Hearing without a Veil Let’s Pray… Rev Stuart C. Buisch
Isaiah 6 is full of experiences. It’s like the sort of advent day when it gets dark outside, you are exhausted because of all that has happened, and you haven’t gotten close to finishing the list you wrote this morning. Isaiah experiences God, himself, sin and a call.
We are not sure from the text if Uzziah held sway over Isaiah or if it was catastrophic when he died but for some reason Isaiah experiences God. In some way God is seen high and, on a throne, and the heavenly armies fill the air with their presence and their cheers or cries or shouting. This was a kind of Pentecost experience for Isaiah although it seems more intense and overwhelming including shaking the room, he is in. Did you notice that what the angels are shouting to each other is not really clear? Holiness and glory are God words but what do they mean to us? It doesn’t disclose any deep theology. It doesn’t solve any ethical issues. It is quite limited. Or is it? God is Holy. The entire earth is full of God’s glory. This is, of course, before global warming, systemic racism or no racism, division between families and neighbors. Or is it? Clearly this disclosure of God is not pre-greed, pre-gluttony, pre-sin. But before we move on what does Isaiah’s experience say to us? If we experienced a vision of God, in any measure, with or without sound, light, angels what would it mean? A patient recently said to me that they had had an experience of being touched by the Spirit. You probably don’t believe me, they said. What was clear was that nothing was ever the same after that experience. So too Isaiah is changed by meeting God.
He meets himself. His says he has unclean lips. In the presence of all God’s holiness he sees sin. Isaiah doesn’t linger in that part of the experience long. But he is terribly afraid. He is ruined he says. The distance between God’s holiness and his uncleanness is tremendous. If one chooses to linger in that distance it could indeed be overwhelming. As a teenager each time I recognized sin I was overwhelmed, distraught – a drama king no doubt- but forgiveness seemed a special, high tech/theological event that deserved, I didn’t know what.
God working with Isaiah displays no such definition of forgiveness. As Isaiah is dithering through his uncleanness God is right there with a glowing coal to touch the unclean lips and guilt and sin are gone. If we as a people of God could capture this truth not only in our heads but also in our hearts that would be a good first step. However, this truth of forgiveness must be integrated into our relationships. All our relationships. If the last ten months have disclosed anything other than what we read and hear in our news feeds, it is that there are plenty of folk to forgive and be forgiven by. But not just in our heads, not simply in our feelings we must forgive people removing all the guilt and sin. All of it. We need God to work that through us. This is not human task alone, and yet it needs to be through our hands, our hearts, our lips and most sincerely our interactions with others. This forgiveness must live in our relationships.
Do you love it! Isaiah says then. I thought this account was intense enough. I thought it was clearly time for a morning coffee. Time to process. Time to journal about it. Isaiah’s view of God has changed. His understanding of himself has been uncovered. This is serious business! Stop alright already, make sense of it. Then.
After each of our encounters with God there is perhaps always a then. There is a next step. There is something that could not have happened before all that went on. There are in life, thens. Have you ever experienced a great deal, much of which is life changing and overwhelming only to slam right into a then?
Isaiah was now able to hear. He clearly heard. He heard the words of the angels; he heard the voices inside his head about his uncleanness. He heard God’s angel/messenger – that’s what angels do, deliver messages. Isaiah heard that he was clean, no guilt, no sin. And then he heard God say he needed another messenger, one that folk would see, not believe but see and hear. God foretells the audiences that Isaiah will encounter, folk with ears but not comprehension, eyes that can’t see what they see, individuals and perhaps communities that are quite happy with what they have. No thank you we don’t want anything else. I find it quite curious when a patient realizes that I am a chaplain how quick some are to have ‘no needs’. As if to say that faith stuff doesn’t work for them or what are they saying? That would mess with my plans, my schedule doesn’t have room for God stuff. Seldom do I get an experience or intuition of contentment from those patients but I am grateful for their honesty. Sometimes when they realize I am not a shoe salesman selling only size eight for everyone they discover that they have different needs than they were willing to admit.
How Long? I really like Isaiah! How long is my question! When will this be over? I told my spouse I would be home by 5. God paints a dismal picture of doubt, apostasy, abandonment of God, barrenness, isolation.
But if you are still looking at Isaiah 6. If you are remembering the women in Matthew’s genealogy. Women whom some would call unclean even if their men were not so named but just as out of faith. You must be able to see that there is a seed in the shoot that grows from the stump destroyed in the time of God’s abandoning. God will do a new thing. That’s what I am waiting for this Advent. In the name of the Mighty Creator, the compassionate Savior, and the ever-fresh Spirit, amen
Praise and honor to you, living God; you chose the Hebrew people and brought them step by step to look for a redeemer, and hope for the Christ. Give us the grace to see our need and recognize salvation when it comes.
God of Israel old and new, write in our hearts the lessons of your law; prepare our minds to receive the gospel made visible in your Son Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray,