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.”Isaiah 6:1-3
Isaiah 6:1-8, which details Isaiah’s vision in the Temple and his subsequent call to serve as a prophet of the Lord, tells an ancient, almost other-worldly story. But it is also a timeless one that is still very relevant for us today. This reading takes us to a time over 700 years before Jesus was born, obviously a long, long time ago. But part of the power of God’s Word is that it finds ways to continue speaking to people of all generations, and people in all places. And this story is no exception.
So, let me set the stage for this reading. It takes place, Isaiah tells us, “in the year that King Uzziah died.” So, who is King Uzziah? His story is an interesting one. He became the King of Judah after his father was assassinated, and he then reigned as king for 52 years. He would have been the only king that many people in Isaiah’s day had ever known. And he was a good king. According to scripture (2 Chronicles 26), “he did what was right in the sight of the Lord.” That is, until pride led to his downfall. “He grew proud,” scripture tells us, “to his destruction.”
Uzziah’s pride led him to enter the Temple without proper humility before God. The Lord immediately struck him with leprosy, and he was leprous until he died. His illness, the consequence of his pride, led to anxiety and uncertainty for everyone throughout Judah. Their king was sick, ritually unclean, and unable to fulfill his public duties. And to make matters worse, the country of Assyria was becoming very powerful and was threatening to conquer them.
The Lord Sitting on a Throne
So, in the midst of all this uncertainty and anxiety, what did the prophet Isaiah do? He went to the Temple – to pray, and to worship God. Isaiah went to the Temple to be reminded of the one, singular truth that would accompany him all his days: That the Lord was on his throne.
Kings come and go. Threats to our nation, and our world, come and go. But through it all, God is faithful. The Lord is on his throne. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of God’s glory. Then, now, and always.
And if that was true for Isaiah, it is no less true for us. In the midst of whatever is happening in our lives, or in the world around us, we come here to the house of the Lord to be reminded of this same, singular truth, the most important truth that we will ever know: That the Lord is on his throne. God is in charge of this world. Always has been, and always will be.
Kings will come and go. Threats of illness, or war, or economic uncertainty or (fill in the blank) will come and go. But the Lord will continue to be our God – faithful, loving, steadfast, and here with us. And the whole earth will continue to be full of God’s glory, just as it always has been.
The only question for us is, will we see it? Will we believe it? And when we do, how will we respond?
Let’s dig a little deeper into Isaiah’s vision to get some clues about what God might be expecting of us. Isaiah, as I said, is in the Temple, praying and worshiping God. Always a good idea! And while he is praying, Isaiah sees the Lord sitting on a throne, with seraphs in attendance above him. And one of these seraphs called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Before we get to how Isaiah responded, you may be wondering what a seraph is. What are seraphs, or seraphim? (The plural can be either, and we usually use seraphim in our liturgy.) The seraphim, as best we can tell, are a type of heavenly being, or a type of angel. Along the seraphim, there are cherubim, and angels and archangels. And all of these heavenly beings are worshiping the Lord on his throne long before Isaiah arrives at the Temple. And they are all worshiping God long before we arrive on Sunday morning, too. What we are doing, what God’s people are always doing, is joining with all of God’s heavenly beings in this eternal, timeless, and endless worship service.
The Purpose of Isaiah’s Vision
But, if you are the practical type, you still might ask: What is the point of all of this? What is the purpose of Isaiah’s vision? The purpose of Isaiah’s vision, for him and for us, is to both humble us and to encourage us.
It is, or it should be, humbling to think of all these angelic beings worshiping God eternally. To think that we are just one very small part of this vast universe that God has created. To think that when we worship God, we join in this awesome worship service, that has always been, and always will be. Humbling, isn’t it? It reminds us that the world doesn’t revolve around us. Not even close. And even a mighty prophet like Isaiah, or a powerful king like Uzziah, can be humbled to see how small and insignificant they are in the grand scheme of things.
Isaiah’s vision is humbling in this way, but it is also encouraging to us. Because the angels and archangels and seraphim and cherubim remind us, in this amazing way, that we are not alone in this world. We believe, as we say in our Creed, in “all that is, seen and unseen.” The very existence of these heavenly beings teaches us that it is not completely up to us to solve all the problems of the world. It is God’s world. God is in charge. And God has plenty of beings that can do God’s bidding. It is simply our privilege, our blessing, and our responsibility to take part in God’s mission in our own, small way. And this is encouraging as well as humbling.
After Isaiah’s vision in the Temple, we get his response. Not his famous “Here am I; send me!” Not yet. First, Isaiah responds to this vision by saying, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”
Think about that: Isaiah’s first response to this incredible vision that he has is to confess that he is not worthy. He is not worthy to be in the presence of God. He is not worthy to receive this vision. He is a sinner. And he is filled with fear.
And that should always be our first response when we enter the Lord’s house to worship. To recognize that we are not worthy to be in the presence of the Lord. It is why we begin our worship every Sunday by confessing our sin, our unworthiness to be here.
But Isaiah’s vision doesn’t end there. After he confesses his sin, his unworthiness, God forgives him his sin, and makes him worthy. Just as God forgives our sin at the start of every Sunday’s worship service. Thankfully, not with a live coal touching our mouth! Isaiah is forgiven. And then, and only then, Isaiah is ready to respond to this vision, to this time of adoration and worship. And the same is true for us.
So, then, finally, after Isaiah is humbled and encouraged by what a small part humanity plays in God’s universe, and after Isaiah has confessed his sin and unworthiness, and after God has forgiven him and declared him worthy, then, and only then, does God ask the question that, in one way or another, God asks us all: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
That is God’s question to all who would worship God. To all who worship and desire to serve our Lord, our almighty God asks this same question: “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Because this world really does need our help. It is not a perfect place. It needs people who love God to love the world, too. And our world needs to be reminded of God’s overwhelming love for all of God’s creation.
And with God’s help, we can do that. Because God does have a mission for us, Just as God once did for Isaiah, and for so many who have come before us. And as long as we remember that it is God’s mission, not ours, then we have an important part to play in this mission. And it is our privilege, our blessing, and our responsibility, to do just that.
Some things never change, and in this case, that’s a good thing. The Lord is still on his throne, God is still in charge of our world. God’s steadfast love for us continues. And we are here today, as people of faith have always been, to worship God, to join with all the heavenly beings in their unending cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” We are here to humble ourselves, to remind ourselves that we are not in charge of this world. We are here to be encouraged by this, too.
And then? We are here to respond, in the same way that Isaiah responded those many years ago, and in the same way that generations have responded throughout the history of our world.
“Whom shall I send?” God asks. And we respond, “Here am I; send me!”
Here we are, Lord. To worship you, to be forgiven our sin, and to serve you. Send us, Lord, into this amazing world of yours, to share your love and mercy with all. Amen.