In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
Last week we explored the importance of maintaining Vision in our life. The Spirit works within us and pushes us to find the means by which God will set the world right. The vacant stare of our cloudy eyes is made whole when God reaches down and sets a future in our heart to hope for. Beyond the darkness of the unknown, there is the faint light of God’s truest intentions for us. We see at a distance, as though through clouded glass, what life could be. Heaven is just a little ways off, but we can draw it closer if we are only willing to accept that God too wishes to draw us near.
The problem that can come to us, regardless of any other barrier erected, is that we are flawed and limited human beings. We tend to twist even the purest intentions of our hearts in one way or another. Our good works which we are meant to do in secret are turned into publicity stunts. The missions we go out to do become trips of tourism. Our works of mercy are made to scold rather than to embrace and love. The many acts of the Church throughout time have been marred, not by God’s part in them, but our own.
We do not have to live in this diminished state. The Spirit that works among us is also the Spirit that purifies us. The Justification we receive through God’s work in Christ and that is sealed in the Spirit prepares us to be sanctified to take the long road to perfect our intentions and in that perfection of will, find our actions likewise transformed. Though they may never be wholly sanctified, they are made nearly faultless, as faultless as any person could ever be.
We can only begin to see ourselves reach this purified state if we are honest about our own need to be made pure. The sick person who refuses testing will never know what the proper treatment is. If we cannot do the difficult work of introspection, then we will not truly root out the evil desires that have made themselves at home in the midst of our goodly ones. Like weeds among flowers, we must be discerning in how we cut and prune – always maintaining an honest conception of self.
We typically think of this revelation of our fallenness as something that happens at the outset of our faith. While it is true that God’s goodness and our own depravity inspires the first pivotal moment where we realize our need for salvation, that is not the only time we come to this realization. Periodically, we will feel the Spirit reminding us of some part of ourself God is still not welcome within. These deep bits of ourself are the growing edges that must be made smooth. Through Christ they can be made into something new, redeemed and reclaimed for God.
Today our scripture captures one such moment when a person of faith (a prophet no less!) realizes their need to be made right before God. Though this is usually seen as the start of Isaiah’s ministry, it is important to make note of two aspects of Isaiah’s life. Firstly, being a prophet in the Ancient World was a profession, and Isaiah had likely been called to this work long before he received this vision from God. Secondly, five chapters of introductory prophecy come before this event. This could be a simple mixing of chronologies, but it seems to tell a story. We receive many calls from God throughout our life and our present call does not deny the arrival of another.
Isaiah, standing in the temple, is greeted by the sight of burning angelic visitors. The Seraphim, literally “Burning Ones,” are angels that attend to God’s throne room throughout scripture. The exact nature of their form and function is unknown, but their appearance is always a serious matter. The angels surround and worship God. God is seen seated upon a throne that fills the temple near to bursting. The Glory of God, defined by God’s presence, cannot be contained by anything or anyone. Yet, through a wonderful act of mercy, God appears to us in a way we can discern and conceive of. God fills the Temple, who could otherwise not be held by the entirety of creation.
Isaiah is immediately overtaken by this glorious sight, crying out that his unclean state will be the death of him. The prophet who spoke God’s word was still far from perfect. There was still much left unsaid and what had been said was not yet wholly intelligible. The truth can remain true when it is not fully formed. The identification of a flower as a flower is not a falsehood, even if it is more properly called a daffodil. There is much more to be said, and Isaiah knows he is not in the proper place to proclaim it just yet. His realization is in itself a request to be made whole.
As soon as this plea leave his lips, an angel flies down and purifies Isaiah. The burning coal of incense represents many things, but perhaps most obviously it represents prayer. The words of our heart are given form and are carried by God’s Spirit. We are able to begin healing and recovery only in the moment when our acknowledgement of that need is offered up to God. We are carried out of darkness, set up to act in righteousness, and prepared to engage with God in a new way. We find our ears opened and hear God calling out to us, asking us to go out and prophesy to the world. We hear the call, what will be our answer to it?
If we say yes or as Isaiah puts it, “Here I am!” Then we will find ourselves taking part in God’s plan to renew creation. The vision we cast of what could be, will be transformed from potential to reality. Each of us, equipped with a purity of heart, intention, and focus, can truly bring about change in this world. This is all accomplished through God, the source and sustenance of all our life. We who have been set right will not fail, and even when we fall short, we will find God is good and revive our efforts.
The presence of God should be enough to inspires us to honestly assess our walk in this life, but we must be willing to do that work. Unless we can admit our faults, they will not be healed. Unless we see where sin has regained its hold on us, we cannot recommit these things to Christ. The power of the resurrection equips us to pursue God without ceasing. Let us therefore be prepared to run our race without additional weight set on our back.
Our return to God, our ministry on earth, all matters under the sun, are tied up into how we live our life. We ought to be holy as God is holy and run from evil wherever it presents itself. If we do the hard work of growing in faith, we will not be disappointed. For in the hands of God are peace and abundance and that peace transcends all else in this life. Let us see this peace inspire us to fearlessly repent. May that repentance reinvigorate our ministry to all the world. – Amen