Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Isaiah 6:1-8 A Vision of God in the Temple
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!’
Today’s reading is terrifying and glorious. Do you hear it? Do you feel it? Isaiah certainly did. And I’d like to invite you now to join Isaiah in this story. Some people find this practice easier or more effective when they close their eyes. Make a choice you feel safe and comfortable with. But most importantly, open your ears and your heart. Give yourself permission to feel it.
You remember where you are. You are standing at Isaiah’s shoulder in the calm evening. You are looking out of the huge, heavy wooden doors that close off the holiest of holies. The dwelling place of the ark. It’s behind you now. You’re looking out, into the calm of the courtyard beyond. It’s quiet.
You remember when you are. The king, Uzziah, is dead. Who is king now? It’s not mentioned. Why? It’s not important. You are with the true king here in this space. The only King that really matters in this moment is God. And you’re in God’s house.
Suddenly, a rumble behind you. It starts small, some sand on the ground blows past your feet out to the courtyard. Your eyes go to the ground and slowly you look up behind you. Then all at once everything erupts! A God enthroned, only briefly glimpsed, whose robe fills the entire temple. You’re blinded by its folds of glorious fabric spinning through the air. Seraphim, six-winged angels of the lord, call out the Trisagion, the acclamation of God as thrice Holy, Holy, Holy! The only such Trisagion in the Hebrew Bible. Imagine the blinding light obscuring your vision of the One enthroned. The soft brush of their robe as it swirls around you still. The wind rushing from the beating of the six wings of each seraphim, the temple is full of them. A hurricane of heavenly wing beats. The sound of their voices shaking the doors of the temple as they sing out praises to your God!
You close your eyes. You are in the presence of the Lord! But who are you? Why are you chosen to be here at this moment? You know you are not worthy to be in this space of heavenly majesty. In the middle of this cacophony of Divine Beings! You feel very small, very, very small. You fall to your knees and cry out! Woe is me! I am lost, for I am of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
Expecting to be struck down at any moment, you are curled on the ground but look up at one of the seraphim breaks from the chorus, swooping from the altar fire to hover right in front of you. The rustle of the feathers from their wings sounds so familiar, you can almost feel it, you’ve held doves in your hands many times, but these wings. They are strong. The angel lifts a live, hot coal taken from the altar fire and presses to your lips. You recoil for fear of the searing pain it must surely bring, but instead, it is as if you are feeling your mouth for the first time. Once unclean, now made new again, and all through the divine power of God’s forgiveness. Your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out! What will you do now? You feel like you could sing the Trisagion just as loudly as the heavenly host assembled before you!
And then, as if your new-found confidence and faith was broadcasting from you with pulsating lights, you hear the voice of the one unseen. The voice of the Lord asking, “Who shall I send? Who will speak for us?” You don’t hesitate. The liberating kiss of the hot coal’s forgiveness has cracked open your heart and without thinking you say “Here I am, send me!”
Slowly. Slowly. Return to this space. Carry that feeling of overwhelming conviction and trust and faith. Hold it in your heart as you rejoin us now.
This reading tells us that even when we think we are not worthy to be in a shared space with the divine, the divine sees through us. God sees not our unclean lips or the unclean lips of those around us, but the pure and eternally lovable center to each of our beings. And God knows what that centered, open being is capable of.
Today is about a calling. A literal call from a God unseen, but whose presence is felt just as tangibly as you feel the chair you are sitting on now. It’s also about a man who thought, “You’ve got the wrong guy! I am very, very small. I have unclean lips and am surrounded by other people who say things and act in a way that’s even WORSE than that! How can I belong here, with you?”
But today is also about a God that forgives and cleanses, and asks, not demands, but asks, “Who will speak for me? Who will go out and “tell everyone in the world that I’m yours”? Today... is about stepping up and saying, yes!
But saying yes? That’s not easy! There are ten words, ten words that, when combined, form a question we’ve all asked and been asked more times than we can count: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Sure, this question is posed to kids all the time, but it is more and more unusual for folks well out of their childhood to still ponder this question themselves. And as people of faith, we need to constantly ask ourselves “What am I called by God to do? What does God see in me through smoke and the swirling robe-filled temple? What has my mouth been unlocked to proclaim? When I lace up or slip on my shoes, where will I go to serve God and be a voice for God’s creation?”
You don’t need to have it figured out just yet. I certainly don’t. That’s the beauty of discernment. We are all on a walk with God while we are out in the world, trying our best to speak up for God through our work, our exchanges with others, our presence.
It’s also helpful to remember that not every encounter with God need happen in the holiest place on Earth. It can happen in your office at work, on the bus, my most direct experience with God happened while I was alone in my bedroom when I was living in Canterbury. I had decided to investigate the New Testament a bit to see if there was anything more I connected to than just an academic interest in religion.
And then I came upon Matthew 11: 28-30: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
I felt a physical weight lift off of me. In the same way that that kiss of the hot coal freed Isaiah from guilt and sin, I felt freed from the voices of self-doubt and self-criticism that hounded me constantly. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I could say “Here I am! This is me, the me that Jesus sees. The me that can go out in the world and set aside the doubt and fear, even just for a minute. and just exist. Listen to where the spirit would lead me.”
And here I am now. With you all in this uncertain time. We are all being asked questions by God about how we will act. What will we say and do during the weeks, months, and years to come. How will we speak for God in our community? Do you have ideas? I want to hear them! Do you need a partner? Look at the others on this call with you, journeying with you. What a crew we have! What a blessing God has given us. Let’s work together to say as loudly and clearly as we can. Here I am, Lord! Send me!
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.