“Strangely Warmed Hearts” Sermon from Isaiah 1.10-20

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In 1738, a young Anglican minister walked along the streets of London. He was not just a Christian, but someone who had answered God’s call and responded to the gospel ministry of Jesus Christ. Yet, even ministers have questions, and he was no exception. He had lots of questions.

This is perfectly healthy. We usually do not get into trouble when we are asking questions. Wondering means we don’t think we already know. It’s when we think we know the answers that we get into trouble.

This young pastor, who was 34 at the time, had been on a mission trip in the American colonies, and he had a very discouraging experience. Things hadn’t gone as he intended.

Inspiration While on a Walk

As he walked the streets of London and thought about his experience, he turned off Newgate St. onto Aldersgate St., what is today A1 in London. He walked past a building. A group of Moravians was inside having a discipleship meeting. Through an open window, he heard them reading from Martin Luther’s Preface to Romans.

Perhaps he heard them read:

Now justice is just such a faith. It is called God’s justice or that justice which is valid in God’s sight, because it is God who gives it and reckons it as justice for the sake of Christ our Mediator. It influences a person to give to everyone what he owes him.[1]

In his journal, this young pastor wrote about the experience,

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street…About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.[2]

As many of you have already recognized, the young minister was John Wesley. The phrase he used in his journal, “I felt my heart strangely warmed,” is associated with him. Shortly after this meeting, he spent some time with the Moravians. Then, he founded the Methodist Society of England. Within a few years, the Methodist Church spread quickly and is one of the most influential Christian traditions today. Our Old Testament lesson captures the hollow feeling John Wesley had before his Aldersgate experience. The prophets said, “God has had enough of your empty rituals. Who told you to bring burnt offerings? Who said God wants the blood of bulls?”

Isaiah sees no difference between our worship and our daily life. We cannot separate the two. We cannot compartmentalize our faith. Wesley found an experience that put transformation in Christ right in front of him.

Inspirational Moravians

Of course, God uses context. In 1735, a few years before Wesley’s Aldersgate experience, John and his brother Charles were on a ship sailing for America. They were excited about their mission trip when the ship encountered a storm. During the storm, a group of Moravians began to pray and sing hymns. At one point, a wave crashed down on the ship, and the English screamed in terror. The Moravians, including men, women, and children, just kept singing.

After the story, Wesley asked one of them if they were afraid. He said no of them were. They were so confident not only in their salvation but that God held them safely in the storm. Wesley realized they had something he wanted. They had absolute trust in God. It didn’t matter where they were or what was going on, they were aware of God’s presence. Worship isn’t simply what we do, occasionally. Worship is the product of who we are. We worship because we believe.

Isaiah 1 raises an important connection between who we are, what we believe, worship, and the justice we have in this world. Wesley did not start the Methodists in order to be famous. He started it because he “felt his heart warmed” and he wanted other people to experience it too.

The Prophet’s Intent

At first glance, Isaiah 1 feels like a rejection of worship, but that’s not the prophet’s intent. It would be easy to take these verses and apply them to tearing down the form and fabric of our worship. In other words, we could see 1.15 as a condemnation some types of worship, “When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you.”

That’s not the prophet’s point. He invites people to be sincere. Isaiah 1.17 calls for faith like Martin Luther describes in his Preface to Romans. “Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, and plead for the widow.”

Instead of empty actions, worship is lived and doing is at the heart of this passage. The emphasis is on right actions rather than right thinking: orthopraxis over orthodoxy. In other words, doing the right thing is more important than thinking the right thing.

By implication, if you do the right thing, you will be transformed. God can work with right actions, but right thinking with no accompanying action is much more difficult. After Martin Luther read John Calvin’s defense of the Reformation, he said, “Here is writing with hands and feet.”

Living Faith

Just like we talked about over and over again last month as we focused our attention on food insecurity, we are to be God’s hands and feet in this world. It doesn’t end with helping those who are hungry. There’s a lot of need in the world. We do not just believe; we believe and live it out.

James 2:17 says, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” This passage does not leave us with this call to live out our belief. It ends with a wonderful assurance, “Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be like snow.” God forgives and cleanses our sins away. When we fall short, when we fail to act, when we do not hold our tongue, when we speak unkindly, when we cross on the other side of the road (like the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan; Luke 10.32), when we see a need and look the other way, when we fail, God forgives.

The prophet calls upon the people listen, engage with God, and put their faith into practice. We do not have to decide between faith and actions. This passage tells us to do both. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, Preface to the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, trans. Andrew Thornton (Ft. Wayne, IN: Saint Anselm Abbey, 1983).

[2] John Wesley, The Journal of John Wesley  (Chicago: Moody, 1951).

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