This past weekend I watched people shout at each other on the internet following another school shooting. And then I watched nearly all of those same people swoon over the sermon of a black preacher given during a wedding in a British cathedral. And then I stood in a church on Sunday and I sang songs about God’s Holy Spirit who gives people world-changing power.
And now I’m experiencing one of those days where I wonder if I’m missing something. I’m wondering if there was another event over the weekend that I didn’t hear about that changed things. Because I was right there cheering alongside everyone else when that black preacher preached, and I know I wasn’t alone while singing those songs about the world-changing Spirit. So how can so many people hear that preacher and sing those songs and then during the very same weekend shout back and forth while kids are being shot? And what’s more, how come today feels just like every other day?
It’s like nobody actually heard the sermon about love or sang the songs of Pentecost.
This coming Sunday churches all over the world are scheduled to read a passage of Scripture out of the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah.
The prophet has a vision of God.
He sees the Almighty sitting on His throne in Heaven. Isaiah is terrified because he knows that he is an imperfect person looking Divine Perfection square in the face. That would shake anyone up. He says that he has “unclean lips” and he lives among people who are the same way.
But then an angel comes and brands his mouth with a white-hot coal pulled from the altar in the Heavenly Temple and declares Isaiah forgiven of all his sins. All of his imperfections have been burned away.
The voice of God then asks if there is anyone who can be sent out on a mission. Isaiah volunteers.
So God tells him to go to the people who claim to worship God and to preach to them. God wants Isaiah to say,
“Listen hard, but you aren’t going to get it;
look hard, but you won’t catch on.”
Isaiah is supposed to preach to all the people, begging them to see things clearly, but then in the same breath to flat out tell them that they aren’t going to get it. They aren’t going to understand.
Isaiah, understandably a little confused, asks how long he is supposed to do this? God’s answer is until every single one of those people is scattered. Until they are all brought down like a forest that has been clear-cut.
Something I’ve learned in addiction recovery is that no one can get well until they have hit the lowest of lows. Step 1 of the 12-steps is to admit that I’m powerless over my addiction.
Rock-bottom is an unfortunate but necessary prerequisite to renewal.
God tells Isaiah to preach the truth, even when the truth is that you’re gonna have to die before you ever start to live.
God tells Isaiah that the people are going to be brought down to nothing like a tree cut down to a stump. But then God says that stump is actually a holy seed. Something new—something better—is going to grow out of that beat-up stump.
On days like today, when I wonder if anyone actually gets it (myself included), I read the words of the prophet and I have hope.
Maybe we don’t get it. Maybe we won’t get it. Not until we reach the breaking point. Not until we are scattered, isolated, and fractured with nowhere to go.
Maybe it’s when all of our mighty efforts to do what we think is necessary and right crumble down around us will things finally click. I don’t really want everyone to have to experience being knocked down to a stump, but if that’s where the holy seed is found then it’s well worth it. I know that’s how its been for me.
Maybe we all just need to get cut down to size, to have our fear and self-righteous pity burned out of us by the white-hot coals of forgiveness.
Maybe then when we hear a black preacher preach about the world-changing power of love we might just understand, and today may just start to feel a little bit different than yesterday.