Lamb King

sermon on Daniel 6

 

This is kind of a funny story.

I mean, not funny haha. I especially hope you don’t chuckle too much at the punishing, retributive part when those who have maligned Daniel suffer their own conniving scheme as, along with spouses and children, they are hurled into the lions’ pit and gobbled up—torn to shreds—before they hit the ground. Not a light-hearted bit of the story, that.

Though before you take it too seriously and once again cast aspersions at the violence of the Bible (while disregarding the violence in our stories now or the ways the Bible isn’t supposed to be a rosy picture but bears the hardness of real life), still that seriousness aside, it may be helpful to think of this like an old Wile E. Coyote and Roadrunner cartoon.

wile eThis is a funny story because it’s meant to be outrageous. Wile E. Coyote falls off a cliff, gets smashed by an anvil, has the stick of dynamite blow up in his face, and then the story continues along. Most of us don’t finish that cartoon feeling TOO bad for Wile E. Coyote. If you can accept the cartoon without lamenting the injury too greatly, then let me explain why I make such an association with this Bible reading.

Some of the setting is real. Within the historical flow of the narrative, at this point many leaders and officials and muckety-mucks had been hauled away from the Holy Land into exile in Babylon. They’d been living there for almost fifty years under pressures of the Empire, but not as captives in the way we’d think of a jail or a prisoner of war camp or anything, but in houses and with careers. raising families, simply not in the place they’d call home, where their temple was and had been destroyed.

They were trying to figure out life, and trying to figure out what to make of God, almost to the degree of wondering if God could still exist or matter at all if God’s home had been destroyed. Maybe there’s a hint of that conundrum as Daniel is insistent on prayer, and it’s toward Jerusalem, a distant devotion.

So some of the setting and conundrum are real, but there’s also some stuff here just for the sake of a good story, not least that the attackers have things flip on them and the dynamite blows up in their faces in good Wile E. Coyote fashion.

We could also note that the story was written maybe 200 years after this time period, when it wasn’t the Babylonians, nor the Persians who came next, but some time later under the Greek Empire. But it’s not as if we were telling stories of Napoleon or Genghis Khan with this King Darius the Mede. There was a King Darius, but he was later in the timeline, a Persian whose Empire helped the exiles return home and rebuild the temple. So it seems a King Darius in Babylon with the exiles didn’t exist, except here. Yet in that way this character may actually help us see the story as flexible and able to speak to our own situation.

See, if this remains how one time one guy was persecuted for his faith—or, more accurately, that religion was a target for getting rid of the competition—and that one guy managed not to get eaten by a hungry pack of giant cats, well, that doesn’t matter all that much to my life. I’m not likely to get thrown to the lions, and my faith in God isn’t contingent on whether or not I’d get chewed.

It’s similar to the story of another prophet we heard in our last shared MCC service: your religion is likely not determined by whether a giant fish could swallow you, spew you out onto the shore after three days, setting you on the way toward the enemy capital where a messianic, divinely appointed worm would teach you a lesson. I don’t need any of the details of that story to become my own factual happenstance in order to tell of a God who is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love, who redeems and reconciles and won’t be confined to my national borders. In that way, Jonah is one of the truest books of the Bible.

So that makes me ask what’s true in this reading today?

There’s some easy parts of that: First, some people are jerks. They didn’t like that Daniel was an honest hard worker and so manipulated to get rid of him.

Second, we should pause in our assessments and values. We know very little about Daniel in the story. Speaking just one sentence, he’s almost a prop. His work ethic may or may not have related to his faith, but we shouldn’t say being moved up the ranks was a blessing. It may have even been a curse, or at least caused a situation where his faith was tested.

Third, some leaders are obviously gullible and short-sighted. Again, nothing new here. This dolty King Darius got himself weaseled into signing a law he didn’t really want and got backed into a corner by it.

Next: not all laws are good. There are laws directly intended to infringe on the wellbeing and practice of others. Contrary to that, we might think of the antiestablishment clause in this country guaranteeing freedom of religion, that there shouldn’t be persecution based on faith. We could also notice that exiles in Babylon were, in actuality, given wide latitude to practice their religion. The Babylonian Empire had fairly strong religious tolerance, and—as we already heard—the subsequent Persians went so far as to help rebuild the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.

What’s that truth for us? While we encountered recent violent anti-Semitism and are mired in anti-Muslim bias that has even been written into law, and while we as Christians remain in a dominant position, even amid a secular culture, maybe our own kind of Christianity isn’t. We may not want to be associated with the others, or can be nervous about being too bold, about practicing this faith, about what it might mean when people recognize us in this religion.

That’s an interesting detail in the story. It’s not that Daniel is wearing it on his shirtsleeve. He’s not up in anybody’s business about it. There’s an earlier detail where he’d only eat vegetables so that he didn’t break his religious dietary laws. But here he’s praying in his own private space, and still it causes difficulty for him.

There’s truth for me in this story that even in a tolerant society and even without directly trying to get ourselves into trouble, still we should expect that our faith involves both a fair amount of civility, and civil disobedience. If we’re getting along too easily and not any different than everyone else, we need to ask what we’re missing, what we should be subverting, why our faith has turned out so unimportant.

If it’s a truth about how we continue our practice and remain faithful even when it’s not easy, I appreciate that truth. I have less interest or use if it’s meant to be about my God beating other gods or my culture coming out on top.

We shouldn’t presume it’s a good thing when Darius declares that all should worship the God of Daniel. Becoming the official religion of Empire, it won’t be the same resistant religion that had been able to speak truth to power and could engage differences with grace and understanding. It happened with Emperor Constantine of the Roman Empire or with this being the alleged religion of the American.

Finally, then, on this Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday, we are reminded that the one we follow is not about sparing us from danger, not about magic escapes from death, not focused on career advancement, not in for retributive justice, and certainly not about aspiring to power that shames others. The Lamb of God is not a conquering lion.

We call this a kingdom of God almost to be funny, to reset our assessments, since it’s outrageous. Celebrating Christ as King is not for the triumph that all the enemies get tossed to the lions, but with a history of sacrifice, of willingly being thrown to the lions. This religion at its truest won’t succumb to corrupting influences that Might Makes Right and instead turns the whole imperial mindset on its head.

The direction of this kingdom of our crucified Lord is for “the freedom of those oppressed [and] comfort of all distressed,” as we sang, the realm where the “Spirit chooses the weak and small to bring the new reign where mighty fall,” as Jesus’ mother herself sang before his birth, not of exalting thrones, but of bringing down the powerful. It is in that that we join our voices, sometimes in the face of opposition, at others amid acceptance. Sometimes it’s entirely serious, but may be tongue-in-cheek, too. Sometimes when things are going easily and well, but occasionally when it involves risk. Sometimes when it feels lonely, and yet joining a billion voices and the song of all creation.

 

Hymn: “Soli Deo Gloria” (ELW 878)

 

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Thanksgiving 2018

sermon for ecumenical worship,
with Joel 2:21-27; Psalm 126; 1 Timothy 2:1-7; Matthew 6:25-33

 

I start out thinking I’m pretty good at this Thanksgiving thing.

I mean, I’ll sit down at a big table tomorrow with the company of good people and enjoy the food. For my busy weeks, it’s a pause that will make me relax and not rush around quite so much. I could almost tell myself that I’ve figured out what life is about, at least for the day.

Sure, it may not turn out perfectly. For some reason my mom even decided cooked carrots should be part of it, and I won’t be thankful for those. I’ll also look around the table and notice people who aren’t there, and I’ll mourn some loss and have to confront some absence. It’s not that everything is just right. I’m not claiming any quintessential picturesque embodiment that’s exactly what life is supposed to be in America. I’ll be balancing sorrow and maybe even discouragement along with happiness. But on the whole, for the day, I’ll try not to focus on those things and will put my thumb on the scales of the good outweighing the bad.

Plus, I’m not so confined only to see what’s in front of me. I’ll manage to extend my appreciations. I’ll be thinking of my CSA farmers, Tony and Dela, as I cook the Brussels sprouts they struggled to grow for me in a changing climate. I’ll be cherishing the premier place of our state as I eat cranberries from the farmers’ market. As a usual vegetarian making an exception, it’s apparent to notice the turkey that’s given its life for me, though I’ll know next nothing of just what that life may have been like. Still, I’ll keep appreciating it through the leftovers on a roll with some brown mustard. Heck, I may even find gratitude for the work of sugar-hungry yeast in fermentation. So just by looking down at my plate and into the bottom of an empty glass, I’ll have the impetus to realize my thanksgiving isn’t self-contained but required broad involvement of people and creatures.

