Deanery Licensed Ministers: Sermons
Called by a Very Holy God
Sermon Preached at St Richard's, Hanworth, 15/02/2009, 9.00am
Revd Sue Groom, Director of Deanery Licensed Ministers
"Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory."
Our Old Testament passage this morning recounts Isaiah’s commissioning as God’s prophet to the people of Israel. Isaiah was to proclaim God’s message to the wayward Israelites. Isaiah was to be a witness to the Holy Lord.
Isaiah had a vision in which he saw God enthroned in splendour, the king of the universe, surrounded by worshipping creatures. These heavenly beings, the seraphim, are continually singing praise to their sovereign Lord. They sing in parts:
Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD almighty, the whole earth is full of his glory.
And the temple shakes with the sound. Isaiah’s ears must have been ringing with the echoes.
The seraphim are declaring the complete and utter holiness of God: Holy, holy, holy is the LORD. In Hebrew to repeat something is to emphasise it. This is the only place in the Bible where the same adjective is used three times: God is very, very, very Holy.
Holiness in the Old Testament is all about ethical behaviour; about being pure, upright and true; holiness is about righteousness and justice. Holiness is about how we live our lives - who we are as expressed in what we do. How do we compare with a very, very, very Holy God?
Isaiah stood, or more likely, fell flat on his face, before this awesome God. The six worshipping seraphim blind him with their brightness. The name ‘seraphim’ comes from the Hebrew verb meaning ‘to burn’, so they are often referred to as ‘the fiery ones’ or ‘the burning ones’. Isaiah’s eyes must have been smarting from the sight before him.
The Israelites genuinely believed that no-one could see God and live. When Manoah and his wife (the parents of Samson) realised that they had entertained the Lord’s angel, they exclaimed, ‘We are sure to die, because we have seen God.’
When God appeared to people it was usually because he had a task for them. He was not just being polite or making conversation. The appearance frequently contained an element of encouragement and confirmation, reassurance of love and support for the job ahead: The angel of the Lord encouraged Hagar to return to her mistress, her cries had been heard and she was assured that she would have a son and many descendents. When the Lord appeared to Jacob he promised that he would be with him and protect him wherever he went.
Encounters such as these enable the person who has seen God to act in the way required of them. In times of trial and difficulty they can look back on how God met them in the past. In the Acts of the Apostles, we read how Jesus appeared rather dramatically to Saul on the road to Damascus, and also to Ananias in a vision, to prepare each of them for the task he had set before them. When God meets with us, he comes with love and assurance, but also with a purpose, one which reaches beyond our individual edification.
So what is the task God has for Isaiah? He is looking for someone to send as a messenger to his people. But Isaiah, in the presence of this so holy God, is overwhelmed by the sense of his own unholiness. He realises the great gap between the character of God and himself. He cannot do anything. Isaiah is unclean, he is a man of unclean lips.
The Bible talks about our lips, our speech, revealing the true nature of our inner being. The contents of our hearts and minds are expressed through what comes out of our mouths. Word and action reveal your true personality.
Isaiah hears the continual songs of praise coming from the seraphim and realises that his lips, his heart, his mind, his whole being, do not express continual praise of this most holy God.
Isaiah realises where he stands in relation to God. Isaiah is unholy, he is unrighteous, he is unclean. Isaiah cannot consort with this holy, holy, holy Lord.
It is God who graciously makes the move to reduce that distance between humanity and divinity. God approached Isaiah and God approaches each of us today. But not just for our own sake, God seeks to enlist our help in his cause. The holy Lord approaches not to destroy people but to save them and to request their assistance as his witnesses on earth.
Isaiah relates how one of the seraphim, the burning ones, approached him, but its fire did not destroy him, rather it purified and cleansed him as it touched Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal.
‘This has touched your lips, your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.’ It is when we realise and openly acknowledge the difference between ourselves and the supremely holy God, that he reaches out to us in cleansing and forgiveness.
