Sermon Text: Isaiah 6:1-8
Date: May 26 & 27, 2018
Holy Trinity Sunday, Year B
Isaiah 6:1-8 (EHV)
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each one had six wings. With two they covered their faces. With two they covered their feet. With two they flew. One called to another and said,
Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of Armies!
The whole earth is full of his glory!
The foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of the one who called, and the temple was filled with smoke.
Then I said, “I am doomed! I am ruined, because I am a man with unclean lips, and I dwell among a people with unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Armies!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, carrying a glowing coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with the coal and said, “Look, this has touched your lips, so your guilt is taken away, and your sin is forgiven.”
Then I heard the Lord’s voice, saying, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”
Then I said, “Here I am. Send me!”
Holy, Holy, Holy Is the Lord of Armies!
1. He joins us to his holiness
2. He sends us with his holiness
As we’ve been doing this latest round of member visits, it’s been a real joy. Getting to sit down with our families, learn more detail about their joys and struggles is a tremendous blessing especially for my prayer life—specific prayers of thanksgiving and requests for help can be commended to our Lord who can handle all or has blessed in more ways than we can fathom.
But, I recently had a question asked of me regarding people’s reactions to these visits. One of our members who hadn’t participated in one of these visits before described the emotions before the meeting as being called into the principal’s office. “What is like to go visit with Pastor? Seems like it could be scary!”
Of course, those of you who know me well know that it’s anything but scary. Those visits are about as relaxed as could be. But I understand the feeling. Any time you have a meeting with an authority figure of some kind—the principal, a police officer, the mayor, even, perhaps, your pastor—there’s a feeling that maybe I’ll be in trouble, maybe something bad will come from this, maybe it’ll be an experience that I’ll wish had never happened.
Now turn that emotional upheaval up to 11 when you consider not just an authority figure but the authority figure. What would it be like to be called into God’s office? Your boss may or may not know the extent of the mistake you made last week. The pastor probably doesn’t know everything you’ve done or are wrestling with. The police officer may not actually know what you’ve said or done. But God does. He knows your actions, your words, your very thoughts. He is holy, set apart, perfect; we are not. So sitting in his waiting room is nausea-inducing. Coming into his office may lead you to pass out.
So, perhaps we understand where Isaiah is coming from in his vision that he receives as God is calling him to be his prophet. He sees God seated on his throne. He sees seraphs, angelic attendants to God who could be clothed in something looking like fire, flying in the air. They are calling back and forth to each other about God’s holiness, yet even these perfect angelic beings dare not look at or reveal themselves to the Creator God; they cover their faces and their feet in supreme modesty and respect. This is God in all his authority, might, and power as the King of the Universe
And then there’s Isaiah, a self-confessed sinner. He had not been the perfect person God expected him to be, demanded him to be. He himself says, “I am doomed! I am ruined, because I am a man with unclean lips, and I dwell among a people with unclean lips, and because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Armies!” Isaiah knows that he cannot possibly hope to stand in God’s presence as a sinner. He done, said, and thought things that are wrong. For those things, God will ruin him, destroy him. He’s doomed to hell, because that’s the punishment for rebellion against the perfect King of All.
If Isaiah lived today, I think there’s a good chance that people would tell him he has an overactive conscience. “Isaiah, you’re not that bad. You’re a good person! What are you worried about? God will surely be kind to you!” We have no reason to think that Isaiah, before his call to be a prophet, was anything less than a faithful servant of his God. I doubt that he advocated for worshiping false gods or ignored the Sabbath Day regulations. But even as a “good” believer, Isaiah knew that he wasn’t a perfect believer, and that was enough to be disastrous.
Have we ever felt “pretty good” about our status before God? Have we ever thought, “Well, at least I don’t do the things and say the things that those people do. I prioritize worship and time in God’s Word. I’m faithful in bringing my family to God’s house and I support the work of our congregation with my prayers and offerings. I’m kind to other people and help in my community.” Those are all great things, but if there’s any shred of thinking in us that for these things God should be very happy with us, we need to take some time and live in Isaiah’s shoes for a bit. Because you and I are people of unclean lips and belong to a congregation of Christians with unclean lips. You and I cannot and will not be able to stand before God on our own.
As Isaiah stood there, trembling, waiting for his eternal condemnation, one of the angels plucked a coal from the fire on the altar and very specifically addressed his concerns. “You’re a man of unclean lips? This coal from the altar has made your lips clean. Your status of ‘guilty’ has been changed to ‘innocent’; your ongoing sin is forgiven.”
The altar in Old Testament worship life was centered around sacrifices, usually burnt offerings. Thus, the angel brings a coal from this sacrifice to purify Isaiah. The ultimate altar had no coals; it had wood and nails. The cross is the altar upon which God ultimately took away our guilt and continues to provide forgiveness for our sins. Because on that horrendous altar, the Father sacrifices his Son for us. And in that substitutionary death, our guilt is removed and our sins forgiven. No coals touch our lips, but our Savior’s body and blood is given to us for our forgiveness. Water in the name of our triune God assures us that we are members of his family. God’s grace, that undeserved love that he shows to each of us is clear, “You are not worthy on your own, but Jesus has made you perfect, worthy of eternal life. Your guilt is taken away and your sins forgiven.”
I hope that after you’ve had one of our member visits, you’re able to assure other members that these are as “no big deal” as they possibly can be. They are low-key and fun (at least for me!). If someone had a lot of anxiety about that visit, and you knew you could end that anxiety, wouldn’t you want to? Wouldn’t you want to bring calm to someone and say, “No, don’t worry about it! It’s all good!”
Now, again, turn that up to 11. People are scared not just of meeting with their pastor; their scared of meeting God. Whether or not it’s something they’ve ever consciously thought about, the thought of meeting God and the knowledge that such a meeting with God is absolutely inevitable is terrifying.
God knows this is the situation that all people face. He knows that people are terrified and that he has the solution. This was true in Isaiah’s day too. So after God assures Isaiah of his forgiveness, what is his next order of business? “How do we get the word out?” The triune God speaks aloud to himself, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah knew from personal experience how relieving this message was. He knew that he wanted others to know the calm that he now had, even in the presence of the holy God. And so he volunteers. “I’m right here! I can go! Send me!”
You, too, know the relief of sins forgiven. You know what it means to stand condemned in your sin and then to have God say, “I have removed these sins; they are gone forever.” You know the peace, as we were reminded of last weekend, of having the Holy Spirit bring these truths to your heart. You know what it is for God to change you from sinner to saint.
God continues to look for people to send with this message. The last couple of weeks, classes from Martin Luther College and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary graduated and many new pastors, teachers, and staff ministers have been assigned to serve in this role. You help to make that happen, through your gifts to our congregation, a portion of which goes to support our ministerial education schools to train these young men and women. You pray for that work and the work of our local congregation. You invite people to come to church with you, you tell them of the comfort you have with your sins being removed and the assurance of heaven. In so many different ways, you and I join Isaiah in being partners in this work of sharing the gospel with a world that will continually needs to hear it until God calls us home.
God is holy; we are not. But what joy there is to know and remember that he had made us holy in Jesus’ death for us! God bless your union with him and your sharing of that oh-so-comforting message with all people! Amen.