This is one of those readings that makes me laugh a little bit. We can envision Isaiah having his lips burned with a live coal because most of us have burned our lips on something at one time or another. Hot coffee, hot tea, hot chocolate. We just can’t wait for the delicious goodness so we get in a hurry before it is safe to taste.
The challenge for each of us then is to respond to God’s goodness by answering the call that God’s places on us. We’re generally all over doing the things that taste good, even at the risk of burning our lips, but following what God wants us to do? THAT can be a challenge.
I think most of us can relate to Isaiah’s dilemma. He’s a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips. Perfect. Isaiah is living out the human condition that most of us experience.
There are a lot of meanings you can ascribe to unclean lips in today’s reading. Certainly the most obvious meaning being saying things that are bad, wrong, a lie. Things that aren’t helpful, true, and uplifting. There aren’t many of us that haven’t gotten ourselves into trouble with unclean lips on occasion. If I asked those of you who have never had unclean lips to stand up and move over here and those you that have had unclean lips at some point in your live to move over on this side, what would the worship center look like?
The live coal treatment seems like it might be a bit hard but when you had unclean lips as a child did you get your mouth washed out with ice cream? I’m guessing not so much and for good reason. If you wash my mouth out with Blue Bunny Bunny Tracks ice cream you can be relatively certain I’m going to keep doing on a fairly regular and ongoing basis that which got me in trouble in the first place.
No, the live coal is a metaphor that we can grasp. It’s a good metaphor because like we noted earlier, we can relate to it, at least those of us on this side of the worship center. Plus, it gets our attention. And we need our attention gotten.
How many times has God asked you, directly or through someone else – both methods exist and are valid – and you didn’t want to do that particular something because you felt absolutely unqualified? I’m not talking about the times we used that as an excuse to get out of it (hey, we’ve all done it) but the times you really, really felt like you didn’t have what it takes to do it?
It’s a pretty common story. Many of you have heard my background story of being called to be a pastor about 10 years before I finally did what God wanted me to do. It was partly because I was perfectly happy as a computer network design guy but mostly it was because I was pretty sure that people like me aren’t pastors. Pastors are really good people who don’t do wrong or stupid things and I did, and still do, a fair amount of wrong and stupid things. Pastors know lots of Bible stuff and I did not. I was not WORTHY!
Didn’t see it coming and believe me when I say there were, and continue to be, other people who are completely taken aback and totally surprised when they find out I’m a pastor. “You’re a pastor now?”, they ask in surprise and amazement. “I knew you back when you ___________.” And yet, here I am. All pastorized and stuff.
Somehow. Somewhere. Sometime. We have been sold the lie that because we are not holy enough that we are not worthy enough. It’s certainly true that we are not holy. God is holy. God is holy, holy, holy, in fact. And we are not. At least not by our own doing.
We are made holy though, through God’s action in Christ. We can’t do it in any way shape or form. We don’t have it within us to make ourselves holy. Holy is one of those things like pregnant. It’s all or none, there is no kind of pregnant. Same with being holy. We might be able to make ourselves partly holy. You know, catching ourselves with an unclean mouth and holding off on what we were going to say. We might catch ourselves making a rude hand gesture and holding off what we were going to do. All good things but we can’t be partly holy. It’s all or none and we can’t make ourselves altogether holy.
But Christ can and does do it on our behalf.
If we’re made holy, if our lips are made clean, then what? That’s when we respond to God’s work in making us holy by going and doing the stuff that God is asking us, directly or through someone else, to get it done. We don’t respond to God’s call for shoes by having a committee that has meetings to schedule other meetings to decide how many shoes to get, we have a community of faith that answers God’s call by coming together and making sure young people have the shoes that they need.
God continues to call us together today to make our communities better places. Right now there is a lot of behavior going on across the spectrum of viewpoints that is unbecoming followers of Christ and some of it is just beneath common human decency. God does not call us to in your face responses as winners and losers. Instead, God calls us to respond with the love of Christ in every situation we are faced with.
There was a movement a few years back that asked WWJD, what would Jesus do. I’m not a big fan of the idea because we’re not Jesus and what Jesus would do is die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. Maybe we would too but I do question that a bit. What I AM a big fan of is asking what would Jesus teach, and then doing what he taught.
And if Jesus taught one idea that idea is to love God and to love one another. That doesn’t mean sit around and hold hands while singing Kum By Yah. Well, it can mean that but it means so much more. It means recognizing that we see things differently but treating each other well in our difference, loving one another in our difference. I know that’s a tall order but the man did die on the cross for each of us so who are we to say that we don’t want to do something because it’s too hard. Our political thinking has reached such a state of entrenched rightness in our positions that we’re willing to step outside how Christ has taught us to live. We need to stop that in our actions and the things that we say. We need to quit living with unclean lips. As we’re doing that we also need to call out the people on ‘our side’ when they live with unclean lips. It’s easy to point fingers at people on the ‘other side’ but we usually need to clean our side of the street first.
God calls and sends each of us to Bring Christ’s Love to Life. Not the other person. Not the people down the street. Not Bob. God is calling me. And you. How will you respond?