Friday, June 16, 2017

Sermon on Isaiah 6:1-7, for Trinity Sunday (1 Year Lectionary), "The Fire of Holiness"

Sermon Outline:
·         Isaiah’s experience is largely unrelatable to us; feeling of absolute fear for his life, 1) seeing God in His glory, 2) inner sanctuary of the Temple (Holy of Holies). Raw terror of being where no human dares go—don’t have that same sense of fear of authority today to have a close comparison. Not a brush with death (Esther before King Xerxes or Moses and the burning bush are close examples; maybe also ancient Hawaiian kapu about the shadow of an alii falling on a commoner). Different from how people often think of God “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. 1Tim. 6:15-16. Unapproachable—so when Moses, or Isaiah or others are brought into God’s presence, the response is fear, retreat, face-down submission.
·         But the surprise is that God doesn’t use this power to trample or obliterate them, but purges away their impurity and bestows His holiness. God wants to draw humans into His worship, not as though He needed anything, but so that we might be saved. so that in all things, as has been stated above, the Trinity in Unity and Unity in Trinity is to be worshiped. Therefore, whoever desires to be saved must think thus about the Trinity. Ath. Creed basically means that denial of the Trinity is denial of the Christian faith—rejection of how God has revealed Himself. But Creed is not just about correctly “categorizing” or “explaining” God, but drawing us into worshipping the One True God, and knowing Him for salvation. They are statements of praise or doxology that enlarge or magnify God by describing His greatness, awesomeness, and power. Teach who He is, so we praise Him right
·         “Train of His robe”—actually ‘hem”—suggests Isaiah couldn’t describe God much above “floor level.” Cf. Exodus 24:10 pavement beneath God’s feet—words fall short to describe God Himself, but rather how His glory or holiness radiates out to things around Him and beneath Him. Even seraphim (the burning ones), the most holy angels that attend God’s presence, can’t look at Him but hide their faces and feet.
·         Fire associated with God’s holiness—seraphim, smoke, burning coal, purging lips. “let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:28b-29). God’s fire consumes what is unrighteous, unholy, wicked, impure. Fire can be a great blessing, but never easily controllable. Destroy or cleanse. Fascinating and terrifying (Oswalt, 184). God’s fire of holiness purifies and devours sin, so that we can be made holy like Him. Cf. Faith more precious than gold, that perishes by fire (1 Pt. 1:7) Faith survives the fire by God’s mercy
·         Makes our encounter with the Living God frightening, because our sin is like gasoline to the holiness of His fire. Like Isaiah’s terror: “Woe is 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; for my eyes have seen the Kind the Lord of Hosts!” Not even a cry for mercy—convinced he was wrecked, undone, lost. What is our consciousness of sin? Deny it? Smuggle it into God’s presence? Put forward our “righteous deeds” for His approval (only to find they are filthy rags)? Or do we, like Isaiah own it and our helplessness to stand before Him? Want to be purged of these things?
·         Fire image—commentator Oswalt describes how God takes away the sin and guilt in which we have lived for years—a wrenching and searing experience—like a burn and scar. Do we stubbornly refuse to bow the knee before God, because we think we can fix ourselves, or don’t need His help? That was the uncleanness that Isaiah found in his people, and even himself. A man/people of unclean lips! God grant that we be given Isaiah’s humility and genuine repentance. “Apart from the fires of self-surrender and divine surgery the clean heart is an impossibility.” Do we submit to that searing pain of His holy fires purging away our sin? Ah, to be free, holy, pure (even with scars!) and to know that we are cleansed of that old sin! Joy vs. laboring under the delusion that we have no sin. Separation from our sin cannot be a painless experience as it’s so deeply ingrained in us
·         Angel descends to Isaiah, burning coal to lips (Ouch!?) “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Fire purged away what was unclean, sinful, unholy—but God permitted Isaiah to live, and in fact pardoned Him, because God had taken the sin away. Picture of how God intends to interact with us (and original audience Israel).
·         Isaiah’s crisis was not his alone, but saw his guilt in context of the nation… same problem. Crisis in the book of Isaiah—how can arrogant, sinful Israel become the nation by which the nations will learn of God? God had a holy purpose for them. By the same experience of humbling before God, repentance, God’s atoning for sin. Isaiah was a prophet describing God’s program of atonement for sin: Isaiah 1:18  “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. Isaiah 53:4–6  Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  
