This week we put our hope in a political candidate. As a pastor, I spend a lot of time listening. I have listened and I have learned from those who find themselves afraid and in deep pain. I have listened and leaned from those who find a reason to celebrate because they have been heard. I have listened to friends and family and colleagues and mentors on both sides of the aisle. And I’ve watched the distance between the two sides grow impossibly wide and the desire to understand the other all but disappear. This week we put our hope in a political candidate.
The last few weeks, we’ve been setting the scene for Advent.
We’ve looked back at the way God led the people out of slavery in Egypt, he gave them a land, and they wanted a king. God tried to tell them that they did not need a king. But the people insisted. So God gave them kings.
In 2 Chronicles 26 we learn about a King named Uzziah. Uzziah became king at 16 years old, and he did right in the eyes of God. God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabians and the Meunites. The Ammonites brought tribute to Uzziah, which was like a tax that recognized their lower place under Judah. Uzziah’s fame spread all the way to Egypt. He became very powerful.
He built towers near the gates on the wall, and he fortified them. He built towers in the wilderness, which shows us his wealth he had to create high ground. He dug cisterns for all of his livestock, and had people working in his fields and vineyards.
He had a well trained army of 307,500 men, ready to go to battle at any time. He provided them with shields, spears, helmets, armor, and bows. He made weapons to shoot from the towers.
His fame spread far and wide, for he was greatly helped by God- until he became powerful.
His power led to the thing that would ruin him: his pride. He became unfaithful to God. He entered the temple and burned incense on the altar. But Kings were not the ones who were supposed to burn incense. Burning incense was the job of the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who had been consecrated for such tasks. The priests told Uzziah to leave the sanctuary, because he had not honored God.
This made Uzziah angry, he still had the censer, the gold container on a chain that had the incense in it, and he was waving it around, raging at the priests, right in front of the altar, and he broke out in leprosy. Which, of course, was disgraceful for the temple, so he was quickly thrown out.
2 Chronicles 26:21 says he had leprosy until the day he died, so he had to live in a separate house, leprous people were banned from the temple of the Lord.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.
Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Then 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!”
I took a class on the book of Isaiah from Dr. Jim Bruckner when I was in seminary, and he said that Isaiah needed purification because he did not speak out against the pride and arrogance of King Uzziah, which led to the fall of the kingdom and the destruction of the temple. Bruckner points out that Isaiah did nothing when King Uzziah desecrated the temple, Isaiah’s lips remained silent, when he should have said something.
Isaiah’s vision takes place while in the temple, and in it he sees seraphim flying- with six wings. With two they cover their eyes, with two they cover their feet, and with two they are flying. The Lord is sitting on the throne, his robe filling the temple. The temple is shaking and filled with smoke. The seraphim are shouting HOLY, HOLY HOLY. Holy is the Lord God almighty. The whole earth is filled with his glory! The seraphim grab a piece of hot coal from the altar with tongs and use it to purify Isaiah’s lips, and then God asks, “Who shall I send? Who will go for us?”
And Isaiah is ready. He’s ready to be the prophet that he was called to be, to speak the word of God to the people. He’s cleansed, and ready to be sent. He says, “Here am I. Send me.”
I spent Thursday morning at Resonate teaching about the Kingdom of God. We studied Scripture to find the answers to: Where is the Kingdom? Who belongs in the Kingdom? What are the values of the Kingdom? How do we live out these values?
We looked at Mark 1:15 where Jesus declares that the kingdom of God is at hand. It is here. It is now. We’ve talked in great detail before about how that kingdom is already and not yet here. It will not be fully here until the consecration of all things, but right now it is present wherever God’s people are making God’s vision a reality.
Of course, every kingdom needs a king, and our King is Jesus. Seated on the throne.
Our purpose, our mission in life, is to be building for this kingdom. This is what we’re about. We were created in the image of God so that we would be caretakers of God’s world. The world. The whole world. God’s world. All of it belongs to God. We are made in God’s image to care for it. We are made to love God’s creation and God’s people. That’s it, that’s our purpose on this earth. That’s what discipleship is about. It’s about caring for God’s world, it’s about building for the kingdom of God.
If we ever question what this looks like lived out, we don’t have to look any farther than the life of Jesus displayed in the Gospels.
In just a few short months we will hear an inaugural address from our president elect. It will be a freshly written speech that follows an old template. There is a template for political inauguration speeches that has been applied nearly universally for centuries. They say if you’ve heard one politician speak, then you’ve heard them all speak, and there actually is some truth to that. The point of such a speech is to tell a clear story about where we’ve been, where we are, and how we’ll get where we intend to go.
