Sermon for Sunday February 10th, 2019, the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
The Lessons: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 138; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
The Text: Isaiah 6:1-8
The Topic: Our response to meeting with God
In today’s First Lesson, we have a record of the prophet Isaiah’s vision of God and God’s call to him. The year that King Uzziah died was 740 B.C., and it seemed as if a golden age in the southern kingdom of Judah had passed. No leader had arisen capable of the great military achievements of King Uzziah, among them the added fortifications of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 26). But Uzziah had suffered exclusion because of leprosy for the last ten years of his life, ostensibly because he had committed the sacrilege of usurping the priestly function of offering incense in the temple (2 Chronicles 26:16-21).
THE VISION THAT ISAIAH SAW
The prophet Isaiah saw a vision of the Lord seated on his throne, high and lifted up with his robes (or his glory – LXX) filling the temple (Is. 6:1). Above or around the Lord were these angelic creatures called seraphim, fiery in appearance, since their name means “burning ones”. Each creature had six wings, only two of which were for flying, and the other two pairs for covering his feet and face to shield them from the power and brilliance of God’s splendour. They continually cry to one another “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Is. 6:3, KJV). So loud are their shouts of praise that the doorposts of the temple shake from the sound and the temple is filled with smoke. One is reminded of the account of the glory cloud of the Lord filling the temple at its consecration (2 Chronicles 5:13-14). The same Hebrew word (kabod) for glory or splendor is used of the glory of God which appeared to Moses in the burning bush (Ex. 3:1-6).
ISAIAH’S REACTION TO THIS VISION AND GOD’S CLEANSING OF HIM
Notice carefully the prophet Isaiah’s reaction to this vision of God’s glory. He is utterly unable to trivialize it. Even if he had had a cell-phone to text the news of it to someone, he couldn’t have. He cries, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Is. 6:5, KJV). Isaiah’s words, “I am undone,” can also mean, “I am destroyed; I am as good as dead.” Interestingly, the Septuagint (LXX) uses the same verb for “I am undone” as is used in the Greek New Testament in Acts 2:37 to express the reaction of the crowds to whom St. Peter preached his first sermon: “they were cut to the heart/pierced to the heart”. This is a term used to express a sense of deep conviction of one’s own sin. The overwhelming glory of God had just the same effect on the prophet Isaiah. He was profoundly aware of his sinfulness and unworthiness to behold God’s presence.
Instead of dying as a result of having seen God’s glory, Isaiah was purified when a seraph touched his lips with a coal taken with tongs from the temple altar of blood sacrifice. This image is used figuratively to show that in answer to Isaiah’s cry of conviction of his sin, God has cleansed him from his sin, so that he is now made pure. Though he still lives among a people of unclean lips, he has been made pure, so that he may later speak pure words on God’s behalf. The image of the live coal from the altar of burnt offerings also suggests that one day the Lord Jesus Christ by his offering of himself on the cross will purge from sin all who believe in him, but it also testifies to God’s gracious love in removing the sin and purging the iniquity of all who came to him in repentance and seeking forgiveness even before the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now that he is forgiven, and his iniquity removed, Isaiah receives his call from God, and he can respond with confidence in the affirmative to God’s questions, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Is. 6:8). So began the prophet Isaiah’s ministry.
Though we all have received different vocations from God, we are all called to obey Him in them. The Prayer Book Catechism’s answer to the question, “What is thy duty towards thy Neighbour?” ends with these words, “But to learn and labour truly to get mine own living, And to do my duty in that state of life unto which it shall please God to call me” (from The Catechism, p. 580, The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Oxford University Press, 1928).
Even kings have learnt this lesson, as this story illustrates:
In the eleventh century, King Henry III of Bavaria grew tired of court life and the pressures of being a monarch. He made application to Prior Richard at a local monastery, asking to be accepted as a contemplative and spend the rest of his life in the monastery.
“Your Majesty,” said Prior Richard, “do you understand that the pledge here is one of obedience? That will be hard because you have been a king.”
“I understand,” said Henry. “The rest of my life I will be obedient to you, as Christ leads you.”
“Then I will tell you what to do,” said Prior Richard. “Go back to your throne and serve faithfully in the place where God has put you.”
When King Henry died, a statement was written: “The king learned to rule by being obedient.”
When we tire of our roles and responsibilities, it helps to remember God has planted us in a certain place and expects us to be faithful there.
– p. 369, 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers and Writers, from Craig Larson & Leadership Journal. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2008.
CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
The ways in which God calls his servants to particular missions and tasks differ from person to person, but one thing remains constant. God’s call must result in our obedient surrender of ourselves to do his will, since we have received from God through the Lord Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection the forgiveness of sins and gift of eternal life which have saved us from eternal death and enabled us to be Christ’s witnesses. In answer to God’s call, will you say to God, “Here am I; send me”?