Order of Service
|Prelude||Gift of Love||Chris Johansen, piano|
|Confession & Forgiveness||Pastor Linda|
|Gathering Song||Here I Am, Lord|
Chris Johansen, piano
Prayer of the Day
|Psalm 40||vs. 1-8||Harry Johansen|
Chris Johansen, piano
|Scripture||Isaiah 1 & 6||Pastor Linda|
|Hymn||How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord|
Chris Johansen, piano
|Statement of Faith|
Prayers of Intercession
|Closing Hymn||You Are Mine|
Chris Johansen, piano
|Postlude||I Will||Chris Johansen|
Confession & Forgiveness
P: In heart and spirit, if not in person, we are gathered together in the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
P: God of goodness and mercy, help us as we open our hearts and our inward eyes. Hear our confession.
C: We convince ourselves that we cannot do the work you have called us to do. Loving others in the way of your love carries a high cost. We would prefer to be left alone and to follow our own guidance and plans.
You give us your word to follow and your mercy to sustain, yet we behave as though we can’t hear and don’t need you.
Selfishness, greed, the many distractions around us, bind us, insulate, and isolate us from the world. It is easy to ignore the needs and voices of others when we act with only ourselves in mind.
We are truly sorry and ask for your forgiveness. Open us to do what’s right and good in the days to come; surround us and renew us with your grace. AMEN
P: God is good, and loves us unconditionally, at all times and in all places. Unmerited, we have been saved. In the name of Jesus our sins are forgiven. AMEN.
Gathering Song – Here I Am, Lord
“I, the Lord of sea and sky,
I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin
my hand will save.
I, who made the stars of night,
I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them?
Whom shall I send?”
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.
“I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have borne my people’s pain.
I have wept for love of them.
They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak my word to them.
Whom shall I send?”
“I, the Lord of wind and flame,
I will tend the poor and lame.
I will set a feast for them.
My hand will save.
Finest bread I will provide
till their hearts be satisfied.
I will give my life to them.
Whom shall I send?”
The grace and loving-kindness of our Savior Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you.
Prayer of the Day
Creator of the Universe, preserve us from our own presumption. Do not let us close ourselves into ourselves, but open us always to your way. Increase in us kindness, make us people who care, who venerate the truth, and who recognize each other in your love. Amen
Psalm 40: 1-8
1 I waited patiently up-|on the Lord,
who stooped to me and | heard my cry.
2 The Lord lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the | miry clay,
and set my feet upon a high cliff, making my | footing sure.
3 The Lord put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise | to our God;
many shall see, and stand in awe, and put their trust | in the Lord.
4 Happy are they who trust | in the Lord!
They do not turn to enemies or to those who | follow lies.
5 Great are the wonders you have done, O Lord my God! In your plans for us, none can be com-|pared with you!
Oh, that I could make them known and tell them! But they are more than | I can count.
6 Sacrifice and offering you do | not desire;
you have opened my ears: burnt-offering and sin-offering you have | not required.
7 And so I said, “Here I | am; I come.
In the scroll of the book it is writ-|ten of me:
8 ‘I love to do your will,| O my God;
your law is | deep within me.'”
Narrative context and Scripture Reading – Isaiah 1 & 6
Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.”
Woe to a people whose guilt is great! They have forsaken the Lord, the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.
Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores. Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste overthrown by strangers. Listen to the teaching of your God!
“The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the Lord.“I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.~ from Isaiah, chapter 1
We hear from Isaiah today – another of the major prophets from the books of Hebrew scriptures. We are in the southern kingdom, inside the temple of Jerusalem, and it’s around the year 739 BCE. As was true of Elijah and Jonah, not much is known about the prior life of Isaiah. He, too, just seems to be minding his own business when God imposes God’s business in his life. The scripture reading appointed for today begins in the 6th chapter of Isaiah, but we just heard the context in which this reading falls.
All is not well…on multiple fronts.
