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Come Follow Me
Isaiah 6:1-6, John 3: 1-17

Brad Hall

We don't know a lot about the person of Isaiah, but we do know that, around 742 B.C. (the year King Uzziah died), he was in the temple, and the occasion may have been for one of the Big Annual Feasts that the people had to celebrate their covenant with God.

The people gathered here to celebrate the fact that their covenant with God had remained steadfast and unchanged for generations. It was this steadfastness and permanence that was the basis for the faith of most people. It was something they could count on. It was traditional. It was tradition itself. Some sources tell us Isaiah may have been a priest. If so, he was no doubt in the thick of tradition, and in a great deal of control over what went on around him.

Tradition has a way of exerting its own kind of control, especially among us Southerners. I taught rock climbing at a girls' camp where they had a big Powow every Sunday night, and one of the Big Traditions was that NEVER, EVER did you walk between the chief's seat and the ceremonial fire, which would ignite by itself when everybody started chanting the name of the camp: YONALOSSEE, YONALOSSEE, etc. And the reason for this tradition was that there was an aluminum pipe which carried butane from a tank out back of the chief's seat to the fire, and if you walked on it, it would break.

So traditions can take on a controlling power all their own, but Isaiah was about to see where the tradition ended and the real God began. The foundations of the temple shook, these big scary big Seraphim things appeared, and he saw all this and he realized how great God was, and how small he was, and he said the only thing he could say: WOE IS ME! Everything I've done is not enough! Everything I CAN EVER do WILL NEVER BE enough! I live in an unclean nation, among unclean people, and I am just as unclean as anybody! His entire world, everything he had come to expect for himself, was out of control. And it was only in this time of utter lostness, utter despair, horror and fear and total loss of control that God tended to Isaiah. And even THAT was scary.

One of these big Seraph things grabs a hot coal and touches it to Isaiah's mouth. Then and only then does he hear that his guilt is taken away; that he is forgiven. You'd think after that he'd get to rest a while.

You’d think that, after all he had been through, God would let him have a little rest and then just sort of ease him into the prophet business. But no, at that very minute God sends him out to be a prophet. To be a prophet means to be steered in directions you might not want to go with a message you might just as soon keep quiet about, and at TIMES when you had other plans, but God will not allow it.

Our gospel tells us of Nicodemus, a Pharisee, and one of the most devoutly religious people in the community. That's what being a Pharisee MEANT. Nicodemus wants to stick to his old ways of seeing and thinking, and what Jesus tells him sounds ludicrous. He says, what do you mean, "Be born anew? Don't be stupid. You can't be born twice. What am I gonna do, go back into the womb? Don't be ridiculous."

Nicodemus wanted to stick to tradition, and who can blame him? There's nothing safer than tradition, especially when you are in control of it. Everybody knows it and trusts it. When you're following a tradition, you don't even have to give a REASON for what you're doing. As long as you say, "It's traditional," people will generally figure that's good enough.

And sad to say, for too many people, when they say TRADITION, what they really mean is RELIGION. And vice-versa. It was true for the people in our readings, and its true for us.

I'm sure Isaiah and the people surrounding him were going about their business with religious zeal. We KNOW Nicodemus was devoutly religious, and Paul's letter was to the people of Rome, whose church had grown in the face of adversity.

But in each one of these cases, something comes along and makes them realize that, when you accepted God in Christ, you surrendered your power to control your own destiny, you gave up your rights to everything that has ever made you comfortable in the past.

Now we say, wait a minute. I don’t remember signing any contract like that. Oh sure I remember joining the church and everything, but I sure don’t remember giving up anything, or promising anything other than trying to be good and showing up for church every now and then. Where does all this surrendering and sacrificing come in?

Well, maybe we just didn’t read the fine print, but it’s all part of that procedure we call being BORN AGAIN. Whether we realize it or not, when we come before God, promising our loyalty and hoping for everlasting life, what we are really doing is shouting "WOE IS ME!" and throwing ourselves upon God's mercy.

And then we think, whew, now that we’ve given God all that honor and glory, and now that we’ve debased ourselves and embarassed ourselves by admitting that we’re NOT the masters of our own destiny, God’s going to leave us alone and let us coast through the rest of our lives.

Wrong. Just because you're born again, that doesn’t mean you can start rebuilding all the same old stuff that made you comfortable before. That was the stuff that made you need to get born again in the first place. And so, when something happens to challenge those traditions we have based our lives upon, we always hear a voice in us that says, "Why did God let this happen? I thought God was going to take care of us."

God is taking care of us, but God prefers to take care of us through our faith, not our religion. Isiaah may not have wanted to go out and be a prophet. God said, tough, go and be a prophet anyway. Nicodemus didn’t believe that a grown man could be born again.

Jesus said tough, that’s the way it’s done. Take it or leave it. We may not want to serve a bunch of people who aren’t as good as we are. God says tough, go serve them anyway.

So what’s in it for us? Where’s the reward for all this sacrificing and suffering and stepping and fetching that God wants us to do? We already got it: The promise of eternal life. Somehow, someway, over the pain and over the uncertainty, we hear the voice of the Risen Christ saying, "Come follow me." And we see the scars and know the pain of his suffering, yet we follow anyway, not because it's easy or safe, but because, having heard the call to eternal life, it is the only way we can go. The way is open to us, the path is clear, and the way to eternal life beckons. "How can these things be?" God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. Thanks be to God.