Sermons, Uncategorized

Bringing Out the Best

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“A Seraph Purifies the Lips of Isaiah with a Hot Coal” by Marc Chagall

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And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

“Bringing Out the Best.” What comes to your mind when you hear this phrase? Some of you might be reminded of times when your family was planning for company and your mother had you bring out the best china and silverware. Or maybe you remember when your grandma honored your visit by “bringing out the best,” preparing your favorite meal and fixing a special dessert.

Others, hearing the phrase “Bringing Out the Best” might think of rising to a challenge, like being an underdog who works hard to upset the higher ranked team, and who’s able to achieve a level of success no one else thought possible. Though the struggle is difficult, it has the benefit of “bringing out the best” of valuable qualities that had been hidden within you.

“Bringing out the best” in Christian stewardship entails all these things. As the Small Catechism reminds us, God first brings out the best by providing to everyone—Christians and non-Christians—every good thing we have out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in us. And, for all this it is our duty to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him.

As Christians, we especially rejoice that our heavenly Father brings out the best by giving His Son, Jesus Christ, as our Savior. We rejoice that Jesus brought the very best when He gave His perfect life on the cross for our sins that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. We rejoice that after bringing us to faith, the Holy Spirit continues to sanctify us, ridding our life of sin and bringing out the best of the Christ-like nature given to us in Baptism.

And, in turn, we strive to “bring out the best” in ourselves by the way we faithfully manage the time, talents, and treasures God entrusts to our care. As followers of Christ and stewards of God’s riches, we are especially to be “bringing out the best” by sharing the Good News of Jesus’ work of salvation.

But what happens when you realize that the best that’s required of you is more than you can bring? What happens when your best is not good enough and you find yourself trailing by fifty points at halftime? What happens when the guest deserves a banquet served on the finest china, crystal, and silver and all you have is a few slices of dry bread, paper plates, Styrofoam cups, and “sporks”?

In a way, each of those scenarios describes our situation before God. You and I know our failures. We know our past, a history stained by disobedience, guilt, and shame. By nature, we’re alienated from God, separated from His holiness and opposed to His will. Not exactly prime candidates to be used for God’s call to mission and outreach.

But through our text, we discover that’s exactly what God does. He calls sinful humans to be His children. Then He equips us to bring out the best news ever, to share His message of love and forgiveness with all nations.

That’s what happened to Peter in our Gospel reading for today. And it happened to Isaiah in our text as well. Both found themselves in way over their heads. They realized their best wasn’t close to being enough. In the light of God’s perfect holiness and righteousness, their own hearts seemed so dirty; their own efforts to serve seemed so impotent. Yet despite their many failings, God was able to renew them and equip them to proclaim His Good News. Let’s see how.

In the year that King Uzziah died, the prophet Isaiah saw a vision. What a vision it was! Angels, an earthquake, the Lord Himself. Smoke, fire, and a voice that could bring down the house. By the time Isaiah had seen, heard, felt, smelled, and tasted all that the Lord had for him to experience that day, he was ready to do whatever God wanted him to do. And what God wanted him to do was to go and tell the people the Good News of the coming Messiah.

Short of such a vision—or maybe not short of such a vision—what would move us to tell the Good News about Jesus?

Perhaps realizing that our plight in sin is as desperate as Isaiah’s would move us to tell the Good News about Jesus. Isaiah found himself in the Presence of the Lamb who was slain from the foundation of the world, who died on Calvary’s cross for the sins of the whole world. That was enough for him to realize his sinful plight. Maybe if we saw the Lord Himself on His throne, exalted above us, we’d be moved to share our testimony, too.

Oh, but when Christ returns, we will see Him. Not in His humiliation as we are accustomed to think, but in His exaltation. Not hanging shamefully on a cross, with nails through His hands and feet, but dressed in a royal robe, seated on His throne as judge, His eyes like blazing fire. But by then, it would be too late for us to realize our sinful plight and be moved to witness, wouldn’t it?

Maybe we’d realize our sinful plight and be moved to share the Gospel if we, too, saw how even the seraphim look upon the Almighty. Those special angels used two of their wings to veil their eyes from a direct view of God’s glory.

How would we fall down before Him? Would it be as an unbeliever, begrudgingly forced to pay homage to the King of kings and Lord of Lords? Or would it be done in adoration and joy as the song, “I Can Only Imagine” tries to picture. Would we dance in joy, stand in awe, or fall to our knees? Would we sing His praises, or find ourselves speechless? Would that help us realize our plight?

Yes, I imagine it certainly would! But again, it would be too late to make a difference. It would be too late to share the Gospel with others.

