(Iggy Pop, Raw Power, and) God

I had the honor to preach to my colleagues in ministry at one of the worship services during the Fall Theological gathering at Mt. Carmel and Luther Crest in Alexandria, MN September 21-24.  After the scripture printed below is a Youtube video of the song I reference.  I dare you to listen to it.

Isaiah 25:1-10a

O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. 2For you have made the city a heap, the fortified city a ruin; the palace of aliens is a city no more, it will never be rebuilt. 3Therefore strong peoples will glorify you; cities of ruthless nations will fear you. 4For you have been a refuge to the poor, a refuge to the needy in their distress, a shelter from the rainstorm and a shade from the heat. When the blast of the ruthless was like a winter rainstorm, 5the noise of aliens like heat in a dry place, you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds; the song of the ruthless was stilled.

6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. 7And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. 8Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

9It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.

The song begins with an unapologetic, downright rude belch. But there’s no time to be offended because the aggressive guitar kicks in and Iggy and the Stooges’ song Raw Power invades your whole being with its driving, relentless tempo and Iggy’s snarly singing. If you are uninitiated, Iggy and the Stooges are a punk band that began in the mid-60s to often hostile or apathetic audiences. Raw Power, both album and song title, was their 2nd and final album.

It was this song, Raw Power, that burst into my imagination and rang in my ears as I read this passage from Isaiah, preparing for this sermon. Like all good music, this album and, in particular, this song scares me. I suppose because this passage from Isaiah scares me too. The books of Isaiah could really be considered the punk albums of the Bible as they both terrify and comfort, what all good art does. Now, I am certain Iggy isn’t singing about God or God’s power, but that album in particular is the sound of raw, unmitigated power and became a soundtrack of the terrifying nature of just what God can and does do in this passage.

Poetry and music and art of all kinds can scare me. Have you had that experience? There are days I resist certain music or put down the book of poetry or shut the Bible or close my eyes because I just can’t handle it. Whether it is sung, spoken, written, sculpted – it demands you to be vulnerable to it. To be open to it. To potentially be changed by it.

And so it is with Isaiah. This passage scares me. God is both refuge and destroyer. God is shade from the blasting heat for the poor and needy; God takes the song out of the oppressors mouth and stills it. God is described as having left the city in a heap; the ruthless are left in fear. Can’t you just hear the still settling pile of rubble threatening to give way and finally crash down on itself, defeated? Never to be rebuilt. Raw power.

And then the feasting begins. And it’s not polite, either. This is eating and drinking in celebration described in such detail we can smell it and taste it – we hear the smacking of lips, the rude loud chewing, the tearing of flesh as its devoured down to the bone – in greedy and celebratory search of the marrow, we’re told. I dare say Iggy’s rude belch would be unnoticeable with this lot.

But it’s the next bit that scares me most. This is the raw power of God, folks. The poetry continues, 7And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. 8Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.

This is it, right? This is what we are called to witness to. We have incredible callings, each one of us. Whether you are a synod minister or on internship, a diaconal minister, in your first call or your 30th year, we have incredible callings. We are witnesses of and to God’s power. We are to be the ones who point to it, name it, bless it, stand in awe of it and to be made blissfully and frustratingly speechless by it.  We are the ones to declare that God’s power forms us not for our own sake but for the sake of all the nations. We get to tell people they are forgiven and loved without measure. We get to tell people about a God of raw power who swallows up death forever, wipes their tears, takes away their shame. We get to tell people about a God who destroys the shroud that is cast over all people. God destroys death. What’s more punk rock than that? It’s pure, terrifying poetry. And it is this incredible news we get to proclaim and then live out with all people. It is terrifying because it changes everything. It changes our calls.

Which is why I am terrified on Sunday mornings, before worship. It used to be because I was getting used to what it felt like to lead worship as a pastor. Then I think it was about learning who was part of the community and remembering names and juggling all the details. Those fears have fallen away now and instead the fear I feel falls into the realm of awe of what God can do, is doing, has done, will do again. Some mornings I desperately want to be afraid about just simply where I’ll stand and the limit to the announcements I’ll make. But it’s the raw power of God, people. It’s God destroying that shroud that cloaks us all. That’s what is at the base of my fear and hope.

We need this God of raw power so badly. And this need extends far beyond our congregational rosters and attendance rolls. Because of course God’s power is not contained within our church walls. And the church desperately needs us to quake with that same pre-worship fear as we head out into our communities in the name of this raw, powerful God. Because, of course, that’s where God is at work. Forming others to form us.

I’ve witnessed God’s raw power at work in a construction worker who told me his year of troubles as I waited for the pilot car. I never told him I was a pastor. I listened as he told me about the sickness and death that had run roughshod all over his family this last year. His perspective has changed and he’s feasting on the marrow of life, having watched it shrivel up in the ones he loved. I said, “thank you for telling me that.” I said, “God bless you. I mean it,” as I drove off and we exchanged smiles.

I’ve witnessed God’s raw power at work in a man who accidently came to Beer and Hymns, the monthly thing our church does at a local bar. He was there to fall off the wagon and was utterly speechless and in tears at nights end as I told him he was loved and forgiven, loved and forgiven, loved and forgiven. He’s been in and out of treatment since and struggles to stay sober. It seems the Holy Spirit is at work as our paths cross all the time now, our encounters always consisting of celebration or confession or both. And it is that terrifying, pre-worship fear, this raw powerful God at work in this man’s messed up life and in mine that propels me and roots me. That changes me and forms me.

Being out in public, proclaiming God’s power to take away shame, to lift the shroud, to love all of the nations is risky. It’s so scary. It’s not always well-received. I’ve been on the nose end of a pointing, shaking finger about who God loves and doesn’t love as a woman got in my face about beer and hymns. “Are you that pastor?” she accused. I’ll do my best to tell you the words I remember: “shame on you” and “you go get yourself saved” and “those people in that bar.” Otherwise all I could hear was the ringing in my own ears and I managed a feeble, “I am convinced God loves both you and me…” Raw power? Indeed.

O Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you, I will praise your name; for you have done wonderful things, plans formed of old, faithful and sure. 7And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever. 8Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. 9It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation For the hand of the Lord will rest on this mountain.

This poetry is what terrifies and comforts us. It’s what shapes and forms us. It is how God slips into the skin of strangers and friends alike and calls us into life we never would plan for ourselves. A life of being the go-between for this God of raw power and God’s beautiful, messed up world.

Do you see all that God will do for the very least of us? And that’s what we’re here for, leaders in and of the church. We’re to point out to people, call attention to all that God is doing. And when it is utterly lost on us, God works through the unlikeliest of people to show us God’s raw power. And we crawl out from under the wreckage of the rubble of our lives and we see that the death shroud around us has been destroyed and we squeak out…

This is the Lord for whom we have waited. And then, hearing that we have a voice and seeing that God has even shielded us from the winter rain, we proclaim, This is the Lord for whom we have waited.

It is scary. It is powerful. It is raw. It is God.

Thanks be to God.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

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