Isaiah knew where he stood, who he was, what he was really like inside. He knew that God had met him and changed him. Full of joy and gratitude at what God has done for him, Isaiah longs to do something for God in return, thus he declares ‘Here am I, send me.’ Isaiah is now willing, ready and equipped for the task God has set before him.
Isaiah’s encounter with God in this vision sustains him through many years of prophecy to an unrepentant nation of Israel. God’s mercy towards Isaiah results in a loyal prophet.
Not many people today have such vivid visions as Isaiah, or such dramatic conversions as Paul. Nevertheless God does still appear to people, call them and give them a task to perform.
He may come in a dream, or in the form of an inner conviction, or a sudden realisation brought on by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes people know that they have met God but cannot describe their experience in words.
I wonder if that is how it was for the fishermen at lake Galilee.
There they were washing their nets and along comes a man walking along the shore of the lake. There are no heavenly choirs, no dramatic visions, just a man, with some people crowding around him.
Luke recounts how Jesus had been preaching and healing the sick, how he had gone out into the country to gain some peace and quiet. Then the eager crowds had tracked Jesus down to the lakeside and pressed him for more teaching about God’s kingdom. So, Jesus asked Simon if he could sit in his boat to teach the people.
When he had finished teaching, Jesus suggested that Simon and his partners push their boat into deeper water and let down their nets to catch some fish. The fishermen were a little sceptical, they’d caught nothing all night. But, for some reason, they did as he said. I wonder whether they had been listening to his every word as they washed their nets. Something about Jesus made them do as he suggested. They set off into the middle of the lake once more.
Lo and behold, their nets were soon full, so full in fact that their boat was in danger of sinking. Then, Simon realises the nature of his own character before God. His actions and words reveal his heart: Simon falls on his knees before Jesus, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord! I am a sinful man!’
It is at this moment, according to Luke, that Jesus tells the fishermen they are now to become fishers of men.
Simon and his companions have had an experience of God which is in many ways similar to that of Isaiah:
- they each encounter the most holy being;
- they each recognise the nature of their own character before this supreme Lord;
- they confess their position to God;
- God steps across that divide and issues a personal invitation to walk with him;
- they immediately respond with joyful obedience and willingness to serve;
- their response is decisive, there is no hesitation;
God has called, prepared and commissioned them to be his witnesses on earth.
The same is true for all of us, although you may not have realised it! When we become Christians, we become followers of Jesus. In doing so, we take on a task for God. That task is to be witnesses to our own experience of God. Becoming a Christian is not just a case of making a decision for God, it involves taking up the work of the kingdom.
God does not promise a life of roses to his followers, he gives us a task to perform and the means to do it. The fishermen were ordinary folk going about their daily work. Earning a living to keep their families. They weren’t gifted speakers, but they had something amazing to talk about. After Jesus ascended to heaven, they had the gift of the Holy Spirit to remind them of God’s presence with them and to empower them to speak for him.
The same is true for every Christian.
Every disciple of Jesus is called to be a fisher of men and women. This does not mean that every person is a gifted evangelist. But, we are all God’s ambassadors on earth, witnesses to his grace and loving forgiveness in our own lives. Some of us live out our Christian calling in licensed ministry as Readers, Pastoral Assistants or Evangelists, some of us live out our Christian calling in ordained ministry as Deacons or Priests or Bishops. Some people are called to be Deanery Licensed Ministers.
Deanery Licensed Ministers are people who exercise a ministry as a deacon or priest in their local area. People who have a deep and searching faith. People who desire to share their faith with others. People who can see further opportunities for ministry in their local community. People who may have thought about ordination before but because of family or work commitments felt unable to respond at the time. Sometimes they are people who have been identified by their friends and colleagues as being suitable ministers.
If you feel that God may be calling you in this way, or if you think God may be calling someone here in this way, then please speak to Alan and do get in touch with me if you would like to learn more about what might be involved in training for Deanery Licensed Ministry.
Acknowledgements and Bibliography
As with any sermon, various ideas come together over a period of time and it isn't always possible to retrace my steps to every source of inspiration. I will gladly acknowledge any particular sources if brought to my attention. Thank you.