Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Five Minute Sermon on Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

Here's a project I did here at Luther Seminary this week: a sermon for my preaching class on Isaiah 1.
Eric Lemonholm, June 12, 2009

Isaiah has a vision – or, rather, he sees a vision.
The vision is not his own.
It’s a vision from God.
He’s possessed by it.
His life is not his own.
It would have been so much easier if Isaiah had not seen his nation through God’s eyes.
But once he did,
once that vision possessed him,
once the live coal touched his lips,
once he responded to God, “Here am I; send me!”
how could he keep from speaking the word?
How could Isaiah not testify to the peril that Judah was blindly approaching?
They were about to do a liturgical dance off a cliff; how could he not warn them?

If you’ve ever been to a Lutheran Synod Assembly, you may have noticed that we Lutherans can’t seem to worship together without including every possible liturgical dialogue and prayer and hymn in the service.

We need a pipe organ, we need robes. We need our Lamb of God’s and our Holy Holy Holy’s.
The Lord knows it’s not real worship without a little Gregorian chant.

For those of us who are not big into the minutiae of practically perfect worship, this passage may tempt us to gloat.

Look – even God is getting bored of all our callings of convocation.
Our solemn assemblies are burdensome even to God.

I know a young pastor who said to me earlier this year, “I’m tired of planning events that I wouldn’t attend if I didn’t have to.”
How often is our worship like that?
Would you attend your church if you weren’t the pastor?

But of course, this is not what Isaiah is talking about.
Maybe we are boring God with our uncreative, spiritless, monotone worship
– but that’s a sermon for another text.

Isaiah’s talking about blood.
Blood on our hands.
We’re like Lady Macbeth, but we don’t even know it.

If God’s eyes are closed to our worship,
if God’s ears are closed to our prayers,
it’s because of the blood on our hands,
blood we don’t even see.

Wake up, people!
Open your eyes!
Is the message of the prophets dead?
Does it no longer apply?

If Isaiah did this in 8th century BC Judah, then how are we to do what he did in America in 2009?
And if we are not doing it, then what in the world are we doing?

Take a look sometime at how much of the Bible is devoted to the Hebrew prophets.
How much of our preaching is centered on their message?

Here the word of the Lord:

16Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil, 17learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

This isn’t just one of seven verses in the Bible that deal with how we treat the poor. It’s one of over 3,000.
Are you following the Torah, God’s teaching?
The easiest way to find out is to ask how you treat the poor, the oppressed, the alien, the orphan, the widow, the imprisoned.
People on the edge.
People at risk.

Are they just collateral damage of our shock and awe existence?
During the good times, we cut taxes for the rich.
During the bad times, we cut help for the poor.
When we kill people, or let them die, corporately, as a society, it just doesn’t seem so bad as if we were doing it on our own.
But what’s the difference?

When Luke Skywalker confronted the dark side, he saw his own face.
We are the dark side of our society and world.
We are bin Laden.
We are terrorism.
We are extraordinary rendition.
We are torture, of which the majority of American Christians approve.
We are children working in sweatshops and dying in factories and mines.
We are global warming and the killing of our world.
We are the oppression in oil rich countries fueled by our demand.
We are whatever damage was done to people, animals, and the world for the sake of our consumption, convenience, and security.
As much as we try to separate ourselves from the truth of our corporate and individual actions, the blood is on our hands.
Can you see it? Will you help your people see it?


I tell you, a ‘salad’ or ‘French’ ending to this sermon is a temptation.
‘Let us’ do justice.
‘May we’ practice righteousness.
We’ve just heard the Law: Now let us and may we follow it! Amen!

But, we haven’t yet heard the Gospel, the good news.
We are the defendants.
God the Prosecutor has just made a damning case against us.
Suddenly God the Judge stands up, and says,

Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord:

At this point, I expect God to heap more evidence on us.
But instead, we hear this:

though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow;
though they are
red like crimson, they shall become like wool.

God has become our Advocate, our Defender.
We can’t wash the blood off our hands.
The stains run too deep.
There will always be more.

But we do have an Advocate, in whom, by whom, and through whom our sins are washed away, forgiven.
We are given a clean slate.
Our God wants us to “eat the good of the land.”
Our God wants us to flourish, and has given us instruction, Torah, to help us flourish.
Are you “willing and obedient”?
Will you
cease to do evil, learn to do good;
seek justice, rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

Will you help your people see ourselves as God sees us, and live as God wants us to live?
Will you teach both Law and Gospel?
Will you help them see that the Law is indeed “sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb”? (Psalm 19)
Will you show them how, as a forgiven people of God, to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God? (Micah 6:8)

It’s time to pray. God of Torah, God of Evangel, let the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts, go forth and spread your vision of justice and righteousness, for the flourishing of all your creatures. Amen.


  1. Anonymous12:41 PM

    Eric: Nice to meet you at the wedding.

    Jon-Scott Johnson

  2. Anonymous2:40 PM

    I found this sermon through a link from the United Methodist worship website. Good sermon. I am 3/4 of the way through my sermon on this same text.
    Grace and peace,
    Karl Watkins

  3. Thank you, Karl! That is an honor. Grace and Peace to you, too!

  4. Anonymous6:16 PM

    I used this in a bibliography I needed to do for my first level Theology class at a Jesuit University in Pennsylvania. I properly cited this to give you credit for it and it was really useful to me, thank you for your terrific insight on this text!


  5. Thank you, Andrew! Blessings on your education.