Today’s sermon is not so much focused on the gospel text as the way that God approaches people where they are and enables them to contrast who they are and what they do with who God is and what God’s intentions are for each.
You might notice that after making the sign of the cross with water from the font, that I sometimes also place it on my throat and maybe the back of my neck, like this. I started doing that when I wanted God’s protection from severe asthma my mother struggled with. As a former Catholic, I can still remember what it felt like to have the priest press two criss-crossed candles to the front of my neck and say a prayer. So, I can relate to Isaiah having his mouth touched by the coals from the altar and feeling healed, and I don’t try to break the residual habit of spreading water from the font around my neck just for good measure. After all, it wasn’t until I became a Lutheran that I made any association to water offered from a bowl at church to anything having to do with baptism, lol.
It’s funny how we sometimes think and act and live without really knowing important facts that might better guide our thoughts, actions and the way we live.
This morning, we meet Isaiah, the writer of Psalm 138, Peter and Paul in their prior state of knowing. We find them as they were before they were able to acknowledge who they really were and who God really is. Experience in the lives of biblical characters, as well as our own proves over and over again that insight toward ourselves and God is something we receive through God’s initiation toward us. Without this preceding grace no one would acquire the ability to turn from sin or repent.
The first light bulb that lit up above their heads popped on when each of them realized that they offended God in some way. Isaiah saw himself as a person with unclean lips, not worthy to speak. Simon Peter admitted he was sinful. Paul assessed himself in light of his previous ways, comparing his old self with the new him created by the grace of God.
The fact is, the more we are honest with ourselves, the more we see the truth about who God is.
That was one of Jesus’ points when he spoke to the people who just wanted physical healing. He didn’t want people circumventing an entire transformational process that God put into place as early as the garden of Eden. God’s first question to the original couple was worded in such a way that they had to admit what they had done without God saying, “What have you done?” God helped them see that before committing sin, they had no shame, no reason to make certain body parts “private”. By understanding that we, too have something to hide from God or other people, we are free to admit our imperfection. We can admit that went ahead and did the exact thing we were warned not to do. Like the first couple, we come to know that God’s instruction is given to avoid bad consequences, preserve special relationships, and protect the innocent.
After confession, we can believe, like Isaiah, that we too, are cleansed, our guilt taken away and our sins forgiven. Another point Jesus was trying to make to the people in his neighborhood was, “You all want healing, but you won’t acknowledge anything other than your physical ailment. You have no guilt. I’m offering forgiveness and you don’t care.
To be able to acknowledge God as holy, we have to come to understand with our own hearts. We have to perceive who God really is and see the contrast between God who can do all things, versus we, who have our problems. Corporate confession and prayers help us know important facts that guide our thoughts, actions and the way we live.
Another thing Isaiah and the disciples have in common was hearing what the Lord said to them. We. like the people Isaiah was sent to speak to, are prone to “listen but not comprehend” when people say what we don’t want to hear. We “look but don’t understand” when we are not interested in the plight of others. We “have dull minds for things of God.” We have dozens of ways we choose to distract and calm ourselves other than turning toward God.
Paul points to the people of Corinth and says, “C’mon now, hold tight to that message you have been given or else you will have believed in vain, I will have preached in vain and whatever faith you have will also be in vain.” It seems to me that Paul places a lot of emphasis on human cooperation to preserve what God has begun? It that so?
I certainly have thought so more than once. In fact, I often slip into that kind of thinking. While reading Psalm 138 and looking for encouragement to do my work, I read, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me. Do not forsake the work of my hands.” Then, I realized that it really said, “Do not forsake the work of thy hands.” I laughed because I keep forgetting everything is really God’s work. While the psalmist was appealing to God as the creator, and asking God not to abandon the person speaking, for me, it served another purpose. It demonstrated the way the Bible continues to speak, if we are willing to read it.
Like we read in the Isaiah passage, God asks you everyday if you are willing to be sent and go forth into the world. Are you willing to see and understand what it is like to have struggles different from your own? Are you willing to listen in order to better comprehend who God is, who your neighbor is? Is your mind dull to the cries of mothers who have lost their children to substance abuse and violence? Stopping our ears and shutting our eyes is as simple as turning the TV channel or walking away. Subconsciously, we often adopt the attitude that whatever bad is happening elsewhere will eventually take care of itself. Self-righteous thinking assumes God’s solution may be to let them die or kill each other off.
After Jesus told Simon Peter, James and John where to drop their nets, they realized who Jesus was. Suddenly their sins became obvious and led to a confession. Jesus’ reply to them says everything. “Do not be afraid.” He tells them that he has big plans for them. That in their new vocation, they will get to use the talents they have toward a better aim.
Your vocation is God’s calling to live responsibly in your roles. The call of all disciples is to serve your neighbor within family, work and community life. We all have multiple callings to act justly at home, church, and in society for the good of all people. The church is gathered together by a common calling to be God’s sent people.
So, I encourage you to make the sign of the cross to remember that in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you have been baptized and called by name just as sure as Isaiah, Paul and the disciples. You, too have been healed by God’s touch so that you can see who God really is and who you are in God’s presence. Everyday, be reminded to turn and repent, have your guilt taken away and sins forgiven.
Making the sign of the cross is not a residual habit left over from Catholicism, but a very Lutheran acknowledgement of our baptism and call to live as disciples. It prepares us for worship, confession, forgiveness, and the sharing of God’s peace. As Paul says, “We have received what we have been given.” We are reminded not to forget who God is so we stay in an eternally grateful posture. It’s not a bad place to be.
Jesus tells us, “Don’t be afraid that what I call you to do is more than you are capable of, but be sure of it. What God invites us to do and wants us to do totally depends on the work of God’s hands. But your hands play a role, too. So use your fingers to make the sign of the cross. Be reminded, like Paul was that in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, “by the grace of God, you are what you are, and God’s grace toward you was not in vain.”
The more we are honest with ourselves, the more we see the truth about who God is and the more able we are able to accept God’s healing. Healing includes your emotions of guilt and fear. Healing grants forgiveness and gives unqualified peace. God’s healing brings reconciliation to our relationships, even those relationships involving dependence on a substance, thing or activity.
God has called and is leading you, like God led the prophets, disciples and Paul to do something you have been afraid to try or afraid to give up. Like the abundance of fish caught in the nets of the disciples, abundant life is caught as believers faithfully live out their vocations. Through our interpersonal relationships, during work and other transactions with people and creation, we too, are empowered by the Holy Spirit to
participate in God’s healing of the world’s brokenness. God’s healing is not us taking holy water in a dab’ll-do-you style of ritual. God’s healing is a touch of a holiness strategically placed that will transform you, make you brave and want to be sent. Amen.