Who is your Isaiah? Sermon for Sunday, February 5


 

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. And as you know, there are all kinds of cards that you can buy for that special person in your life.

But sometimes, these cards can be a little too honest.  I would strongly advise you to not buy any of these cards even if the messages reflect your true feelings toward your loved one.

So for example, even if this card expresses your true sentiments do not under any circumstances give your loved one this Valentine’s Day card:

And definitely do not give your sweetie this card:

I don’t even want to think about what was going through this guy’s mind when he bought this card:

I don’t care how much this card reflects your true feelings, do not even think about buying this card:

Stay away from this card because it’s not going to go over very well:

And last, but not least, if this card expresses your true feelings about your relationship with your loved one, I’m here to tell you that you need to rethink what you’re doing.

Total honesty might not always be the way to go when buying a Valentine’s Day card, but it’s something that we need to always think about if we want to be the people that God has called us to be. There are times in our lives that we need someone who can lovingly point out areas of our lives that need re-examining.

All of us have blind spots that prevent us from seeing who we really are and who God wants us to become. Just like cars have blind spots that keep us from seeing another car passing by us in the other lane, we too, can be blocked from seeing our true selves.

I have a car that has one of those small blind spot mirrors as part of my side mirror to help me see cars in the other lane that I wouldn’t be able to see without it.  It’s designed to keep me from having to turn my head so that I can keep my eyes on the road. It took some time for me to learn to trust these little blind spot mirrors, but they are very helpful.

The Old Testament prophets, like the prophet Isaiah, served as blind spot mirrors for the people of Israel. Their role was to help God’s people see what they weren’t able to see with their own eyes, or more likely, what they refused to see with their own eyes.

Being a prophet was a very lonely life. They weren’t the type of people to invite to social events because people knew that they would be the Debbie Downers of the party. Nobody wants to be confronted about their unethical practices and behavior when they’re trying to mingle by the punch bowl. Pretty soon, prophets are shown the door and asked to never come back again.

Prophets specialize in truth-telling and they’re not the kind of people who back down easily. After all, they are the mouthpieces of God. They have been given a fresh word from God that will most likely not go over so well when they open their mouths. They know to not take rejection personally since they are just the messengers making a delivery.

Isaiah was one of those lonely prophets. In our Old Testament scripture reading, he tells the people of God something they probably already knew but didn’t want to hear. He tells them that they are rebellious and do not have the right attitude in how they are practicing their faith.

Serving as one of those blind spot mirrors, Isaiah calls it like it is. He says that they are just going through the motions in their worship of God and that is unacceptable.   They show up for worship every week, but their actions don’t match their words the rest of the week. They are what we would call Sunday Christians.

No wonder then, that today’s Gospel reading is from Matthew chapter 6 where Jesus gives specific instructions on the meaning of true faith. It’s not just about outward displays of being religious. Anybody can do that. True faith is when we live in such a way that points away from ourselves and toward God.

These kinds of comments got Jesus into trouble. Like Isaiah, Jesus also saw himself as a prophet, a spokesperson of God. His challenging words and teachings even contributed to him getting crucified on a cross. We don’t always like it when someone puts a mirror in front of us. It can be a painful experience.

I met with another pastor over lunch this past summer. He told me about someone in his congregation who was racist in some of the things he said. He said how he had tried to point out to him how his comments and actions regarding people of color were un-very un-Christlike and inappropriate, but he just wasn’t getting through to this man.

I said to my friend, “Maybe try a different approach. Have him read Flannery O’Connor.

Flannery O’Connor wrote several thought provoking short stories out of the Deep South during the early part of the twentieth century. Her story entitled, “Revelation” is about what one woman is given to see, a revelation of her true self through a teenage girl in a doctor’s office waiting room. Ruby Turbin, the main character in the story, is portrayed as a very judgmental white woman of the rural south.

Ruby and her husband Claud own a small farm with cotton, hogs, and soybeans, and a number of black workers. Ruby has taken Claud to the doctor’s office after a farm accident. Sitting there, she surveys the attributes of everyone in the waiting room.

As she silently watches the people in the waiting room, she secretly judges them and categorizes them in her mind.

As she scans the people in that doctor’s waiting room, Ruby thanks God that she is a good, hard-working, church-going woman, and not like what she refers to as the white trash, the lunatics, and people of color.

Somehow, one teenage white girl who is waiting with her mother and brother is able to see through Ruby’s false pretenses.  She is able to detect Ruby’s southern patronizing ways and can hear what she is thinking about each person in the waiting room.

The girl finally has enough of Ruby’s rude thoughts. She throws a book at her, physically attacks her and then calls her a “warthog from hell.”  The girl is subdued by the doctor and Ruby and Claude go home.

Like the prophet Isaiah did for the people of Israel, this girl had put a mirror in front of Ruby who was blinded by her own racist and judgmental attitudes. Sometimes the reflection in that mirror surprises us because we aren’t aware that this is who we really are.

That night, Ruby is restless and can’t sleep. All she can think about is what that girl said and did to her at the doctor’s waiting room. She begins to cry, but what at first seemed like remorse turns into anger as she wonders why this girl chose to attack her instead of someone else in that waiting room who in her mind deserved it way more than she did.

This internal questioning and restlessness was just the beginning of a transformation that was beginning to take place in Ruby’s life thanks to a divine revelation that she was about to experience.

The next day there on her farm, Ruby sees a purple streak in the sky. She notices a swinging bridge coming down out of heaven. And on that bridge were people going to heaven and they were all so happy.

The first people in line were the ones who Ruby had looked down upon all her life, people like the ones she had been judging in that doctor’s waiting room the previous day. And they were all heading to heaven together.

And at the end of the procession were good and respectable people like she and Claude, people she thought to be morally superior to anyone else. But she noticed that as they were heading up to heaven that even their virtues were being burned away. And as she watched this revelation of God’s grace being extended to all people, she could hear the crickets on her farm singing, “Hallelujah!”

And so I said to my friend. Have him read that story and if that doesn’t work, I don’t know what else to tell you.

Who is your Isaiah? Who are the people in your life who help you to see your blind spots? Who are the people who help you to experience a revelation that can bring transformation in your life?

Several years ago, I was part of a men’s share group that met every other week for breakfast, prayer, and support. They were a great group of guys and we developed a strong trust level in our group.

During one of our breakfast gatherings, one of the guys in the group said to me, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but last week, you said something during worship that seemed kind of hurtful toward someone in our church. I know you didn’t mean it that way, but I just wanted to point it out so you would be aware.

     I thought back to what I had said and I realized how people might have gotten the wrong impression. I could have said what I said in a different way.

I’m so thankful for this friend who was willing to be my Isaiah in that moment. He helped me to see one of my blind spots. This was the kind of group where we could be Isaiahs for each other. We had a high trust level where we wanted the best for each person in the group.

When Isaiah spoke to the people of Israel, he wanted them to be the people that God had created them to be. He wanted them to not only worship the Lord with their lips, but to also live out their faith in the ways they relate to others.

We too, don’t always live out our faith and we fall short of who God has called us to be. Our blind spots prevent us from practicing what we preach.

But then an Isaiah comes along. A book hits us on the head. The blind spots are removed, and we come face to face with the painful truth of who we really are.

Yes, we are all sinners. But we also discover a God of grace, a God who offers us love and forgiveness, the same love that is offered to everyone else, even those we think deserve it the least.

And when our blind spot is finally removed, and if we listen carefully enough, if we really, really listen, somewhere off in the distance, we too, can hear the crickets singing, “Hallelujah!”

Scroll to the bottom of this page for small group questions.