The Magnificent Majesty of God

Scriptures: Isaiah 6:1-8

I think that today’s Scripture is an example of how good God is, and how God has a plan. I’m using something called the Narrative Lectionary. For those of you who don’t know, a lectionary is a series of readings, either daily or on Sundays, and there are a number of them out there. One that’s commonly used by Presbyterians is the Revised Common Lectionary, but a year ago I started using the Narrative Lectionary for something different.

They had picked this Scripture passage about five years ago. And I decided to use it at least three months ago, maybe closer to four. And yet, I believe it is so appropriate, for not just this time but this very week.

As we approach our text for today, let me share a little context with you (actually, a lot of context). King Uzziah was one of the good kings of Judah. His father was King Amaziah. Ministering during Uzziah’s reign were the prophets Hosea, Isaiah, and Amos.

King Uzziah was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned for 52 years in Judah, from approximately 790 to 739 BC. He “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” as his father Amaziah had done, and we see all this in 2 Chronicles 26.

King Uzziah sought the Lord “during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God,” Scripture tells us. This Zechariah is most likely a godly prophet to whom Uzziah listened. As long as Uzziah made a point to seek God, God made him prosperous. Unfortunately, after Zechariah died, Uzziah made some mistakes later in his life.

King Uzziah in the Bible is shown as a wonderfully intelligent and innovative king, under whom the state of Judah prospered. He was used by God to defeat the Philistines and Arabs. He built fortified towers and strengthened the armies of Judah, and he commissioned skilled men to create devices that could shoot arrows and large stones at enemies from the city walls (we would call them ballistas and catapults).

He also built up the land, and the Bible says he “loved the soil.” The Ammonites paid tribute to King Uzziah, and his fame spread all over the ancient world, as far as the border of Egypt. His fame might not have been as great as Solomon, or David, but he was certainly somebody who made his mark in the history of Israel and Judah.

Unfortunately, a lot like Solomon, King Uzziah’s fame and strength led him to become proud, and this led to his downfall. He committed an unfaithful act by entering the temple of God to burn incense on the altar. Burning incense on the altar was something only the priests could do. By attempting to do this himself, Uzziah was basically saying he was above following the Law. It was not a humble thing to do.

Eighty courageous priests, led by Azariah, tried to stop the king: “It is not right for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is for the priests, the descendants of Aaron, who have been consecrated to burn incense. Leave the sanctuary, for you have been unfaithful; and you will not be honored by the Lord God” So it says in 2 Chronicles 26.

Uzziah became angry with the priests who dared to confront him. But, “while he was raging at the priests in their presence before the incense altar in the Lord’s temple, leprosy broke out on his forehead.” Uzziah ran from the temple in fear, because God had struck him. From that day to the day of his death, King Uzziah was a leper. He lived in a separate palace and was not allowed to enter the temple of the Lord.

I mention all this, in part, to give you an idea who Uzziah was, for his impact on Isaiah’s life. Also, during the latter stage of his life, once he was a leper, he had to rule primarily through Jotham, his son. But rule he did, and he was very creative.

Isaiah was a priest as well as a prophet. There are sources that question whether Isaiah, who began his ministry in the time of Uzziah, was close to the king; and whether he regretted not prophesying properly to the King and giving him the opportunity to repent. While worthy questions to consider, I don’t think they necessarily had anything to do with where Isaiah was, and the vision he received.

This first sentence in this passage, “in the year King Uzziah died,” most people just use as a marker for time. That gives them an idea when this vision occurred. But I’d like to suggest that it’s much deeper than that. I don’t think the Lord puts anything in there by accident.

Regardless of Isaiah’s relationships, this time when King Uzziah died was a time of political upheaval. The king, who had ruled for 52 years – the longest in this time of two kingdoms – had finally died. All the work he had done, all the reputation he had built in the world, the progress he had made – all of it could very easily come crashing down; and after that could come invasion.

Most sources agree that Isaiah was likely in the earthly Temple at the time of his vision. Some believe he was in there performing cultic duties for one of their festivals. Others have argued he went in there like King Hezekiah to lay his trouble before the Lord God.

Whatever his reason for being there, while he was there Isaiah had this amazing vision, that the liturgist read for us. I want to note several things about it. We will explore each of those things a little bit.

Let me tell you some things I am not going to talk about in any kind of depth: the angels and all the traditions that surround them; a detailed discussion of the attributes of God, and in particular His holiness; and the missionary/prophetic call that Isaiah received. So you might be wondering, what am I going to talk about, because that was pretty much everything. Well, let’s see what we can do with it.

Isaiah apparently had an eye for detail. He gives an amazing description of the heavenly throne room, the seraphim, and their song. He talks about the lintels shaking. How many of you even know what a lintel is?

The translation the liturgist read said “doorposts.” The lintel is the door jamb, pretty much. It’s the place you go in an earthquake, right, if you don’t have an earthquake shelter, because it’s supposed to be more stable? That’s what was shaking – that gives you an idea of the power and might of the voices that were singing.

Isaiah talks about the smoke of God’s train filling the temple. And he wasn’t talking about a choo-choo. The king had a train, a long cape, a lot like a bride does. And that was apparently made of smoke, and this train was filling the temple with sweet incense and smoke.

He has all these details. But what is interesting is that he does not describe God Himself. I don’t think it is because God told him not to, nor because he didn’t want to. I think he couldn’t. The reality of God’s presence was so overwhelming that Isaiah could do little more than panic.

Think about it. What is the first thing the angels usually have to say when visiting us folks here on earth? [People respond.] that’s right, “Be not afraid.” Why do you think that is the case, that they have to say that? Because their glory, the reflected glory of God, their looks, they’re so amazing that people are scared. They’re so “other.”

Now try to picture the scene where there was something so incredible that Isaiah isn’t even fazed by the presence of many angels, singing antiphonally (that means back and forth). They are just background!

Those angels sang “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.” I want to remind you of two things about this phrase. One, Hebrew uses repetition to show intensity or superlativeness. They have no “good, better, best” in their language. They repeat it instead, so by saying “holy, holy, holy,” they’re saying God is the most holy thing that there ever was, is, or will be.

The second thing is that the word “holy” in Hebrew actually means “separate” or “other” at its core. It can mean a lot of other things to us today, but that is its root. So Isaiah is viewing Someone who is so other, so transcendent, so pure, so righteous, so glorious, that his only reaction is to fall on his knees and say “Woe is me! I am undone!”

I don’t remember what word the liturgist’s translation used, whether it be “ruined” or whatever, but the Hebrew word is best translated as “undone,” and speaks of unraveling, or coming apart. Isaiah mind and spirit were literally coming apart at the seams, as he realized how incredibly far above him this being was, and how poor he was in his sinful state.

So he makes his cry, and an angel comes down, bringing something to touch Isaiah’s mouth, and he speaks of God purifying those very lips by God’s grace, so that Isaiah might stand in His presence without being destroyed.

By the way, despite the translation, it wasn’t a flaming coal. The Hebrew word used is actually one for a flat stone of the kind used in baking bread, being heated in the oven or over a fire, and then being handled with tongs as the shaped dough is placed on it.

I brought a visual aid. Think of a pizza place (holds up a pizza stone). Or in the pizzerias, they used to have those things they could shove into the oven and the handle would be sticking out, and the pizza would cook on that, then they’d grab it with a mitt and pull it out.

The stone, in this passage, wasn’t that big. It was only probably about the size of your hand. They had small loaves in those days, for travel purposes. But it was hot. It had been sitting in the brazier. And it was used to purify Isaiah’s sinfulness.

So what we have here is a picture of the awesome majesty of God, and His Kingship over all creation. God is the one who created the universe. As the angels note, it is “full of His glory.” God is the one who rules the universe; as its Creator, that is His right and prerogative.

God is the one who understands the very heart of all the mysteries of the universe, and knows what is right and best for each thing in His creation. God showers His grace upon that creation, and in particular upon us – His greatest creation, made in His image.

God offers forgiveness by that grace which we can never earn, and purifies us by that which we cannot make of our own choosing. All we can do is to choose to accept this gift when offered, or not. God desires a relationship with us, calling us to Him for a purpose, and we need to respond like Isaiah did – “Here am I.”

All of these things rest in this eight-verse passage that was read today.

There has been a popular meme that has hit my Facebook feed a number of times. It goes “No matter who is elected President, God is still King.” Let me repeat that. “No matter who is elected President, God is still King.”

It’s easy to say – especially if you were on the “winning” side on Tuesday. But the question is, do you believe it? If you saw that, do you believe it, that God is still King?

Can we move past our divisions in politics, and opinions, and rest in our unity on who God is, and who is ultimately in control? Can we begin to actively seek healing as we move forward, looking to see the real people – individuals all! – instead of the caricatures painted with a broad brush, on both sides this last year?

Can we begin to pull together to make this community – this community! – a better place during this Thanksgiving season, and the Advent season coming up, as we look to Christ’s coming again, and making all things right?

This is what it all comes down to in the end. We need each other. We are a family. We are all different, and have different gifts, different temperaments, and different backgrounds. Yet without each other, we are the walking wounded. If we function at all, we function poorly. We certainly cannot reach our maximum potential.

God has called us into community. God has called us collectively His bride. God has given us the sacraments to strengthen our faith, and they are always done, guess what… in community, as a congregation. You can’t be baptized by yourself. You can’t have Communion by yourself. There always needs to be a representative of the congregation there. And the world judges us, in large part, by how we treat each other.

God put this on my heart this week. I believe we have a challenge before us as we move into this next season and stage in our history. We are more divided as a nation than just about any time previously that I know of. I don’t want to argue the causes; it is a fact, noted by many people. We have people who have been hurt, on both sides of the spectrum, in the last year in particular. We have people who are now grieving. They are our neighbors, our friends, and our family.

I ask you, don’t be stupid and “unfriend” people because of politics, and positions. For those of you who don’t use social media, “unfriend” is a Facebook term. But I have seen it in real life, where a family has stopped talking one to another, because of this last week. And it’s a shame.

Reach out, however hard it might be, and forgive the slights – perceived or real. Reach out and remind each other that Jesus is King, and we have more in common through Him than we have differences. In fact, turn to your neighbor right now, and say “Jesus is King!”

Then, begin to share the love of Jesus with those around you in a deliberate way. It will be tough at times, particularly with those grieving. But persevere. Remind folks that even in this time of uncertainty, we have a lot to be thankful for, in God’s grace. We have a lot to celebrate, in Christ’s victory. We have a lot to look forward to, in Christ’s Advent. God has promised it, and God never fails.

God is holy, holy, holy, Lord of heaven and earth. All creation testifies to His glory; and we have the privilege of His unconditional love, and His Spirit within us. May we recognize God’s majesty and authority, even as Isaiah did, and take comfort in knowing not only who God is, but whose we are.

May we answer God’s call in our lives as we say, “Here am I, send me.” And share the good news that brings peace and joy in all times of life.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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