“When your eyes are opened, a response is necessary. When you see something, you have to say something,” said the Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater.
Her sermon title was “Responding to God,” and the Scripture reading was Isaiah 6:7-8.
Cook led the congregation in the song she had taught them on Monday, “I see the Lord high and lifted up.” She said that was the theme for the week.
God, she said, had a call, a commission and a covenant for Isaiah. What did Isaiah see when he had a vision of God?
“He took a look at himself and recognized that he was a man with unclean lips, living with an unclean crowd,” Cook said.
He had to get insight so that he did not incite violence and harm.
“Isaiah had to take his eyes off himself and turn his eyes to God,” Cook said. “Vision is the root of visionary, and I stand on the shoulders of visionaries.”
The founders of Chautauqua had a vision for what this place could be.
“I stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther King Jr. and Harriet Tubman, who had visions to take us from where we were to where we are,” Cook said.
Those visionaries had 20/20 vision to make this country different from the way they found it.
Cook wears contact lenses, and sometimes she has to wear a hard lens instead of a soft one to see clearly. Likewise, “we need hard lenses to see clearly what is happening in this country.”
“We can’t be so ‘hallelujah happy’ that we are no earthly good,” she said. “You know what ‘hallelujah happy’ is? Saying hallelujah when someone sneezes, when it is Kleenex time.”
Cook called on the congregation to look in, look up and look out. Look in at yourself, look up to God. Then look out and see the homeless, the helpless and the hurting.
“Learn to serve with vitality to live life more abundantly,” she said. “Act like God has done something for you.”
So many people are DOA — dead on arrival — at worship. As a chaplain to the New York city police force, Cook went on calls where the paramedics had to make a judgment whether a person was dead or alive.
“Take the pulse of your neighbor, and if they are dead, you can change your seat,” she said. The Amphitheater “is not a cemetery, it is a sanctuary, and we should respond to God weekly with ‘victory is mine.’ ”
She told the congregation that they serve a living, resurrected, life-giving savior.
When she was a White House Fellow in 1993–94, Cook visited South Africa at the time Nelson Mandela was becoming president after his long incarceration, the majority of which was on Robben Island.
She attended a service in an auditorium where Mandela would speak. She was in the third row and the choir came in and started to sing and sway to the music, and they started to dance the South African toyi-toyi.
“Their souls were expressing what their spirits were feeling,” Cook said. “Worship is a time for our souls to be alive, here and now in this beautiful place.”
She added that it did not matter what had been; “look where we are now. Say thank you for your victories.”
When Isaiah cleared his heart and mind, he could hear what God was asking him: “Who will go for us, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Who will respond to our call?”
“Here I am, send me,” Isaiah responded.
“What has God challenged you to do when you leave Chautauqua?” Cook asked the congregation. “Have you been settled enough in Chautauqua to hear, feel and respond to God?”
“When God asks me,” she concluded, “my hand will be high over my head like a first-grader. ‘Here I am, here I am, send me.’ ”
The Rev. Scott Maxwell presided. Bud Brown read the Scripture. At the age of 26, he left his native Texas to attend graduate library school in Boston, where he met his future wife, Pat, also a librarian. After graduation and marriage they moved to Buffalo, where they lived for 48 years and worked as college and elementary school librarians, respectively. While living in Buffalo they began to visit Chautauqua, always staying at Baptist House. They became hosts at Baptist House in 2007 and served until 2015. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, directed the Motet Choir in “The Lord’s Prayer” by John Tavener. The Mr. and Mrs. William Uhler Follansbee Memorial Chaplaincy and the Daney-Holden Chaplaincy Fund provide support for this week’s services.