·         God’s program was to reduce Israel to one man, One faithful servant of the Lord, Jesus, who would bear the sin of the world upon Himself. Become afflicted, wounded, and die for our sins, so we could be healed. The cross needed to happen so God could say to us, behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for. God bore our sins in the cross so we could be forgiven  Hard to miss association to the Lord’s Supper. Jesus gave it to His disciples: “Drink of it, all of you, this is my blood which is shed for the forgiveness of your sins.”  God places the cleansing fruits of His atonement in our mouth for our forgiveness. We receive what He accomplished for us there on the cross.
·         Crisis of Isaiah/Israel/us how do sinful, unclean people get transformed into a people of purpose? To witness to the nations of God? By God’s forgiveness, makes us clean again, holy, set apart for His purpose. Isaiah was commissioned by God “Who will go? Here I am, send me!” Isaiah would proclaim God’s redeeming work through the Messiah He would send. 7 centuries till Jesus.
·         Holy, Holy, Holy—threefold, in worship of Trinity, also superlative, as the highest and holiest of all. Again, see this not to analyze and reduce God to several simple parts that we can grasp, but to evoke worship and awe. Trembling and earthquake in Temple at God’s voice—but God’s presence was not there to destroy, but to cleanse and redeem Isaiah. This is the God revealed in Christ Jesus. Thankfully, not in terror and raw glory, but the humble, approachable child in the manger, the gentle Jesus who welcomed children into His arms, the incomparable King who forgave His bitterest enemies while they tormented Him on the cross. Not timid to rebuke the wicked or proud or self-righteous, but full of compassion to those who listened, who humbled themselves, who sought mercy. Full of mercy for all who needed it. God reveals Himself to us in Jesus to show us God’s holiness but also His goodness and love. This transforms our approach to God, as the author to the Hebrews says in Christ Jesus we can approach the throne of grace with confidence (Heb. 4:16) because of Jesus’ intercession. Having God reveal Himself to us in this way, what more but to worship God with reverence and awe, and offer to Him acceptable praise? Holy Father, Holy Son, Holy Spirit, three we name Thee; though in essence only one, undivided God we claim Thee, and, adoring bend the knee, while we own the mystery. Amen!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Note on the Athanasian Creed: The end of the creed makes reference to all people rising and giving an account concerning their deeds, and that those who’ve done good will enter into eternal life, and those who have done evil into eternal fire. Examine these Scripture passages that refer to the judgment: Matt. 12:35-37; 25:31-46; John 5:21-29, esp. vs. 24, 29 & John 6:28-29; cf. Rom. 8:1. While works are examined in the final judgment, those who have faith are spared judgment and condemnation on account of Jesus’ righteous life.
  2. When Isaiah has a vision of the Lord “sitting upon a throne” inside the Temple, where does Scripture tell us God’s throne was? 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Sam. 6:2; Psalm 80:1. Isaiah, since he was not the high priest, would have been forbidden to enter the Most Holy Place, or innermost part of the Temple. What was Isaiah’s response to this? Isaiah 6:5. What was he immediately aware of? Cf Exodus 33:20; Judges 6:20-23. Can we relate in any way or from any experience, Isaiah’s sheer terror at being somewhere he dare not go? What kind of experience would relay a similar feeling? Why is that an uncommon feeling or experience today?
  3. Isaiah recognized not only his own guilt, but the guilt of his people. Isaiah chapter 6, through Isaiah’s experience, is relating an important question that is explored in the writing of the prophet—“How can sinful, arrogant Israel become the holy people of God, through whom the nations will learn of God?” How does Isaiah experience the solution to this dilemma? Isaiah 6:6-7. How does God bring that same solution to us? Isaiah 1:18; 53:4-6, 10-12.
  4. The holiness of God is something completely “other” from ourselves. The word “holy” means “separate” in Hebrew. God is separate from His people in His perfection, power, and loving-kindness (among other things). God is absolutely uncompromising in His expectation of faithfulness from His people—anything less brings destruction. But God provides the answer for our sinfulness (Romans 3:28; Isaiah 41:14; 48:17) (The Lutheran Study Bible, Holy, Holy, Holy, p. 1099). 

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