You know, I’ll even put on a necktie to look good and mark it as a genuine celebration. It may not be perfect, but plenty sufficient, plenty good enough. Yes, I’ll be pretty assured that I’m doing well at giving thanks. I know what I’m going to wear for the occasion, and have plans on my food and my drink…

But then along comes Jesus, saying “Don’t worry about what you’ll eat or drink. Don’t worry about what you’ll wear.” Well, Jesus, that was most of what I was worried about, and aside from that I hardly know where to start for Thanksgiving! He goes on, “Doesn’t life consist in more than these things?” I don’t know, Jesus! Does it?! I wasn’t preparing to pay attention. Yet Jesus prompts me to be a little less self-satisfied. If I’m thinking I’m pretty good at this Thanksgiving thing, I’ll need something besides a full belly, probably even more than pitching in on the dishes afterward.

So maybe it’s in the conversation and discussion around the table. For that, our reading from 1st Timothy makes a bold suggestion: that our Thanksgiving ought to be political. Well, just out from election day, you may feel still be overloaded on politics. At my table, there’s a chance my mother will voice relief at all the SuperPAC ads being off her TV. There won’t be heated dialogues or diatribes, but at most some political snickering or poking fun.

But 1st Timothy will have none of that. Before the oven is heating up, before the shopping list is even made, this pushy little book of the Bible tells us “first of all” we should make “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings” for all in high positions. Foremost is thanks for government, according to this scriptural suggestion.

Well, this is a national holiday, declared by presidential proclamation. So to shape my supplications and prayers, I generally go back to the formative 1863 statement from Abraham Lincoln, who adjoined us to set apart “a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent” God. (I like his proclamation mostly for that term “beneficent.”) Lincoln concluded with the difficult political recommendation “that while offering up” our prayers for blessing, we might “also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to [God’s] tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers … and fervently implore [God] to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore … the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.” That’s not just in Civil War, but still worth hearing, amid civil strife where too many are harmed and we are terribly disjoined.

This prompts hearing from Joel, that we’ve known ravages, but don’t fear those as the end of the story. We can give thanks even when plates haven’t been full and death has left empty places at our tables. We expect soils and plants will rejuvenate, that God’s will is to restore life.

Thanksgiving isn’t only in what satisfies my stomach, nor disabled in spite of what’s missing from satisfaction. We give thanks that God’s vision is larger than our own peculiar interests and pursuits, not limited by what we claim as abundance or deficiency, more than our past or hopes for the future. “We are especially reminded on Thanksgiving of how the virtue of gratitude enables us to recognize, even in adverse situations, the love of God in every person, every creature, and throughout nature.” (That sentence came from the 2018 Thanksgiving proclamation signed by President Trump!)*

For me to be able to give thanks, broadly and even in adverse situations, I need to be together with you tonight, to remember with this assembly that it is about community that is more than the familiar bounds of comfort, that has to adapt to welcoming strangers (who, it turns out, aren’t that strange), has to look beyond what I consider good for myself, has to look beyond the politics I’d claim or even notions of a nation, has to hold a big ecological picture that we are all members of God’s household, God’s kingdom, God’s purposes for life.

To give thanks, then, I need to remember this is about God, and God’s persistence for us. I need to see that it’s not only about a plate in front of me, but about a cross in our midst. In that way, I can remember that Jesus wasn’t addressing a crowd gathered around my full Thanksgiving table with all of its well-clad pleasantries, but those who didn’t have food or drink or clothes and for whom life was extremely tenuous and threatened, most especially by the government over them. And still, Jesus could point to the ultimate heart of the matter that they were in his care, and that no lack and no abundance could separate us from the love of God, and God’s insistence on vindicating life. That is what fills us, with gladness and joy.

* https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-proclamation-thanksgiving-day-2018/

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Old/News

sermon on Jeremiah 36:1-4, 21-24; 31:31-34 and Psalm 137

 

Ecclesiastes, on of my favorite books in the Bible for sharing the dim appraisal I refer to as “realism,” gave us the line “there is nothing new under the sun.”

This reading from Jeremiah introduces a despicable and ignorant leader in government. His ignorance is in so intentionally ignoring this message, and despicable because he doesn’t care about the people he’s governing. We might draw connections to leaders who refuse good advice and seem concerned about nobody except themselves. There’s nothing new under the sun. This story is old news.

