May 27, 2018 Doug Norris
Let’s hear again the remarkable vision of Isaiah –
Isaiah 6:1-8 I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.
Seraphs….each had six wings: …. one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”….the thresholds shook …. and the house filled with smoke… 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!
Let’s be clear – this is an odd story and it does not stand up to any rational kind of scrutiny, maybe a dream, maybe a vision induced by fasting or imagination.
Anyone who wanted to be taken seriously as a prophet had to have a strong ‘call story’. A narrative describing that moment when they knew, with no ambiguity, they knew themselves to be anointed to a holy task. Moses in front of a burning bush and Jacob wrestling with an angel and Mary going toe to toe with angel Gabriel, Paul thrown from his horse and blinded by the light – their fantastical stories become part of our library. Such clarity.
Over the years I have come to expect the question – usually as part of a small-talk setting, meeting new people, perhaps people who don’t often meet religious people, and they are curious – what happened for you to decide to be come a minister? Clearly a different thing from choosing to be lawyer or a teacher or a bus driver.
And sometimes I could tell they were hoping to hear something with a drama. A voice in the night, a flash, a miracle, a sign. I think my usual very pedestrian response was never very satisfying. And I have to say that the question often intersected in me not so much with a simple and clear answer, as with the smoldering remains of the question itself. How did I end up here? What a weak and poor witness, to still be puzzling over this. Ordained 32 years ago tomorrow. (Do you? Will you? Shall we?) Still waiting for the bright light.
So every Sunday every preacher traipses to the front, aware only of these two things – I cannot say a single decisive or definitive thing about God, who must remain un-speakable, holy mystery, and , I have no option but to speak as though right there at the very edge of our knowing, at the limits of our seeing, at the boundary where words become useless is a light, a hope, a world about to be born… I cannot know any of it, I must speak all of it.
To speak ‘as though’ – this is the character of faith, of all kinds. Walking not by sight but by what cannot or cannot yet be seen. This is faith, which is different from knowledge.
In our marriages which are rarely always beautiful endless days of delight, we choose to walk as though this is still the deep reality between us and it will be our reality. In our customary marriage vows we have the phrase ‘faithful to you alone’ which is a comment about sexual fidelity but really it should be about walking in faith – ‘on the days I can’t see our marriage clearly I will live as though it is still real…’
– in our children who are often a source not only of pride and joy but also fear and pain, we choose to walk as though there is a life deep and holy in them that we will see again, a life like a river running underneath the ice.
– in the trials of loss and illness when days of delight are rare and there is relentless hard work, we choose to walk as though there is a peace and a healing that is near. That star calls us on.
From a poem by Barbara Holmes, describing the character of the exuberant music of the African American experience :
Joy unspeakable is not silent.
it moans, hums, and bends
to the rhythm of a dancing universe
Jiri – Friday night here – arms outstretched, (like Jesus on the window there) full throttle all voices, on a folk song, in the Czech language, and of course I had no idea what it was about. Maybe it was a song about purple birds dropping loaves of bread on a boat full of penguins, I have no idea, which of course did not matter, you brought us the rhythm of the dancing universe. No explanations needed. Words, in fact, explanations, might have got in the way. Such is the character of music. Joy unspeakable is not silent.
To the Bible for a moment : In one of our memorable stories, Nicodemus, a learned man, a reasonable man, a leader, comes to see Jesus. He is perplexed. ‘It seems’, he says, ‘that you, Jesus, have the presence of God in you. But we are puzzled because you are rocking the boat.’
Jesus says : ‘You’ve got to see things in a whole new way, Nic. Like being born all over again.’ Now Nicodemus is confused, and Jesus says it is like the wind, life in the spirit goes all over the place and you can’t even see it, never mind explain it.
This part of the story ends with puzzlement – the logical and closed world of rules meeting a wild spirit singing a new and unfamiliar song. And we are asked to live by faith, not always understanding. Simply uttering : Holy Holy, Holy….
Joy unspeakable is not silent, it moans, hums, and bends, to the rhythm of a dancing universe.
Simon Ibell – Marie, Roger,
David, Carol Ann, Gregory, Roberta, Mercedes, John-Thomas, Fraser, Anita, Andrew, Patricia.