election, the outcome and the future. Do we ever see God behind any of it? Or do our minds get fixated on human events? The people during the time of Isaiah actually had no idea what they were up to. They couldn’t grasp any of their role as children of God.

The holiness of God then confronts Isaiah to look at his own lack. For although God is great and holy, the prophet realises his meagreness. He justly worries over his presence before the grandeur of the Lord.

He expresses his own despair in that he is “lost” and that both him and his people have “unclean lips.” The verbal declarations of praise did not match the heart of unfaithfulness. It is remarkable that Isaiah would be called to a spoken prophetic ministry with such lips.

But at this point, the seraph approaches with a live coal. Apparently, the coal was too hot to touch even for a seraph so Isaiah 6:6 mentions a “pair of tongs.” Imagine the biting pain placing such coal on the lips of Isaiah. Perhaps this is a metaphorical description of the power of the heat of the coal. Fire has a cleansing, atoning purpose, but the pain must have been brutal. The cleansing of sin is not easy. But the touching of the coal to the lips cleanses the prophet, and prepares him for a life of prophecy. As it turns out, the sanctioned words of a fierce prophet prove more powerful and enduring than any military leader. Isaiah’s ministry pushes God’s people to lives of holy devotion, that they may be set apart from the other nations.

Are we going to allow fear-mongering to take hold of our thoughts? Or are we going to see a future that is still in God’s hands? It is a future that is in God’s hands and we have the opportunity to shine the light of God wherever we go.

The week also marked the passing of an amazing singer and songwriter, Leonard Cohen. Leonard, born into a middle-class Jewish family didn’t live out a devout Jewish faith but identified himself as part of the Judaic tradition. So he wasn’t an explicit Christian faith although he said he was fond of Jesus Christ. But much of this doesn’t matter. God can use anyone to express profound words.

Therefore, before I conclude this morning’s message about a sense of divine awe I want to quote these famous words: “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Yes friends, the light cannot be extinguished. Let’s allow God to fill us with awe, also in November of 2016.

1) http://qz.com/826624/the-first-christian-mass-took-place-in-a-haunting-church-near-mosul-two-years-after-isis-occupation/

 

Copyright 2016 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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