Isaiah is tending to his business in the temple while this tirade of God’s lament is taking place in another realm. God is angry at the empty worship of his chosen people – who seem willing enough to follow the rituals and festivals, but have forgotten their higher calling. They make sacrifices and burn incense to appease God’s sense of smell, and hope that God will overlook the injustice and oppression they practice even as they pray for deliverance from the Assyrian army.
Destruction is cresting the horizon and that is the occasion of their prayers, not worship of the holy one, not faith in God’s grandeur beyond rulers and principalities. They invoke the rights of their chosen status, but have forgotten why it was given to start with – to be the exemplar of radical trust in God’s ultimate provision, in God’s word that creates life, in God’s purposes of justice and compassion.
So on this day, in the year that King Uzziah died, God claims a prophet to incarnate his word. And it is a word that carries both judgement and hope. In a vision, Isaiah is transported – the golden, carved, inlaid walls of the temple expand in the glory of the Lord. The Holy of Holies transforms. The mercy seat of the arc of the covenant becomes the throne of God. Seraphim and cherubim and creatures carved into the arc – mighty, fearsome beings, not the chubby cherubs of Valentine cards – come to life and fly and sing around him in thunderous, horrifying glory as the distinction between the earthly temple and God’s indwelling presence blurs. “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” the song crescendos inside, shaking the foundations.
Yet, despite this otherworldly setting, God is deeply entwined with in the earthliness of history and our lives outside the temple walls. God is not ‘here” exactly, in ways we can readily identify or identify with, but according to Isaiah, God is not an abstract idea, or the prime mover manipulating earthly endeavors from a distance. God is present.
Isaiah chapter 6:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
This is a strange time. Ours, I mean. Between the behavior of our President and his advisors which betrays and confuses his followers who believe what he tweets, and the continued threat posed by the coronavirus to the economy, our health, and happiness, it’s a disheartening, confounding time. And as we move toward winter, the increasing darkness seems somehow personal. Isaiah would understand. A sense of foreboding and gloom surrounds the people of Judah and Jerusalem. The northern kingdom is quickly falling under the shadow of Assyrian domination. It is a time of fear and uncertainty.
Enter the prophet, Isaiah, whose job in these darkening days is a difficult one; to assure the people and to call them into account for their actions and lack of faith. It’s more than a confusing message, it’s one meant to confound. The passage continues:
9 And God said, “Go and say to this people: “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ 10 Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” 11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; … if even a tenth part remains, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.
Isaiah is demanded by his God to speak in such a way that no one will finally understand what it is he is saying. Their eyes and ears will be useless, so dull and sightless that their minds will be clouded and clogged. And their healing delayed. It’s a tough assignment.
God’s word will not make their lives easier, their road smoother, or their responsibilities plainer. The time ahead will not right the wrongs of oppression, will not see them rise to the top as the chosen people of a powerful God. Their right hand will not know what their left is doing.
Not surprisingly, that eager prophet of verse eight, sounds a bit different in verse eleven after hearing what God has in mind. Where once he offered, “Here am I, send me!” now he whispers, “How long, O Lord?”
Isaiah’s message isn’t tailored to suit his people’s sensibilities or be what they want to hear – so it’s a different form of public speech than, say, our political leaders who target very specific subsets of the population giving them a message they will approve of and support. Isaiah isn’t a politician, he’s a prophet. He’s there to tell them the truth, God’s truth.
But it’s not only bad news and condemnation. The truth is also, and more importantly, good news, transformative news. We hear it in the seraph’s song: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Not the heavens – I mean God’s glory must also be in the heavens, but not only there – the earth is full of God’s glory – as frightening as that glory is to Isaiah, it’s still really good news. God’s glory is here, God’s presence is here. God’s face is shining on this life, in your life, our history; God’s grace is finding a way to shine through the cracks of our hopes and fears.
And we hear the promise hidden in those few final words: “How long, O Lord?””Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; … like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled. The holy seed is in its stump.
That’s the promise. It might sound like small comfort, a seed for the future hidden in a smoldering stump of the present day, but the seed bears God’s promise that God will not desert them (us), that God maintains a potent power – though unseen and often unrecognized… that God will always reveal the divine, holy nature of mercy. The seed buried in the stump of the terebinth tree of Judah, though the tree is cut and burned will one day again grow mercifully green and strong. A shoot shall come from the stump of Jesse. That promise overrides not only Assyrian history, but all history. Goodness, justice, mercy, God’s version of love from the bottom up, from deep within, from hidden, humble, extraordinarily everyday seed has power for which kings and armies have no match. It has the power to transform lives from darkness into love.
“Awaking in the middle of a prodigiously tough snore, and sitting up in bed to get his thoughts together, Ebenezer Scrooge had no need to be told that the bell was upon the stroke of One….and lying down again, established a sharp look-out all round the bed. For he wished to challenge the Spirit on the moment of its appearance, and did not want to be taken by surprise, and made nervous. I don’t mind calling on you to believe that he was ready for a good broad field of strange appearances, and that nothing between a baby and rhinoceros would have astonished him very much.
Now, being prepared for almost anything, Scrooge was not by any means prepared for nothing; and, consequently, when the Bell struck One, and no shape appeared, he was taken with a violent fit of trembling. Five minutes, ten minutes, a quarter of an hour went by, yet nothing came. All this time, he lay upon his bed – the very core and centre of a blaze of light – which streamed upon it when the clock proclaimed the hour; and which, being only light, was more alarming than a dozen ghosts.…
At last, however, he began to think that the source and secret of this ghostly light might be in the adjoining room, from whence it seemed to shine. This idea taking full possession of his mind, he got up softly and shuffled in his slippers to the door.
The moment Scrooge’s hand was on the lock, a strange voice called him by name, and bade him enter. He obeyed.
It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from which bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull hearth had never known in Scrooge’s time, or Marley’s, or for many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, great joints of meat, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.
And in easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see: who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty’s horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.
“Come in!” exclaimed the Ghost. “Come in, and know me better, man.”
Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit. …Though the Spirit’s eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me.”
Scrooge reverently did so. The Spirit was clothed in one simple green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur. Its feet, observable beneath the ample folds of the garment, were bare; and on its head it wore no other covering than a holly wreath, set here and there with shining icicles. Its dark brown curls were long and free; free as its genial face, its sparkling eye, its open hand, its cheery voice, its unconstrained demeanour, and its joyful air. Girded round its middle was an antique scabbard; but no sword was in it, and the ancient sheath was eaten up with rust.
“You have never seen the like of me before!” exclaimed the Spirit.
“Never,” Scrooge made answer to it.
“Have never walked forth with the younger members of my family..?” pursued the Phantom.
“I don’t think I have,” said Scrooge. “I am afraid I have not. Have you had many brothers, Spirit?”
“More than eighteen hundred,” said the Ghost.
“A tremendous family to provide for,” muttered Scrooge.
The Ghost of Christmas Present rose.
“Spirit,” said Scrooge submissively, “conduct me where you will…. If you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it.”
“Touch my robe.”
Scrooge did as he was told, and held it fast.”
This is the call story of another unlikely saint and prophet, one Ebenezer Scrooge, as told by Charles Dickens. The transformation of his own room into a throne room of warmth, abundance, and generosity is as mysterious, other-worldly, and intimidating to Scrooge as the heavenly throne room was to Isaiah. But there is another transformation. We know the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, know that in lowering himself, he becomes great; that in parting with his once hoarded wealth, he becomes a generous and compassionate friend to all in need.
