Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Times--They are a Changin'...

photo by Katrina J Houdek / flick 

The church like most of society is going through massive change. Phyllis Tickle who has 
written a lot about church has said that about every 500 years the church has a garage sale. 
And we take all kinds of stuff that is not working and things that we have been storing 
back in closets and attics for years and get rid of them. The scary part is deciding what to 
keep and what is not longer useful.We have to make sure we don’t throw away something
that we ought to keep. My 52 year old daughter is still saying: “What did you all do with 
my Barbie camper?”

Isaiah gives us a clue about what we ought to keep if we are to have a living faith. And in 
our Scripture I have discovered that he has left us with four words. And that’s what I want 
us to talk about today.

We can’t throw out the word: experience.  Robert Frost used to say that real poetry
begins with a lump in your throat. And this is true of worship. One Sunday something tugged 
at your heart and you walked down an aisle and said you wanted to love Jesus. The old 
gospel song says it well: “Happy Day…Happy Day when Jesus washed my sins away.” It 
starts with the heart. 

Our Scripture today is about an experience that Isaiah had. His country was having a terrible time. The King had died. The people were afraid of the future. He wrote “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord…” It was a time of desperation. It could well read—“the year in which I lost my job,” or “when I miscarried for the third time,” or “when I filed for divorce,” or “when I found this lump,” or “when the twin towers fell,” or “when I said goodbye for the last time to somebody I didn’t think I could stand to lose.” In that hard, trying year—Isaiah writes: “I saw the Lord.” I saw the Lord.  

We all need the same thing. To see something bigger and better than we are. Something that can give us hope and help us with what whatever baggage we keep dragging around week after week, year after year. It’s like John Wesley said of his conversion experience, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” Authentic worship shows us a vision of something larger. “I saw the Lord.”  To see the Lord means to is to be moved beyond ourselves. In this Isaiah passage there is mystery and holiness and divinity and there are cherubim and seraphim. And there is smoke and there are voices and a real meeting occurs.
Interestingly the focus is on God. It’s not a pep rally for the Republicans or the Democrats. It’s not even a twelve-step program. And it isn’t a rally for anybody’s special cause—even the preacher’s. We are talking about something larger. Something we can’t find anywhere else but in church.

photo by Moyan Breen / flickr
Several years ago there a movie that came out that I keep remembering. Danny Glover played the part of a man who lived on the other side of the tracks where all the houses were broken down and drug dealers did this work. He didn’t have a good job--just barely enough to eke by on.  He had a lot of problems. And about once a year he said he would take off and drive out to the Grand Canyon. And he would get out and just sit there looking, looking at the colors and the vista and the wonder and the greatness of it all. And he would come back ready to do whatever he had to do. And he told a friend, “Once in a whole you just need to go and see something that is a whole lot larger than you are.” 

And this is what happened to Isaiah that day in the Temple. He saw something so big and so monumental and so moving that he was never quite the same. And worship ought to do that for you and me. Maybe not every Sunday but once in a while. It really is something experienced.

The second word that we can’t put out in the garage sale is the word, taught. So now we come to that heavy, ponderous word we call theology. A woman asked a man one day working in construction. “What are you doing?” The man said: “I’m carrying bricks—what do you think I’m doing?” She asked another worker what he was doing. He said, “I’m making a measly ten dollars an hour.” And she asked somebody else and he said, “I’m building a cathedral.” Now that’s theology.
What are we doing in this place? What are we doing? Are we just taking up money and paying bills and keeping the program greased and meeting some sunup to sundown. What are we doing? Are we just filling up an hour and hope we get to the restaurant on time? The church I used to serve in Memphis started a contemporary service early on Sunday. And one of my wife’s friends said: “Oh, I just love that early service—it’s great to get it over with.” The challenge is for all of us to come together and as Mother Theresa used to say, do something beautiful for God. That’s what we are about. 
It really is something taught that stays with you all your life. I thought back to my own growing up in that little cotton-mill village church in Columbus,Georgia. I remember the names of my teachers. Miss Ruby and Bessie Granberry and Mrs. Clark and Mr. Jones and Hoyt White. I don’t know if they ever knew how very, very important they were to shaping my life and many others. I don’t think but one of them had a college education. But the gifts they gave me in those classes and hauling me and many others to summer encampments and Sword Drills and taking us on hayrides and BTU and a multitude of other occasions, they helped shape my life. I don’t know if I would be standing here today if it were not for them and what they did. I still remember some of the things they taught me: “The Lord is my Shepherd…” “God so loved the world.” “Jesus wept…” “Nothing can separate us from the love of God.” A great church is a church where something is taught that you never, ever forget.
photo by Kevin Vertucio / flickr
When we have this garage sale we have to remember we have to keep this word done. Something done? What does that mean. It means we have to talk in church about ethics—do’s and don’ts. Once a little boy was talking about his family and he told his teacher, “There are ten kids in our family and one bathroom. You got to have rules!” We have to have do’s and don’ts. We have lost a lot of credibility because we really haven’t followed the rules we know. Love one another. Turn the other cheek. Let the grudge go. We forgive our enemies. If we do not treat each other differently here in the church than all the other organizations out there—why are we here? The old book says our lives show our faith or our lack of faith. 
We were all moved by those last phone calls that people on those planes and in those offices made on September 11. What did they say? What was their last will and testament? They talked about their children. They told their wives and husbands that they loved them. Give Mama a kiss. They didn’t talk about sex or money or success or being popular. No. They boiled it all down to a relational word. They knew there at the end what mattered.
So the Spirit came to Isaiah, “Who is going to go? Who is going to go? What are you going to do?” And Isaiah must have sighed and finally said: “I guess I’ll go. I’ll go.” And I don’t know what God has to say to you and to me here in this time together. But I do know this. It will mean that we will not just talk about doing things—but we will do them in the name of Jesus. Teach a class. Sing in the choir. Revise your pledge. Ask God to help you forgive somebody that has hurt you. Quit nursing some old wound. Help somebody. Isaiah said: “Send me…Lord…send me.” It really is ethics. It is what we do. That’s what our kids watch. That’s what the people at the office watch. It is what we do.
photo by Malenga / flickr
By now we’ve put a whole lot of stuff in boxes and black garbage bags. We can’t keep all that stuff. But one word we can’t get rid of is the word: share. I never will forget that night, October 9th, fifty-something years ago. I came home real late from the hospital and called up friend after friend. And do you know what I said? “Guess what? I’ve got a girl! She’s redheaded. She’s got ears like mine—unfortunately. Her name is Leslie! Prettiest baby in the whole world.” It was late at night, I called people up and got them out of bed. I had to tell somebody. I could not keep quiet. For it was news that was so good that I just could not keep it inside without just splitting apart. 
And I think the church has a story to tell that is good and real and right and true. This is missions and this is evangelism. One day some little boy and girl fifty years old from now living a long way off will remember a time when they had little money and some Sunday School class at some church in Pendleton helped them at Christmas. Or somebody who lost almost everything and everyone they loved in Indonesia remembered that in the hardest time in their life somebody from America—a Christian had responded.

