This sermon was preached at First Presbyterian Church in Nebraska City, NE on November 13, 2016. The sermon text was Isaiah 6: 1-8.
Audio from the sermon can be found here.
Over the last year and a half, we have been using something called the Narrative Lectionary, it’s a system that selects the readings for us, attempting to walk us through the broad story of scripture from Genesis to Revelation.
Today’s reading comes from the sixth chapter of Isaiah.
It begins, “In the year King Uzziah died…”
As Rev. Marci Glass says, “Biblical scholars love verses like that because dating a biblical text is so difficult. But King Uzziah! We know that. He died in 742 BCE.
King Uzziah had reigned for five decades in relative peace and stability. King Uzziah died as Assyria, whose capital was Nineveh, Assyria which was a vast military power in the area was coming closer and closer to Jerusalem. It would be just another 16 years before the Northern Kingdom of Israel would fall to Assyria. So the year that King Uzziah died was an uncertain time for the people of Israel, there was a lot of anxiety in the country about what their future might be.
Isaiah goes to the temple, this house that Solomon built, a holy place where God is and he has this vision. He sees God sitting on a throne so high and lofty, so large, that it is only a bit of the hem of God’s robe that fills the vast temple where Isaiah is standing. There are six-winged seraphs shouting, not of God’s might, but of God’s holiness. They are praising God so loudly that this magnificent building begins to shake.
What a powerful vision! Isaiah’s response is immediately: Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips. Do you remember Wayne’s World from the early 90s “We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”
As soon as he sees God’s holiness, his own sinfulness becomes apparent to him. This is actually why our worship services are structured the way they are to this day. We begin with a call to worship and a song that gives praise to God. And John Calvin believed that as soon as you praise God’s goodness, you can’t help but recognize your own lack of the very same qualities. And so it is appropriate to go immediately to confession and then an assurance of your forgiveness.
Before we can become who we want to be in Christ, we must first be humbled to recognize how far we have to go. Isaiah had a good track record before this, he had a faithful life up until this point. Just as each of you has led a good life, you have helped others along the way. But all of us, when in the presence of holiness, know that we have fallen short of the glory of God.
Rev. Glass suggests, “The point is that in the middle of a particular moment in human history, Isaiah finds himself transported into the presence of God. There was a particular moment in Isaiah’s faith journey when he needed God in a new or different way. And I could give you a whole sermon on Assyria, Babylon, exile, and what was happening for Isaiah.
But I’m more interested in what is happening in our lives that requires God’s in-breaking now. Perhaps it is “In the year that the Cubs won the World Series….”. Or maybe it is more like “In the year my loved one was diagnosed with cancer….” or “In the year I lost my job….”
We all have moments in time—moments of celebration or moments of pain— when the particular context in which we find ourselves helps us realize that God is calling us to respond in a particular way.”
I’d like to propose a particular historical location where I think we are today. “In the year our pastor left.”
Over the last two weeks, the news that is both exciting, nerve wracking, and sad is that my wife and I have been called to a new congregation. Which means that now we are beginning a transition process.
Yesterday, members of the session met with our Committee on Ministry liaison to start to talk about the process for which you will undertake in the coming months. The session will have many decisions to make and I trust that they will make them prayerfully and faithfully. Also, you as a congregation will have many decisions to make and I trust that you will make them through prayer and discernment. Even each of you individually will need to make decisions. I know that God will be with you throughout this process.
Much like the seraph in Isaiah’s vision, they were shouting “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.” God’s glory is not only in Jerusalem, not only in Israel, not only in the Presbyterian Church or the worldwide church. The whole earth is full of God’s glory. God is near wherever you may find yourself. I read a great sermon this week on this passage:
“The whole earth is full of God – all time, all space – and it is because God is here, because there is as much of the Holy Ghost in this place as ever there was in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, because the forces of God are unexhausted, because the mighty river of God which is full of water is flowing through this place, that you and I are certain of blessing. I believe that if some people had been in that very upper room itself when the Holy Ghost descended, being blinded by prejudice and passion and worldliness, they would have heard only a noise, they would have perceived no flame. On the other hand, if Peter or John were sitting where you are now, their faces would be lighted up with supernatural light and they would say “Did you not see? Did you not hear? God is here. The great God has come down from the heavens to bless these people. God has promised and he has come.”
God is near. The whole earth is full of God’s glory.
Once Isaiah recognized his own sinfulness, a live coal that had been taken from the altar was touched to his lips and he was told that his sins were blotted out and that his guilt had departed. And immediately he heard the voice of the LORD saying “Whom shall I send and who shall go for us?” and Isaiah replied “Here I am, send me!” He didn’t yet know to what. But he had been called in the fire of the coal, just as we are called in baptism. In baptism, we die to ourselves so that we can rise with Christ, living for Jesus in a world that needs to hear his message.
In the midst of precarious situations, like Isaiah was in, like our church, our nation, and our world is in, the voice continues to ask us. In a broken and fearful world, with injustice everywhere, and with brokenness in our own church, our own town, our own denomination, who will speak for the Lord. By ourselves, we are inadequate. But through God’s grace, we may stand and be his lips, confident in God’s power (not ours), that we too can express “Here am I. Send me.”
God is here. God has promised and God has come. You are the message bearers in this time to that reality. The world needs to know of God’s holiness, of Jesus’ compassion, of the comfort of the Holy Spirit.
To that end, I will be inviting you to the baptismal font during the offering to remember that you have been baptized and called for such a time as this. When you come forward I will make a sign of the cross on your hand and say “Remember your baptism, remember your calling and be thankful.” To which you may reply “Here am I. Send me.”
Like Isaiah, we come for God in the sanctuary, we take God with us. Here am I, send me.
May it be so.