High School Retreat: God’s Call Awakens

This is a collection of our worship topics from the High School Retreat (Janaury 22–24, 2016). Join us as we unite Isaiah’s vision and calling with Star Wars.

By Justin Cox

Awakened to His Presence

Welcome to the High School Retreat!

Over the course of this weekend we’re going to be looking at the theme “God’s Call Awakens.” If the theme sounds a little like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, that’s because we’re going to compare a vision that the prophet Isaiah had with the Star Wars universe. There will be some minor spoilers for the original Star Wars trilogy and The Force Awakens but it will hopefully help us to understand how God’s Call Awakens inside each of us.

Tonight, we’re going to start off being Awakened to His Presence.

Over the course of this weekend we’re going to look at a very important scripture in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah was a prophet around 742 BCE and wrote a lot about God’s holiness and of the foretelling of Jesus. The scripture we’re going to look at this weekend, despite being in the sixth chapter, is often referred to as defining all of Isaiah’s prophetic message. Tonight we’re going to look at the first four verses (Isaiah 6:1–4 CEB):

1In the year of King Uzziah’s death, I saw the Lord sitting on a high and exalted throne, the edges of his robe filling the temple. 2Winged creatures were stationed around him. Each had six wings: with two they veiled their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew about. 3They shouted to each other, saying:
 “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heavenly forces! All the earth is filled with God’s glory!”
 4The doorframe shook at the sound of their shouting, and the house was filled with smoke.
Rob Joseph

This is a pretty intense vision. Isaiah experiences God sitting on a throne. He describes God as exalted which means placed high. That probably means that the throne is literally higher, on a platform — like the Iron Throne in Game of Thrones. So Isaiah describes God on a throne in a place of prominence and wearing a robe that is so big it’s edges fill the whole temple. This by itself would be a pretty big vision, but Isaiah continues to describe more of what he saw.

He talks about winged creatures stationed around God, but these aren’t your typical angels. Over Christmas, Emily described angels of the Bible as Thor-like — big, muscular, warrior things. These are the angels that Isaiah sees surrounding God. They are flying around the temple, shouting to each other “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of heavenly forces! All the earth is filled with God’s glory!” Isaiah describes the angel’s voices as being so loud, the doorframe shakes and the house fills with smoke. Those are some powerful voices.

This is a pretty wild vision that Isaiah experiences and takes us to our first Star Wars tie-in for the weekend. In the original trilogy, Luke Skywalker is just beginning his journey toward becoming a Jedi. He is taken to a cave on Dagobah and there he has a pretty intense vision. In the new movie, The Force Awakens, Rey has a similar experience in Maz’s cantina. In both of their visions’, Luke and Rey see confusing and powerful looking things. They see things that don’t make a lot of sense and are hard to understand.

Luke and Rey’s experiences are similar to Isaiah’s vision. The key here is that all three of those visions mark a significant experience for the person receiving the vision. In Luke and Rey’s experience, they are awakened to the power of the Force. In Isaiah’s vision, he sees the holiness and power of God. This is an awaking and realization for Isaiah that defines the rest of his teaching. He describes God as holy, which in the Hebrew language means “set apart.” Isaiah describing God as being exalted helps to emphasize this point. Isaiah goes on to describe God as the “holy one of Israel” 30 times as a result of this vision. It’s clear that this experience was formative for Isaiah and awakened him to God’s holiness and presence in his life.

Chances are we’re not going to have a vision like that of Luke, Rey, or Isaiah. But what is true, is that at some point in each of our lives, we’re going to have an experience that awakens us to the presence of God in our lives. That moment might be extremely impactful and confusing like Isaiah’s experience, but it might also be more gradual and pieced together over time. That’s my awakening to God’s presence.

Isaiah’s vision awakened him to God’s presence and provided a glimpse of God’s power. It’s my hope that at some point in your life you too have that type of awakening. Maybe it has happened, maybe it will happen this weekend. That moment where you get a sight of who God is can be life changing.

Like Isaiah, the visions that Luke and Rey experienced altered their stories. Tomorrow we’ll talk about how all three of them reacted to their awakening, but tonight in your small groups you’ll be talking about what awakening to God’s presence is all about.

Awakened to a Response

Last night we were introduced to Isaiah’s call story. He was awakened to God’s presence and encountered him, surrounded by giant flying and very loud angels. This was quite a site to be seen and you all drew your version of it.

This morning we’re going to look at Isaiah’s response. Because what do you do when you encounter something like that? But before we look at how Isaiah responded, let’s go to our Star Wars connections with Luke and Rey.

When Luke enters the cave on Dagobah, his response is that he isn’t going to let the things he saw come to reality. The images scared him — he saw himself as Darth Vader in particular — and he didn’t want that to happen. His response was to prevent that for coming true.

Rey’s reaction was a little different. She saw images that scared her as well. Images that confused her. But her response to Maz was that she never wanted to be near the lightsaber again. Her response was to avoid her vision.

Isaiah’s response is similar to Luke’s. He sees these confusing and frightening things — I mean God is wearing a robe that fills a room and angels are singing so loudly that the walls shake — so Isaiah responds in a bit of fear, but also in a way that says “I’m not worthy.” This is Isaiah’s reaction (Isaiah 6:5 CEB):

5I said, “Mourn for me; I’m ruined! I’m a man with unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips. Yet I’ve seen the king, the Lord of heavenly forces!”

Isiah saw these things and realized that he shouldn’t be seeing them. They were for people of import and he had no business being where he was. He was afraid.

At the time, the understanding was that if you encountered God and saw him, you would die. Throughout the Old Testament there are stories of people turning away as God passes near them so as not to see God’s face. So Isaiah coming upon God and seeing him, right there in front of him, would be a very scary position to be in. But beyond fear, Isaiah responds in a way that proclaims his sin.

“I’m ruined! I’m unclean and I live with unclean people.”

Isaiah is explaining that he has no business being in God’s presence. And that’s the case with all of us if we want to admit it to ourselves. If we think about it, we’ve all got stuff that should prevent us from being in God’s presence. That’s what sin is all about. It’s a separation between us and God.

Yet, what happens next is the definition of God’s grace (Isaiah 6:5 CEB):

6Then one of the winged creatures flew to me, holding a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7He touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips. Your guilt has departed, and your sin is removed.”
Benjamin West

An angel comes up and touches a hot coal to Isaiah’s lips and explains that his sin has departed. Think about it for a moment. A hot coal, right from the fire, touched his skin yet instead of being burned, Isaiah was forgiven.

That’s grace. God loves us all so much no matter what we have done or what we will do. There is nothing that can separate us from the grace and love of God. And here, when Isaiah encounters God and realizes that he has no business being there… God forgives Isaiah just as he forgives us all.

Luke made a choice to turn away from the darkness in his vision and in his life. Rey was afraid of the vision, but would eventually make her choice as well. We’re to do the same. When we are awakened to God’s Presence, we are to respond.

As Isaiah shows us, the first step to responding to God is admitting that we have no business being there. The second step is accepting the love that God has for us and the fact that he wants us there anyway.

When Isaiah proclaims, “Mourn for me! I’m ruined!” God answered with “You are forgiven.”

That’s powerful. That’s what Jesus’s place here on Earth was all about. Showing us all that we are not worthy, that when we encounter God that we really have no business being there. But Jesus says, no, you’re all good. You’re here for a reason.

This evening we’ll get into what comes next, but this morning you’re looking at that initial response and what happens when we awaken to the things that separate us from God’s presence in our lives.

Awakened to a Calling

Thus far we’ve been talking about Isaiah’s vision. He encountered God and was frightened. He realized he wasn’t worthy, yet God said it was ok and forgave him. Tonight we’re going to finish the story.

In our Star Wars connections, both Luke and Rey end up in the same place. Luke responds to his vision in the cave and follows the ways of the Force. Rey, despite initially being terrified, too decides to trust in the Force. Isaiah is no different. When he encounters God, Isaiah’s answer is clear (Isaiah 6:8 CEB):

8Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?” 
 I said, “I’m here; send me.”

Isaiah responds not in terror, not in shame, but instead looks at God and says pick me.

At some point in all of our lives we’re going to encounter God. We’re going to come face to face and we’re going to have a chance to respond. My hope is that we do as Isaiah did and jump up and down and say, “pick me, God, pick me!”

But let’s look again at our Star Wars examples. Rey didn’t jump up and down and get excited when she touched the lightsaber and had her vision. As an audience, that’s what we wanted to see, but that isn’t what happened. In many ways, Rey did what we all might do when we encounter God… run in fear.

Growing up people in my family would tell me I should be a teacher but I constantly ran the other way. Being a teacher or working with teenagers was the furthest thing from what made sense in my mind. In that situation I was Rey and I ran from the vision.

But here’s the thing, God doesn’t give up. He persists and keeps providing encounters until we actually see him. But it’s not until we truly trust him that we can respond as Isaiah did.

In Proverbs it says (Proverbs 3:5–6 CEB):

5Trust in the Lord with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. 6Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight.

And that’s the key here. When we can fully trust in God, then we can jump up and down and say, “Pick me, God! Pick me!”

When I finally listened to God, he called me into youth ministry — which in a way is being a teacher. It was the furthest thing from what I thought I would be doing but when I stopped listening to myself and instead started trusting God, I was able to respond by jumping up and down and saying, “Pick me, pick me!”

And Rey did the same. She ran from her vision, she ran from the call of the Force, but in the end decided to trust in the Force and as a result answered her calling.

Hopefully you’ve had some time so far on this retreat to think about encounters you might have had from God. Perhaps you have encountered him and are jumping up and down as Isaiah did. Perhaps you’ve encountered him and are running away like Rey saying, “anything but that, God!” Perhaps you don’t know if you’ve encountered God and are waiting for that moment. Wherever you are, the question for tonight is do you trust God?

In order to see God’s presence in our lives we have to trust him completely, with our whole heart — as the proverb says. And just as important, we can’t rely on our own intelligence. Other translations say our own understanding. And that’s key too. When my family would say, “you’re going to be a teacher” and I’d say, “yeah, right” I was 100% relying on my own understanding. I wasn’t listening to God who was responding by saying, “listen to me.” But it was once I did listen to God and give up relying on my own understanding, that I was finally able to answer as Isaiah did.

God has created us each individually with different passions and gifts and talents. God put all those different pieces together in us uniquely with the intention of glorifying him. The key is that when we fully trust him, when we understand that he takes us as we are no matter what, God will ask us a question. He’ll say (Isaiah 6:8 CEB):

8Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?” 
 I said, “I’m here; send me.”

What is God asking of you? What is the call that you are awakening to? This is the question I want you to think about as you go into Small Groups this evening.

God’s Call Awakens

This weekend we’ve talked about awakening to God’s call in our lives. Hopefully you’ve had some time to think about that call, to think about ways in which you’ve encountered God, and ways that you’ve awakened to his presence. This morning you’re going to get a chance to talk about that experience. To share what you’ve awakened to this weekend. So the floor is yours.

Part of a retreat like this, where we talk about awakening to God’s call in our lives, is making sure that we follow that call once we return home. John Wesley, who founded the Methodist movement, had a particular way of entering into a covenant with God known as the Wesley Covenant Prayer. The goal is that we acknowledge our awakening to God’s call, and that we are constantly ready to say, “Yes, God! Send me!” just as Isaiah did.

I’m going to pass out these cards, and we’re going to recite this prayer together as our closing this morning.

Wesleyan Covenant Prayer (Contemporary Version)

I am no longer my own, but yours.
put me to what you will, place me with whom you will.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be put to work for you or set aside for you, praised for you or criticized for you.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and fully surrender all things to your glory and service.
And now, O wonderful and holy God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it also be made in heaven.