It’s a story, you say, it’s fiction. True. But it speaks of the calling of God and the truth that we can often see best in a story. Like the biblical call it is about love. God loves. God has preferential love for the poor and oppressed. And those who would be followers of God, follow in the difficult, costly steps of that love. Isaiah was called to proclaim judgement for the sake of mercy. Scrooge was called to see both the callousness and the cares, the poverty and the goodness of the people around him – and respond with compassion. Prophets (even fictional ones) are called to foretell and interpret God’s glory spread ore all the earth, God’s seed buried in a stump, to get us used to the idea of incarnation, of the indwelling of God in earthly and human form.
Biblical prophets eat God’s word on scrolls, they embody the word, they are instructed to act out the word, they see visions, and dream dreams; they become the Word of God for a time, for a people. The Word of God is said to be performative – that is, it does what it says. Not just back then in the olden times, not just in fiction, but even now, today.
The Word of God still has power to become and to change. It can still transform. It can still cut through the clutter and chaos and busyness and disappointments and dread of your daily life and strike fear and awe and joy in your heart. It still comes to us and lives within us and asks things of us. It still promises us forgiveness and mercy and new life. The word of God comes and calls and commissions not only us, but you. It’s a personal word, this word of God. It’s personal for the sake of being communal. Like Scrooge, but without the visiting spirits, you are called into a room of plenty and warmth and need and loss and love. We can see the light under the door. Scrooge shuffled over in his slippers. He put his hand on the doorknob and a voice called him by name, and bade him enter.
Isaiah jumped into the breach in a council meeting of heavenly, holy beings and was sent back out, no doubt glowing and deafened by the seraph’s song of praise, and mortified by the message he now bore. Without doubt, we are called to follow God, to shuffle in our slippers over to the door where the light is streaming in through the crack. To put our hand on the lock and swing it open. We too, are bidden to enter, to give our lives to God’s service in our own unique ways.
Like Isaiah and Scrooge we are called to live the message of love – where the last are first, the least are greatest, and the greatest among us is a servant of all. It’s not a message that will win many votes.
Respond to the call of God. Know that the call is never easy, never simple to grasp, never designed for ready comfort and success. But you knew that. Love always promises… and risks… much more than comfort and success. It promises to transform your heart.
Hymn – How Clear Is Our Vocation, Lord
How clear is our vocation, Lord,
when once we heed your call
to live according to your word
and daily learn, refreshed, restored,
that you are Lord of all
and will not let us fall.
But if, forgetful, we should find
your yoke is hard to bear;
if worldly pressures fray the mind
and love itself cannot unwind
its tangled skein of care:
our inward life repair.
We marvel how your saints become
in hindrances more sure;
whose joyful virtues put to shame
the ca-sual way we wear your name,
and by our faults obsure
your pow’r to cleanse and cure.
In what you give us, Lord, to do,
together or alone,
in old routines or ventures new,
may we not cease to look to you,
the cross you hung upon,
all you endeavored done
Statement of Faith
We are not alone; we live in God’s world.
We believe in God, who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our center and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Amen
Prayers of Intercession
Sustained and nurtured by our generous God, we gather to pray for the church, the world, and all of God’s creation.
The response today is “Hear our prayer.”
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen
Go forth into the world to serve God with gladness; be of good courage; hold fast to that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted; support the weak; help the afflicted; honor all people; love and serve God, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks be to God.
Hymn – You Are Mine
“I will come to you in the silence,
I will lift you from all your fear.
You will hear my voice,
I claim you as my choice.
Be still and know I am here.
“I am hope for all who are hopeless,
I am eyes for all who long to see.
In the shadows of the night,
I will be your light.
Come and rest in me.
Do not be afraid, I am with you.
I have called you each by name.
Come and follow me,
I will bring you home;
I love you and you are mine.”
“I am strength for all the despairing,
healing for the ones who dwell in shame.
All the blind will see,
the lame will all run free,
and all will know my name.
“I am the Word that leads all to freedom,
I am the peace the world cannot give.
I will call your name,
embracing all your pain.
Stand up, now walk and live!