God’s Holy Calling
Psalm 119; Luke 5:4b-10; Isaiah 6:1-8
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Great God forgive us – Is 6:1-8 and Luke 5:4b-10
Sometimes when people approach the Old Testament they think that it isn’t relevant and has little to say to our current context. Let’s think a little about this time we are in. Unless you have been hiding under a rock you know that we have just had an election. Even if your party won we are still a country deeply divided. We struggle now just as we have throughout history with racism, classism, homophobia, ablism and sexism that intersect and allow people to label each other rather than work with the other.
Our world today with floods and storms, peace treaties needing to be honored, and the constant fear, inconvenience, and growing grief related to the coronavirus.
There are dates throughout history we can look back on where things spring to mind. Where were you on 9/11, or when JFK or Martin Luther King Jr. were assassinated – all of a sudden we are taken back to a time, a feeling, a deep remembering. Will 2020 be a year like that, a date that calls up a unique and impactful set of memories for each of us?
Our text today starts with one of these time markers “In the year that King Uzziah died”. When a king died and power changed hands there would have been upheaval and many unknowns as the authority shifted.
“The first five chapters of Isaiah lay out the spiritual problem of the Judeans. They have forgotten and forsaken the Lord (1:4); their worship is futile (1:11-17); corruption marks their leadership (1:23). Greed has led to injustice (5:8). Isaiah 6:1 then describes the political crisis: the long-serving king who brought stability has died.” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3666)
In the midst of this transition in political power, Isaiah has his vision.
An encounter in the Holy of Holies; the most sacred and set apart place in the temple. God is so big in this vision that Isaiah only sees God from the waist down. The bottom part of God’s clothes fill the temple. As if “God is too gigantic to be contained in the temple” (NRSV Study bible). Remember that looking at God face to face was thought by some that is might kill you, dangerous for unclean mortals. But even being in the presence of Gods legs here is overpowering enough.
The Seraphs, holy creatures that flank God, cover themselves in honor and reverence of God – they cry out in praise. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
The picture that is presented in this vision is not a cuddly, loveable God but a God of vastness and grandeur. God’s very presence is awe-inspiring without God even saying a word.
When I was hiking in Tennessee a few weeks ago, we stood at the top of a mountain and looked out over the ranges that surrounded us. All I could keep saying was “wow, this is amazing”. It is in these moments where my breath is taken away by nature that I feel closest to understanding the kind of God that Isaiah encountered. But the God he saw also brought fear, the fear that comes from respect and knowing that this being is completely other to you and radiates power and majesty.
This isn’t the picture of God I normally focus on or teach to our young people. This picture of God demands our respect. At the sight of God and held in the shaking of the space that fills up with smoke, I can see Isaiah falling on his knees and calling out. I confess I might have turned around and run. But faced with the greatness of God, Isaiah sees himself for what he is, broken, unclean, lost and part of a people whose lips and lives are also unclean.
“We do not think that sin originates in our lips, but our words often betray our sinfulness.” (http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3666)
I think of the words from Ps 19 - May the words of our mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you our rock and redeemer. What is inside of us pours out our mouths.
Isaiah proclaims “yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts”. He knows that it is not King Uzziah who was in charge, it is God. What an encounter to remind you where true power lies.
How often are we knocked over by our own guilt? We think we have not done enough, been good enough, we feel inadequate and ashamed. Isaiah is with us on his knees, seeing his worth before this stunning God.
“Paradoxically, it is when Isaiah admits his great distance from God that the way opens for him to receive forgiveness.
Because we are not left there doubled over and crying out. A way forward from our guilt is provided. One of the multi-winged Seraphs brings a live coal. I can imagine it glowing hot as the creature approaches. That burning coal is touched to Isaiah’s unclean mouth. The Seraph not only brings this searing coal but delivers the words that I long to hear along with Isaiah. “Now that this has touched you, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out”. Isaiah’s fear that being part of an unfaithful people whose lips had spoken unclean words as well as acted in ways that went against God’s hopes and plans for the world, is cleansed by this act of purification. Do we worry that we are part of a people that has fallen so far away from God that we might not know how to even approach God? How would it feel for that guilt that we carry so heavy some days, to lift? What scar might that burning coal leave?
It is after this cleansing that we finally hear the voice of God. It is as if God is talking to God’s self and Isaiah is overhearing. “whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” With renewed strength Isaiah steps forward, I can almost see him waving his hand in the air. Ooo Ooo pick me! “Here am I; send me”.
We shift to a more familiar picture. Jesus by the lakeshore calling disciples. The disciples too are amazed by the God who is revealed in Jesus. As they drag in a catch of fish so huge it could sink their boat, they realize that they are flawed standing before this man and they fall on their knees at Jesus' feet. Again from this place of knowing their own brokenness, Jesus reaches out and calls them. Don’t be afraid, work with me. Jesus calls them to fish for people and Isaiah is called to take hard and uncomfortable truths to an unhearing people. This is uncommon work. Yet using flawed and normal people seems to be the path God chooses over and over again. New Testament and Old Testament alike.
We, like Isaiah are in a time of political turmoil. Can we see past our fear and understand the intense and majestic power of God. God, who is the king. In the naming of what is holy are we confronted by the state of our world and our life and led to confession. God does not leave us in that fear but cleanses and gives a path forward.
Will we shoot up our hands saying pick me for this work of carrying uncomfortable truth. Of doing the uncommon work of fishing for people and calling an unhearing, unheeding nation back to God’s kingdom work? A work of receiving the outsider, feeding the hungry and calling other broken and forgiven normal people to follow in Jesus’ ways.
“God does not wait for us to "get clean" before appearing.
but this text reminds us that forgiveness is anything but ordinary.
Like Isaiah, we stand small and human before God, dependent on a gracious act for our restoration.
(but) There is a price to be paid for singing "Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God Almighty" in the face of an oppressive force that thinks otherwise.”
May we have wisdom to kneel with prophets and disciples in confession and then understand how our majestic God is calling us.
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