God- much like the visions or dreams of Ezekiel and Daniel, the Apostle John in

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1 Isaiah 6:1-11 Vision and Mission Here is the call of Isaiah. In the first part of the passage, his vision of the glorious God- much like the visions or dreams of Ezekiel and Daniel, the Apostle John in the last book of the Bible, and Paul, caught up in the third heaven, who heard there divine secrets or holy words of power that must not be repeated; and then in the second half of the chapter, Isaiah s mission, in which God sends him out to preach against the nation s sinfulness. This account, more than the visions of the other prophets perhaps, may inspire and awe, but at the last, it may also confuse us. There may be answers here to our personal questions, Who am I; what am I here for? but also deep questions about God and God s purposes which are difficult to understand. As creatures, we simply cannot know all the truth- our wisdom is limited and compromised by pride and self-concern. See what happens to Isaiah, every bit of his confidence and self-possession are destroyed by the magnificent vision. Notice how real it is to him: he doesn t even call it a vision, but writes, I saw the Lord. I think we can take from this that the meaning of his experience is not educational-this is not a dream that teaches about God, but it is the reality of God, and thus, the reality about Isaiah himself; and the reality of it brings about transformation. Think of Moses kneeling

2 before the burning bush, who didn t just imagine the voice in the fire, but met God there and was utterly changed that day; think of Elijah who knew God in the sound of silence on the mountain, and his comprehension of the Holy One was completely changed; think of Jesus in the wilderness those forty days, suffering privation and temptation: that was not a vision of Satan and his lies nor of God and the splendor of heaven, but in his loneliness and suffering the reality of God that proved to him the meaning and direction of his life as the Suffering Messiah. Encounters with the true God that change everything. And here is Isaiah, who sees the majesty of God and the size of God- the earth is full of his glory! the seraphim sing- sees the fire and the smoke, feels the earthquake and the power of the mighty voice, and he is undone. Lost he says, no spiritual or emotional or cultural foundation- all is taken away; everything he knew is now uncertain; Woe is me! all he believed in, he understands now, were just lies. Falsehoods he had clung to, lies he had unknowingly repeated as truth because they gave him a sense of self, and tied him to a people and a community, gave him a history. But he had it all wrong. In one instant, he discovered his life was a lie. He had encountered the true God who changes everything.

3 I m sure there have been events in your life that have brought you to a deeper understanding of God, the death of someone dear, a betrayal, a loss, a great hurt- or possibly a great joy. A better understanding of God, a closer relationship to God, that s a good thing, but it isn t everything; because we can deceive ourselves so easily: we may think, I know I am in good shape with God- I try to be moral, I pray, I come to church, I contribute my money, I even feel those spiritual highs from time to time. But it s not enough. Many people will tell you about God s greatness, and that if you will just accept Jesus in your heart, you can feel him always with you; many will say, Just obey God and you can know his presence. But that isn t Isaiah s experience. He saw the Lord, but didn t feel comforted or happy about his life. His vision of God showed him his sin, revealed the lies in his life that had to be burned away. Seeing God, for Isaiah, was a painful thing rather than a joyous event. And it led him beyond the smug idea we may sometimes have of me and God. It led him into mission. Now, I don t mean to be heavy-handed or remove joy from faith, and I am not trying to make this sermon impressive and deep. The scripture points out the taking away of Isaiah s sin- that s a wonderful, joyous thing. We should admit that this passage is the call of an exceptional person. His experience

4 and his awareness was probably much more profound than ours could be, and his mission was probably more demanding than ours. But the question that Isaiah hears God ask is the question we also must hear and in some way respond to, Whom shall I send; who will go for us? It is a demanding question that takes us beyond, Jesus and me in the garden alone, and he walks with me and talks with me. God s question means that we also must go out into the midst of the people of unclean lips. But it doesn t mean we go out with burning coals in our hands, as though we are the chosen ones who may give or withhold forgiveness, as though our conception of God is complete and we are right in condemning those who disagree. It means going out- just as we are, loved and forgiven. And having received that from God, we go out to pass on that same grace to others. The hardest part of this chapter is the message Isaiah is commanded to preach. I m not man enough to do it- I don t have the spiritual insight or courage to preach these words. In verses 9-10, we have the content of Isaiah s preaching, and we can say that Isaiah was a hell-fire, law-and-commandment kind of preacher- either sure of himself or self-righteous, or he understood God s purposes at a level much deeper than most of us do. Why would God call Isaiah to a ministry of judgment

5 and destruction? There must have been some long-term plan, to a time still far off, when God would bring about a new beginning for Israel. But why couldn t Isaiah just preach God s love, how God forgives and longs to give us blessing? Why such a word of judgment upon these people? The answer is found in the previous chapters, the extent of their sinfulness, their indifference and self-indulgence; there we can read about lying lips and uncaring hearts, their blindness and deafness to the suffering of others. Here are a people, in chapter 5, who create greater and greater wealth for themselves (5:8) and then party all morning and all night (5:11), oblivious to the plight of others; here are a people who call upon God (5:19) but all the while accepting bribes and withholding justice (5:23). Here are a people, as chapter 1 tells it, who come to worship, but God turns away from them; who come trampling into the sanctuary trying to give worship and offerings with hands filled with blood (1:15). Listen to God s word to them: bring me no more of your meaningless sacrifices- I have had enough; these ceremonies and assemblies and feasts, I hate them- they have become a burden to me; when you spread out your hands to pray, I will turn away, and even though you may speak loud prayers, I will not listen (1:11-15).

6 So they come to worship, but it is false. So much they have left undone, so many selfish actions that make their worship and prayers and praise all lies. God says to them, Wash yourselves, put away evil, and learn to do good: seek justice, correct oppression, defend the orphan, plead for the poor (1:16-17). Is this then the secret of God s presence; is this the truth about life instead of a false life? Is this the vision of himself God is trying to show us? That if God s people will respond to God s love with relationships that are kind and loving and hospitable, then, instead of destruction and despair, we may participate in the blessings of God. Is this the mission prepared for us, to seek justice and peace for others, to love and to work for the poor and oppressed, so that we may all experience God s forgiveness and rejoice to share the word of God s mercy and love with one another?

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