A sermon delivered by Michael Cheuk, Pastor, Farmville Baptist Church, Farmville, Va., on May 27, 2012.
Romans 8:12-17; Isaiah 6:1-8
These past several weeks have been a season of graduations in our church and community. We saw many of our college and high school students earn degrees. Eleven days ago, I attended the graduation ceremony at Prince Edward Middle School and watched with pride as my daughter Thea walked up the stage to receive her certificate. There were many joyful moments as parents, family members and friends proudly celebrated the accomplishments of these young people.
As we celebrate with these young people the completion and end of a significant chapter in their lives, we also anticipate the dawning of a new chapter. This summer will be a time of change for our graduates. For some, the change will be minimal as they transition from middle school to high school. Even so, for them, there will probably be new buildings, new teachers, new classmates, and definitely new classes and academic challenges. For other graduates, the change will be more drastic as they enter college or as they try to find a job in this tough economic climate. Some may move away from home for the first time and learn how to live with roommates, learn how to cook or do their own laundry. That’s when many graduates begin to appreciate their parents more!
Such changes can be hard, and there can be anxieties and fear when facing a time of uncertainty and transition. Such was the case with Isaiah in our in our Old Testament lesson this morning. Our lesson begins with the phrase, “in the year that King Uzziah died.” King Uzziah was one of the most powerful rulers in the history of the Kingdom of Judah, and during the early years of his reign, Judah peaked as a world power, and that kingdom enjoyed the prominence, the privileges and the influence of such a position. But in the year King Uzziah died, and God’s people were faced with a transition of leadership. It was during this uncertain and anxious time that God revealed Himself to Isaiah.
In the year that King Uzziah died, Isaiah had a vision of the Lord in the temple, and Isaiah experienced worship in a way that he would never forget. There was no soothing music from an organ nor peppy music from a band; there were no inspiring anthems from a choir nor entertaining sermons from a preacher. There were only strange winged beings thundering and pronouncing over and over again the all-encompassing power, divine sacredness and transcendent worth of the almighty God: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. During this encounter with the holy God, Isaiah did not close his eyes and lift his hands in ecstatic joy; rather, this encounter moved Isaiah to close his lips and cower his head beneath his hands in extreme terror. “Woe to me! I am ruined!” he cried. “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips!”
We often want our worship experiences to be a haven of comfort and familiarity in the midst of a world of suffering and change. But in the year that Uzziah died, Isaiah’s worship experience at the temple was marked by a terrifying encounter with the living God who convicted him of his sin in the searing light of God’s holiness and glory. Our worship experience shouldn’t be any different. Let’s face it, we all have made a mess of life. We all have unclean lips, unclean eyes, unclean hearts and hands and feet, and we all live among people of unclean lips, unclean eyes, unclean hearts and hands and feet. Isaiah, when brought into the very presence of the God, quickly realized just how far short he was from the awesome holiness and perfection of God. In the presence of that same God, we too realize just how ruined we are and that fills us with woe.
Thankfully, we are not left ruined and woeful. Terror and fear do not have the last word with our encounter with God. In Isaiah’s case, a heavenly being came to Isaiah and touched his mouth with a live coal and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” In our case, Jesus came to us and touched our lives and said, “Your sins are forgiven,” and “fear not!” In our Epistle lesson this morning, the apostle Paul reminds us that we have an obligation to live not according to our sinful nature but according to God’s Spirit. And then Paul tells us why: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” In the midst of transition and change and in the midst of the recognition of our sinful nature, God’s Holy Spirit reminds us that we have been chosen as God’s children.
For you see, we were created not for sin, not for ruin, not for woe. We were created for holiness, for eternal life, for joy. Indeed, according to Paul, we are not just children of God, we are led by God’s Spirit to be sons of God, heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. In Paul’s day, not all children were heirs – only the sons, and most often, only the first-born son. In identifying all followers of Christ as “sons of God,” Paul wasn’t trying to be sexist. I’d like to think Paul was trying to make a radical theological point about the grace of God! All followers of Christ—regardless of whether they were Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, first-born or last-born—all have the status of being a first-born son in the eyes of God! We are God’s children, yes, but we are children who are heirs eligible to inherit the blessings of God according to God’s promise. That’s the kind of gracious love that our heavenly Father has for all of us!
In the midst of transition and change, in the midst of an acknowledgement of our sin, let us remember the good news that we are all chosen to be children and heirs of God the Father. Our status and identity as children of God was made possible by the saving work of Jesus Christ, the unique Son of God who forgave us of our sin. And we know that this is who we are because Paul says that God the Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. The Trinity — God in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit — all have an integral part in creating us, adopting us and affirming us as the chosen children of God. And so, while the world may change, while times may change, while leaders may come and go, our triune God does not change and neither does our status as the chosen children of God. Our triune God will not abandon His children to fend for themselves. As heirs of the heavenly Father, we will be blessed by a great inheritance. As co-heirs with Christ, we may share in His suffering, but we will also share in His glory. As led by the Spirit, we will not be slaves again to fear even in the midst of transition and change.
Keith Smith, my mentor in ministry, told a story about the time when he was getting ready to leave home for college. On the morning of his departure, just as he was about ready to venture into the great unknown, Keith’s dad took him aside and said, “Son, remember who you are. Remember how we raised you.” In life, we all will come to junctures in time when we will face the unknown. In those times, the triune God reminds us, “Son . . . daughter, remember who you are, and remember whose you are. You are mine. Your guilt is taken away, and I will remember your sins no more.”
In the year that King Uzziah died, in a time of transition and change, Isaiah had an encounter with the Triune God. At first, he was frightened as he recognized his unworthiness in the presence of divine holiness. Then, he was affirmed as his guilt and sin were taken away. Finally, Isaiah was given the opportunity to respond. Isaiah wrote: Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” You see, we are not only chosen to be the children of God, but we are also called to be on mission. Included in the inheritance of blessing that is promised to the heirs of our heavenly Father is the call to be a blessing to others. A worshipful encounter with the triune God is always marked by a call when this holy but gracious God asks: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
In 1875, the famous hymn composer Fannie Crosby (who was blind all her life) spent one late afternoon at the home of Mr. W. H. Doane, in Cincinnati. The members of the Doane family became Fanny’s eyes for a brief moment, describing a glorious sunset, and the nearness of God at a time like this– the beauty of His creation, the gift of His Son, and the longing to live a life that would be pleasing to Him. By the end of the night, she had written the words to the hymn that our men’s quartet sang this morning:
I am thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice, and it told Thy love to me; But I long to rise in the arms of faith and be closer drawn to Thee. Consecrate me now to Thy service, Lord, by the power of grace divine; Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope, and my will be lost in Thine. Draw me nearer, nearer Blessed Lord, to the cross where Thou hast died, draw me nearer, nearer, nearer Blessed Lord, to Thy precious bleeding side.
Fanny Crosby heard the loving call of the Lord and responded with “Consecrate me now to Thy service, Lord.” Children of God, we have been chosen and called by a holy, Triune God who asks: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah said: “Here I am, send me!” How will we respond? Amen.