Rev. Andrew Cunnington
15th June 2014
The Glory and the Grot

There is nothing that makes me feel more guilty than when I am caught between the glory and the grot.

I think you may know that the first curate I ever trained was a lovely black girl from the Gambia and I went out to Banjul to preach at her ordination. They put me up in a nice hotel and the food was so cheap. A three course meal for about £5. Hovering outside the hotel were beggar boys who could not go to school. They could not go to school because they did not have enough money and the cost was £5 per term. The hotel was full of western holiday makers taking advantage of the cheap food, and brushing past the beggars as they went.

I found myself caught up in a similar tension on Thursday when the lunchtime music concert involved poems and music from the days of the first World War. I was ready for the poems to be heart rendering and they included letters home from the front and reports of loved ones whose whereabouts were unknown. Graphic. Heartbreaking. Dark.

In contrast the music was so jolly “It’s a long way to Tipperary”, “If you were the only girl in the world” and “Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile”. There was a glory of loving in those tunes and a grot of living in the poems. The disconnection between the two was so moving.

And then to Brazil and the World Cup. Huge stadiums built with no long term future in mind and ticket prices again enough to feed one empty mouth for every seat sold. I saw a grotesque cartoon this week of a starving child sitting at a table crying for food and there was nothing on his plate except a big leather football, and yet I will enjoy the football. I’ve got Brazil in the sweepstake, will I send my winnings to alleviate one child’s suffering, or do I just pontificate from here.

The glory and the grot, it comes as us from all angles.

None more so that in our reading from Isaiah this evening. What a wonderful passage it is to read, but it is also horrendous for in it the young prophet is confronted by the glory of God beyond himself and the grot of his own life within himself and tries to come to terms that God is calling us from one state to the other.

One of the things people say they don’t like about church is that services make us feel judged as guilty. Our shortcomings are exposed and we feel belittled. In contrast to the media at large which is all about saying, just do this and you will feel great, we say, stand in this place to discover the truth about yourself and the truth about God, but then, with God’s grace, we can bridge that gap.

Isaiah chapter 6 is about the call of Isaiah but it could be about you and I.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and lived up!. Now apparently King Uzziah was a jolly good king, the people had respect for him, but now he had died and the new King Ahab was proving to be a walking disaster area. There was no leadership that the people trusted, there was no king worthy of the name, so here, the Lord steps into the breach.

Our whole culture seems to be asking the question, what leadership can we trust these days? Who is leading us where we ought to go and who serves their own interests. So the backdrop to Isaiah’s calling at least partly mirrors our own.

And the presence of the Lord is overwhelming so much so that it cannot really be described. You might expect Isaiah’s response to be that of someone confronted with the opening ceremony of the world cup. It’s amazing what they can do with all those strobes. The fireworks were fantastic. The sound system, well it was brilliant. But that was not his response, for ours is no razza amattaz sort of God. Instead, rather like a church service, Isaiah felt his own inadequacies exposed. “ I am nothing in comparison”. I am lost I am unclean. I am full of woe”

And then some sort of angel moves to the heart of that glory and takes a burning coal and presses it upon the prophet’s lips and pronounces absolution.

That reminds us that setting ourselves right with God can be painful and hard. But it is something we have to embrace if the grot is to be disposed of in us and we are to move to glory.

And that forgiveness is liberating for Isaiah. Most other old testament prophets were more modest than he. When God calls them they hang back. I am too young cries Jeremiah. I cannot speak well stammers Moses. I’m running away from that one” whispers Jonah.

Isaiah is the patron saint of the church volunteer. “Whom shall I send, who will go for us”, and without being asked he blurts out “ Here am I, send me”. These long ago words mirroring the chorus of the song we love to sign.” I the Lord of sea and Sky”. Mirroring the great commitment shown by church members here.

One more little thing! We come to Choral Evensong, because we enjoy this beautiful liturgy and may be you can see that it is an ancient order of service mirrored in these verses.

The lord’s presence fill the temple and the one calls to the other “Holy Holy Holy” , it’s like a hymn or a psalm or an anthem.

The people cry out in their lostness, its confession, it is prayer and it is intercession.

The angel flies out with a burning hot coal pressed upon the lips , it is absolution, it is receiving a word, a living word that changes you. It is readings and a sermon.

The prophet is liberated by the worship and is renewed and ready to serve. He is a volunteer. It is the final blessing. It is the dismissal. It is life beyond the service.

The gap between the glory and the grot and the tension we know only too well as we go from day to day.

Between poems of death and songs of life. Between a choice of having my evening meal or sending a child to school. Between enjoying a game of football, but being aware of those outside the stadium whose lives are joyless.

Next Saturday is our Matt 29 morning when we look at our mission together and another way of looking at it is to ask ourselves how we might feel about standing in Isaiah’s place. Where the hurting hot coal needs to touch us and where we might see ourselves responding before we are even asked… I am ..send me!

ISAIAH 6: 1-8 JOHN 16:5-15