Christ Centered Resources

Encounter with God leads to repentance

Heather Carlson

Psalms 29:1-11, Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17
University Hill United Church : Sun, June 18, 2000
I looked up "angel" on the TV guide online. No less than 7 shows happen in the next 48 hours about angels. For all intents and purposes, our culture is becoming increasingly educated about them. In fact tomorrow night there is a documentary on angels; it is part three of a series on the life and times of angel encounters. I wonder if any of you have been watching it. Its promo promises "accounts of encounters with angels as told through interviews, re-enactments and images." I wonder what we would learn. Will it be stories of tenderness? Will it be stories of personal transformation? I have to admit that I feel a bit sceptical about the stories our culture usually tells about angels. I’m not likely to tune in tomorrow night, for I have my own preconception about what I might encounter. Too often the stories go no deeper than a warm feeling of a doting guardian who spends all their energy focused on our problems. They are imaged as sweet and kind, and harmless; like a precious moments character. And rarely do they point us to a scene like the one we encounter in the book of Isaiah – of mighty praise of God. And I got to thinking about what would happen if Isaiah’s story made it onto such a documentary. Here the winged heavenly beings are named seraphim. First thing is, the documentary would lose its innocuous "G" rating. For in Isaiah’s vision we have the song of the seraphim, rocking the foundation of the temple. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory." The heavenly praise is too magnificent. The brilliance of God’s true holy nature unsettles and uproots. The room is filled with smoke, and it shakes the walls of the holy temple, as though bursting out beyond it. The psalm picks up the power of this passage. The voice of God is likened to the thunder, the breaking of trees, the flashing forth of flames of fire. It reminded me of what Ed said last week at Pentecost. That maybe "Holy Ghost" helps us to better understand the strangeness, the scariness of a Spirit who leads us in ways we had not imagined, and who we cannot control…untamed, free. It is this God to whom the seraphim raise their voice. I think it’s fair to say that Isaiah is caught off guard. He came with good intentions to worship, some scholars say, even to take his turn in temple leadership as a priest. And in the midst of his best intentions, he is met by the living God. This throws all of his notions of what he was doing there, out the window. Four little words begin his story. "I saw the Lord." The throne is above him, the hem of the garment surrounds him, and the heavenly choir sings. And instead of standing and clapping, instead of reciting his encounter to Dateline or Oprah, instead of designing an ornament for the Christmas tree, Isaiah metaphorically "hits the deck." Isaiah cries out "Woe is me! I am lost…I am a man of unclean lips…I live among a people of unclean lips…" Isaiah has observed all of the holiness rituals and purity laws of the day, to be in the temple. Washing, eating, dressing meticulously…and yet, even after all this cleansing, he cries out, "I am a man of unclean lips!" In Matthew’s gospel Jesus says that what is on our lips displays what is in our heart. And in the brilliance of Isaiah’s vision of God, he is brought to his knees to declare the Sin around him, and the Sin within him. William Willimon, a professor at Duke University, writes, "that the Christian doctrine of sin adheres to our notions of God rather than to our ideas about humanity. When we say "sin" we're not talking about the result of natural human anxiety about the limits of being human, or occasional foibles and slip-ups. We are saying that face-to-face with the awesome righteousness of God, the holiness of Jesus, we fall to our knees. We [are confronted by] the great gap between who we are and who God is. To be brought close to the claim, "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty. The whole earth is full of his glory!" is to cry, ‘Woe is me for I am one of unclean lips and dwell amid a people of unclean lips.’" Such a stark, honest confession may sound strange to our ears. This is a uncomfortable step, we often would like to avoid. Like the current commercial of the new college graduate who, when asked by his parents what he is going to do next, responds that he’s going to skip years of work and just move straight to retirement. All of us from time to time squirm at the prayer of confession, or the scripture, like today’s, that speaks of the deeds of the body being put to death. We’d like to jump from our opening scene in the temple with Isaiah, from the choir’s opening introit, right to commission of Isaiah to spread God’s word. But to do so would be to miss a step that cannot be skipped. For the good news of what God is up to in our world IS to tell the story of pardon through the work of Jesus Christ, God’s son. This week as I visited a mother she received an anguished call from her teenage son. He had gone to school to write his math exam for 2:00, only to discover the door locked as the exam had begun at 1:00. The mother counselled her son to take his petition straight to the principal, but cautioned him that since the rest of the class was in writing, the principal was unlikely to allow him to write later. But she said he must go and beg, on the slim chance that he would be given the opportunity to be let in for the last ½ hour of the exam. The son was in agony; how could he confess his mistake when there was so little, or no chance of hope. This is the spirit of fear that Paul writes about to the Christians in Rome. He urges that this kind of fear has no part of our new life in the Spirit. We have been given the spirit of adoption, we have become God’s children. For our reading from Romans today that began "so then" is in response to the first part of chapter 8 which begins "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." And many of us know the familiar words that the chapter ends with as well, "for I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." The good news is, that we confess our sin in the assurance that we do so before a forgiving God. We need only to throw "our lives open to the mighty rushing wind of God’s Spirit" Isaiah meets God in the temple and receives forgiveness through the cleansing of a live coal. The seraph declares, "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." And each Sunday we come seeking the same. As a by-product of our faithful worship we sense Sin as a huge gap between us and our loving, forgiving, seeking Savior. And we Christians confess only because of a prior confidence in a forgiving, gracious God. And each week, we are offered the saving word of God’s deliverance. We glimpse the costly grace offered to us and to the world in the cross. We see the face of God offered in love and forgiveness through Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit bears witness with our Spirit that we are indeed children of God. The result of the forgiveness that Isaiah experiences is a "new capacity to hear the Lord’s word and an immediate spontaneous response of willing obedience." For to utter with Isaiah, "Here I am Lord," is to have been cleansed in the fire of repentance. To have seen more clearly who we are, but more importantly who God is. Such an utterance comes "not as a human achievement but rather as a divine gift, gracious by-product of being met by a loving God." "Most of us have seen no vision comparable with Isaiah’s vision, nor has God’s voice spoken to us as clearly as it spoke to him, and none of us has met Jesus in the flesh…[so how is it that we encounter God?]. Paul suggests the answer. Each of us can be ‘converted’ by the holy Spirit, enable to recognize God as our Father, and to discover that his glory, partially revealed in the whole creation, is fully revealed…in the human face (the personality and character, the life and death, the resurrection and ascension) of Jesus Christ. When we cry "Abba Father" it is God’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit, bearing witness with our spirit that we really are God’s children." Isaiah’s story of meeting the Lord doesn’t end with his own conversion though. His repentance manifests itself in concern for his neighbour. Having tasted the sweet forgiveness, he is eager to serve God in telling others. "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory." In this assurance we can lift our face and say to the Lord, "Here I am, send me!"