Maybe, we’d realize our sinful plight and be moved to share the Gospel if we, too, witnessed the full holiness of the Lord. “Holy, holy, holy,” the seraphim cried. Holy is the triune God! Holy is His name. But it seems today, we rarely talk about God’s holiness, rather we focus almost exclusively on His love. Yes, God is love. God is the source of love. And without God’s love we’d be lost. But we must never forget His holiness, either. God is sinless. God hates sin. Sin cannot exist in God’s presence. And because of that, we could never stand on our own merits in His holy presence, let alone be moved to share His holy Gospel.

Maybe we’d realize our sinful plight and be moved to share the Gospel if God shook our sanctuary, and filled it with smoke. Imagine the thunderous cry of the voices of a host of angels! The shock as the doorposts sway and the threshold shakes! The smell of smoke filling the sanctuary!

I don’t know about you, but that would certainly get my attention! But I’m afraid my fear would keep me from witnessing. Anyway, must things really have to get so bad for us to realize our sinful plight and be moved to share the Gospel?

One thing’s for certain. All this drove Isaiah to realize his desperate sinfulness. “Woe to me!” he cried. “For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Time and again throughout Scripture, the sinful man who suddenly becomes aware of being in the Presence of the holy God makes a confession of his sinful nature and his sin. And it’s not a comfortable feeling. St. John described his experience of being in the Presence of the ascended Christ this way in Revelation: “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead” (1:17).

Even in His state of humiliation, when Jesus veiled His glory and revealed it only in glimpses, the sinner understood what it meant to be in the Presence of God. Following the miracle catch of fish, Peter fell down at Jesus’ knees, and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8).

You’ve come here today to this house of God to be in the very Presence of the Lord, too. But you are no less sinful than Peter. No less unclean than Isaiah. Do you realize what you’ve done by appearing here and seeking to be in God’s holy Presence? Do you understand what you’ve said when you added your “amen” to the Invocation? You’ve presented yourself here on the basis of God’s holy Name—the Name given to you on the day of your Baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah was one of God’s chosen people when the Lord brought him into the heavenly temple. Still, he remained a sinner and he knew it. “Woe to me!” Isaiah cried. “For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5).

You are also one of God’s chosen people when you entered this house of God today. Still, though the Lord has brought you into His Kingdom by water and the Word, you’ve remained a sinner and you know it. That’s why a few minutes ago, you confessed: “O Almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner confess unto You all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended You and justly deserved Your temporal and eternal punishment.”

You realize you have nothing to offer God to avert His condemnation and wrath—no good work, no sacrifice, nothing. Your continued existence here in His holy Presence is due solely to the mercy and grace of God in Christ.

“Woe is me!” Isaiah declared. “I am lost! I am unclean, and live among unclean people.” This was the first step in moving Isaiah to tell the news of the Messiah. It’s our first step too. We must confess our sins and our unworthiness.

And then, we need to realize that our forgiveness is as cleansing as Isaiah’s. After he confessed his sins, Isaiah was assured—visibly, tangibly—that he was cleansed of his sins. The hot coal touching his lips, the declaration of forgiveness spoken of by God’s own messenger, a heavenly seraph! “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” What an absolution!

But have you not heard, seen, felt, tasted, and smelled your cleansing from sin just as certainly? What about when God’s messenger, taking water, pouring it over your head, once said, “I baptize you in name of the Holy, Holy, Holy?”

Or when the same messenger of God, standing before the altar, announces: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit?”

Haven’t you, too, been cleansed from sin by God’s absolution?

Or if that’s not enough, how about when God’s messenger takes something from the altar, touches your lips with it, and says, “Take, eat; take, drink; this is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given and shed for the forgiveness of your sins.” As the bread and wine touch your lips, your guilt is taken away and your sin is atoned for.

Having been cleansed of his sins, Isaiah heard the voice of the Lord saying: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” In these words, the Lord extended His call to Isaiah to be His prophet. He whose guilt had been taken away was now ready to serve when and where and how the Lord wills.

Isaiah’s vision moved him to say, “Here I am. Send me!”

What about you?  Are you as aware of your sinful plight as Isaiah was? Do you realize that you have been cleansed of those sins as tangibly, as certainly, as Isaiah was? Does your “vision” move you to tell the good news about Jesus?

If you are, if you do, then when God asks, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” you’ll have an answer, too. “Here I am. Send me!”

So, go in the peace and joy of the Lord, serving Him and your neighbor as He gives you opportunity, knowing that for Jesus’ sake, you are cleansed and righteous. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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