Worship: A God-given Pathway to Experiencing More of God, Part II

I find myself touched by three biblical pictures of worship. One is a one on one experience with God and the others are huge congregational experiences. Both are opportunities to join in a visionary experience that can become quite powerful in the here and now.

One of the things that fascinates me about the Isaiah 6 one on one experience is how the roles of audience and on-stage-actor moves back and forth. One of my favorite philosophers is Soren Kierkegaard who long ago warned us believers that when we gather in church to worship we should not think of ourselves as the audience, but rather know that we are on-stage and God is the audience. That challenge has been very important in my life. However, in Isaiah 6 the picture of worship is a bit more dynamic—the roles keep moving back and forth.

1In 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. 2Seraphs 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. 3And one called to another and said:

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

4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

5And 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!”

6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The 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.” 8Then 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!”

Let’s note the dynamic:

ISAIAH as ACTOR – GOD AS AUDIENCE: Isaiah comes to worship God in the temple at Jerusalem. He is probably somewhat depressed since one of the better kings has just passed; nevertheless, the prophet shows up at the temple to worship. It is probably a congregational worship time, but perhaps not. For sure, the experience is personal and one on one.

GOD AS ACTOR – ISAIAH as AUDIENCE: God gives Isaiah one of those rare experiences that we all think we want more of. Isaiah sees a vision of God enthroned and worshipped by the keepers of creation. And, the temple itself can hardly stand the powerful display of God’s presence and it shakes and trembles.

ISAIAH as ACTOR – GOD AS AUDIENCE: Perhaps we are out of touch with reality enough that we think this would be neat. Be Isaiah’s reaction would likely be the first reaction of any sane human being. “I can’t handle this!” If the foundations of the temple cannot handle this overwhelming presence of God, why would I think that I can? As God told Moses many years earlier when Moses thought he could handle God’s presence head on—you would die! Our neural systems would just fry if God came fully head on into our presence. Isaiah as actor immediately does what all of us humans need to do—confess that we humans are inadequate to handle the very gift we were made for—one on one with God. This is not a confession of a man who had a low view of himself. Isaiah fearlessly confronted Kings and spoke for God without hesitation even when the empowered did not want to see him coming. This is the confession of someone who sees the gap between God’s goodness and ours.

GOD AS ACTOR – ISAIAH as AUDIENCE:

God again steps from the role of audience to the role of actor.  1st – God acknowledges the truth of Isaiah’s confession that we humans are sinners who fall far short of the image of God for which we are created. And, God says, but I can handle that—your guilt is blotted out by my grace and power.  2nd – God says, but I have a need that leads to a question. “Who will go for me?” This reminds me so much of Jesus walking the beach with Peter and forcing Peter to acknowledge his failure while immediately telling Peter that he will be entrusted with being Jesus’ spokesperson to Jesus’ community of faith.

ISAIAH as ACTOR – GOD AS AUDIENCE:

Isaiah’s next response: And I said, “Here am I; send me!” I so much wish the vision had ended here! It feels heroic and clean and so optimistic.

GOD AS ACTOR – ISAIAH as AUDIENCE:

It is so difficult to face the reality that the Biblical God is such a realist. He tells Isaiah to go speak to God’s community, but to be warned ahead of time that many will not listen to him even though he comes straight out of an audience with God.

ISAIAH as ACTOR – GOD AS AUDIENCE:

Isaiah responds with incredible faithfulness. He is willing to go in spite of this warning. Nonetheless, he wants to know what the most courageous of us would also want to know. “How long?”

GOD AS ACTOR – ISAIAH as AUDIENCE:

God’s next response is one of those God-responses that are so realistic that none of us ever really want to hear them: God says that the story never ends until God decides to end it—whenever.

WORSHIP – leads us to join a wonderful, but hard story. You are invited to join God’s great master story and to be God’s story in our time.

We will look at some of the other great biblical pictures of worship in the coming blogs.

 

 

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