When I was a kid, I often heard adults say in response to an incredible claim, “I’m from Missouri – Show me!”
That statement has stuck with me. Like Thomas the Disciple, I don’t take everything on faith. I want to look at the facts or dig deeper, when someone tells me, “God spoke to me” or “I saw the face of God.” I believe that rationalism is important: many things require investigation; we can’t take them entirely on faith, especially the claims of others.
Still, I know that rationalism isn’t always the final word. People have amazing spiritual experiences – encounters with God, visions, life-changing dreams, and near death experiences – that open them to something far deeper than every day experience or the evidence of the five senses.
It is important to realize that all the great religious traditions had their birth in mystical or paranormal experiences – Moses encounters God and receives the Ten Commandments and the Law, the Torah, on Mount Sinai; Mary is visited by angel Gabriel and soon gives birth to Jesus; Joseph has a dream that tells him that Mary’s unexpected child will be God’s Messiah and later another dream tells him that alerts him to escape to Egypt to protect his family from Herod; Saul, soon to be Paul, has a vision of the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus and becomes the messenger of God to the Gentiles. And, in our scripture today, Isaiah has an unexpected vision of the God of the universe.
It was a time of national upheaval. The great king Uzziah had just died and the nation worried about its future. Would enemies overrun the country? Would the next ruler have the same charisma, wisdom, and military prowess as Uzziah?
Isaiah comes to the Temple: we don’t know if he’s alone or at a worship service. But, only Isaiah, among all those at the Temple experiences the living God.
Like Isaiah, each week we come to worship. Sometimes we don’t expect anything special. Like Isaiah, we want comfort or some guidance for the week ahead. That’s just fine. But, the experience of Isaiah reminds us that any time and any place, we should open to a surprising encounter with God. It could even happen here – in our white steeple, two hundred year old South Congregational Church.
One of my favorite authors Annie Dillard suggests that we should expect something amazing in worship. Dillard asks: “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?….The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return. ”
That’s what happened to Isaiah, and he was forever changed. We live in a time of great spiritual hungers: people want to experience God and not just talk about God. In 1963, research indicated that 22% of the people claimed to have mystical or transcendent experiences. Fifty years later nearly 50% claimed to have had deep spiritual experiences. I don’t think people are necessarily more spiritual today, but they are more open about sharing their encounters with God.
I believe that the church should be a laboratory for spiritual experiences, encounters with the holy, and testimonies to answered prayer. We don’t want to give up the “show me” critical spirit, but we need to be open to something more, to God showing up in our lives and changing everything.
When he entered the Temple, Isaiah didn’t expect anything dramatic, but then the veil between God and the world was torn apart; God became real; the whole earth revealed the glory of God. Isaiah discovered that God was alive in a sinful person like himself and also in the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and the beasts of the wilderness.
Isaiah is overwhelmed. The God of the universe, the energy of life, in all its infinity and love convicts him of his imperfection and self-centeredness. “Woe is me,” he cries. And that’s our cry, in our imperfection. But, then an angel purifies his lips, and he receives a wondrous invitation, “Who will we send?” God asks, “Who will speak for us?” The God of the universe needs us. God won’t heal the world without our help. God needs companions to mend the brokenness of creation.
Isaiah’s encounter with God leads to mission. Worship leads to action to bring healing and beauty to this good earth. Many churches have this affirmation, “Enter to worship, Leave to serve.” We are here to be refreshed, to be spiritually uplifted, to gain a new perspective, and find God’s healing touch. We are also here to learn to love more deeply, serve more fully and care more broadly.
If today, you were hear the voice of God asking, “Who shall I send” what would you do in response? What’s your calling for the world in which you live and people with whom you interact? In what ways will you be God’s companion in bringing healing and love to this good Earth?
Who will God send today? Let our prayer be, “Show us your vision for our lives. Send us to the world in love.”