Tagged: Isaiah

Jesus Is (Still) King: A Sermon for the Election

Isaiah 6:1-13:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 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!” And he said, “Go and say to this people:

‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
10 Make the mind of this people dull,
    and stop their ears,
    and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
    and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
    and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
    without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
    and the land is utterly desolate;
12 until the Lord sends everyone far away,
    and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
13 Even if a tenth part remain in it,
    it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak
    whose stump remains standing
    when it is felled.”

The holy seed is its stump

God give us the eyes to see, the ears to hear, the mind of Christ to comprehend your word today.

In Isaiah 6, Isaiah has a vision of God on his throne, and it is at a precarious time in the nation’s history. The beginning of the passage says: “It was the year king Uzziah died.” It was a time of political instability, the death of the king, the prospect of a new king, the vulnerability of the change of power.

We see some political instability of our own day, are we not? Just a little! I drive down the road, and it is not just the leaves that are changing colours. Lawns are decorated with that person’s favourite colour, whether red, blue, orange, green, and now we see a few purples as well.

The Prime Minister has called a snap election during a watershed moment in Canada’s history: the time that the pandemic still rages in some provinces, while in ones like ours, it is still here but curbed heavily. Canada asks: what now? Where do we go from here? What will the next few months look like? The next few years? Who will lead us through them?

The chessboard is assembled, but what are the biggest stakes in this game?

Is it getting the economy back up to normal (can it get back to what it was before)? Is it keeping the restrictions up to save lives? Are human rights on the line with vaccine passports? Is it the environment and building a green economy? Is it safe drinking water for indigenous communities? Each one of these questions is asked with particular fears behind them.

Our TVs, computers, and phone screens are injected with campaign ads and articles sporting people’s preferred candidates. The mud-slinging and back-biting has begun, not that it ever stopped. We have become aware of how social media has fundamentally changed our everyday lives and so has fundamentally remade how we think politically. This has come with a dark side. Rumbling from the depths of chatrooms, Twitter, and Facebook groups have come messages that bear deep senses of hate, frustration, disgust, resentment.

People are angry and desperate. We like to think of ourselves as Canadians as peaceful, orderly, and reasonable people, but moments of violence have irrupted along the campaign trail as radicals have thrown rocks at the Prime Minister going to his bus.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg as our world seems to be exploding with division: fear and hate, misinformation, and blame.

Conflict and tragedy are becoming our everyday reality. The stakes are high, and it feels like the world is collectively holding its breath for the next tragedy.

Where do we look in the midst of this instability?

Do we look to ourselves? Do we look to a particular candidate? Do we look to a particular party? Who do we put our hope in?

In the year that King Uzziah died, [in the time of deep uncertainty] I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne [He saw the true king]; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphim [the majestic other-worldly powers], each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;  the whole earth is full of his glory.”

4 At the sound of their voices, the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with [the] smoke [of worship].

1. If Jesus is King, did we look to him first?

In times of political instability, we cannot look to ourselves; we must look first to the Lord, ruler of heaven and earth.

This world cannot contain him. This world’s politics cannot define him. This world’s corruption cannot restrict him. He is a God unmatched, unblemished, unlimited. He is the threefold Holy, holy holy, Lord God Almighty.

We have forgotten what holiness means. It is not just a personal thing; it is a political thing.

God in Jesus Christ is holy-Other than our ways, our ideas, and therefore our politics.

But if God is king, make no mistake; no king or president or prime minister can claim the authority of God. No politician can claim messianic status.

If God is king, no kingdom, no nation, no political party can claim that they represent the kingdom. As Clarence Jordan once said, the kingdom is always at hand but never in hand.

If God is king, while God is patient with our imperfections, we must be wary of any attempts to deliver the kingdom by hook or crook. Christ’s kingdom comes Christ’s way. The Commander of heaven’s armies hires no mercenaries.

If God is king, this means all kings of this earth, all presidents or prime ministers, any leader of any community, corporation, tribe or nation, must realize God is the only true king, and if their rule does not look like the kingdom of Jesus Christ, his cross and resurrection, they will have to answer to him.

And if God is king, and we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven, then we must often live as Peter says to his congregation: as strangers living in a foreign land, like a family that can’t be defined by a nation’s political allegiances. 

We can look up and say that the kingdom of heaven is near, that this is our way, and in it, we are free to live differently. 

The kingdom of God does not pull us back into the political status quo; it prophetically calls us forward.

