Touched by Grace
“Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see!”
We all love that old hymn, don’t we? God‘s grace is truly amazing! We’ve experienced it! We’re blessed by God’s grace...
But most of the time when we think of grace (the amazing grace of God), our mind - shifts directly to Jesus… and the New Testament. As it should! Without the grace of God displayed in Christ, we would truly be hopeless. And we’ll get to that in a minute... you’ll never hear me under-playing the importance of the Grace of Jesus.
But the truth is... God‘s grace is evident in other places within the Bible as well. In fact, God’s Word is filled with messages, images, examples of God‘s grace. We see it in Noah, and Moses, and Abraham and Isaac... in Jeremiah, and Isaiah. Our scripture for today is a perfect example!
Isaiah experienced a vision from God, in the year that king Uzziah died. And that sounds innocent enough… but it also tells us something vitally important. Uzziah had been the king of Judah for over 40 years. His time on the throne was marked by peace and prosperity. But his death ushered in a time of anxiety, and unease: after all… What would happen now that Uzziah was dead? The people (the nation) felt vulnerable. The future was unsure. Until someone new, a new leader, a new king demonstrated an ability to lead… the Future would remain uncertain.
So, in an act of grace… God appeared to Isaiah in a vision. God’s presence was a reassurance. The earthy king was dead, but God, the heavenly king, was alive and well, and on the throne! And for the nation of Judah, and for Isaiah… the assurance that God was still on the throne, was an act of grace. It was exactly what was needed.
Of course, there’s no getting around it: it’s amazing that God would reveal Himself to an ordinary person. But then, the Bible is filled with references to God doing just that! God coming to those who didn’t truly deserve his presence… God reassuring those who were less than perfect… Less than faithful: sinners. It’s certainly what God did in Christ, when he sent Jesus to save the likes of you and me. When God came in the flesh, as Emmanuel, as Christ… It was nothing short of amazing. God in all of his holiness would come to be one of us, bringing us his love mercy and grace.
But in the midst of Isaiah‘s response to God‘s vision, was another act of grace. Because as Isaiah experienced this vision, and tried to comprehend this miraculous picture of God‘s glory he was witnessing, suddenly he realized who he was. He was a sinful man! He lived with doubt and despair and faithlessness. It was a moment of clarity and conviction!
Isaiah (by his own admission) was a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips! He was keenly aware of the fact that he did not deserve God’s grace.
But the amazing grace of God reaches beyond our faults, our sins, and failures!
So God sent an angel… an angel of mercy… to bring forgiveness to Isaiah. Since his lips were unclean, the angel took a coal from the altar, and purified Isaiah‘s lips. God removed Isaiah’s unfaithfulness by removing his primary excuse! God made Isaiah worthy. Worthy to carry his grace to those who needed it most!
I know we’ve all heard the story before: but it certainly bears repeating… “Amazing Grace” - the hymn - was written by man named John Newton. Newton was the captain of a slave ship. Of course, crossing the ocean was the worst part of the slave trade, from the captains point of view. It was treacherous for the crew, and brutal on the slaves.
As you all know, the ships were literally carrying human cargo. The captives were packed and as closely as possible... many died, their bodies thrown overboard. The shipping company considered such deaths acceptable losses.
But when John Newton realized his sin, as a participant in slave trade, he saw himself as he really was. He was a man with the blood of thousands on his hands. It was a moment of clarity and conviction. And, much like Isaiah, he realized he lived among a people were unclean... blood stains on their hands. But in that moment of clarity and conviction… Newton also realized that God‘s grace in Christ was so liberating, so freeing… that it could even save a sinner as vile as he. So he pinned the words, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.“
Of course, for both Newton and Isaiah… God’s grace doesn’t end with forgiveness. God is completely aware that other people need to know if his love and kindness, too. So he chooses people… people a lot like you, and me. People who are flawed… people who are less than faithful (at least some of the time). God chooses people with unclean lips to share his faithfulness, his offer of salvation in Christ… His grace.
After Isaiah‘s lips had been cleansed… God said, “whom shall I send and who will go for us?” And without hesitation… Isaiah said, “here I am, send me!” That’s what God did... it’s all God really wanted... a willing life.
700 years later God was still doing the same thing! God‘s people were once again forgetful. They’d forgotten God’s steadfast love, his faithfulness. So he sent Christ, to restore and redeem God’s people.
Jesus called common people… Fisherman and the like… to help him spread the word. He called people like James and John and Peter… Imperfect people, sons of thunder, with short fuses… Fiery tempers (I can’t help but imagine they had unclean lips!). God made them worthy, He chose such people... not because they were perfect, or because they had everything figured out, or because they were the most religious, or faithful.
He called them because in his grace, he could see their hearts. And He was aware, in his perfect foreknowledge, that their story of imperfection, touched by grace, would be far more effective in reaching those who needed grace... the most. The hopeless, the lost, the oppressed, the overlooked. You and me.
If only everyone could know what we know! If they could experience the grace of Christ that we have experienced! If they only knew of God’s loving kindness! They would surely hear Jesus calling, “come follow me!“
“Who me?” - “you couldn’t possibly have meant me… I’m not worthy! Surely you’re calling someone better than me! Someone smarter... someone more experienced... someone with better people skills... someone with cleaner lips!”
And God says, “No… I’m calling you. You have been forgiven. Your excuses are removed. You are worthy. You have a story to tell… A story of grace.”
The only adequate and acceptable response to such grace... “Here I am, send me!” Amen.