A Community of Scorched Lips

Dearly Beloved, We are gathered here today.

The stereotypical words at the beginning of a wedding.

“We” are gathered – the object of something or someone’s gathering.

Gathered like the strawberries at Suters, or like the people in the long lines waiting to get them.

Gathered Like flowers cut from the garden.

Gathered Like the wheat harvested in the fields.

Gathered Like a congregation on a Sunday Morning.

Gatherings are mysterious. You don’t know who all is going to be there. What state they will be in. Or why they decided to come, and if they even made a conscious decision about to be gathered.

The gathering that is happening in this space today is completely unique. With is unique weather. Unique assortment of people with unique interactions. Its never been done before quite like this.

What will happen?

We humans like to attempt at controlling gatherings, because of this very question. What will happen.

So we control classrooms, our work spaces. Control which days we gather, what the agenda is. Or in the case of a worship service, we control our order of worship or Liturgy. We can put all the constraints we want but in the end, who shows up, and what state they are in will be completely mysterious.

An event will unfold. What will happen?

In April, I went to a gathering of pastors who are in their first years of ministry. It was a weekend to reflect on our ministries, how we are doing, get some resources and to encourage each other in the work that we were doing. One evening we gathered in worship in a circle, around a display of candles. Someone had organized the service. We went through the order of the service, none of which I remember now, 2 months later.

Once the service had ended, we were told we could leave the space or hang our there as long as we wanted.

No one left the space.

Then, someone started spontaneously singing a song. A song from the Taize tradition. If you are not familiar with Taize, the music is repetitious and simple, making it easy to sing along with, even if you don’t have music in front of you. We have quite a few of these songs in our hymnal.

We went from song to song, all it took was someone in the space knowing most of the words. And we sang for an hour in candlelight.

I am sure this is not everyone’s cup of tea. But I found it absolutely beautiful.

We were gathered, and despite all of the organization of the service, what emerged from the group that was present was beautiful, nurturing, rejuvenating, and sacred. It energized me and gave me fresh energy to come home and serve. It was also profoundly mysterious. It was an event that I will not forget.

What was required of the people there to make that event happen, to make that spontaneous singing emerge, was one simple thing. Being open and willing. “Here I am.”

Our passage today is a description of a vision. A profound vision where Isaiah is commissioned for his prophetic ministry.

In Isaiah’s vision, he sees himself in front of God, in the temple filled with smoke, and angels. A heavenly gathering. And he says,

“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.”

Isaiah’s experience of this gathering had him questioning himself. Questioning if he was even worthy of this gathering. Aware of his faults. Aware of his experiences in the past that he was ashamed of. “Woe to me.”

He was experiencing what some call today “imposter syndrome.” The name for being in a gathering but feeling way out of your league.

Perhaps the feeling OSU has had playing Michagan the last 5 years.

This is a common feeling that many of us get when we are gathered in new places. Are these my people? Will they understand my experiences. Do I belong here?

Am I smart enough to be around them? Am I wise enough? Artistic enough. Strong enough. Funny enough. Cool Enough?

Isaiah says “I am a man of unclean lips coming from a people with unclean lips.”

He is saying, “I am not good enough for this space that God has gathered me in.” It is scary to be gathered.

Isaiah’s vision continues.

An angel comes to him, but with a burning coal. I imagine a glowing ember, like the ones flickering orange at the end of an evening, when the fire is dying out.

The angel takes the coal and places it on Isaiah’s lips.

The lips, one of the most tender and sensitive part of the human body. I can only imagine the pain.

These coals are placed perhaps to purify Isaiah’s lips. Perhaps silencing the voice coming from his mouth that was saying, I am not worthy, not enough, I do not belong at this gathering. Coals burning away the imposter syndrome.

When we gather, we bring with us all of the stories of our past. Our painful stories, our happiest of stories. Our moments of joy, and our moments of suffering. Each of our unique stories. Our stories inform how we act in the world. Our stories make us who we are. It is a part of what is being gathered in this space.

If one of our stories is that we are not good at singing. Then we decide to not sing in front of people. If one of our stories is that we are not smart enough, then we don’t speak up in Sunday school. If we have stories of times when we lead successfully, then we are more likely to speak up. Or stories of when we served well, we are more likely to serve others.

Our stories can also affect others who are gathered. Like stories of kids leading well, which remind us that kids have deep spiritual lives and things to teach us. Or stories from older generations, that remind us of the things that are possible.

But there are also Negative stories like, “what makes someone mennonite enough to be here.” Who is not worthy of speaking. Stories keep people out.

Perhaps we need coals on our lips to remind us of the stories that have closed us off to the gathering that is happening in front of us. Like Isaiah’s woes about himself that needed purging. Our lips need scorched of the stories that create suffering at the gathering

Isaiah’s vision soon comes to an end, when God says to Isaiah. “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

I have come to understand God as a gatherer. The gatherer who brings together people, who brings together the ecosystem. The weather. The bacteria. The air we breathe. The location. We all emerged here today at this moment, gathered.

Not a forced gathering. No one here is forced to be here.

You aren’t forced to be here right, Jorian?

But even if you are told by your parents to be here, you can choose not to opt in. To not engage. To not pay attention.

The gathering God pulls us all together.

When God says, “Whom shall I send,” God is in the process of gathering.

And in our vision today, Isaiah has a choice. Will I be a part of what God is gathering or not?

Isaiah opts in. “Here I am.” Unsure of the future. And honestly, without much of a great reason.

But here is the thing with gatherings. I remain unconvinced that they happen for any of the logical reasons we give for coming to the gathering. They are more mysterious than that.

“Here I am” is all that is needed when we show up here. When we are mysteriously gathered by the great gatherer.

“Here I am” is what we are each saying even though we do not know what will happen. What conversations we will have. What care we will give one another. What care we will receive. What disagreements we will have.

Here I am, is an openness to a mysterious future with what has been gathered by the great gatherer.

We are being sent on a journey together when we are gathered. And that journey is constantly evolving. With new members, new voices, new ideas, new stories new passions.

Today 6 people have joined our church. They have been gathered. Check out those bios in the bulletin insert.

The 6 folks that have joined today are really incredible people. All of them are currently involved in education. Nurturing, caring for and serving people in our broader community. They are already excited about what is happening here and have been jumping in. And I have had a great time getting to know them better over the last 2 months in our membership class.

They have been open to God who gathers, and as a result are a part of what is emerging in our church, now.

So what is emerging in our church?

Honestly, I remain unconvinced that God knows what will happen beyond the fact that when people and creation are gathered, there is a chance for the kingdom of God to emerge. A kin-dom of peace, justice, and human and ecological flourishing.

This kingdom does not come about through control and coercion. God’s kingdom does not happen through guilting people to participate in it. Through violence. Through making you suffer. The uncontrolling love of God nurtures and gathers us together, as God asks “whom shall I send.” Who will live out this love in the world?

For it to emerge, we as a community must be open to this call. This persistent call that is pulling people together to love one another. Creating spaces for healing. Creating spaces for conflict to be done well. Creating spaces for celebration. Creating spaces that nurture each of you so that you may love and care for those that God is gathering elsewhere. In your classrooms. In your workplaces. In your homes. And for those who don’t work with people, God is gathering you with whatever part of creation you are interacting with.

Gathering farmers with their plants. Scientists with their experiments. Accountants with excel sheets. All important for tending to the kingdom.

God is gathering and gathering and gathering. Each time, new. Each time, unique. Each time, different.

And today, with 6 new members, we are gathering in another unique iteration of FMC, filled with a different set of stories. Filled with a different set of possibilities.

Our new members have come before us. Saying, “Here I am.”

And this is also a moment for each of us to reflect on our choice to be a part of this community.

God has gathered, “here we are.”

I look forward to seeing what will happen, together.