Sermon for 33rd Ordinary C, Nov. 14, 2010 Dedication Sunday, Isaiah 12:1-6

Dedication

Offering

Isaiah 12:1-6

1 You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me.

2  Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

3  With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.  4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.

5  Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth.

6  Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

I spent a summer in Africa living with a local pastor, Rev. Ogada and his family.  I never got over it.  He had one of the nicer places in the village: instead of a thatched roof, which needs constant maintenance, his mud hut had a tin roof.  While we were there, his infant son died.  They had taken him to a clinic, but it lacked the medicine he needed.  He had lost other babies too.  That’s Africa.

I did nothing clever to be born here in America instead of Kenya.  Neither did I have anything to do with the fact that I was born into a two-parent, white, middle class family, who loved and cared for me every day of my life.

I did not create this country’s educational system that I have benefited from, nor its freedom nor its vast opportunities.  I did nothing to deserve our legal system which, though not perfect, at least seeks to be free of bias based on race, class, or inside-connections – unlike so many places in the world today.

Our response of gratitude

We all are the recipients of blessing after blessing for which we can take no credit.  We are here this morning to show the extent of our gratitude.  We are here to dedicate ourselves to God for the coming year.  We have already sung songs of praise and worship, we have lifted up our hearts in prayer.  Soon we will all come with our pledge cards and our time and talent surveys and bring them up to the front of the church to dedicate them and ourselves to God.   What we bring will reveal and celebrate the extent of our gratitude.

Jesus told us, without any hesitation or fear of offending us that where our treasure is, there our hearts are also.  We will dedicate today the treasure of our precious time, the treasure of our experience and skills, and the treasure of our limited resources.   The motivation that brings us here is simply gratitude to God because we understand that everything we have, all that we have become, all that we possess and all that we are able to do is a gift from him.

Isaiah’s lesson in Gratitude

The text we read from the prophet Isaiah is a fire-hose torrent of gratitude.  We will look at it together and let those ancient words guide us and form us as people of faith, people of gratitude.  We will see that our reasons for gratitude will expand and deepen as we reflect on the scripture before us.

The text of the prophet Isaiah imagines a future day in which God has acted in powerful ways on behalf of his people.  Isaiah, in the voice of poetic verse sings:

1 You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me.

Anger Turned Away: gratitude

The Lord we worship and serve is not distant or uninvolved.  What happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas, what happens in Washington, and in Montgomery, and in Bay Minette and in Gulf Shores and under my roof does not stay there.  The Lord who created me and us and them and all of us knows, and cares.

He is morally good, and he is perfectly just; he is in opposition to evil in all its destructive forms.  So yes, he has cause to be angry.  Just look around.  If the wrongs of the world get you  upset, think how God feels.  We too must take our place among the guilty; we do not love the Lord nor our neighbor to the degree he requires; he does not believe our excuses.

But as the prophet proclaims, “your anger turned away, and you have comforted me.”  Anger is never the last word.  God’s final goal is not to punish, but to redeem, to restore, to transform sinful people like us into people of faith and gratitude.

Unlike the millions of people who think that God is perpetually upset with them, unlike those miserable souls who believe they have to earn God’s mercy and always fear that they have not done enough, we are here to celebrate the knowledge that God’s anger has turned away, and he has comforted us!

The prophet sings of the intervention of God and of our response:

2 Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.

God, instead of being the Grand Inquisitor, has become the source of our salvation.  If Isaiah had cause to be grateful, we have more.  We understand that Jesus Christ, God’s Son came to redeem us from sin and evil.  We know that he died and rose for us: God has become our salvation.

Response: Trust

dedication

 

What could our response possibly be other than, as Isaiah says, to “trust, and not be afraid”?  Grateful people trust that God who has saved them in the past is able to sustain them in the present and to provide for their future. We gladly affirm, with the prophet: “The LORD GOD is my strength and my might” We are people of trust.  Trust opens our hearts to generosity because a heart that trusts God has been set free from slavery to self, to fear, to avarice.

How does Isaiah express this?  From the ancient middle east where the most precious liquid commodity, even today, is not oil, but water, the prophet turns it into a symbol of God’s grace:

3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

4 And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name;

make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.

God is not only all knowing and morally good, God is not only the source of our salvation, he is also available day and night to the call of his people.  Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name.” The sequence here is not accidental: when we approach God to call on his name, we come first with thanksgiving.  Gratitude is at the heart of our prayers and is the first thing out of our mouths when we call on the name of the Lord.  If we understand that he is there, and listening, then we have a reason to give thanks, regardless of what else happens.

Public Acts, Public Praise

There is something necessarily public going on here.  God’s saving actions are both personal and also public.  He set the Hebrews free from slavery in Egypt.  He led them into the promised land.  In our day he has broken down barriers of discrimination and oppression here and around the world.  His people have built schools, hospitals, taught people how to read and write.  He has restored broken addicts and brought hope to people by the millions.  His work in the world is public, and so his praise is fittingly public.

The prophet boldly proclaims:

4 make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted.

Public worship, specifically through singing praise is our response to his enormous blessings.

5 Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. 6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.

In Our Midst

in our midst

 

That last phrase is perhaps the most powerful: “great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” God is God – not a mortal; he is one whose face no one can see and survive; he is the essence of divinity – or as the ancients said, “holy.”  The New Testament affirms that God “dwells in unapproachable light.”  (1 Tim. 6:16)

Something inside of all of us longs to make a connection with the  infinite, eternal, invisible God – but how could we?   Our story of the original Garden of Eden gave us a glimpse of what we long for: Adam and Eve in communion with God who would walk with them in the Garden, in the cool of the evening; a vision of perfection.  But it didn’t last long.  Now we feel that yawning gulf of separation.

But God has bridged that gulf and has come to live among his people.  God is not on a distant cloud or shut up in a temple.  Isaiah sings: “ great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”  He is here, right now in our midst – and always is.

Isaiah’s text  has deepened our gratitude from the material to the utterly spiritual.    Now is our time to demonstrate the extent of our gratitude to God!  Now is our time to renew our dedication.  Now is our time to assert our faith and trust, and to proclaim in public and with joy: Great in our midst is the Holy One.

Let us praise him by bringing our pledges and time and talent surveys in an act of gratitude and praise.

 

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