Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"Thanks, God! I had an AWESOME time!"

Trinity Sunday, May 31, 1025

Grace and peace to you from God our father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A while ago I clipped this comic from the Sunday newspaper and pinned on my bulletin board in my office, because I knew someday it would be perfect for a sermon. And that day is today, Trinity Sunday 2015! I'm also wearing my Trinity earrings, which you can't really see right now. You also can't see this comic, so I will describe it for you.

It’s a panel from Family Circus, with the Mom and Dad and the four kids all leaving church one Sunday after the service is over. In the dark shadows of the sanctuary, you see people getting up from the pews and putting on their coats by the light of the stained glass windows. The pastor is off to one side, shaking hands. The doors has been thrown open, and the family is just passing the threshold into the bright sunshine outside. But just as they walk out the door, their young son Billy waves and shouts back into the dark church: “G’Bye God! Thank you!… I had a very nice time!”

Aww isn’t that cute, and kind of funny. Now that church is over, he is being so polite and thanking God for the nice visit, like what you do for a visit to your grandma or your great aunt. Billy thinks that CHURCH is where God lives… how precious.

Another young man, one named Isaiah, also encountered God in a dark sanctuary. But that is pretty much where the comparisons between Billy and Isaiah end. For Isaiah, the temple was not filled with nicely dressed church-goers ad pretty stained glass windows. Isaiah saw a sanctuary that was filled with the hem of God’s robe, filled with smoke, and filled with angels called Seraphs flying around. THESE were not chubby, naked baby angel variety, but instead they had six wings, handle hot coals, and use loud voices that cause the whole temple to shake as they call out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts! The whole earth is full of his glory!”

Seraphs look really... scary!
And poor Isaiah is in the middle of all this, in the smoke and the shaking and the giant hem and the lofty throne and the scary angels and the noise – he too, like Billy, spent time in God’s house, but Isaiah did not say “Thank you, I had a nice time!” but instead “Woe is me! I am lost!” When he met God, Isaiah thought he was going to DIE.

Last week Sylvia mentioned one of her favorite funny stories in the Bible about the way Moses met God, by seeing God’s behind as God went by. Like most of the best humor, this funny story is based on something serious. Moses didn’t ask to see God’s behind because it would be funny for us to read thousands of years later. It’s funny, because fully encountering the Lord Almighty face to face is too intense for most people to handle. For Moses, it was easier for him to see God on the slant than directly. Sort of like how our eyes can’t look at the sun for very long. If you do, the back of your eye will literally get sun-burned, and you can go blind from the intensity.

It is no wonder, then, that in the midst of the awesome presence of the Lord in all God’s glory, directly in the midst of the divine, Isaiah cries out in utter terror, not “Holy, holy, holy” with the angels, but instead, “Woe is me, I am lost!”

There are forces at work in the world that are both beautiful and terrifying, forces that we have no control over, that have both the power of creation and utter destruction, things beyond us that control life and death on this planet and beyond.

And Netflix is a GREAT place to binge-watch shows about these kinds of things. You name it, Netflix probably it– shows about extreme weather, Black holes, dinosaur extinctions, the inner lives of Bengal tigers, earthquakes and volcanoes, the world after people ….

Speaking of burning one’s retinas, I guess my confession for today is that I probably watch WAY too much Netflix. One of these science that I watched shows informed me that top scientists predict a billion years from now our Milky Way galaxy will collide with our nearest galaxy neighbor. When that happens, our planet would either be hurtled into the outer reaches of space… or flung headlong into the center of the two colliding super-massive black holes. And that’s exactly where the show ended. End scene. Roll credits. …

In that moment I felt about 2 inches tall. At least, in comparison to galaxies hurtling around in space, spinning around and colliding in the night sky. Woe is me, I am lost! Who are we that God notices us at all?

Did you know, though, that these science shows also say that we are MADE UP of that same stuff as stars? The some of the stuff that makes us US could only be created inside these huge suns, burning up gas and spitting out the burned-up stuff life is made of.  We are put together out of stardust. “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

From the day we cry out at our birth to the day we take our last breath, these bodies of dust can do such wonderful thing and such terrible things, often to ourselves and to one another. We too, like the forces of nature beyond our control, have the potential to create and destroy, to make things that make this world ugly or beautiful, to both hurt and to heal.

And perhaps the most amazing and truly awesome thing of all is the one who creates us this way, the one who formed the galaxies and time and molded us from stardust, who created the weather and the wild animals, this wild and untamed and unpredictable God, THIS God wants to see US face to face.
When we do see God face to face - watching the edge of a thunderstorm roll in, seeing the Rocky Mountains for the first time, keep vigil as a parent takes their dying breath, or being part of the birth to you first child - when we see God here, there, and everywhere around us, it make us cry with Isaiah, “Woe is me! I am lost.” I am lost, I feel so small and fragile, and I am overcome with wonder and awe and terror.

The truth is, we would probably rather see God’s backside in such moments. Or perhaps we would prefer turn away from it altogether and show God OUR backside, instead. It is all just too much for us to understand: this whole Father, Son, and Holy Spirit stuff, angels and burning coals, and smoke and fire and serpents and burning bushes, being born from above and the wind blowing where it will… a man named Jesus who calls God “father” …the Father sending to us his spirit to accompany us… a God that loves the whole world so much that he gave his only Son, so that whoever in believes him may not perish but have eternal life… a God who sent his son not to condemn us but so that the world would be saved through him… it’s too much for me. I am lost.

Surely God has made a mistake. Surely God doesn’t want anything to do with ME. I am person of unclean lips. “Every word I’ve ever said is tainted.” (The Message translation of "I am a person of unclean lips") And the people all around me are the same way- my friends, family, neighborhood, city, country, the world even. Tainted words. People of unclean lips. “Who are we that God should think about us and care about us?”

And yet, God asks us a question, spoken like a stage whisper, meant to be overheard by us. This question God asked Isaiah, and also asks of US - “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Who will go into this world full of people of unclean lips, of people who would rather show God their backside, who for whatever reason don’t or won’t or can’t believe?

And out of our mouths, almost like a reflex, were words we ourselves were not expecting. It’s as if we have been prompted by the unseen spirit blowing through us. We can’t help ourselves: “Here I am, Lord. Send me!”

As it turns out, Billy’s nice visit with God didn’t end at the door of the church. I just found another cartoon panel, which seems to take place just after this first one. The family is now OUT the door of the dark church, out in the sunshine, and Billy’s sister Dolly points at the path beneath their feet and states, “Grandma says THIS is where our religion begins – when we come out of the church.”

Isaiah’s time in the temple was only a visit. He was not meant to stay there forever with the smoke and the shaking and the flying seraphs calling to one another. He confessed, he was forgiven, he was cleansed, he was blessed, and then he was sent out with a word to his people on behalf of the Lord of Hosts.

You have confessed. You have been forgiven. You have been cleansed, you have been blessed, you have been fed. And now too YOU are sent out with a word to God’s people on behalf of the Lord of Hosts. Now THAT I think, is pretty AWESOME! Amen.

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