Big Words: Be
Isaiah 6:1-8 and John 3:1-17
Second in a series of six
May 26 and 27, 2018
“Woe is me! For I almost; 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 King, the Lord of hosts!
Dear Friends in Christ,
We are exploring a sermon series in these days called “Big Words.” So very often in the English language the words that have the greatest depth of meaning are the simplest. Words like go, be, with, but, and for. In this sermon series, we examine five little words, we ask what they mean and how they help us to express the depth of our theology.
Last Sunday was the Festival of Pentecost, an event which happened in Jerusalem 50 days after the resurrection of our Lord and at which time God poured out His Spirit in superabundant fashion and commissioned his church to go and make disciples by baptizing and by teaching all things he had commanded. Pastor submitted to us that the Triune God has commissioned us to go first of all to those near and dear to us, and secondly to places and people yet unknown to us. That we are called to be Christians in every moment to folks inside of our comfort zone and to those outside.
Today we focus on the little word BE. Our “As We Gather” paragraph in our bulletin today says it this way. Before we do, we be. Before we go, we are. Before we were, God is. Trinity Sunday celebrates the mystery of the God who is, because who God is has made you and me. Who God is has redeemed you and me. Who God is sanctifies you and me.”
Before we do, we be. In other words, before we can carry out the Great Commission near and far, we need to know who God is and who we are. Specifically, we need to know who we are in relationship to God.
Who are we? In recent months, about 1-3 times a week, the internet has asked me to verify that I am not a robot, to check a box that verifies that I am in fact human. That question strikes me as odd one, but it’s an easy one to answer, and so I do. A question more difficult to answer is what does it mean to be human?
The Lutheran answer to that question has been that we are simultaneously sinners and saints. John 3 language would answer that we are at the same time born of the flesh and born again of the Spirit. Isaiah 6 language would answer that apart from Christ we stand in God’s presence as lost and ruined mortals with unclean lips. In Christ we stand with our guilt taken away, our sin atoned for, and ready to serve.
Who are we? Two answers to that question today – the first answer is in relationship to the holiness of God, and the second with regard to His desire to have mercy on our souls. The first answer is that by nature we be lost, we be guilty, and we be, good for nothing. The second is just the opposite. By the grace of God we be found, we be forgiven, and we be ready to serve
Who are we and what does it mean to be human? The first answer is that by nature we be lost, we be guilty, and we be, good for nothing. Perhaps you remember a commercial back in the 70’s for Mennen Skin Bracer. It featured a guy finishing his morning shave in front of a mirror by splashing on some aftershave lotion, then he vigorously slaps himself on both sides of his face and says to himself, “Thanks! I needed that!” The commercial’s message was that everybody needs a good waker-upper to be ready for the day.
In a much more profound set of circumstances, God was calling the prophet Isaiah to slap the nation of Judah alongside of the head and wake them up. They needed to wake up to the dangers of national pride. They needed to wake up to their lack of attention to social justice. They needed to wake up to the reality that they were relying more and more on foreign and political alliances and less and less on the promises of God.
According to one tradition, Isaiah was a cousin to King Uzziah, which would explain his ready access to the royal court. The end of Uzziah’s reign marked the beginning of the end for Judah, whose neighbors Assyria and Babylon were becoming the military superpowers that would threaten and destroy Judah.
Perhaps you remember the scene where the Lone Ranger & Tonto are riding down into a box canyon. At the far end, the Lone Ranger notices an army of Comanche Indians, in full war-paint, frowning down from the cliff walls at him. Turning to his left he notices a great number of very mad looking Arapaho Indians staring down.
On his right he observes a host of Cherokee Indians peering at him over the rim of the canyon. Looking behind, he sees every Apache brave in the world slowly creeping into the canyon, blocking the exit. You may remember that the Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and says, "We're in a heap of trouble, Tonto!"Tonto's nervous reply, "Uhh...who do you mean we, pale-face?"
The Kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town where all kinds of folks wake up every morning, they look themselves in the mirror, and they don’t like what they see. They have learned over the years that God is holy and they are not. They have learned that if they try to live even one day without confessing their sins and asking for guidance, they are in a heal of trouble. They have learned that if they try to solve their problems without the Holy Spirit guiding them, if they schedule themselves too busy to pray, if they let their Bibles collect dust, and if they try to go even one week keeping Jesus Christ at a distance, they are in a heap of trouble. Individually and collectively, they ask what does it mean to be human, and they realize again and again by nature they be lost, they be guilty, they be good for nothing.
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having n his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for...And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”
Who are we and what does it mean to be human? By the grace of God we be found, we be forgiven, and we be ready to serve.
The grace of God changes everything. According to our sinful nature, we were lost and condemned creatures. In the waters of Baptism, the Triune God claims us as His very own, the forgiveness of sins is delivered into our very souls, our hearts are made new.
The grace of God changes everything. It is our very nature to wander away from the truths we have learned from our mother’s knees, it’s our very nature to try to blaze our own trails, to find our own solutions to life’s most complicated situations, and it’s our very nature to take little molehills and make them into mountains, but in the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, our Father in heaven refuses to give up on us, our Good Shepherd time after time comes looking for us, the Spirit of God guides us back into the very truths that set us free.
By the grace of God we be found, we be forgiven, we be ready to serve. At closing chapel this past Friday, I told the story I’ve told before- of Uncle Alvin (Grew up in a Christian home, attended German Lutheran Parochial School, fought bravely in World War II, was wounded, receive awards that he really didn’t brag about as far as I know, he was a hero in the war, but not so much in the 45 – 50 years that followed. His drinking caused all kinds of troubles, for decades he turned his back on church, his family members including my mom lost sleep many a nights worrying about and praying for his soul, and it seemed as though his life was headed for an unhappy ending.
But His Father in heaven never gave up on Uncle Alvin, His Good Shepherd kept following him around with goodness and mercy, and at the end of it all, it seems as though the Proverb came true, Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.
In the days and weeks preceding his death, he accepted a visit from a Lutheran Pastor and Professor Dr. Rudnick. Dr. Rudnick read Scripture, he prayed, he listened, and finally, in preparation for Holy Communion, Pastor Rudnick asked if Alvin was sorry for his sins, he asked if he believed in Jesus as Savior, he asked if Alvin wanted to amend his sinful life. To which the answer was yes. At which time the angels and the archangels and all the company of heaven rejoiced. As the very bread and wine touched his lips, the very body and blood of Jesus Christ was delivered into his soul, his guilt was taken away, and one more time the gates of hell had failed to prevail.
The kingdom of God is like a large church in a small town full of folks who look themselves in the mirror every night, and they like what they see. They know that even though they have fallen short of God’s glory that day, their Father in heaven still refused to give up on them, their Savior is with them, He loves them, and His angels will be guarding over them all through the starry night. They say their prayers, they make the sign of the cross, and they sleep in peace, believing that their God’s mercies will be brand new in the morning. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters