SIGNS OF THE TIMES
I was listening to the news the other day which reported on a recent study that indicated that the average consumer debt in Canada is now approximately $27,000. Basically, that represents the average debt load of the average Canadian adult for credit cards, lines of credit and car loans. Incidentally, it does not include mortgages which make roughly three-quarters of personal debt.
What does that tell us? It tells us that the average couple in Canada is funding $54,000 of consumer debt and that the average mortgage for the same couple adds up to an additional $193,000. That’s a total of almost $247,000. That’s an average.
Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz is a very astute man. He says that this is not a good sign. He has warned Canadians that it is time to curb their spending habits because record low interest rates are not going to last forever. And he is right.
Think about it. Right now we are in a rising interest rate environment. We’ve already had one interest rate hike this year and we may get another one. Think about this. If interest rates rise even 1% which is a reasonable expectation over the next year or so, that will hit consumers very hard. Consider this: every single percentage increase in interest rates will cost the average Canadian family almost $2,500 per year. That can be a big hit especially if families are living close to the line.
Growing debt. It’s a bad sign. It’s a sign that many Canadians are living beyond their means and it’s a bad sign that a lot of them could be in very big trouble very shortly. If that includes you, maybe it’s time to do something about it. What can you do? You can make the simple decision to make sure that your expenses are less than your income. I realize that’s a principle that our governments sometimes have trouble with but I think all of you are smart enough to figure it out before the signs of the times catch up with you.
SEEING THE SIGNS
Signs are all around us about all kinds of things. And I’m not talking about road side billboards that try to tell you where you can find the cheapest gas or the best pizza. What I mean by signs are omens or predictors of what may happen. Like clouds in the sky for example. You see clouds and you think it might rain. As the clouds get darker the likelihood of rain increases. As it starts to get colder in the fall and the leaves start to turn colour and fall off the trees, you think that maybe the rain will turn to snow. These signs are all predictors of what may happen in the near future.
Jesus understands this concept. In Mark 13:28 (NIV) he says, “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.” Signs of spring. Signs of summer. You understand those things. You know that the Canada Geese flying south is a sign of autumn. You know that tulips blooming are a sign of spring. And you should know that a zero balance in your chequing account is a sign that you need to stop spending money regardless of how much of a credit limit you have on your overdraft.
Jesus understands the meaning of the leaves on the fig tree. So does everyone else. He then turns this same principle into a lesson on spiritual signs. In Mark 13:29-31 (NIV) it says, “Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”
What is he talking about? He is talking about spiritual signs of the coming age. What are spiritual signs? They are the same as any other signs. They are indicators that something is about to happen.
THE NEED FOR FORGIVENESS
I want now to turn to a particular sign. I wasn’t here last week but I understand that John Cats spoke on the topic of forgiveness. I’m actually going to continue with that topic today and add a question that I want to share with you: what are the signs that someone is forgiven? What are the signs that you know that you are forgiven? Those signs are pretty important because all of us, from time to time, need to be forgiven. You might seek forgiveness. You might need to be forgiven. You might even ask for forgiveness. But how do you know when you have actually been forgiven?
Interestingly, the Bible contains a few of these signs as well. The passage that we read from Isaiah this morning is one of them. In that reading, Isaiah has a vision. In that vision he finds himself in the throne room of God. This is how he describes what he sees in Isaiah 6:1-4 (NIV): “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.”
Don’t you just love the Old Testament images? There is Isaiah in the throne room of God. Around him are flaming six winged creatures called seraphim which are actually a type of angel. They praise God and at the sound of their voices, the doors shake and the temple is filled with smoke. This is the stuff of Hollywood special effects except that it’s way better because it’s of God.
Isaiah responds to this with sheer horror and who can blame him. Wouldn’t you? This was less a vision and more like a nightmare! Listen to his words in Isaiah 6:5 (NIV) saying, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” In another translation, Isaiah says that he is doomed. At least that’s what he thinks. Why? Two reason. The first one we understand. Isaiah realizes that he has sinned and he realizes that as a sinful person, he has no right to even be in the throne room of God in which he is standing. Everything he says is sinful. The words of his mouth are often hurtful or blasphemous. Therefore, he thinks he is in big trouble.
We understand that. We all know how easy it is to sin with our words. James 3:7-8 (NIV) says this: “All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed or have been tamed by man, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Isn’t it true? How many times do your mouths betray your sinful nature? Isaiah is a smart guy. He is keenly aware of this and his sinful words.
The second reason he thinks he is doomed is because he has seen God and the people of his day believed that if someone saw God, they were toast. In Exodus 33:19b-20 (NIV) God says to Moses, “’I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.’” No doubt this thought is rolling around in Isaiah’s mind as he has this vision of God in the throne room of heaven.
But Isaiah does not die. We know that because later on he is able to write down what happened in his vision. Why does Isaiah not die? Actually, the answer to that question is not hard. He doesn’t die because, first of all, the Bible never says anywhere in the passage that Isaiah actually sees God’s face. All it says is that he sees God’s robe. And the passage from Exodus is very specific. It doesn’t matter if a person sees God’s robe. The key point is that a person cannot look into God’s face, which Isaiah doesn’t do. The second reason why he doesn’t die, of course, is because this is only a vision; a very real vision but still only a vision. Isaiah isn’t actually in the throne room in heaven. It is more like he is looking at it on a TV screen or his I-Pod or phone or something like that. He isn’t actually there.
Nonetheless, Isaiah is visibly shaken by this vision and very distressed. Because of this, God does something extraordinary which we read about in Isaiah 6:6 (NIV): “Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.” So, one of the flaming six-winged creatures reaches with a pair of metal tongs into the sacred fire that burns on the altar in the throne room and takes out a burning coal. Then the creature takes that burning coal and touches it to Isaiah’s mouth. Ouch! Actually, not ouch. Remember not to take this literally. It is only a vision. God has no intention of harming Isaiah. What he really wants to do was show him something. Let’s find out what that is.
Do you remember why Isaiah thought he was doomed? It was because he had sinned with his mouth, by the words that he said. When the creature touches Isaiah’s mouth with the burning coal he says this in Isaiah 6:7 (NIV), “With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah recognizes his guilt and God uses the burning coal as a sign that his sins are forgiven.
The burning coal is also a sign of something else. It is a sign of God’s mercy and God’s grace. Isn’t that good news? All of us do things that are wrong. All of us hurt other, either intentionally or otherwise. All of us say things we wish we hadn’t said or don’t say things that we wish we would have said. That’s just part of life. It’s part of being human and part of who we are. That’s why we need to be forgiven. That’s why the creature touches Isaiah’s lips with the burning coal – as a sign that he is forgiven and set free from sin.
SIGNS OF FORGIVENESS
Okay, so you might be asking how this affects you. How does a six-winged seraphim touching Isaiah’s tongue with a burning coal have anything to do with a sign that you yourself have been forgiven? After all, you’re probably hoping that those same seraphim doesn’t visit you.
So what are the signs of forgiveness today? I’m going to mention three of them very briefly today. The first sign happens every week during worship. One of the first things we do after the call to worship is join in prayer. The presider opens with a prayer of approach where we ask God to be with us in our worship. That is followed immediately by a prayer of confessing. After that there is generally a time of silence when we can each offer our own personal confessions to God. And finally, all of that is followed by the Assurance of Forgiveness. Every week we are reminded in words that if confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
That’s the first sign. The next two come to us in the form of the sacraments. Communion is the ongoing sacrament of the Church. In that sacrament, we remember that Jesus died to pay the price of our sins. His body was broken and his blood shed for us. Why did that happen? So that we can be forgiven.
In the words of communion we remember that Jesus said: “This is my body broken for you. This is my blood shed for you. Whenever you do this, remember me.” Jesus calls us to remember his sacrifice every time we celebrate communion. In remembering him, we remember that we are forgiven. And so communion, for us, becomes a sign of forgiveness.
Baptism is another sign of forgiveness. Unlike communion, we don’t get baptized all of the time. It’s the sacrament that happens to each of us once. But every time we celebrate a baptism, we remember why we do it. Every time we have a baptism, I have the children recite what we need. We need some water for washing. We need some oil for anointing and we need a person in need of forgiveness.
Baptism is a sign of the washing away of sin through the waters of baptism. When John the Baptist first began to baptize people in the Jordan River, this is how it is described in Mark 1:4 (NIV): “And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” John told people to turn back to God and be baptized. Why? For the forgiveness of sins. Baptism is important because it is a sign of the forgiveness that we have in Jesus Christ.
