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The Grace of God toward Isaiah and Peter:Sermon for Church of the Redeemer (Anglican) Feb 7, 2010

February 8, 2010

Based on the following lecionary readings: Isaiah 6:1-8, [9-13] & Luke 5:1-11

In our Old Testament and gospel readings today, we see Isaiah and Peter in positions of humility and contrition before the presence of God. Isaiah finds himself before the throne of heaven, while Peter comes face to face with God in the flesh.

God gives Isaiah the grace of experiencing his presence in heaven. Isaiah sees the throne of God almighty. He sees God’s glory and is overwhelmed by God’s holiness—his utter goodness. Isaiah can take no action or speak no words except to proclaim his devastation before the sovereign God.

God is described as “high and lifted up,” and his robe of glory fills the temple. Above God’s throne are two seraphim—meaning two fiery ones. These servants of fire cannot bear to look at the glory of God, so they cover their eyes, and they cover their feet as a sign of humility, as with two of their six wings they fly. The seraphim proclaim out loud the holiness of God and the vastness of his glory.

This vision of Isaiah shows God to be Lord of all creation. He is the center and ruler of all things…His glory filling everything and overwhelming all who experience him. Isaiah calls him the “King, the Lord of hosts.” Literally he is the ruler and Lord of the armies of heaven. His rule being not in mere form or symbolism but in his ability and actions.

Isaiah’s only response is to convey his doom. He recognizes that he has no hope in his own nature, heritage, works or virtue before God, and he declares himself “undone,” literally cut-off or destroyed.

One of the fiery, flying servants of God takes a burning coal from the altar and touches Isaiah’s lips with it explaining that the coal takes away Isaiah’s uncleanness and guilt. Isaiah’s guilt has been atoned for which means his sins have been forgiven and punished in a substitutionary sacrifice. The seraph tells Isaiah, “your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” He can therefore remain with God, even in God’s glory.

Then Isaiah hears the voice of God asking the question, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” The sovereign God rather than conscripting and compelling someone to serve him makes a request. Isaiah accepts the commission of God and responds obediently, “He am I! Send me.” God then gives Isaiah a purpose and calling to take his message to his people.

Isaiah goes on to serve as a prophet of God to the kings of Judah and to all people urging repentance and turning to God. He writes of the suffering servant who will come with God’s anointing of power but will bear the sins and sorrows of fallen humankind.

This vision of Isaiah illustrates the transcendence of God—his holiness, his otherness, and the fact that he is beyond our comprehension in his power and sovereignty. However, it also shows that God is not distant from us; he is not remote or stoic; he is immanently present to people to interact and intervene out of his goodness and grace. He reveals his glorious holiness to Isaiah for the purpose of Isaiah’s repentance and forgiveness that he may proclaim that same repentance and forgiveness of sins to the world. Because of his willingness and obedience, Isaiah participates in the divine work of salvation.

The presence of the altar and the burning coal that cleanses Isaiah indicates an altar of sacrifice in heaven. This represents the ultimate sacrifice of heaven upon the altar of the cross, where the sacrificial lamb is slain. The grace of the cross is indicated in the shadows of this vision. The apostle John writes in his gospel that Isaiah saw the glory of Jesus. (Jn 12.41) The glory of Jesus that Isaiah sees could be the glory that fills the temple or the glory of the suffering servant of God laying down his life for sinners, enthroned on the cross between two bandits.

In Jesus Christ, the fullness of the glory of God is hidden in the flesh of a baby, and as he grows, a child, then a teen and then a man, and finally, it is hidden in a man beaten and crucified. In the beginning of his ministry, after Jesus preached in his hometown, the people there were amazed and wondered at him. But they saw him only as a man…the son of Joseph the carpenter. They rejected him; in fact, they tried to throw him off a cliff.

In our gospel reading today, we see another reaction to Jesus. Peter runs to him, falls on his knees and declares, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Peter recognizes that the glory and holiness that Isaiah witnessed is somehow present and working in and through Jesus. And like Isaiah, he is undone.

The catch of fish is so overwhelming to Peter that he ignores the catch’s value and what this ability of Jesus could mean for his business and prosperity. He recognizes that the significance is greater than anything in this world. He may not have been able to articulate at this point what he would come to know later…that Jesus is the fullness of the God, but he recognizes the anointing of God in Jesus, the Messiah, and he is convicted of his own sinfulness just as Isaiah was in the presence of God.

The cross of Jesus is in the background in both of these texts. In Isaiah’s vision, it is the burning coal from the altar of sacrifice that cleanses him. In Luke’s text, this event with Peter and Jesus is sandwiched between two accounts of Jesus’ miracles and his retreat into desolate places of solitude. Both Isaiah and Peter are forgiven of their sins and accepted by God because Jesus, despite his power, went to the ultimate desolation of the cross.

Jesus sums up his mission that is the mission of God in the world when he says, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”(Luke 5.32) God calls sinners to himself…people like us. During his ministry, Jesus was called a “friend of sinners.” He still is a friend to sinners. In fact, when we allow ourselves to become aware of Jesus’ presence with us, all we can say on our behalf is an echo of Isaiah, Peter and the tax collector in the temple, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

This is the unceasing prayer of the pilgrim in the early 20th century Russian story The Way of the Pilgrim. The pilgrim is a Russian peasant seeking to follow Paul’s exhortation to “pray without ceasing.” The pilgrim becomes a devoted follower of Christ by constantly praying what is known as the “Jesus Prayer,” “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me a sinner.” This prayer never becomes stale or quaint in our walks with the Lord.

One of my favorite worship songs these days is called “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.” The lyrics read:

How deep the father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That he should give his only son
To make a wretch his treasure.

How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns his face away
And wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many to sons to glory.

God doesn’t just cause us to fear him and repent of our sins. He forgives us and makes us his treasure. He clothes us with his perfection, fills us with his Holy Spirit, calls us to himself and commissions us to engage in his mission in the world through various vocations and gifts for ministry. He does have mercy on sinners and makes sinners his sons and daughters.

Immediately after college, I went to work for a home for abused boys. These boys had been beaten down their entire short lives and suffered from horrible self-worth. Prior to Christmas one year, a couple of the other counselors spent weeks refurbishing bikes for the boys. On Christmas morning, each of the 12 boys received bikes that were as good as new. It was not a week before each of those bikes had been abused and wrecked beyond use.

These boys felt their unworthiness to receive such a gift. They saw themselves as not being good enough to enjoy such a pleasure as a new bike, and they mistreated them until the condition of the bikes matched their own. That is the danger of experiencing our unworthiness before God without also experiencing his forgiveness of our sins and his transforming of us into the image of Christ. His grace and love make us worthy to be in his family. So like Isaiah and Peter we can dwell with him forever. It is Peter who would late write that by his divine power God enables us to be partakers of his divine nature that we might be fruitful in our relationship with Jesus. (2 Pet 1.3-8)

In a few minutes, we will confess our sins to God. Be sure to receive the forgiveness that is then declared. And as we partake of the Lord’s communion, know that God has made you his treasure and desires to fill you with his presence. And as we later go out into the world, he desires us to join him in his mission to seek and save sinners.

God Bless,
Craig Stephans, Rector
Church of the Redeemer (Anglican)

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One Response to “The Grace of God toward Isaiah and Peter:Sermon for Church of the Redeemer (Anglican) Feb 7, 2010”

  1. frogsview Says:

    Wonderful thoughts, reflections and observations on two very inspiring parts of Scripture.

    As a bike rider, my attention went to the bikes you mentioned, and to the fish caught by Peter and the others.

    Our Father in heaven has lavished His love on us and has called us His children. What a wonderfully, undeserved grace-filled gift. If we would but receive it. It’s not about us and what we deserve, thankfully. It’s about Him and what He has poured out in His life for us!


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