But as we seek association, let’s hear background of this Narrative Lectionary passage: Jehoiakim’s father Josiah was one of the great kings. He rediscovered what we know as the book of Deuteronomy, and when he heard those words from God read for the first time, he was so moved he tore his clothes, and went on to reinstitute a grand celebration of Passover for the first time in a couple hundred years (2Kings22-23). Picture if we had all forgotten about Easter, the central salvation festival of our faith, and then got it back.

Jehoiakim is exactly the reverse. He hears God’s Word from a prophet and ignores it completely, going so far as this memorable image of cutting off each passage at it is read to burn it up. I wonder whether he carelessly dropped them into the flame or crumpled and threw them?

Josiah had been killed by Pharaoh Neco of Egypt, who also then deposed another son of Josiah’s and made Jehoiakim king. In the meantime, the Babylonians became the mightier power and Jehoiakim served them as vassal for three years, paying steep tribute through heavy taxes, until the Babylonians attacked, laying siege to Jerusalem, eventually killing Jehoiakim and installing his brother as king, until deporting him and many of the officials and elites into exile.

Around Jehoiakim, his people suffered, with food supplies cut off and no resources to support life. It’s a telling detail that the king is waiting out winter with a warm fire going, into which he’s feeding the scraps of the scroll, since many of his people were freezing and starving. It’s in a palace he built without paying his workers (22:13). Worse, this focus on luxury is the opposite of his father’s pursuit of justice, of helping the poor and needy.

That amplifies the tragic detail in verses we skipped over that Baruch the secretary had read the words of Jeremiah to an assembly of the crowd, who repented and listened exactly to what God was saying to them. With words that doom and destruction could be averted, the people believed.

But when those words were read to the one in authority, he thought he could get rid of what seemed like bad news, like fake news, as we’re overly prone to say now, in perhaps an ancient book burning, an effort to stifle truth.

Of course it didn’t work. As Dr. King reminded us in a mix Lindy put together for the mosaic event yesterday, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” So just after these verses, it simply says, “The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: Take another scroll and write on it all the former words that were in the first scroll” with an addendum that Jehoiakim would remain unburied, with no one from David’s lineage to sit on the throne, a reworking of God’s method.

Another method, a development of something new under the sun, this being on a scroll indicates spreading literacy at the time. Earlier, we heard of Isaiah’s lips touched with a burning coal, a purification meaning the message was mainly oral then. We may take the spoken word as an event, but the written word as a record. It would not be so easy for Jehoiakim to be rid of these words, written down to persist beyond destruction and exile even to our own day in each of our Bibles.

But it’s not just about a new medium, about God now being able to communicate to us not just with the benefit of the printing press or on radio waves and TV broadcasts and podcasts and YouTube and weekly emails on our smartphones or to use this sermon as it is posted on Facebook. Sure, God can make use of any of our new media.

The main point, though, is that God’s Word and promise is not stopped, cannot be ignored by burning a scroll or shut up by changing the channel or defeated by the destruction of entire cultures. “God’s Word forever shall abide, no thanks to foes who fear it” we sang in the words of Luther’s hymn on Reformation Sunday.

In the first place, we may take this as good news that God’s Word remains forever, that the catastrophes of despicable and ignorant leaders, even while failing to do it any great honor or service, cannot threaten entirely to undermine God’s Word and work.

Even though Passover’s central saving story had disappeared for a while, still God was present and operating and engaged. To the people in exile, another prophet would proclaim that it is not in their ability or memory, but in the love of a Mother God saying, “Can a woman forget her nursing child? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Even if churches close their doors or we were to forget Easter and never say an Alleluia and neglect to celebrate God’s consistent gift of life, still God’s Spirit would breathe that new life into us, raising us from death.

This promise is persistent. It outlasts current events, transcends our ancestors and descendants, overrules rotten rulers, compresses oppressions, and unravels the tangles of newest-fangled innovations. It is news that is more than old; it is eternal.

Still, we may wonder not only about an arc of the universe or God’s big picture plans, but may rightly ask about our own lives. I don’t suspect that’s only western enlightened individualism, not just selfish-preservation, but a fair and faithful protest. Psalms trust God’s attention to remembering overall, but still find voice to lament and ask, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?” Today’s Psalm is the most desperate communal lament, asking how the people could sing praise when in exile and things had gone so wrong. What were those people to do, who had listened to God but suffered because their leaders hadn’t?

What in the face of homes burning up? What of the death of the Great Lakes? What of injustice with racism raging across generations where—in the strong words of our youth Big Read book—“The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everyone,” where educational achievement gaps and arrest rates and abuse patterns don’t just harm individual children but come around to bite us all and make life worse.

