REFLECTION by Tom
The Shaking of the
In the year that King Uzziah died,
the prophet for the first time saw beyond the current
political upheaval. It enable him to set current affairs
within a vision of the ultimate.
The nation had enjoyed 50 years of
stability. There had been no king like Uzziah since the
reign of Solomon. National pride had been restored and the
upheavals of recent years forgotten yet that stability was
about to crumble. The great king overreached himself,
compromised the holiness of worship and had been struck
down with leprosy. He sank into a leper’s grave.
As the prophet was worshipping he
was suddenly swept away in a hurricane of sorrow. The
nation, like the king was sick from top to toe with
uncleanness, injustice, curruption and division. It had
leprosy and would become prey for the surrounding nations.
Isaiah experienced the shaking of
the foundations of everything he had known. Henceforth the
nation would have to live with instability and threat. The
rise of a new superpower in the East would make the whole
Isaiah's vision of holiness could
no longer be confined by the temple. God's Royal Presence
was to inhabit the whole earth. Only his skirts were in
Smoke and mist arose as they
always do when holiness and sin touch each other. A
confession is forced from the prophet's lips. ‘I am a man
of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of
The social and political sin – sin
of heart, home and market- have been exposed through the
worship and they fall to the ground like rotten leafs
beneath the stainless beauty of the seraphs praise.
The words above are drawn from
George Adam Smith’s famous Commentary (revised 1931) on
the book of Isaiah.
turned again to this Commentary in the week following the
referendum vote. They spoke to me of the sickness of our
nation, of how ambition and power can corrupt, how greed
and selfishness destroys justice and how public speakers
can use words as weapons devoid of truth.
The Isaiah passage offers me an
alternative vision for the world but tells me that in and
through such a holy God 'all the nations are accounted as
dust on the scales'.
The American Old Testament scholar
Walter Brueggemann highlights the importance of memory.
He describes memory as a magnet which in drawing
the people of God back to the past gives new stimulus to
prophetic imagination in the present.
It serves a subversive purpose, legitimates a
newness marked by amazement and discontinuity and
energizes new action.
He sets out the principle that ‘Only memory allows
possibility’. I conclude that a church which suffers from
amnesia has no future.
narrative memory of Israel is articulated in credo,
liberation songs and poetry, liturgical recital and the
reflective literature of the Torah. The wisdom of the past
however has little place in a post modern culture governed
by technocrats and managers. Erosion of memory is
inevitable in our fast moving society dependant on instant
communication. Has Methodism’s well organised
Connexional system, once our strength, now become our Achilles
Where is memory now? It is found in those churches overseas established
through the Methodist Missionary Society. It is found in
the grey-headed congregations of our local churches in Britain who carry the DNA of
Methodism in their blood through memories and stories.
continues ‘When we have completely
forgotten our past, we absolutize the present and we will
be like contented cows in Bashan
who want nothing more than the best of today.’
Are those who lead
today's Methodism really listening to the retired, ministers
and lay people who carry a wealth of knowledge and experience in
Part of the
Durham Lecture delivered in Spring 2014