11th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Happy anniversary! Do you like anniversaries? What exactly is an anniversary anyways? An anniversary commemorates a notable, special, or important event in the past. And many anniversaries we celebrate, don’t we? But why? Have you ever thought about that? What’s the point? Maybe it’s a chance to see how far we’ve come, it’s an excuse to do something special, to get together with other people, a time to have fun, a time to eat. Maybe it helps remind us of how old we’ve become, how many years have gone by. But in a way an anniversary is comforting, isn’t it? It gives us a chance to relive the past, reminisce about pleasant times, laugh about funny memories, and even smile at unpleasant occasions because they’re over and done with. They deal with the past and the past to a certain degree is comforting. We’ve been there, we know it, and it can’t be changed. You can’t change the fact that St. Mark’s has been in Bemidji for 40 years.
But the problem is, anniversaries are one time deals. They happen and they’re history. Why? Because we don’t live in the past, we live in the present and we’re looking ahead to the future. While we like the past and can celebrate the past, we don’t know the future, we don’t know what lies ahead of us, in fact, none of us here even knows for sure whether we are going to live or die tomorrow! What we don’t really ever hear about is someone celebrating the future. Instead, we celebrate the past because the future can be apprehensive, uncertain, and unsure.
Well, God knows this about us humans. But although we don’t know the future, He does. Although we can’t control the future events of our lives, He does. Although we can’t ensure that things will happen in our lives to turn out for our good, He does. So, as we consider our past lives, the past 40 years of our congregation AND as we look ahead to the future, God gives texts like the one before us today to help us.
Typically anniversaries highlight some special event of the past. Well, I wonder how often the prophet Isaiah looked back and remembered this day on which our text occurred. It was the day that the Lord commissioned him for service and we’re told that it happened in the year that King Uzziah died. King Uzziah was a king of Judah and for the most part a good king, he was a capable administrator, a good military leader, in fact, he was the best king Judah had since the days of Solomon, it would be easy to focus your trust on such a good king. But… now that king is… dead. What now? What will the future hold? What will happen? At such times of crisis God can more easily make Himself known.
Well, that year that Uzziah died Isaiah “saw the Lord.” How? It’s not important. What matters is that Isaiah saw the Lord in such a way that changed and shaped the rest of his life. “I saw the Lord seated on a throne high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.” Here he saw the Lord, the Ruler of the universe, high, exalted, towering and sitting on a throne. God alone is the King, not Uzziah, God alone is the one in power, God alone rules over all things, God alone is the one in charge, God alone is the one high and exalted above all. And when we press Isaiah for details on this amazing sight…what do we get? He describes how immense God’s robe was! It’s as if human words just start to break down when he tries to describe this awesome sight and he just can’t fully do it.
Then Isaiah shifts his attention to the seraphs, the angels gathered around Him. They had 6 wings, with two they were covering their faces, with two they covered their feet, with two they were flying. And they were singing a powerful song of praise to each other, probably antiphonally back and forth. “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” There is only one who is holy, one who is almighty and it is the LORD. And then at the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds were shaking, the great building was being shaken right to its foundation! And the temple was filled with smoke.
Now, can you imagine being there? This is who our God is! Has God changed any? Is God any less almighty, powerful, exalted now than He was when Isaiah saw Him here? Not a bit! This is a mouth dropping, awe-inspiring scene! Who is God? God is not one to be treated with indifference. You can’t just shrug your shoulders at Him. God is not a spineless, old, grandpa figure that couldn’t harm a fly, as our world would like to picture Him. God is not a happy-go-lucky guy that we can try to put our arm around and win to our side of the argument. He’s not a piece of play-dough that we can manipulate Him to be what we want Him to be. God does not simply wink his eye at sin or evil behavior.
He is just, He is holy, He is completely separate from sin, He does whatever pleases Him, He towers over every ruler and authority, He is the almighty, He sits on the one and only throne. And for 40 years here at St. Mark’s believers have been coming into the presence of this God to worship Him. We come into God’s presence not to do our thing, not to sing songs to make us feel better about ourselves, not show God what good people we are that we’ve parked ourselves in a pew for years. Rather, we come to worship God, falling down on our faces before him out of awe and respect for who He is. There is nothing in the past, present or future that can change God, that can knock Him down.
And we need to be reminded again and again of who our God is. Why? Because each of us here is inclined to forget who God is. We forget who God is and we worry about the future, we doubt God is in control. You see, human beings were built to trust in God, if they don’t trust in God they have to trust in something. If we fail to trust in God, in what do we place our trust? Do we not place it in ourselves? “I can do it.” Self-reliance. Self-sufficiency. But the problem is, we have no power over the future. And if we rely on ourselves we should be absolutely afraid, nervous, scared, and full of worry about the future. And if we forget God and rely on ourselves then what happens in our church? We focus on ourselves, what we want, there are conflicts, clashes, hurt feelings, half-heartedness to God, offenses given, offenses taken. When we lose sight of God it can be easy to approach an anniversary saying, “Whew! We survived 40 years…I sure hope we can survive a few more!”
How sinful of us to ignore God, to forget that this is His church, to treat Him with indifference, to let our own ambitions get in the way of His work, to doubt his faithfulness for the future. Isaiah had a visible demonstration of who God is and how did he react? “’Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’” He was crushed. He gave himself up as lost, as destroyed. A sinful human has no right to stand in the presence of a holy and perfect God. Not Isaiah, not you or me. We don’t deserve to be here, we don’t deserve to come into His presence to worship Him week after week. Isaiah’s case is ours: No pleading for mercy, no great vows to God, he gives himself up as lost, condemned, destroyed, ruined.
But notice what God did. He doesn’t squish him like a bug-giving him what he deserved. He doesn’t prescribe a sentence for him to make up for his sins, nor does He simply disappear leaving him to fend for himself. A seraph flew taking a live coal from the altar of sacrifice and touching his lips. And said, “See this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” The altar points to an offering, a sacrifice of atonement to be made. A sacrifice for sins would take place. You see, the almighty and awesome God is also at the same time the God of all compassion, kindness, and graciousness. God would send His own Son, Jesus, who would make Himself the atoning sacrifice for all sins. Jesus has come, your guilt taken away, paid with the blood of Jesus. Your sins- every one of them – have been atoned for, have been covered, cast into the depths of the sea.
And by God’s grace for 40 years it is this message of full and free forgiveness in Christ Jesus, this gospel message that Isaiah saw and felt, that has been proclaimed by St. Mark’s congregation. And it’s because of this forgiveness that we can as believers gather together in God’s presence to worship Him. And it’s knowing this forgiveness, knowing what God has done with our sins, that moves us to respond. After all this I don’t picture Isaiah with a disinterested look on his face, yawning, bored, saying, “Oh, here I am. Send me.” No! Isaiah is jumping up and down screaming, “Here am I!” And he’s actually commanding God, “Send me! Send me!”
Each one of us knows who we are, we know our sins, our filth, our unclean lips, but you, too, have been touched by God’s grace, your guilt has been taken away, your sins atoned for. And so as members of St. Mark’s we too are jumping up and down telling God, “Here I am! Send me to do your work!”
On this anniversary we don’t try to relive the past and dread the future, we treasure the past as evidence of our God’s faithfulness and grace, and we look ahead at the future remembering who our God is – we have an awesome and almighty God with us and remembering what our God has done for us – that He has rescued us from sin. So we look ahead not saying, “Whew, I hope we survive”, but “I can’t wait to see what our awesome and gracious God will accomplish through our church in the next 40 years!”