Jesus gave an inaugural address as well. Jesus was not a politician, but he was a leader. He was a leader with a vision for the people who would follow him. But the address Jesus gave came from a deep and ancient wisdom, not from a political speech writer formula.
Jesus walked into the temple and was handed the assigned text for the day. It was a word from the prophet Isaiah. Similarly, we’re following the passage assigned today by the Narrative Lectionary, which was assigned to this day years ago. The text handed to Jesus was the beginning of his ministry in Luke 4, it outlined what he would travel around building. And it is this: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
In Matthew his first sermon is in chapter 5 where he says:
Blessed are the poor in spirit
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they will be shown mercy
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus’ closing sermon in Mathew is Matthew 25, where he talks about separating the sheep and the goats. He preaches a difficult message where he says, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
The people respond asking when did we see you and do or not do any of these things? And Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
When we went through our series on meals in the book of Luke, we read that Jesus’ mission as outlined in Luke 19:10 is that it was about seeking and saving the lost.
The least and the lost. The least and the lost.
This is the heart of our mission as Christians. And as we fulfill our responsibility as Christians to go deeper and deeper in our discipleship we will be challenged to uphold this mission as the world tries to feed us deceptively compelling reasons for us to abandon it.
Jesus spent his time with prostitutes and tax collectors and lepers. The dirty and unclean. The outcasts. The first people to visit him after he was born were the shepherds, who were so lowly in social order they were forced to live out of sight.
Mary prophesies the coming of her son as the one who will show mercy, perform mighty deeds and scatter the proud, bring down rulers and lift up the humble, fill the hungry and send the rich away with nothing.
To be a disciple of Jesus is not about our ascent to power, popularity or prominence. To call ourselves believers and disciples comes with the responsibility of gathering up the least and the lost in our arms. To be reaching out to the oppressed, the hurting, the outcasts, the prostitutes and the prisoners, the tax collectors and the minorities, the lepers and the marginalized. These were the groups of people most despised by the most devoutly religious and Jesus came for them. That is as true now as it was in the days that the very real Jesus walked on this Earth.
And I have to tell you, the least and the lost are in pain right now. They are hurting deeply. They are telling us that they are afraid. They are telling us that they fear for their safety, for their dignity, for their right to the pursuit of happiness. And while we may not fear like they do in this moment, we have all felt at some point in our lives the stinging desperation of fear and hope eclipsed.
This may be hard for us to hear and we may not understand. We may not want to understand. But for Jesus’ church, not listening is not an option. When the minority cries out, the example set by Jesus is to listen. When we see people experiencing oppression and violence, we must speak up.
We may not understand. We may disagree with opinions and conclusions. But we must listen. Because these are the people that Jesus calls us to serve.
And they are also the people we serve with. We have brothers and sisters in Christ who we are at odds with politically, but we have to come together for the kingdom.
King Uzziah was confusing the role of king and priest. He crossed lines he never should have crossed, he rose to power and was unfaithful to God. Isaiah failed to speak out against him.
It ultimately led to the destruction of Israel.
If our hope is in a president, any president, our hope is misplaced. If our most urgent priorities align with those of political parties first, then we will find ourselves wandering a desolate path. The mission we are on will never line up with any political party. It never has. A president can never lead us to the places God is calling us to. We must be careful not to place our hope where it is subject to disappointment. Our salvation was not secured by a politician. That was only made possible by God through Jesus.
Over and over in the Bible we are asked to open our eyes and open our ears. After Isaiah said, “Here am I, send me!” God warned of what would come next. He warned Isaiah that the people will hear, but they will never understand. They will see but they will never perceive.”
Jesus also warns that this will happen.
You can just imagine that Isaiah would love to change his mind. You can almost hear his voice saying, What kind of mission is this? I have to go speak up for justice and no one is going to get it? I am going to show them what the kingdom is like, and no one will understand? I am going to try open their eyes to your ways, but they will hate me for it?
Would you want this mission?
Isaiah asks, “For how long, Lord?”
And God answered,
“Until the cities lie ruined
and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted
and the fields ruined and ravaged,
until the LORD has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.
And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”
That’s how long. That’s how long we do this work. That’s how long we follow God’s call on our lives. That’s how persistently and tenaciously we seek first the Kingdom of God. That’s how long we live this way. Until the end. And for the Israelite’s, it wasn’t very long until the Babylonians would march them right out of their land, burn their temple and desecrate their land.
So for us today, it’s time for a recommissioning. It’s time to remember our allegiance. It’s time to remember who our hope is in. It’s time to remember we are being sent, and who we are being sent to.
God is still asking, “Whom shall I send?”
And the answer that God is waiting to hear from you is: “Here am I, send me!”