It does not call us to political isolation or retreat. It is a holiness in the midst of the world that seeks a new way. Will we look for this new way? But I will tell you, the simple fact is we as Christians, as the church in Canada, so often we haven’t.

2. If Jesus is our King, have we been loyal to him?

One day at women’s coffee hour at First Baptist Church of Sudbury, where I pastored, I observed the fact that Christians are not altogether uniform on how to think politically. On Wednesday morning, the ladies of the church would get together for coffee and knit or do crosswords, or some of them became fans of doing those adult colouring books. Anyways, I would often work on the sanctuary computer, which was behind a curtain to the side of this room. One morning they did forget I was there.

In casual conversation, one lady expressed disappointment over “her boy, Justin,” in how he handled the Student Summer Jobs funding debacle. “Your boy?” Another lady said in disgust, “how can a Christian vote for a liberal?”

“Well,” said the first, “when I came to Canada from the Caribbean, the conservative party wanted to deport my family and me because they thought we would bring crime into the country and we would steal Canadian jobs or go on welfare. Pierre Trudeau protected my family, and so that is why his son is my boy.”

The other lady was a bit flabbergasted; she then turned to the lady beside her to attempt to gather some peer pressure: “Can you believe her?”

The third lady, a bit struck, said, “Yes. Indeed, I can’t see how anyone could support the liberals or conservatives. I have been a member of the NDP my whole life. My parents helped form the NDP with Tommy Douglas because they fought for labour rights for the miners of Sudbury. I just don’t understand how people can’t see that socialism best reflects the kingdom of God.”

Again, lady number two had this awkward moment of putting her foot in her mouth. The conversation quickly devolved into an awkward silence and a quick change of subject as these kinds of discussions often go. Many of us have had moments like that. And many of us are surprised we still have moments like that. We are astonished to find believers believing different things. “You think that? You support that person?” What do we do with that?

Notice a few things in this little event: (1) All three women were thoroughly partisan. Their minds were made up a long time ago, and it was not going to change. (2) All three simply could not believe the other’s view. There was an overt refusal of empathy and fallibility. (3) Their solution or lack thereof was to stop talking about it.

Perhaps in that moment of discussing or rather awkwardly discovering their political differences, I think they forgot the most important thing: their unity in Jesus Christ.

They were sisters in Christ. They were a part of a kingdom much bigger than any political party. His kingdom calls us to treat each other like family, even when we disagree, and that is a different kind of politic.

In our current political situation, it should not surprise us to see that Christians of different strips have influenced and participated in all the political parties in some way: the conservative appeal to traditional values and economic pragmatism, the liberals appeal to human rights and equity, the NDP’s appeal to the values instilled by Social Gospel Baptists like Tommy Douglas. And so on. On my Facebook, I have pastor friends of mine each running in all the major parties. They have all come to these values with a particular Christian emphasis. That does not mean they are all equally right. It does mean we have to have a moment of pause when we assume our views are the best, and everyone else is dumb, delusional, and dangerous.

The biggest thing that worries me in this election is not which candidate gets in; although I have my strong views on that, it is the fact that Christians no longer how to love people that are different, not even other Christians. The outrage of politics has overpowered Christian humility, patience, and honesty, and if that is the case, the church in Canada has already lost regardless of who votes for what.

That is why we must consistently and constantly recall our hearts and minds to the fact that Jesus is still king.

In the Gospels, James and John, sons of Zebedee, asked Jesus, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” We want power, Jesus. Jesus’ reply: “You don’t know what you are asking.”

He says, and I paraphrase: If you want to drink of glory, the cup you drink is my crucifixion. He says,

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10: 42-45)

This cherished scripture about the nature of the cross ransoming us from sin, we forget, is the answer to a political question: How do I get power and glory, Jesus? How do I get my way?

Jesus’ answer: You won’t that way. That is not my way; my way is the cross.

The Son of Man, the one who rightfully deserves all the power and honour, the crowns of every kingdom, all the riches of all the wealthy, became a servant healing the forgotten of this world, serving those that deserted him and forgiving those that murdered him by dying on a cross fully obedient to the Father, a death of shame and humiliation, and counted it on our behalf. God in Christ is first because he made himself last.

Whatever our political convictions are, they must flow from his reality.

We have to ask ourselves if our ways are in line with this kind of humility, this kind of honesty, this kind of peacefulness, this kind of service, sacrifice and solidarity?