We all can’t do the same thing, but we can all do something. We have to share what we have one way or another. Isaiah, in a time of exile when everything was destroyed—looking very much like Iraq must look today. He took his pen and began to write and helped a people through a hard time. 

We still fall back on those words after all these years:

Come now, let us reason together, say the Lord, though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” “The Lord will create a cloud by day and a flaming fire at night. It will be for a shade by day from the heat, and for a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain.” “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light...on them has light shined.” “For unto us is born, unto us a son is given... “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.” And we have only gotten to the twelfth chapter. He took that vision in the temple out where the people were and it made a difference.  And some of us here know that all too well. For we have hung on to those precious promises like a life raft at different times in our lives. Some things do not go out of date. It is always something shared.
photo by Marco Catini / flickr
Tom Gillespie was President of Princeton Seminary and he told a wonderful story a couple of years ago that I just love. David Hubbard who was at that time President of Fuller Seminary was given a tee shirt one day by Tom Landry who was then coach of the Dallas Cowboys. It was a big shirt and across the front in large letters was: “Dallas Cowboys.” The next day Dr. Hubbard and one of Tom Landry’s scouts went out to play around of golf. Dr. Hubbard wore the big tee shirt. The caddy looked at Dr. Hubbard who was not exactly a young man, and the caddy said: “You play for the Dallas Cowboys?” Dr. Hubbard laughed and shook his head and said, “No, I don’t play for the Cowboys.” The caddy said, “I would give anything in the world if I could play for the Dallas Cowboys.” Dr. Hubbard said, “Why don’t you talk to this man here. He’s one of the scouts.” So they talked about what was involved all the time they were playing the game. When they came to the end, Dr. Hubbard turned to the scout and said, “I think I’m going to give him my tee-shirt but it looks awful big.” Extra-extra large. So he turned to the caddy and said, “You know, I would give you my tee-shirt but I don’t think it would fit. It’s too big.” The caddy said, “Mister, give it to me. I’ll wear it till it fits.” I just love that story. It’s more than football.

Pendleton we need a garage sale. But we can’t throw the baby out with the bath water. For when we come here we know there must be four words that we keep and treasure and follow Faith is something experienced. Faith is something believed. Faith is something done. Faith is something shared.And we wear the words week after week…we wear them until they fit. And that’s what you call a real church.

photo by Gitte Gorzelak / flickr

(This sermon was preach at the First Baptist Church, Pendleton, SC where I serve as Interim Pastor.)

--Roger Lovette /


  1. Thank you, Roger, for the article. For something that has been tucked away in the back of the closet for numerous decades, if not a couple centuries, please visit the website for the book series dedicated to Francis Asbury. The trilogy entitled, The Asbury Triptych Series, opens with the book, Black Country, detailing Asbury's early years in England, under the influence of John Wesley, Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield. Enjoy the numerous articles, videos, podcasts, and pictures on the website,

    1. Thanks Freeborn--I appreciate you reading and your suggestions. I'll take them to heart. Keep on reading everything! Roger

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