And what simply when life doesn’t go how you’d wish, when you’re not ready to sing songs of joyful praise, when your voice trembles instead or is distracted and preoccupied? In ways large and small that life itself is interrupted, or you are ignorant and not going along with how God would have things go?

For that, I can’t say why God doesn’t simply right the wrongs and change it all. Instead of intervening to shout down opposing voices, for whatever reason our God chooses forgiveness. God who always remembers, who will never forget her love for you, still promises to forget, in remembering sin no more.

In the face of what doesn’t go right, confronting what I call “realism,” God chooses to reiterate, to keep speaking the promise. When a king burns the Word, God speaks and writes it again. When you forget or when new problems threaten to overwhelm, or death or life make you question, God repeats.

Jesus speaks it again, offering the promise as himself, as God’s presence to go with you at this table, reiterating words of God spoken through Jeremiah, of a new covenant for the forgiveness of sins. This covenant can’t be broken, because God’s promise for you can’t be broken.

It’s the promise spoken to Demi James in baptism, still at the start of her life, and not dependent on anything else to come, but consistent through all of her moments, of healthy days or sickness, of fun with older siblings Leo and Alexa or when she’s feeling picked on, for the great days of learning at school or when she wishes she had more friends, for wins at sports or losses, for relationships filled with contentment or frustrations, for new jobs and for the daily grind, her greatest successes and worst failures, through whatever happens in politics to come through her life and immigration debates and environmental efforts and economy and wars that drag and on and on, on all the way to the end, but even beyond that to a promise of life to come.

For now we speak that promise and keep repeating it, a reminder of God’s love and life that won’t be undone. But for this good news, today God declares a new thing yet to come, of the time when we won’t need prophets and scrolls that can die or be burned, won’t need Bibles and sermons that are easily forgotten, won’t need Sunday School and all the reminders, much less dealing with questions of religious insiders or despicable and ignorant leaders. “No longer shall they teach one another, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD, for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. I will put my teaching within them, and I will write it…on their hearts; and I will be their God,” and you shall be God’s people.”

 

Hymn: “Each Winter as the Year Grows Older” ELW 252

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Holy Moly Wholly

sermon on Isaiah6:1-8

“Here I am; send me!” It’s an obvious phrase on a day for making our pledges to contribute to God’s work in this place.

Our focus through this stewardship season has been on Jubilee. Jubilee jumped out as a 50-year debt release celebration pairing with the 50th anniversary for Hope. But not just 50 years. Even more, for proclamation of liberation.

At the MCC, we cherish liberty and justice for all, not with pompous flag-waving, but in a way that honestly seeks to respect all life and to do our part in making it better, rather than infringing on or confining it. That’s the mission we understand from God, and we want to be the kind of people joining in that.

You’ve been preparing to turn in pledges, thinking how you accentuate and assist that mission, to respond, “Here I am!” It’s in the hours you share of time and talents here. It is how you take this mission into the rest of life. And it is in offering your financial devotion.

Besides the great ongoing work here and the 15₡ of every dollar shared as mission support for the larger church and other places joining our liberating labors, I’d like you to know that a basic baseline for next year’s tentative budget involves an increase of 3%. That’s just to keep up with higher water bills and some landscaping and website updates and health care costs and cost of living for your staff, not even to raise in gratitude for their enormous part in carrying this mission.

I’d further like to remind you as you look at your forms that there’s a check box for learning about the Endowment, for estate planning in your will or other gifts. That kind of giving supported the Big Read by purchasing 100 copies of the book so everyone could join in “changing the way the church views racism.”

For one more, a stretch goal we hope to accomplish that will require a bigger growth in giving, I want to tell you about bathrooms. (I don’t usually get to talk about bathrooms in sermons.) We’re looking to redo the downstairs bathrooms, to make them into separate individual gender-neutral facilities.

I want to offer you a story about why. Recently someone was telling me how going to church has often been scary. One particular difficulty is not knowing which bathroom to use. Whether choosing a men’s room or women’s, this person might get strange looks or even comments about being in the wrong place. That’s not a comfortable conversation, I’d think, especially without knowing how to respond about gender identity. So this person’s Sunday morning solution for years has been to look down into a cereal bowl and realize the milk that has held the frosted mini wheats is the only amount of safe liquid to have that morning, including serving to swallow prescriptions. Certainly a cup of coffee would have to wait.

