Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
Many of the prophetic books of the Old Testament feature a description of the prophet’s call into his work as God’s prophet. Normally we find this right at the front of the book. Isaiah is a little different, as it is delayed to chapter six, nearly 1/10 of the way into the document. In this passage, we find Isaiah in the temple of God. He is confronted by the majestic presence of God and some of his angels, here identified as seraphs.
Right away, not only is Isaiah confronted by God’s holiness and power, he is also convinced that he himself is unworthy to stand before God. The presence of God himself is truly special. He is the holy Lord of all. He is the glorious one. There isn’t room in the temple to contain his glory, but it fills the whole earth. When God’s servants speak the whole temple shakes.
Throughout history, as long as Christians have built buildings dedicated to be church buildings, up until very recently those buildings have reflected the majesty of God. They are usually massive and tall. They are often full of architectural decorations that point to biblical themes. There’s usually artwork which reminds people of the events described in the Bible and of God’s glory. I read a book once which described the faith journey of a man who had wanted to be an atheist, but who was confronted by the otherness of God as he explored some cathedrals. He couldn’t escape the majesty of God. He couldn’t evade the idea that God was present. And because of God’s presence he realized, as did Isaiah, that he was someone in need of divine forgiveness.
This convicting work of God’s presence is what drives the Scripture out of liberal theology and civil religion. Rather than allowing God to describe himself and to think and act like God, those who proudly wish to be able to stand before him in their own righteousness, in their own version of godliness, with their own attitudes, thoughts, and desires will strip God of all his majesty and holiness. They, like Isaiah, are confronted by something deadly. However, unlike Isaiah, they desire to put it away and leave themselves as the lord. This will never do.
What does Isaiah do? He asks God for forgiveness. God grants it, but not right away. One of the seraphs brings a hot coal from the altar. These hot coals are used to burn up sacrifices. They can bring harm to Isaiah right away. But the seraph touches Isaiah’s mouth with it to purify him. His sin is atoned for. He is forgiven.
Once this is done, God is ready to put Isaiah to work. Who will he send? He’ll send Isaiah. At last, having seen God, having been convicted of sin, and having been cleansed Isaiah is ready to be used as God’s servant to help God’s people see their sin and God’s righteousness. The power of God isn’t gone. The conviction of sin isn’t gone. God is still God, but Isaiah has been changed.
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