"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne,
high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.
Above him were seraphs, each with six wings:
With two wings they covered their faces,
with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.
And they were calling to one another:
'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.'
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and the thresholds shook
and the temple was filled with smoke.
'Woe to me!' I cried. 'I am ruined!
For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,
and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.'
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand,
which he had taken with tongs from the altar.
With it he touched my mouth and said,
'See, this has touched your lips;
your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.'
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.'
He said, 'Go and tell this people:
'Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.'
Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.'
Then I said, 'For how long, LORD?'
And he answered:
'Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted and the field ruined and ravaged,
until the LORD has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.
And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in this land.'"
-- Isaiah 6:1-13
The first six verses of this passage have been on my own personal 'top 10' list for over 35 years. This is the kind of vision I dream about having -- a vision of a Holy God and pipsqueak, messed-up me somewhere in the picture, woefully aware of how 'one of these things is not like the other.' And then the gift of cleansing, the touch of a hot, smoldering coal to remind me that I have been redeemed. Gotta love it.
And the call and response? "Whom shall I send?" "SEND ME!" Yes! in my heart of hearts, this is how I dream I would respond. There was even a magnificent anthem we used to sing that perfectly matched these picture-painting words.
But the rest of the passage? Well . . . not so much. In fact, the actual commission sort of brings this entire vision thing right back down into the nitty-gritty of everyday life here on our fallen, fractured planet. Because Isaiah has not been granted this vision, given this cleansing, or offered this call to run out there and do something glamorous, building great crowds of followers in the doing. No. He is given the horrendous task of bringing the bad news to folks. The bad news of coming calamity, of what sounds suspiciously like a curse direct from the Hound of Heaven.
In fact, the only note of hope in Isaiah's message are found in these words at the very end of the passage: 'The holy seed will be the stump in this land. . .' The stump that shows up again in Isaiah, and in the readings for this season of the church year. The holy stump from which the leaves of life will burst forth, when the time is exactly right. In the meantime, Isaiah is called to be the bearer of distinctly not good news.
Am I ready and willing to bring the bad, difficult news to the people I live with/work with/counsel/direct/write to? To bring it to me? Thankfully, the focus of the vision has shifted in this age in which we live! And what I see when I close my eyes and actively imagine this throne room scene today, after Christmas, after Easter, after Pentecost, after the Ascension is this: Jesus Christ, seated on the throne, with his arms outstretched to every single person who will choose to walk into them.
Thank you for the Stump of Life, the Living Remnant, Jesus Christ, Lord of the Cosmos and Lord of our lives. