Archives For Isaiah

Rags for Riches

Jason Micheli —  December 4, 2017 — 1 Comment

     First Sunday in Advent – Isaiah 64.1-6

Due to heavily sourced and corroborated claims of misconduct, the role of Santa Claus this Christmas will be played by Christopher Plummer.

Just kidding. But after Garrison Keillor would anyone be surprised for Kris Kringle to be next?

Of course not. I mean, we already know he got handsy with somebody’s Mom underneath the mistletoe. And Mr. Claus doesn’t allow Mrs. Claus to leave their North Pole home. That’s not a happy marriage. That’s Ike’s and Tina’s marriage.

Father Christmas hasn’t yet been named alongside Al Franken, but who wouldn’t want the stress of this season to disappear as fast as Matt Lauer disappeared this week from Good Morning America?

Who wouldn’t want Christmas, and all its attendant heartburn and headaches, to go on hiatus like House of Cards?

Here it is only the first Sunday of Advent and yesterday after my wife handed me a list of everything we needed to do, to buy, to plan, to clean, to attend, to send, and to cook just to get ready for Christmas, I woke up in the corner, on the floor, sucking on my thumb.

Don’t lie- Who wouldn’t want Santa and his season and all of its stress to go the way of Charlie Rose?

Maybe it’s because I’m a pastor. This time every year my inbox, my mailbox, and my social media get flooded with churchy headlines and hashtags.

From the Heifer Project to the Advent Conspiracy to #makeadventgreatagain, from Simple Christmas to the War on Christmas, this time every year my already overflowing holiday To Do List gets bombarded with exhortations about how I should be celebrating the season.

As a Christian.

Usually the exhortations all boil down to one:

My Christian “obligation” to opt out of the commercialization and consumerism and materialism of the culture’s Christmas.

But to be honest, lately, I’ve grown wary of the Christmas “tradition” of bemoaning the commercialization of Christmas in our culture.

Too often, we begin Advent not with Isaiah’s laments or John the Baptist’s words of judgement but our own words of lament and judgement, criticizing others for being so materialistic about Christmas.

And, of course, like all cliches, there’s truth to the complaint about consumerism. Like all traditions, there’s a reason we’ve made it a tradition to lament and judge what commercialization has done to Christmas.


     Consider- the average person last year spent $1,000 at Christmas.

And maybe some of the complaining we’re doing at Christmastime is actually self-loathing because apparently over 15% of all the money we spend at Christmas we spend on ourselves.

We don’t trust our wives to get us the gift we really want so we buy it for ourselves.

It’s true- we spend a lot at Christmas. Very often money we don’t have.

In 2004, the average American’s credit card debt was $5,000. Now, it’s $16,000. Retail stores make 50% of their annual revenue during the Christmas season, which I can’t begrudge since this church brings in nearly 50% of its budget during the Christmas season. We spend a lot at Christmas. But we give a lot at Christmas.

And we worry and we fight a lot at Christmas too. Everyone knows the Christmas season every year sees a spike in suicides and depression and domestic abuse. We not only make resolutions coming out of Christmas, we make appointments with AA and therapists and divorce lawyers too.

So the reason complaining about consumerism at Christmas has become a Christmas tradition is because there’s some serious, repentance-worthy truth to it.

     The problem though in critiquing how our culture has co-opted Christmas is that it’s too simple a story.

That is, the critique itself is much older than our culture. Even before Amazon and Black Friday, people were shopping and putting their kids on Santa’s lap to beg for stuff.

Don’t forget- the holiday classic Miracle on 34th Street, it’s a Christmas movie about a shopping mall. The original version of that movie was filmed way back in 1947. No matter how much we kvetch at Christmas; it’s not a new phenomenon.

Turns out, Bing Crosby was wrong; the Christmases we think we used to know never actually existed.

Advertisers were using images of St. Nick to sell stuff at least as far back as 1830, and Christians were complaining about it then too, probably as they purchased whatever products Santa was hawking.

In 1850, Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, wrote a story called “Christmas” wherein the main character gripes:

“Christmas is coming in a fortnight, and I have got to think up presents for everybody! Dear me, it’s so tedious and wasteful!”

To which, her Aunt responds: “…when I was a girl presents did not fly about as they do now.”

     Christmas was more spiritual and less materialistic when I was a girl.

According to Ronald Hutton in his book, The Stations of the Sun: A History of the Ritual Year in Britain, the commercialization of Christmas isn’t our culture’s fault it’s the fault of Victorian culture.

However, he notes, this is an ambivalent history because prior to the Victorian era Christmas was celebrated exclusively by the rich.

In other words, the Victorian commercialization of Christmas we abhor was actually an attempt to make Christmas available to the poor and the not rich.

In the vein of everything new is old, Hutton cites diary entries as far back as 1600 describing Christians’ habits of spending and gift-giving, but also their complaints about the rising costs of Christmas meals, Christmas entertainment, and Christmas gifts.

Bemoaning what we’ve done to the Christmas tradition is a Christmas tradition at least 400 years old, leading me to wonder if the magi spent their trip back from Bethlehem complaining about the cost of the myrrh.

We’ve been spending too much at Christmas and feeling guilty about it and judging others for it for a long, long time.

So, if you want to continue that tradition by, say, participating in the Wise Men Gifts Program (where your kid only gets 3 presents) go for it. I mean, I would’ve hated my mom if I’d only gotten 3 presents as a kid, and it’s a good thing I didn’t grow up a Christian because I probably would’ve hated Jesus for it too.

But go for it, maybe your kids are better than me.

Or, buy an animal in honor of a loved one through our Alternative Gift Giving Program. But word to the wise- learn from Dennis’ mistake- if you buy an Alternative Gift for your wife, don’t make it a cow.

Or, you could join up with the Canadian Mennonites who started the Buy Nothing Christmas Campaign back in 1968.

A noble goal to be sure, but, you know as well as I do, those Canucker Mennonites are probably zero-fun killjoys to be around at Christmas.

Knowing that the commercialization of Christmas, our participation in it, and our complaints about it after the fact go back older than America, gives me two cautions about trying to simplify and get back to the “spirit” of Christmas.


I worry that, in trying to avoid the excess and extravagance of the season and in exhorting others to go and do likewise, Christians at Christmas sound more like Judas than Jesus.

“We could’ve sold that expensive perfume and given the money to the poor!” Judas complains about Mary anointing Jesus.

“I’m worth it,” Jesus pretty much says.

“You won’t always have me [or the people in your lives]. There will be plenty of opportunity to give to the poor.” 

I worry that Christians at Christmas sound more like Judas than Jesus.

In a culture where most Americans associate Christianity with judgmentalism and self-righteousness, sounding more like Judas than Jesus, I would argue, is more problematic than our credit card bill.

     And obviously we do spend too much.

     But ‘Why do we?’ is the better question.

And that gets to my second caution-

I worry that the imperatives to spend less and get more spiritual make it sound too easy. I worry, in other words, that they rely upon a more optimistic view of our human moral capacity than scripture like today’s gives us.

Or modern psychology for that matter.

The UVA psychologist Timothy Wilson, in his book Strangers to Ourselves, notes that most of us make free, rational decisions only 13% of the time. Our wills, scripture tells us and psychology confirms, are not free but bound.

Here’s what I mean-

Take this statistic: 93%.

93% – that’s the percentage of Americans who believe that Christmas has become too commercial and consumer-driven.

     Not only is lamenting the commercialism of Christmas not new neither is it prophetic.

No one disagrees.

Everyone agrees we spend too much money on too much junk at Christmas.

But we do it anyway.

Forget Isaiah and the lectionary, Romans 7 is what we should be reading during Advent:

15I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”

What Paul is wrestling with in Romans 7 is the mystery of our sinfulness such that expectation and exhortation always elicit the opposite of their intent.

Thou shalt provokes I shalt not.

Me exhorting you, then, or the Church exhorting the culture, to spend less and get more “spiritual” at Christmas will not only not work it will prove counter-productive because, as Paul Zahl paraphrases Paul here:

“Ceaseless censure produces recidivism.”

Thus, it’s not surprising we’ve been bemoaning the commercialization of Christmas for going on 5 centuries to no avail.