Avoiding coffee is far from the reality of how most of us need to prepare for church (and I lost track of how much I’ve had so far today). But I can hold that reality and use it in my own preparations for church. It was on my mind as Acacia and I stretched the increase of our financial pledge for 2019. It is part of how we can respond as community to have this be a place of proclaiming God’s liberation, a liberation that can be so simple as to mean that a person can come here and not need to be afraid of something so common and mundane as being able to go to the bathroom.

Now, it would be convenient if I could tell you that God is calling you to do this, calling you contribute as prophetic liberators, standing against oppressive and fearful culture, that God wants you to open your hearts and open your minds and open your wallets for this work, and that since you are faithful, you will respond, “Here I am! Send me!”

But, as usual, it’s not so convenient as that. A nice phrase is that God doesn’t call the equipped but equips the called. But this isn’t even really that.

Last week, Jonah was repeatedly told to go to Nineveh, an equivalent of being sent to Nazi Berlin to proclaim God’s love. But in this Bible passage, God doesn’t choose Isaiah. God doesn’t direct his mission. God doesn’t call him especially. There’s nothing that would say Isaiah was special or particularly qualified. He identifies himself as a sinner among sinners, one of unclean lips among a people of unclean lips.

The divine response is to purify him. That is what makes him ready. Then, though uncalled, he responds. This is apparently almost accidental, prophetic vocation and righteousness by association, by proximity, coincidence.

For this stewardship Sunday, I can’t tell you the right thing to do is to give more, that God is expecting it of you. All I can do is proclaim again the word of purity, touching your lips with the hot coal that may provoke your response, announcing to you that all your sins are forgiven and your guilt is removed.

Fortunately, that is also why you may be here. It’s not quite a smoke-filled temple, not quite the intimidation of majesty with a mere drape of a robe overflowing the space. You’re met only by a scruffy bespectacled pastor, not the terrifying angels flitting about. (Sidenote: biblical angels are more scary than pretty. These six-winged beasts called seraphim’s name means “burning.” It’s the same word for poisonous serpents. These are fiery sneaky snaky obscure angels.) For all the difference of trepidation in the story versus sacrilegious me, of a holy, holy, holy vision versus unadorned familiarity of the Blessing Room, you may still come for interaction with divine presence.

And encountering that presence, you may have Isaiah’s realization that you fall short, that you aren’t very holy, holy, holy, that you don’t do all that well, so there could be reasons to fear. Plus you’re stuck living in a culture breathing threats with lies and hatred. Being amid a people of unclean lips may even sadly be church culture of gossip in small circles, or meetings where we get worked up and fail to speak as kindly or hopefully as we should.

The reading is similarly situated amid a specific religious and political landscape, in Jerusalem at a transition of power, from King Uzziah. It’s not a time when things are going all that well. God’s people are a mess, rebelling against what God would want. The book of Isaiah begins, “Ah, sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who are utterly estranged!” (1:4) Not the best heart-warming description.

Facing such rotten times, there may be a reaction of wanting to hunker down, just to find a pleasant diversion, to try to forget about it all, certainly to hide from the danger, much less to be wary of divine parental discipline. But in those ancient hard times, when rulers could be no good and culture was corrupt, something inspired God’s prophets to step forward. God’s work needed to be done, was begging to be done. And some unusual suspects got swept up into it.

So like Isaiah, here you are, amid a surprising encounter with the divine, transforming you and your place in culture. As you look to our world, to what still needs to be improved, to the work to come, your lips are touched, are cleansed, unsealed—not so you can tout your own plans or accomplishments, not to turn to celebrating the victories of our side, but to proclaim God’s glory of liberation, from a God who fills creation, a God more mighty than we can possibly envision, but who abounds in steadfast love and loves to hang out with sinners and failures, in a vulgar culture and here in unholy hypocritical religious circles, and coming into your daily regular unspecial life.

So I can’t tell you that this God expects you to take another look at your pledge sheets, to reconsider, to leap up with a grand “Here I am” readiness to do more of your part. In fact, this God probably has reason to expect the opposite. But the work needs to be done, if nothing else so that everyone can safely and comfortably go to the bathroom. That’s part of God’s mission.

Even if you don’t have some eagerness or special thing to contribute, if you just happen to be in this holy place around this holy conversation, still God loves you and reaches out to forgive you and purify you. You are made holy, not because you deserve it, whether you ask for it or not, and even though you may not know what to do with it. Simply since here God’s word proclaims liberation.

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