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Witness: Living in Focus – “Practicing Faith”

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Isaiah 6:1-8

May 26, 2024

I’m sure we all find it fascinating when people can take old simple items that we may throw away and turn them into something fun or useful.  The picture of the shark that you see before you was made of trash that was found on the beach.  If you look closely you may see old sneakers, tires, toys, and plasticware that were used to create the shark.  The picture of the characters from the Mario Brothers video game were made of soda and beer cans.  Even in Clayton I know there are spots where we see this kind of art.

Several years ago I was helping a community clean up after they experienced some serious flooding.  There were large dumpsters set up on the road where we could throw things away that were damaged.  As a group of us were putting some things in a dumpster this old man, who was sitting in his yard, asked us, “Why are you throwing away that wood?”  And we said, “Because it’s damaged and you can’t use it for anything.”  The man asked us to bring some of the wood to him.  So we did and he took out his pocket knife and started to whittle away at several long pieces of wood and made them pointed at the end.  At the other end he cut some grooves so we could hold the long pieces of wood and use them to pick up trash in people’s yards without having to bend over to pick up everything, which certainly made the clean up a little easier.

He then asked us if we wanted some sodas to drink and we said, “Sure.”  He gave us bottled sodas from his cooler, but we couldn’t open them because we needed a bottle opener.  We asked the man if he had a bottle opener we could borrow.  The man took another piece of wood we were about to throw away and quickly carved some notches into it, so it could work as a bottle opener.  As he gave it to us he said, “See, you can do a lot of things with items that appear to be damaged or destined for the dumpster.”

Isaiah, in our Old Testament lesson for today learned a lot about his worth, his usefulness, and his value in the eyes of God.  It was around the year 742BC, King Uzziah – a very popular king who ruled for 50 years had died.  King Uzziah was a good king, He honored God, and he was able to raise up a powerful army during his reign and strengthen the walls of Jerusalem against attacks.  His name meant, “My strength is God.”  But now that Uzziah was gone, that strength seemed to be gone as well.

Isaiah was probably reflecting on all this, concerned about the future, when suddenly he had a vision.  God was sitting on His throne with angels flying around Him, praising Him and saying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”  Can you imagine seeing such a vision?  But in the presence and wonder of the almighty God, Isaiah had only one thing he could say.  He cried from the bottom of his soul saying, “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 King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

In the presence of our holy, righteous, and powerful God, Isaiah was filled with fear, knowing he had not lived as God wanted him to live.  He was a sinner and all he could do at this moment was to proclaim his sinfulness.  Plus, God had told Moses in the book of Exodus, “No one may see me and live.”  So, I’m sure Isaiah thought he was going to die.  But God had chosen to reveal Himself to Isaiah, so reaching across the difference between His holiness and Isaiah’s sin, God sends an angel with a burning coal, taken from the altar – a place that was used to sacrifice animals for one’s sins – and touches Isaiah’s lips saying, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”  In response to Isaiah’s sinfulness, God acts with grace and love by cleansing Isaiah of his sin.  God doesn’t tell Isaiah to get his act together.  He doesn’t send Isaiah away saying, “Get away from me you sinner. You failed to keep my commands.  Why couldn’t you be more like King Uzziah?”  Instead, in His loving kindness, God forgives Isaiah.  He frees him from the guilt of his sin, so that Isaiah may know and experience the freedom of living in the love of God.  What a great example for us to follow.  We need to practice forgiveness more and more in our lives.

But notice what happens next.  God says that He needs someone who will bring a message to His people.  So what does Isaiah do?  He steps forward, without knowing any details, and says, “Here am I!  Send me.”  In the presence of God, Isaiah saw how he had lived his life and He felt useless, broken, and unworthy, like a piece of wood damaged in a flood, but when God touched him and forgave him, restoring him like a piece of art made out of trash, Isaiah was willing to be God’s messenger to His people.

So when we encounter God, what happens to us?  Are we like Isaiah in that we feel our sinfulness and unworthiness before God thinking, “God can’t use me.  I’ve failed at my job; I’ve failed in my marriage; God doesn’t want a failure.”  But failure is not determined by the mistakes we make.  Failure is based upon how we respond to those mistakes.  Being an unwed parent does not make you a failure.  Failure is determined in how you will care for your child or your children.  Losing your job, for whatever reason, does not make you a failure.  Failure is determined if you decide to give up on something you’ve been attempting to accomplish.  A failed marriage is not a reflection on your ability to love.  Failure is determined in how you will use that love to reach others.  Peter, in our second lesson from Acts, was preaching his first sermon in which 3000 people come to faith and are baptized, and yet, just before Jesus was arrested and crucified, about 50 days earlier, Peter told Jesus he would never abandon Him.  But when he was asked if he was one of Jesus’ disciples when Jesus was on trial, Peter denied that he ever knew Him.  Peter knew he failed, but Jesus forgave him and then used him to preach an amazing first sermon.

When we are in the presence of God, do we recognize our sinfulness, like Isaiah and Peter, or are we like the Pharisees, the religious leaders in Jesus’ day in our Gospel lesson, who often thanked God that they were not as bad as their neighbors?  It is very easy, living in a sinful world filled with daily images of the horrible things some people do, to look at ourselves and think, “I’m not so bad.  If God wants to see bad, He should look at those people on the news who commit murder, or at some of my co-workers who treat their families very poorly, or at some of the students I see at school, but not me.”  Until we can really be honest with ourselves about the state of our sinfulness, it is very difficult to appreciate the gift of eternal life that Jesus has earned for us.

Unlike Isaiah, we are not going to be touched with a burning coal from the altar of God, but we will be touched with Jesus’ forgiveness.  Here at this altar rail, we will feel the touch of Jesus’ forgiveness through the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  It is here that God will hear our cries, concerns, and sorrows, and He will touch us with His forgiveness to make us new once again.

It is very easy to be focused on God while we are here, but what about after the worship service today – after we have been touched by Him and have received His forgiveness, what will we do then?  Isaiah responded to the love of God by being God’s messenger.  Peter responded to Jesus’ forgiveness by leaving his job as a fisherman to catch people for Jesus.  Will your lives be any different when you leave here today?  I’m not saying God is going to call everyone to serve Him in full time ministry, but I know everyone can be a witness for Jesus in some way.  I know despite our flaws and failures, we can all put our faith into practice by using the unique gifts and talents God has given to us.  After all, God did some amazing things through sinful people in Scripture and I know He can do some amazing things through all of you.  As we remember the men and women of our armed forces who gave their lives for us so we could live in a free country on this Memorial Day weekend, I pray we will always remember our God who gave His life on a cross so we could live in freedom today and for eternity in his heavenly kingdom.  May that reality motivate all of us to say, “Here I am Lord, send me to live for you.”

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