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. 2 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. 3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 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!” 6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 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.” 8 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!”
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Isaiah was a professional prophet. He was a temple employee in Jerusalem as one who speaks for God in service to the king. His ministry was during the 8th century BC at a time when Judah was actually doing well. King Uzziah had built new wells for the fields and watchtowers to be alert to invaders. The army was strong and things had finally turned around after a series of pretty bad kings. So Isaiah’s life wasn’t too bad.
Before this text, however, King Uzziah had made a mistake. His pride had gotten the better of him, apparently, and he decided he didn’t need the temple priests—even though their role was specifically designated by God. So, against God’s law, he went into the temple and was about to make an offering on his own. He was confronted by the priests and, as the story goes, was stricken with leprosy for this grievous infraction.
He had to live apart from everyone else and couldn’t rule that way. So he had to hand over the kingdom of Judah to his son Jotham.
Anyway, after suffering with leprosy for about 11 years, king Uzziah died. And Isaiah’s life was turned upside down. Not because Uzziah died—it actually had nothing to do with that—but because God, out of the blue, called Isaiah to a very specific prophetic ministry. A ministry he neither asked for nor wanted.
He had this bizarre vision of the greatness of God: the majesty, the awesomeness, the sovereignty of God were so vast that just the edge of God’s robe filled the entirety of the temple. Creatures were swirling around shouting about the holiness of God. And in the presence of the majesty of God’s glory, Isaiah suddenly realized how lowly and pathetic he, and all of Judah, really were.
But Isaiah’s sad condition didn’t stop God. One of the heavenly creatures took a hot coal from the altar and touched Isaiah’s mouth with it. Then this creature shouted, Now you’re forgiven. All’s good.
At that point Isaiah heard God ask, I’ve got a message for my people. Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?
Newly forgiven Isaiah rises up, Here am I; send me.
That’s where the text ends. Which is really unfortunate. Because we don’t get to hear what Isaiah was sent to do. Let me tell you, it wasn’t great. His call by God was very specific, very clear. He was called by God to tell the people that God says they’re never going to get it, they’ll never understand. No matter how hard they try, they will never see what God is about, never hear it, never know it. That was his God-appointed message. Can you imagine being the one sent to tell people that?
It’s at that point that Isaiah realizes this new prophet gig isn’t what he thought it would be, and says, Uhmm, so how long do I have to do this?
A couple of things to note that are relevant for us. 1) Forgiveness is about removing barriers. Isaiah was forgiven (with the live coal) not to get into heaven when he died, but forgiveness was actually removing barriers between Isaiah and God so that he could be with God to say these hard things in God’s name. And, 2) A call from God is always specific to the context. Isaiah was called by God to do this because it is what God needed at that time and in that place.
In the same tone as Isaiah, we are forgiven and called. Both individually and congregationally. We are forgiven and called.
Re: Forgiveness: It’s important that we grow beyond the preschool notion that Jesus died on the cross so I can be forgiven and go to heaven when I die. Forgiveness has a purpose in God’s work in the world. Forgiveness removes the barriers between us and God so that we are no longer separated from God but are with God in God’s mission in the world of love, compassion, mercy, and grace. Forgiveness is not an end in itself. Forgiveness allows us to join God in loving the world.
Re: Being Called: Our call to join God is probably more specific than we assume. It’s one thing to say, “Love the world in Jesus’s name.” But it’s another thing to say, “God calls me to show love in the world that looks like this particular thing.”
God is active in this time and in this place. And God’s love for the world meets the world as it is now. Our call is to show God’s love in this part of the world. What gifts, what passions do you have that allow you to show love? That’s probably God’s call to you!
Let me give you a personal example. I grew up in Ogden, UT as the only non-Mormon family in the neighborhood, so I was already on the outside looking in. I was the smart, nerdy, insecure kid who wasn’t good at sports and played the clarinet in the band. I got beat up more days than I didn’t. Got the picture? I was never the “popular” kid.
But as painful as parts of that were, I have a heart—a passion—for those people who get left out, pushed away, not included. Part of my “Isaiah-type” call from God is to welcome the unwelcomed, include the excluded. Which is why you hear me preach so often about racism, sexism, LGBTQ, poverty. In our context today, these are among the people who have historically been excluded from privilege and power. God has called me to speak of God’s call to love these.
And God keeps removing the barriers that are in the way of me doing this. More and more. Day after day. Sometimes the same barriers have to keep being removed. Sometimes I discover God is removing a new one. But that removal of barriers is forgiveness, so that I can follow God’s call.
Isaiah wasn’t called to change the world. Isaiah was called to follow God’s call in a specific time and in a specific place.
Pause in silence for a minute. . . . Think about the world in which you live. Your context. . . . Where is there a lack of compassion that bothers you? . . . Where are you aware of hatred or violence or exclusion being shown? . . . God sees it too.
This is why you are forgiven. This is why barriers between you and God have been removed. You are forgiven. And God now asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Who can show my love and grace and compassion in that situation?
Newly forgiven and called people of God, now we rise up and say, “Here we are; send us.”