For the Apostle Paul, the Law of which he speaks in Romans 7 is shorthand for an accusing standard of performance.

In the Bible, the Law is all those thou shalt and shalt nots. Be perfect as God is perfect, Jesus says. That’s the Law.

And the Law, Paul says, is inscribed upon every human heart (Romans 2.15).

So even if you don’t believe in God or follow Jesus or read the Bible, the capital-L Law manifests itself in all the little-l laws in your life, all the shoulds and musts and oughts you hear constantly in the back of your mind, all those expectations and demands and obligations you feel bearing down on you from our culture.

     And Christmastime comes with Law all its own.

At Christmastime, there’s the Law of Pinterest that tells you you must have new adorable matching clothes for your kids for the Christmas Letter photo or you’re a failure as a woman.

Speaking of which, there’s the Law of the Christmas Letter, which is a hard copy version of the Law of Social Media, which says you must crop out all your unhappiness and imperfection

There’s the Law of Manhood, which tells you should earn enough money to buy your family the gifts they want.

There’s the Law of Motherhood that tells you you must wrap all the presents perfectly, valued at at least what your sister-in-law will spend on her kids, you must make homemade holiday cookies like you think your mother used to do, and you must find time to spend “quality” time with your kids or you’re no better than Ms. Hannigan in Annie.

And there’s the Law we lay down, the Church, telling people they should have a holy, meaningful, spiritual experience at Christmas whilst doing all of the above and tables-caping a Normal Rockwell dinner, not forgetting the less fortunate and always remembering that Jesus is the reason for the season.

Piece of cake, right?

The Law always accuses.

That’s its God-given purpose, says the Apostle Paul, to accuse us, to point out our shortcomings and reveal where we fail to be loving and kind and generous, where we fail to be good neighbors and parents and spouses and disciples.

The Law always accuses, and, when it comes to this time of year, our culture lays down a whole lot of law.

When it comes to Christmas, the Church and the culture does what AA tells people not to do: they should all over people.

That’s why Christmas is such a powder keg of stress and guilt.

We’re being hit from all angles by the Law:

By what we should do

Who our family should be

How we ought to celebrate.

Which is to say we’re being accused from all angles:

For who we are not

How we fall short

What our family and our faith and our Christmas isn’t.

That’s why we can all agree we shouldn’t spend so much at Christmas but we do anyway, we’re bound to the Law, St. Paul says.

And it’s the nature of the Law to produce the opposite of its intent; so that, what we do not want to do (overspend) is exactly what we do.

And that’s why our spending coincides with such sadness, we’re prisoners to the Law. We’ve been accused and have fallen short.

Me telling you, then, how you should spend during Advent, what you ought to do to anticipate Christmas, you might applaud or nod your heads but, truthfully, it would just burden you with more Law.

The Apostle Paul said the purpose of the Law is to shut all our mouths up in the knowledge that not one of us is righteous, so that, we can receive on the gift of God in Jesus Christ.

The gift of God in Jesus Christ.

Which is what exactly?

I mean- we’ve memorized the gifts that the magi give to Jesus.

Quick, what are they?

I thought so.

     We’ve memorized the gifts the magi give to Jesus.

But could you answer just as quickly and specifically if I asked you to name the gift God gives to us in Jesus?

I didn’t think so.

We like to say that Jesus is the reason for the season, but I’m not convinced we know the reason for Jesus.

And maybe-

     Maybe the problem is that we spend so much time talking about what God takes from us in Jesus Christ we can’t name what God gives to us in Jesus Christ.

     And it’s not knowing what God gives to us in Christ that makes us vulnerable to such stress and self-righteousness every Christmas season.

We spend all our time talking about what God takes from us in Christ- our sin.

But listen again to the prophet Isaiah:

Our sin isn’t even the whole problem because even our righteous deeds, says Isaiah, even our good works, even the best possible version of your obituary is no better than a filthy rag.

And the word Isaiah uses- in the Hebrew, you’re not going to like this, it means “menstrual cloth.”

In other words, even your best deeds leave you unclean before God.

They do not make you holy or righteous nor do they merit you an ounce of God’s mercy.

We spend all our time talking about what God takes from us, but our sin is only part of the problem. And God taking it, taking our sin, is only half of the Gospel. What God takes from us in Christ isn’t the whole Gospel.

     The Gospel is incomplete if it doesn’t also include what God gives to us: Christ’s own righteousness.

Christ became our sin, says the Bible, so that we might become his righteousness. His righteousness is reckoned to us, says the Bible, given to us, as our own righteousness.

You see, it’s the original Christmas gift exchange. Our rags for his riches.

God takes our filthy rags and puts them on Christ and God takes Christ’s righteousness and God clothes us in it.

That’s the short, specific answer: righteousness.

The magi give frankincense, gold, and myrrh to Jesus.

     God gives to us, in Jesus, Christ’s own righteousness.

It’s yours for free for ever. By faith.

No amount of shopping will improve upon that gift.

And no amount of wasteful selfish spending can take that gift away from you once it’s yours by faith.

Sure, we’re all sin-sick and selfish, and our spending shows it.

     Obviously, we do not give to the poor like we should. 

But in Jesus Christ God became poor not so that we would remember the poor.

No, in Jesus Christ God became poor so that we might have all the riches of his righteousness.

As Christ says in one of the Advent Gospel readings, we already have everything we need to meet Christ unafraid when he comes again at the Second Advent. We’ve already been given the gift of his righteousness.

Once you understand this gift God gives to us in Jesus Christ-

It frees you, the Bible says. It frees you from the burden of expectations.

Until you understand the gift God gives us in Christ, you’ll always approach Christmas from the perspective of the Law.

You’ll worry there’s a more “spiritual” way that you should celebrate the season, as a Christian. You’ll think there’s a certain kind of gift you ought to give, as a Christian. You’ll stress that there’s a spending limit you must not exceed, as a Christian.

     Hear the good news:

You have no Christian “obligations” at Christmas.

You have no Christian obligations at Christmas because the gift God has already given you by faith is Christ’s perfect righteousness.

The Gospel is that, no matter what your credit card bill or charitable contribution statement says, you are righteous.

     You are as righteous as Jesus Christ because through your baptism, by faith, you have been clothed in his own righteousness.

The gift God has given to you- it frees you from asking “What should I spend at Christmas?”

This gift of Christ’s own righteousness- it frees you to ask “What do I want to spend at Christmas, now that I’m free to spend as much or as little as I want?”

You see-

Despite all the Heifer projects and holiday hashtags, the Gospel frees you to be materialistic.

In the way God is materialistic.  Materialism is how God spent the first Christmas.

The incarnation isn’t spiritual. The incarnation, God taking material flesh and living a life like ours amidst all the material stuff of everyday life, is the most materialistic thing of all.

Christians get the gift-giving tradition honest.

If Jesus is God- with-us then giving material gifts of love that highlight our withness, our connection to someone we love, really is the most theologically cogent way of marking Christ’s birth.

It’s not that spending money you don’t have makes you unrighteous. God’s already given Christ’s righteousness to you. That can’t be undone.It’s not that overspending at Christmas is unrighteous; it’s just unwise. So, don’t buy junk for the sake of buying junk.

But if you got the money, then maybe the most Christian thing to do this Christmas is to buy someone you love the perfect present.

Because God got materialistic on the first Christmas in order to give you the gift of Christ’s perfect righteousness.

Maybe materialism- in the freedom of the Gospel and not under the burden of the Law- is exactly what Christians need to put Christ back in Christmas.




img_2451The Home-Brewed Christianity #LectioCast was kind enough to invite me as a guest for the next two weeks to talk about my new book, Cancer is Funny, and discuss the Advent lectionary readings.

Hosted by Dr. JR Daniel Kirk, #LectioCast aims to get preachers’ jumpstarted on their prepcrastination by honing in on issues and themes in the scripture passages assigned for the upcoming Sunday and to do so in a way that is sharp, practical, and seasoned with a bit of snark.

Daniel accuses me of skirting wrath in the lectionary readings for Advent 2, but I think it’s just a good honest dose of Barth.

You can listen to the podcast here. If you’re getting this by email, click over the blog to listen.

And here’s a sermon I preached for A Sermon Every Sunday on these very readings:


In case you were out of town, watching Olympic Tennis finals or just care to read, here’s this weekend’s sermon on Isaiah 20, the prophet’s 3 year nudist witness. It’s part of our ‘Stories They Never Taught You in Sunday School.’ Jason Gottshall and Andreas Barrett complemented the text with a reworked rendition of the Sinatra classic, ‘My Way,’ entitled, yes, ‘Yahweh.’

Up Next Week: We’ll be in the Book of Samuel where David discovers that his love’s hand in marriage comes at a hefty price…100 foreskins.

Become a Barer You

For part of a summer during college I took a job soliciting door-to-door for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. I found the job advertised in a men’s room stall at UVA, scotch-taped above the toilet paper dispenser.


The job posting got my attention. Because I was now in college and had intellectual pretensions, I assumed my previous summer job as a lifeguard was now beneath me.

That I expected a job advertised in a public restroom to be more glamorous than lifeguarding illustrates how my intellectual pretensions were just that.


Every afternoon me and a dozen other chumps would load into a van and, like strangers with candy, we would creep into some unsuspecting community in Virginia to get petitions signed and to hit people like you up for money.


I interrupted dinner hours. I interrupted bath-time and bedtime routines. I even interrupted a number of conjugal activities, which I can say made me a big believer in putting curtains on your front bay windows.


Though the Foundation’s goal was to mobilize political engagement, I can tell you that going door-to-door introduces you to the kind of random sampling of humanity that makes you question the wisdom of universal suffrage.


For instance, there was the family of Jehovah Witnesses in Chesterfield who didn’t seem to appreciate the irony that I was now on their doorstep with pamphlets.


There was the born again Christian in Lynchburg who had guns lining every inch of his foyer walls and who explained passionately that he didn’t believe in caring for the environment because the apocalypse was coming any day now.


There was the 40-something woman in Portsmouth who answered the door wearing suggestive unmentionables and invited me inside with a solicitation of her own.


And there was the older, well-off widower in Ablemarle who signed my petition and offered me a $1,000 donation if I joined him for dinner. And he seemed nice enough but, because I’d seen Silence of the Lambs, I begged off.


But of all those ‘characters’ one is forever seared into my memory, and I think of him whenever I’m in the locker room at the Mt Vernon Rec Center.


I was knocking on doors in Palmyra. It was already dusk. I was starving, and I wasn’t anywhere near my fundraising quota.


It was a deceptively ordinary ranch-style home.


To be fair, I was warned. On the front door, just beneath a wreath that said ‘World’s Greatest Grandparents Live Here,’ was a sign that ‘No Solicitation.’

But I’d been job-trained to ignore such signs. They were the sign of an easy mark- people who didn’t have what it takes to say no to your face.


And in my defense, the sign certainly couldn’t have prepared me for what lay on the other side of the beveled glass door.


I rang the doorbell until I heard footsteps.

He opened the door and stood there in front of me.


Completely naked.


And just like that, I wasn’t hungry anymore.


He looked like Cliff from Cheers, from the neck up at least.


His wife was sitting on the sofa in the family room behind him, watching Jeopardy. She too was nude and, lacking any female accoutrements, she looked a little like Norm, Cliff’s co-star.


I stood there speechless, vaguely thinking that he should be the one blushing not me.


‘Can I help you?’ he asked nonchalantly.




He knocked on his own door to get my attention.


‘Can I help you?’ he asked again.


‘No…no, I don’t think so.’ I stammered.


‘Then why’d you ring?’ he asked.


‘Excuse me? I tried to say but my voice sounded to me like the last thing you hear before you drift off to anesthesia.


‘Why’d you ring?’


I could’t get the words out so I thrust my clipboard at him.


‘Is this a bad time?’ I gurgled.


‘No, not at all,’ he said politely.


‘But…you’re…umm…not wearing any clothes’ I whispered like you do when you’re pointing out that someone has lettuce between their teeth.


‘Oh, we always are’ he said, ‘it’s our philosophy.’


And with that, he took my clipboard and began reading every word with interest. While he read, I pondered just how far that statement ‘we always are’ went.


For example…I saw they had a badmitton net set up in their side yard.


My mind conjured the image, and it’s stubbornly there remained ever since.


I glanced at the grill on the front porch next to me and wondered did ‘we always are’ include that too? Or did he maybe wear an apron?


‘So, are you studying politics?’ he asked me.


‘No, I’m a religion major’ I said.


‘A religion major? Well, then, you understand!’ he said excitedly.


‘Understand what?’


‘This’ he said and he kind of curtsied to indicate his Vetruvian form.


‘We believe in celebrating the bodies God gave us. We believe God’s called us to live like this. A religion major should understand that right?’


He seemed genuinely surprised when I informed him that my curriculum at UVA hadn’t yet included nudist philosophy.


He seemed even more surprised when I said: ‘Well, I’m not sure that’s the kind of thing God would do.’


When he gets to chapter 20, the prophet Isaiah takes these 3 years of his career and buries them as discretely as possible in just 6 verses, 6 verses of 3rd person prose not 1st person poetry.


It’s almost like Isaiah would rather not include this part of his call.

And who can blame him?


This scripture raises all kinds of questions.

Questions like:

How much sunscreen did that require?

And, did he have to do it in cold weather too?

And, if so, was that doubly humiliating?


But today’s text raises another, more basic, question.

A question that should have everything to do with us and our church:


Is this the kind of thing God would do?


You could just say yes and be done with it.

You could say ‘yes, this is what prophets do.’


After all, Jeremiah went around like a crazy person, smashing clay pots to signify how God’s promises were dashed beyond repair.


And Ezekiel- Ezekiel shaved his head bald and shaved off his beard with a battle sword to foreshadow the destruction of Jerusalem.


So when it comes to Isaiah baring his birthday suit, you could say ‘yes, it’s bizarre but this just what prophets do. This is the kind of thing God would do.

But you don’t have to say yes.


In fact, many red-faced biblical scholars have argued ‘No, this is not something God would do.’

It’s indecent. It’s immodest. It violates God’s own commandments.


Therefore, there must be something else going on in the text. There must be some other explanation. God must be calling Isaiah to something different than what appears to us on the surface of the text.


For example, you could argue, as one scholar argues, that God’s command for Isaiah to strip off his clothes is really a command for Isaiah to put on sackcloth and ash and mourn what’s to befall his people, just like Job did when he lost everything.

You could argue that.


Or you could say, as another scholar says, that Isaiah doesn’t take everything off. He just takes off his outer robe, leaving on his inner tunic.

Just like Jesus does when he washes his disciples’ feet. In that way, then, Isaiah is demonstrating how his people will soon be reduced to servanthood and slavery.


You could make that case.


Or you could jump the shark completely, as one evangelical scholar does, ad argue that Isaiah 20 is actually symbolic foreshadowing of the New Testament Book of Hebrews 2.3.

So Isaiah isn’t literally stripping off literal clothes, he’s stripping off the Old Covenant and putting on faith in Jesus Christ. Maybe.


Or maybe instead of a firm ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ you could split the difference and settle somewhere in between.


In fact, one biblical scholar argues that Isaiah strips off his ‘waist garment’ and shoes only. And so he’s not completely naked- not his chest or his arms or his legs.


Just Isaiah’s feet and rear end are exposed for 3 years.

But how such an image is less troubling escapes me.


The fact is when it comes to the history of interpretation there is no shortage of embarrassed scholars doing theological gymnastics to rework this text because there is so much embarrassment that this might be something God would do.


“I’m not sure that’s the kind of thing God would do.’ I speculated, trying to fix my gaze on the wall clock behind him rather than on his behind.


He slid the pen out from my clipboard and began to sign a petition about the Clean Air Act.


‘So, religion major, what religion are you?’ he asked, as he filled out his address.


‘Me? I’m a Christian. A United Methodist.’


He nodded approvingly and filled out his phone number.


‘I’m Jewish’ he said.


‘Yes, I can see that’ I said, glancing down.


He handed the clipboard back to me.


‘Care to make a donation?’ I said, giving new meaning to the term ‘pressing the flesh.’

‘Oh, sure’ he said, needing no convincing.


Then he turned his head to the side and shouted ‘Mother, can you bring me the checkbook.’


To this day, if there’s one thing I’m certain of in all of God’s creation it’s that the words ‘Mother’ and ‘Nudist’ do not belong in the same conversation.


‘I don’t see it in here’ his wife shouted back over Alex Trebec announcing a Daily Double.

‘I know it’s on the sofa’ he said. ‘Maybe you’re sitting on it.’

I threw up a little in my mouth.

He offered to leave and go find it himself but I said:


‘Don’t worry. You can mail it in.’


I handed him a flyer and was about to leave when he said:


‘You know- if you really care about the environment then you should try going nudist.’


‘Come again?’


‘I mean- if you really care passionately about the issue, wouldn’t you want to do anything to get people’s attention?’


Despite my impressive physique, I had a hard time imagining that nudity would improve my fundraising numbers. In spite of that, I left his driveway thinking he may have had a point.

Is this the kind of thing God would do?

Maybe the better question is:

Does God so love the world that God would do ANYTHING.

To hit someone right between the eyes with GRACE?

Would God do anything to speak a Word to a heart that had long since grown hard of hearing?

Would God do anything to get the attention of someone who’s heard so many bad versions of the Gospel that they’re now inoculated against the real thing?

Before you answer, you should know that in Isaiah’s day, the Assyrian Empire had encroached upon its neighboring nations.


And who do God’s People turn to with their faith and trust? To Egypt and Ethiopia, who goad God’s People to take up arms. They offer God’s People empty promises of friendship and protection.


They turned to Egypt and Ethiopia for their salvation. Not to God.

No longer trusting God, they had to put that trust somewhere.

So they put it in their wealth and material comfort. They put their trust in their politics and government. They put their trust in their own strength and military might.


You see in Isaiah’s day it had been a long time since the days of King David. And for a longer time still they’d been living with the stories of Abraham and Moses.

And so in Isaiah’s day it wasn’t as if God’s People had rejected God outright, and it wasn’t that they didn’t know about God. In Isaiah’s day, it was more like the good news of God was old news to them.

They’d grown indifferent to it, apathetic about it, been-there-done-that bored with it.

God couldn’t get through.

So what does God do? God calls Isaiah, whom God had called before, but this time not with pretty words or poetry. This time God calls Isaiah to go all in, to strip down naked, to get the people’s attention by any means necessary.


Does God so love the world that anything is up for grabs for God to get our attention?


Before you answer you should know that part of scholars’ discomfort with today’s text isn’t just what God asked. It’s not just the nudity.


It’s who God asked. Who God called to do this.


I mean Jeremiah would be one thing. Jeremiah’s already kind of emotionally fragile and on the fringes of society.


It would be easier to swallow if God asked Hosea to bare it all. Hosea married a prostitute. The entire Book of Leviticus was already out the window for Hosea.


But Isaiah-


Isaiah’s not like those other wild-eyed prophets.

Isaiah’s a court prophet not an extreme radical.

Isaiah’s part of the urban elite: well-educated, well-off, well-respected.

Isaiah’s not some street-corner crazy.


Isaiah lives in the nation’s capital. He had the King’s ear.


He was part of the 1%.

He rubbed elbows with the haves and the movers and shakers.

Isaiah’s not out spray-painting sandwich boards and occupying Jerusalem.


Isaiah’s not like those other people.


Isaiah’s more like..




And let’s face it-


You’re United Methodists.

That means you’d much rather keep assuming that God’s call only applies to people like me.

Or, at best, maybe God’s call means you’re supposed to come and sit in places like this and listen to people like me.


But the question is: does God so love the world that God would do anything?


Before you answer you should know the risk.


Because if God’s willing to do anything, try anything, risk anything and everything.


If God’s willing to have Isaiah strip down


If God’s willing to strip off his own power and might just to surprise us by    showing up as one of us,


If God’s willing to do anything, try anything, call anyone


Then, odds are, sooner or later


God’s going to run out of options


And then God’s very likely to call someone as unlikely as you.


To do something strange

or unexpected

or maybe even scary.


And I’d bet the clothes off my back that, for some of you, that call’s already come. And you’ve ignored it.


Is this something God would do?

You bet your a$%.