Turning Points

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Isaiah 6:1-8 Focal Point

Today we hear the call story of Isaiah- and of Nicodemus. In fact, the call story of every person who hears the word of Christ. But not every one answers, “here I am Lord.”

Woe the Unclean lips

We have all had some variety of the dream- showing up to school work or the pulpit in pajamas or our “glory.” The dream that starts with us needing to do something like give a report or lead in some way and becoming suddenly aware of our lack of preparation- or at least proper clothing. The very self feels unprepared and really wasn’t about the report or task ahead, but about our need to feel like we are ready to face it. Imagine then being Isaiah, standing in God’s throne room. Cherubs, winged lions are flying about along with Seraphs- 6 winged flying snakes and they are hollering back and forth to each other about God’s Holiness as though it wasn’t already fully apparent. The room is full of the smoke of incense and the ground shakes with the awe of God whose robes are so full that the hem fills the room of the space. And then here is Isaiah. He is most certainly not holy, most certainly not good, and most certainly aware of it. He is far out of his depth and in good Wizard of Oz style, he speaks out loud that he is not in Kansas anymore. Talk about a preaching/teaching/leading naked moment!

Nicodemus is in much the same place. He is a political guy and the political waters have gotten very deep. The people are not happy- there is serious class division and the recent leadership is divisive for the people. If you will, they are all blowing up their facebook and twitter about how much they love or hate them. Nicodemus knows these are dangerous tides- get on the wrong side and eventually you will be the loser in the eyes of history. He is so afraid he goes out in the dark of night to seek answers from Jesus. If he is seen, well,… naked moment. It will be all over the tabloids in the morning.

Spirit of Slavery

Our passage from Romans (8:12-17) speaks to the fear that both Nicodemus and Isaiah faced. Both were in troubled waters and they were out of their depth. Neither felt prepared to handle what was in front of them.   They were immersed in the spirit of slavery- a place where one has not tasted freedom and does not know what it entails so rather than reach for it, they remain in place, chained to the mastery of the world. This spirit of slavery is far reaching. It lies to us, convincing us that we do not have the ability to be free or to change our circumstance-that even if freed, we will not only not succeed, but may miserably fail without our captor. It keeps us from going back to get an education because we are too old, from applying to a competition because we are not as skilled as others, from asking out the person we have crush on because we don’t have enough to offer, or sharing the promise of Christ because we haven’t read enough of the Bible or aren’t gifted in “that way.” Isaiah has filthy lips- in other words, he is just a guy like everyone else- not clean enough to see God, let alone serve. And Nicodemus? He has a whole career ahead of him- how could he possibly walk away and become reliant on a world that is God centered rather than politics and world centered? They both stand naked and now aware of the chains of the spirit of slavery.

Turning Points

So, here they stand, Nicodemus in front of Jesus and Isaiah in front of God. It’s interesting to note that Isaiah’s call doesn’t come in the first chapter of Isaiah- but in the 6th. In fact, this is believed to be literary device, because it is placed firmly on the cusp of King Uzziah’s death and King Ahaz’ ascension. A turning point for the people of Judah and Jerusalem. Just so, Nicodemus stands at the other side of the cusp as well. Pontius Pilate is now in charge and he, Caiphas, and Herod will shift the way things are done- and not necessarily with the greatest effect or love of the people. Each has a choice – they stand at a turning point- a chance to start anew- to be free of the spirit of slavery. So too, do we.

Rebirth Reliant

The only way to freedom is rebirth. To be born means relianceupon something or someone bigger than us. Someone to nourish and protect us as we are taught to live fully. Rebirth is a reliance on a new way of living. Isaiah has been living as the people lived and he owns it- but with the touch of a coal to his lips, his spirit is cleansed and his lips are on fire for the Lord. There is no room for him to speak softly and carefully, but only with passion and truth. Nicodemus must also be reborn- to let go of the worldly ways as he knows it, the political game playing and alliances to instead cling to a world where God is the center. “God so loved the WHOLE world that he gave his son…in order that the world might be saved by him.” This God, who is so big, is on the side not just of Jews or Christians, but of humanity and we risk losing sight and being reliant on the spirit of slavery if we imagine God is reliant on our interests in a partisan way.

We are not removed from our circumstance by rebirth. We are still aware of the politics and wars of our world, the loss all people sustain in them and we are not called to forget or ignore the pain and loss of the world. In fact, we are called to honor that loss, as we do this Memorial Day weekend. But we are called to shift our reliance because God is not reliant upon our interests or imperfections. Rather, we are reliant upon God’s interests and perfect and all encompassing love for the entire world- for Jerusalem and Assyria. It is a new and scary reliance- one that decimates the way the world tells us to find our value and purpose. But it is the rebirth in the Holy Spirit that will nourish us come what may. The Spirit will nourish us at God’s breast (Isa 49:15, 1The 2:7) as a hen covers her chicks (Luke 13:34)- until the day we are able to stand with burning lips and answer God’s question, “whom shall I send? Who will go?”

Spirit Powered Call

Turning points are scary- I don’t know of any call stories for pastors that were an easy yes answer, and in all honesty, I don’t know of any call story at all that was an easy yes. Every one of us stands there in a naked or underwear moment afraid of what is ahead. But when you wake up and stand in the dark of night, wondering, “can I do this?” No matter what the turning point is, whether it looms with fear and sorrow or joy and potential for life, you do not stand alone. Isaiah did not stand alone in that throne room, God was with him. Nicodemus did not stand in the dark alone, Jesus was with him. And you do not stand alone now at whatever turning  point you stand at, for through the Holy Spirit, the triune God is with you now, and forever. This is what it is to have a Spirit powered call- to know we are not alone. We can stand, with burning lips and say, “here I am Lord, send me.”

Author: mistressofdivinity

Pastor of St James Lutheran (E.L.C.A) and Episcopal Church of the Saviour, two congregation in the San Joaquin Valley of Central California. Even though the diploma reads "Master of Divinity," the learning continues and I have the wrong body parts to earn a "masters" so I claim Mistress. I lean into this pastoral role more each day, learning to balance vocation and family, life and passion, living and loving.

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