Our story from Scripture begins with setting the context as the year that King Uzziah died. King Uzziah became king of the southern kingdom of Judah where Jerusalem was. He was crowned at 16 years old and reigned 52 years. The Bible tells us “he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chr 26). He sought the Lord as instructed by the priests and prophets. God gave him great success over Judah’s enemies. He brought lots of jobs to the people building the infrastructure of the city of Jerusalem and building up the military.
But, King Uzziah wasn’t perfect. He became arrogant and went into the sanctuary, reserved for the priests, to burn incense. God afflicted him with a skin disease for his profane actions and he suffered for the rest of his life. Regardless of his shortcomings, King Uzziah was a good king. He protected the people of Judah from their enemies, created jobs, and led them as a person of faith.
Starting to sound familiar?
Because King Uzziah was such a beloved king, Judah was at a great loss when he died. The country seemed destabilized. The threat of Assyria was coming. Assyria had already defeated the northern kingdom of Israel. The people of Judah had thought that God would deliver them from their enemies because they had such success under King Uzziah. The people of Judah thought they were God’s special chosen people and somehow God had abandon the northern kingdom when King David’s kingdom was split in 2. The northern kingdom had already been devastated by Assyria; yet, Judah remained untouched. They thought this was a sign that God was protecting Judah, but not Israel.
Then, when their beloved King Uzziah died, they questioned what the future held for them. Who would be their leader? Would Assyria come? Was God still protecting them? There were many questions and a lot of fear.
Sounding like things haven’t changed nearly 3000 years later?
Following King Uzziah’s death, a young priest Isaiah went into the Temple to pray, into the Holy of Holies where it was believed that God lived. There, God revealed Himself to Isaiah. God was seated upon the throne of Heaven surrounded by angels singing “Holy holy holy is the Lord of heavenly forces! All the earth is filled with God’s glory.” The angels were in such awe of God they used their wings to hide their eyes, feet, and middle parts because it was too much to see God in His full glory. There aren’t a lot of adjectives in the Hebrew language. Holy, holy, holy was the adjective in their limited vocabulary the angels could use to describe God. The noise of the angels’ praise was so loud it shook the building.
In a sense, the vision comforted Isaiah because he knew, regardless of who lived in the king’s palace, God sat upon the throne. This vision brought some comfort to Isaiah, but it also was so awe inspiring and glorious that it humbled Isaiah. God was majestic and overwhelming and Isaiah was small and meek. The presence of God caused Isaiah to see himself as he truly was, a sinner in need of grace. The holiness of God led Isaiah to honestly look at himself.
Isaiah feared for his life. He knew from his study of Scriptures that no one saw God or stood in His presence and lived. He thought for sure he would die after seeing God. But, there was grace as God called Isaiah to lead His people.
Isaiah was cleansed of unclean lips. An angel took a hot coal from the altar and touched Isaiah’s lips with the coal. It must have been extremely painful for his lips to be burnt by the fiery hot coal. Yet, he withstood the pain. His unclean lips were cleansed and his guilt departed and his sin removed. Covered in grace, cleansed of his sin, Isaiah was ready to lead God’s people. God asked, “who will I send?” Isaiah said, “send me.”
Isaiah was shown mercy in many ways in this story. Isaiah was able to see God. Isaiah lived after seeing God. And, Isaiah was called by God. All signs of God’s mercy.
The revelation of God upon the throne is meant to comfort us a little and also unnerve us, especially in this week following a presidential election. God seated upon the throne does not give us permission to say now that God has a plan or God chose the elected. We live in a democracy in which we have control and we have the power to elect leaders not a theocracy in which God ordains a king. God did not exercise Divine power and authority to help us chose the candidates who would govern us. Because of freewill, God did not assert His power and authority upon us to ordain a leader.
The revelation of God upon the throne may comfort those who mourn at this time, because we know regardless of who occupies the seat in the Oval Office, God sits upon the throne with Christ at His right hand. But, the revelation of God upon the throne should humble us, all of us, whether we voted for one candidate or another, we are all God’s people who need to recognize ourselves. The revelation of God is meant to draw out of us the realization that we are sinners in need of grace yet unworthy of God’s grace. The grace of God to cleanse us from our sin should open our ears to our call which was Isaiah’s call to go to God’s people.
Isaiah speaks of his call in chapter 58,but clearly defines that call in Isaiah 61: 1 – 3, Isaiah tells us what his call is. After Isaiah has preached message of judgment, after the people have been defeated, after years in exile, Isaiah proclaims that his call, as the people of God are about to receive God’s grace, Isaiah has been anointed and sent to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for the captives and liberation for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn, to provide for Zion’s mourners, to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning and a mantle of praise in place of discouragement.” It is the same call Jesus claimed in the synagogue reading Isaiah’s scroll in Luke 4: 18 – 19. It is our call as Disciples to proclaim good news to the poor, release the captives, give sight to the blind, liberate the oppressed, and proclaim the Lord’s favor.
Early in his prophetic ministry, Isaiah proclaimed to the Jewish people a message of God’s judgement that God did not accept their worship in which they honored God with their lips and ignored the poor, widow and orphan. Isaiah called the people to repent of this sin of taking advantage and leaving out in the cold the most vulnerable of society. Because true religion according to James 1: 27 is to care for the widows and orphans. Isaiah’s message was that the true way to honor the Sabbath was not going to the Temple and paying God lip service. The true honor of the Sabbath was to take care of the poor, the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, the vulnerable and the stranger.
Regardless of who won Tuesday, he or she were not God’s elect. No candidate was perfect. No president would have been the best ever world leader. But, we know throughout the Old Testament, God judged the kings of Israel for leading the people to false worship. God will judge us based on our honor of Him. Not by our worship attendance on Sunday, but on our care for the vulnerable.
Our call now is to celebrate the actions and policies of our government and our churches and public organizations that benefit the welfare of all people and challenge the injustices that take advantage of or withhold care from the most vulnerable in our society, because we are called to bring good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, liberate the prisoners, release the oppressed, comfort those who mourn, bring joy, give sight, and proclaim Christ. Amen.