In other words, if we as Christians go to the ballot boxes and say to ourselves, “Who is the politician that will give me the most?” That simply is not Christ’s attitude.

If we go to the ballot trying to ensure the church stays powerful and prominent, our witness to a watching world will simply be that we are just as power-hungry as all the other political factions out there. We don’t offer anything different.

But that is so often what we have done. And if we have traded this kingdom and this king for any other politician, party, or platform, our words can only be Isaiah’s: 

“Woe to us! We, the church, are ruined! For We are people of unclean lips, and we live among a people of unclean lips, for our eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

So then, what can we do?

But then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it, he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Your sins are atoned for. I don’t know why, but we worship a God that when humanity murdered Christ on the cross, he forgave. He answered our worse with his very best. He died our death to offer us his life. When we fail him terribly, his character is grace immeasurably.

I don’t understand it. It goes against everything this limited mind thinks should be the case. I know I stand condemned in judgment, but to my surprise, his judgment is love.

It seems inconceivable; it seems too impractical; it seems too unpolitical, but that is how God runs his kingdom. Grace is God’s policy.

But all I can know is if I am lost in sin, Christ has found me. I am ruined, and he atoned for me.

Jesus has cleansed us, and he is not done with us. He is doing something else: he commissions us.

3. If Jesus is King, Let’s Keep Following His Way

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!”

And he said, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.”

The church is called to Isaiah’s commission here: to truth, love, and hope. 

The church is called to prophetic truthfulness that this world does not understand. If the political candidate or party you follow has done wrong or made a mistake, don’t be so urgent to see your version of justice come that you forget that God’s kingdom never comes by people who refuse to repent, confess the truth and own their mistakes.

No political ideal is so important that it allows us to take a shortcut and bypass Jesus’ way.

You might find that if you do that, you won’t fit in. People just won’t get what you’re saying. They don’t want to listen. That is the way Isaiah had to go and us too.

In a world of half-truths, God says, “Whom shall I send?” Will Billtown Baptist answer, “Send us! We will speak the truth.”

Second, we must speak the truth in love. Desmond Tutu, the Anglican bishop that guided South Africa out of apartheid, led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, when people told him that clergy couldn’t be political, he just responded and said, “Of course, I can. We must. We are called to love our neighbour.”

Who is my neighbour? Is my neighbour white or black, an immigrant or indigenous, is a senior or an unborn baby, is my neighbour a Muslim, a gay person, rich or poor, criminal or law-abiding or any other difference that we have treated differently?

Is it just one or another? No! All of them. I don’t get to choose. All are made in the image and likeness of God, all are children of our Father, all by God’s word have inherent dignity and worth, none more worthy than the other.

Some Christians I know refuse to vote because the system is too broken. That is their right, but I would say that we can’t forget the power of a vote, the possibilities, even small ones, that a good politician can help those least fortunate in our world.

I have to remind that cynical part of me that if I love my neighbour, I must press on thinking and conversing and voting and acting. Other people way less privileged than myself depend on it.

In a world of hate and exclusion, God says, “Whom shall I send?” Will Billtown Baptist answer, “Send us! We care about our neighbours.”

Then Isaiah said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said:
“Until cities lie waste…until the Lord sends everyone far away…Even if a tenth part remains in it, it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled. But the holy seed will be the stump in the land.”

“How long, O Lord?” For Isaiah, this question has a tinge of “It’s going to get better, right? If I do this, then this will fix things, right?” God’s answer is not comfortable, but it is the truth. Isaiah’s day is different from ours, but the principle is the same: He is prophesying of the coming exile, and that is not what we are facing. However, so often, we say to God, “God, I’ll do this, now you do that. God, if I do this, then things will get better, right?”

Our choices matter, and so this election matters. But will it solve everything? We all know that it won’t.

How long, O Lord? How long do we have to do this? Will things get better? The real question before us today is this: even if things keep getting worse first, will we still choose Christ?

God says to Isaiah that amongst the desolation, a holy seed is planted: We know that as we walk into the uncertainty of the future, we carry this hope within our hearts:

Christ had died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.

In a world of despair and apathy, God says, “Whom shall I send?” Will Billtown Baptist answer, “Send us, Lord! No matter what, we will go!”

Today, after church, think well about the issues. Discuss how to get involved, how to live change, how we can care for the least in our communities. Tomorrow, go out and vote. The day after, remember Jesus is still king, and no matter what, we are going to keep following him.