Isaiah 6:1-13 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of God's robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of God's glory.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen God, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
Romans 8:12-25 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with Christ so that we may also be glorified with Christ.
********************************************************** For those of you who may need some catching up, last week in our "backyard" we celebrated the gift of the Holy Spirit blowing like the rush of a violent wind and falling like tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost. If if you've ever taken the time to just really think about this picture, these words might sound funny to you- that the Spirit comes looking like wind and fire. And of course, you would be correct- it is a very strange and colorful way of describing what we would have called a supernatural happening. Did fire really fall from the sky? It doesn't actually matter. Something happened that caused the church to grow by thousands- something miraculous- and so human beings, in an effort to describe the event, use vivid imagery to help others understand the magnitude of what had just taken place. And this is nothing new.
For as long as humans have walked the planet we have imagined what God looks like- from a lightning bolt throwing Zeus type God who demands sacrifice and appeasement, to a kindly old bearded white (of course) gentleman who hands out gifts and from time to time, gets disappointed when people don't do as they're told, and then of course turns into angry white bearded God. A few years ago, in the novel the Shack, God was imagined as a large comforting black woman, ready to cuddle and love the pieces out of you, and cook you a great meal while she was at it. Some see God as energy, "use the force, Luke" some picture God looking more like Jesus (however you picture Jesus) the guy who will sit with us on a park bench and tell us the secrets of the universe in code of course. What is your image of God? No doubt you have one... we all do. Much of our imagining of how God looks is based on our experiences of God- what we've been taught about the character of God- how God operates and functions in the world and in our lives.
And this is important to think about because how we see God, even visually, directly affects and shapes our relationship with God and with others. How we understand the Holy Spirit, what she is and how she works, impacts our ability to respond to that spirit- and how we respond to each other. Isaiah’s picture of God is a Big, Holy, Fearsome, Magnificent Deity! This, is God on a throne so large that Isaiah can't even see anything of God but a piece of the hem of God's robe- and that filled the temple! The God who is ministered to by creatures (seraphs) with 6 wings- one pair to cover their eyes- God's glory is too pure to look upon, with one pair they cover their feet- and with the third pair of wings they fly! And they shout to one another "HOLY! HOLY! HOLY! Proclaiming and praising and professing the purity, goodness, and fullness of God- the source of all life and breath- the whole earth is filled with God's glory!!! And the very foundations of the temple shake at God's presence and fills with smoke...
This is Isaiah's description of being in the presence of a pure, holy, and all-powerful God. Isaiah and his people needed to hear about that kind of God. They were in trouble. Their king had died, and neighboring Assyria was threatening invasion and domination as they had with so many nations. (lion King) The political leaders were responding from a place of fear- and needed to know that God was bigger than anything they would be facing- more powerful than the Assyrian army, and holier and more anointed than the Assyrian king. They needed a god on their side who could evoke fear and trembling- shock and awe- a God powerful enough to wipe out the earth should he choose to...
And Isaiah- standing in the presence of God's holiness and power sobs, "woe is me!" or in another translation, "I'm doomed! Everything I say is sinful, and so are the words of everyone around me." (CEV) While in the presence of perfection, our own shortcomings become so much more apparent. Our sins blare out like trumpets- everything we've ever done wrong floods to our mind- the faces of the people we've hurt- the destruction we've left in our wake- the brokenness of the world, people, institutions, systems... we are doomed!
Yet, says Isaiah, "I've seen God..."
And one of the 6 winged creatures fly over and pulls a hot coal out of the fire of God and puts it to Isaiah’s lips- and all at once his guilt is gone. No more sin- everything he had ever done wrong- blotted out- God had erased even his darkest crimes.
Isaiah's picture of God is the one who can do all things universal. The creator- powerful enough to wipe out that creation with a wave of a mighty hand... instead chooses to wipe out sin with a touch of intimacy- so intimate in fact that Isaiah hears the voice of God- the God big enough to shake the foundations of the earth, yes, but one who calls an individual to bring a message of hope to a hopeless world. "Will someone go for me? Who shall I send?"- muses God...
And Isaiah responds: "I'm here- send me!"
Isaiah became a prophet that day- he proclaimed, he praised, and professed- based on his image of God, his encounter with God, and because of his understanding of God- a new, deeper relationship was forged- a call was answered- and believe it or not, the world was changed.
Now, let me ask this question to you again- what is your image of God? Go back to the things you've been taught about God- your understanding of the character of God- how God sees you, works in you, and in the lives of others- and honestly, we all have not just an image of God in our minds, but we have all the baggage that goes along with that image. Whether God is like Zeus, or an old guy with a white beard or a comforting southern woman, how we see God often determines how we believe God sees US!
Why is this so important? Because my friends, week after week we sit in the temple of God- and God is ready to shake the foundations of this place and of your heart- week after week, God puts out a call- whom shall I send? Who will go? And how we see God, then will either propel us to respond to God's call and transform the world, or shy away in guilt, and fear... never really believing that the hot coal coming toward our lips will do more than burn us for the things we've done.
But look at the Romans passage. So then, brothers and sisters, we are sinners... but then Paul goes on- but all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God... When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ!
God's children. Heirs. Loved, adored, brothers and sisters of Christ- with access to everything God is, everything Christ has been given- it is given to us! That's how God sees you- as co-heir with Christ! And if you're like me your first reaction might be, ‘hang on, how can that be true, because I never died for anyone- I never suffered like Christ, I don't pray like Christ, or act anywhere near like Christ! How can this be possible?’
It's possible because God says it's possible. It's possible because God decided it would be so. It's possible because you, my friends, are loved and adored and cherished beyond anything that we as human beings have the capacity love or adore or cherish. It's possible because God is, I AM- God is who God will be.
What is your image of God? If you're thinking right now, that you are unsure, and your image of God just clouded over, don't worry. That cloudy blurry stuff that just messed with your view, is the Holy Spirit. And, it's ok... let that image stay blurry for a while. You don't have to have all the answers, none of us do. You don't have to have a clear vision of God and all that God is... that happens over a lifetime of trusting and doubting and trusting again... for now, it's enough to try to grasp that god loves you, and to try to love God... even loving God takes time- it takes practice- we actually practice loving God, and that's all God asks. Will you mess up? Of course! Will you doubt? Yes, we are human. Will we hurt ourselves and others along the way- undoubtedly- but honestly, this is why we are called into a community of faith- so that we can practice loving God by healing our image of God, [i]trusting the Holy Spirit- this crazy cloudy, fall like fire and rush like wind spirit who empowers us to respond to God's call. Don't be afraid. In the words of Paul, "you were not given a spirit of slavery, that you should fall back into fear-rather you have been given a spirit of adoption-all of us, right in our backyard- joint heirs with Christ- children of God.
[i] Merritt, Carol Howard, Healing Spiritual Wounds, Harper Collins, New York, 2017, p 12