When you start reading Isaiah 6, you could be forgiven for thinking that it would have little or no relevance to your life. The prophet Isaiah is describing an otherworldly vision that sounds more terrifying than edifying and is a long way from our experiences of life faith. In the vision, God is sitting ‘high and lofty’ on a throne, a stance that doesn’t feel hugely welcoming. The hem of his robe is enough to fill the whole temple (which seems a little ostentatious, even by the standards of the most unbearable bridezilla). Seraphs, who are understood to be high-ranking angelic beings known for their light and purity, are circling the throne. They have six wings. With two wings, they cover their feet. With another two they cover their faces. And with two they fly. And as they do, they call out to each other, ‘Holy, holy, holy.'
This vision is of Heaven and it’s a vision that has shaped popular culture’s view of what Heaven will be like. We see it in Tom and Jerry and other cartoons when a character dies, grows wings and floats upwards to take his place in the heavenly throng for the eternal sing-song.
When I heard this story as a kid, I was sure that these angels must be bored out of their minds. I assumed that this was obedience rather than adoration. Recently, however, I heard someone suggest an alternative take. Perhaps what was actually happening was that, as they circled, the seraphs would see God from new angles and, as they did, called out:
Holy, holy, holy …
Calling out in amazement wasn’t their job. It was their unconscious response to the constant re-discovery of who God is and what he is like. It’s a journey that I feel like I am on myself.
Either way, it makes Isaiah deeply uncomfortable. When the auditions for the worship team require angelic ability, it’s no surprise that this oft-naked prophet (Isaiah 20:3) of disaster feels a little unworthy to try out.
All other voices are calling out about the goodness of God.
When Isaiah calls out, it’s about his own unworthiness.
I am a man of unclean lips who lives among a people of unclean lips.
It’s an understandable and beautifully human response.
Woe to me! Who am I to be here? Here are all the reasons I should be excluded, exiled or ruled out.
I don’t belong here. I am not good enough. I am not holy enough. I am not … enough.
At the moment of his insecurity, God’s response is not to judge. It is to forgive.
An angel flies from the altar and touches a hot coal to his lips, the self-diagnosed location of his brokenness, and says, Your guilt is gone. Your sin is blotted out.
So when God follows up by wondering who he should send, Isaiah, no longer weighed down by his unworthiness and the guilt that went with it, responds, Here I am. Send me.
If only it was that simple. If only it was that easy.
And yet, as we learn from Paul in this Romans passage, this is what we are called to. We have not received a spirit of slavery but a spirit of adoption that causes us to cry out, Abba, Father. We are not his slaves. We are his kids.
It actually is simple. These are simple truths.
You are loved.
You are forgiven.
You are His.
But what is simple is not necessarily easy.
The simplest things can actually be the hardest to believe.
What often shapes whether or not we can believe it is what we believe God to be like.
God is ‘high and lofty’ but, in Jesus, he is also low and near.
He sits on a throne but he also hung on a cross.
As Jesus says in John 3:17, he didn’t come into the world to judge and condemn us. He came to save us.
And he is inviting us, like he did Isaiah, to join him in revealing his Kingdom to the world.
But only when we come to believe these simple but incredible truths can we stop crying out
Who am I?
and starting calling out
Here I Am.
(For those unaccustomed to the “Lectionary”, allow me to explain. The lectionary is a directory of Scripture readings that are used in Catholic and Anglican churches on a 3 year cycle. It gives recommended passages for every week that include portions of the Old Testament, Psalms, Gospels and the Epistles. While those who have not experienced it can initially perceive it to be restrictive, there are two things I love about it:
1. There is a beauty to joining with churches around the world in exploring the same passage of Scripture.
2. When you follow the lectionary, you lead a congregation or community throughout almost the entire Bible every three years.
So I write this blog so that I am regularly wrestling with a variety of Scripture and so that others will find inspiration or encouragement in my reflection. Feel free to use it for sermon prep, as a devotion or (as I expect will happen eventually) as evidence in a heresy trial!
This week I focused on Isaiah 6:1-8 & Romans 8:12-17.
A Vision of God in the Temple
6 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. 2 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. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 The pivots[a] on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 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!”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph[b] touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” 8 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!”
12 So then, brothers and sisters,[a] we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba![b] Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness[c] with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.