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!’ And he said, ‘Go and say to this people: “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.”
- Isaiah 6:1-9a
I’ll confess, I had look him up: “Uzziah: King of Judah, eighth century B.C., ruled for 52 years.” Quite a run. Only leprosy derailed his reign; leprosy – it was said – was punishment for disobeying God. There’s even a Rembrandt painting of the old King so afflicted.
Isaiah and his contemporaries must have felt disoriented from the loss of their leader after more than half a century. I was eight when Lyndon Johnson was elected in 1964. Imagine if he was still in office today. No wonder the great prophet was inspired to see things!
And what a vision: Six-winged seraphs, a house shaking, filled with smoke, and the Lord enthroned in glory. Isaiah’s reaction to what one preacher calls his “close
encounter” with God, is typical – I am not worthy, my words are corrupt, and I’m toast. Yet he is given a chance to redeem himself. His unclean lips are purified. Now, the Lord asks, who will help me?
And what is Isaiah’s mission? To tell the people contrary things. “Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.” Is this direction or prediction? Perhaps both. Old and New Testaments are filled with sights not seen and truths not heard. No one trusts anything anymore, even facts right in front of them. Sound familiar?
We are amidst such a transition today. Reality is distorted in anxiety provoking and vertigo inducing ways. It’s hard not to feel unclean and unworthy. Yet God purges us of our guilt and shame. He
tells us to go forth and spread the message. All we need is a vision.
Are we ready for our close encounter with God? Are our eyes and ears truly open?
- Randy Schwimmer, Senior Warden