Maybe you’ve noticed it, like I have; Bumper stickers on cars that say “Follow me to such and such LOCAL church!”
It’s a clever marketing tool; that is never taken literally, but still communicates two fundamental truths:
The person driving the car attends such and such LOCAL church and whoever sees the bumper sticker is welcome to attend such and such LOCAL church with them.
It is quaint, inviting, and hopeful that: everyone will get the message that they love God and God loves you!
The modern church has been cleverly marketing our loving God for decades and many have come through the church entrances looking for the God people love, and hoping God will love them as well.
But as Bob Dylan one said, “The times they are a-changin’” and the very foundations of how we run churches seem to be shaking, with the shockwaves of those changes.
Traditional church attendance has declined, thanks to Individualism, Secularism, and Pluralism.
Individualism, promotes the notion that being a solitary individual is sufficient.
Secularism, explains God away with science and psychology.
And Pluralism suggests all religions are more or less equally valid.
The cartoon TV show The Simpsons perfectly illustrates Pluralism through the character Reverend Lovejoy, who, having been fed up with his pesky parishioner Ned Flanders finally rebukes Ned saying, “Ned, have you considered any of the other major religions? They're all pretty much the same.”
Many non-mainline denominations have bucked the trend of decline, I will allow, but much of their growth can be attributed to Christians leaving the mainline denominational churches for the new style of churches propping up every year.
So the overall foundations of Christendom are shaking out, shaking up and shaking down the numbers of Christians, while we watch Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the New Age religions creeping up and closing the gap with the largest religion in the world…Christianity.
So you can just imagine, Christian Pastors are motivated, highly motivated to keep that from happening on their watch.
We try to come up with clever marketing that peaks the interest of the non-believer.
We scour the cultural halls of paganism for those loitering around with no spiritual direction.
We hoe the flower beds of the Lord and nurture it, protect it, and feed it so that when the almighty sower casts His’ seed, we will grow it and care for it; bringing the lost to life eternal.
In so doing we encounter all kinds of responses: Indifference, curious exploration, angry opposition, and ready acceptance leading to full communicate membership.
Oh we lick our emotional wounds from the abrasively resistant, and celebrate for years the joyful believer expressing for the first time faith that they are forgiven!
It’s tough, but wonderful all at the same time.
In the late 70’s when I was a younger man considering my options in life, I saw a commercial about the Peace Corp.
I was immediately attracted by the agrarian lifestyle in service to my fellow human beings. But the more I thought about serving that way, I realized being a missionary would be a better way to serve God, which led me to consider becoming a Lutheran School Teacher, which finally helped me to see God’s will for my becoming a pastor, and that is, most likely, my final calling…GOD WILLING OF COURSE.
But I still remember that original Peace Corp commercial that started it all, and the tag line at the end portraying robust volunteers smiling as they worked in humble but beautiful natural settings alongside native peoples.
If you remember the slogan feel free to say it with me, “The Peace Corp, the toughest job you’ll ever love!”
That’s the ministry, full time church worker and lay volunteer alike; indeed it is the toughest job we’ll ever love.
Now that’s probably not what you’re gonna to see on a church sign, advertisement, or bumper sticker.
“Come join Faith Lutheran Church, where we work hard, and love it!”
“Faith Lutheran Church and School, the goals are unachievable, the expectations unreasonable, and the giving is without end!”
We seek to avoid leading with that lest we encourage everyone to avoid us at all costs before they ever darken our hallowed doors!
So we keep it light and simple; Family, Life, Christ, and Service.
Trust, Grow, Show.
Gathering Friends, Growing Disciples.
It’s loving, it’s inviting, and SOMETIMES EVEN TRUE!
Today Isaiah gives us just a little dose of reality, lest we lose our way and forget who God is, and in turn forget who we are!
Here God is AWESOME!
Foundation Shaking, Robes Filling, Sounds Booming, and Angels Frantically Flying and Heralding AWESOME!
I don’t care how tough you are, how brave you are, how utterly unintimidated you are by anything, if you ever have the opportunity to experience this type of vision, make sure you pack an extra pair of undergarments, cause your gonna need em’
This is our actual condition before the almighty God, whom holds the universe in His hand like grains of sand.
We can say just like Isaiah did, “Woe to me…I am finished…I am unclean…along with everyone with me!”
It’s just a little bit intimidating when we’re faced with the reality of the majesty of our LORD!
I liken it to the way kids often act when their favorite Disney Character leaps of the TV screen, and manifest themselves in person at Disney World.
Back in 1976, I was 7 years old and my brother was 4 for our first and only trip to Disney as kids.
We got to stay at the Tiki Lodge right on the lake, and enjoy swimming in the lake and playing on the beach.
While we were swimming one day, our favorite Disney Character Goofy came water skiing right up to us on the beach.
My brother was super cute at the time, so Goofy ran right up to him and scooped him up and swung him around secure in his arms.
No harm in his gathering my brother up, but Jay’s reaction suggested that Goofy was in fact a hound from hell as my brother let out a blood curdling scream that could be heard all over the lake.
To our little Jay Bird, as we referred to him, Goofy was great at a distance, but no so great up close!
As awesome as God is from a distance, I believe He would be as equally terrifying to us, up close, just like He was to Isaiah in today’s OT lesson.
That is why, in His infinite wisdom, He came in the person of Jesus, so we, his terrified little children, could adore Him, be comforted by him, and believe in Him.
Jesus came as the one we could TRUST, so we could GROW, and then He could SHOW us His Way.
Jesus came to GATHER US AS HIS FRIENDS AND MAKE US HIS DISCIPLES…
And Jesus brought us into His FAMILY, so we could have eternal LIFE, be in CHRIST, and SERVED by His body and blood.
For just as the Angel took the coal from the altar to cleans Isaiah’s unclean lips; Jesus Died on the Cross and rose from the dead to cleanse our unclean church, our unclean community, and our unclean souls.
And Jesus continues to serve us His body and blood so we will never forget it took His body and blood to cleanse our lips, every time His body and blood passes our lips for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith in Him.
When we think about how hard, intimidating, and scary God can be and just how endless, thankless, and overwhelming the work of the church can be, we can also think on Jesus.
Jesus who is the love and presence of God for us in the most difficult of times, Jesus who does the heavy lifting and sends His’ Holy Spirit to do the never ending work of the church.
Jesus, who calls us to share His message of forgiveness for everyone, because He recreated us to do this for Him.
So when He says, “Whom shall I send?” It’s easy for us to echo Isaiah’s words today:
“OF COURSE LORD…SEND ME!”