Actually, I want to say something about that right now. We have had all kinds of babies born into the congregation in the past couple of years. It seems that at any given time there are two or three or even as many as five women in this church who are expecting. We seem to have a rose on the communion table in a fairly regular basis.
But do you know something odd? Very few families in this congregation are having their babies baptized. In fact, despite the number of babies born to people associated with this congregation, can you guess how many baptisms we had in 2017. There was exactly zero. Not a single baby was baptized here in the 2017 calendar year. I’m not sure why that is. We have had one baptism in 2018 and I understand that there may be another on the way. But why were there none in 2017?
Honestly, I’m not sure of the answer to that question. Sometimes I know that it’s because parents come from a different Christian tradition where infant baptism was not stressed. Sometimes, it’s because people are not comfortable being up in front of people. But I think another reason is because parents often just don’t think of it.
May I encourage you to think about it? Baptism is important for families. It is important to the person being baptized and it is important to the church that is doing the baptism. But it is also important to God because it is a sign of the forgiveness that we have in Jesus Christ. Every time we pour the water over a person’s head, we remember through this sacramental sign that we are cleansed by the blood of Jesus, set free from sin through the power of the cross and through the waters of baptism.
Prayers of confession and assurances of forgiveness, sacraments of
communion and baptism. These are all signs of the salvation that we have through
faith in Jesus Christ. They are not the cause of our salvation. They are not
the cause of our forgiveness. But they are signs of it. In short, they are outward
signs of an inward grace. They are the visible signs of the forgiveness that is
available to us through faith in Jesus Christ.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you on this day, O God, with great thanks in our hearts. We thank you for a new vision of life that Jesus came to share with us. He called us to be born again as new creations. By your Spirit, we are transformed through faith and adopted as your children. Speaking of children, we offer our special thanks today for the Sunday School, for the teachers, students and parents who make it work. Thank you for the commitment that we have seen and enable us to build next year on the progress that we have seen this year.
We offer our thanks this day for people like Isaiah who had the wisdom to admit who he was and the courage to receive the pure heart that you gave to him. Not all of us are called to be prophets. Not all of us are called to be evangelists or teachers or preachers. But all of us are called to be something in your creation. Reveal, O God, your plan and purpose not only for us as individuals but also for us as the Body of Christ.
We offer thanks also for the birth of Lucas. We thank you for a safe birth and a healthy baby. We pray your blessing upon the new parents Katie and Jason and also Carol and Kevin as they discover the joys of being grandparents.
We remember the state of the world. We pray for the people in war torn parts of the world who have seen so many years of suffering and death. May your peace reign and your justice flow.
We lift up in prayer the sick of our congregation and community. May your Healing Spirit rest upon each of them and upon each of us as well for we all need you.
Holy God, even in the most difficult circumstances,
you are able to protect and deliver those who trust in you. Help us also to
remember that in stressful times, there may be others who need you. Enable us
to be examples of your love and grace regardless of the curves that life may
throw our way. Help us to be ready to share the message of your love and mercy
with those who need to hear. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
May 27, 2018 / Trinity
Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; John 3:1-17; Romans 8:12-17
CALL TO WORSHIP
God’s voice is over the waters, thundering across the seas.
God’s voice echoes through the forest, reminding us of a holy presence.
God’s voice spreads like tongues of fire, energizing creation.
God’s voice is here, around us, in our hearts.
We worship and listen to hear, anew, the voice of God.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God, you are so awesome and wonderful.
We come before you now, with ears ready to hear you Word
and hearts open to receive your love. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We come before you knowing that there have been times
when we have let you down by not loving other people,
when we have not been faithful to what you ask us to do.
For these times we are truly sorry and ask you to forgive us. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
We know that our gracious and loving God hears our prayers and answers our pleas for reconciliation. To know Jesus Christ is to know the amazing power of the cross and resurrection. As people of faith, let us proclaim this Good News and be assured of our salvation through our God and Saviour.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Into your hands, O God, we commit our lives and our resources. You are the Source of All Goodness. You are the Keeper of the Riches of the Earth. We offer back to you what first you gave with generousity and grace. Amen.
COMMISSIONING (Jude 24-25)
Now unto him who is able to keep you from falling
and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy;
to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority,
through Jesus Christ our Lord
before all ages, now and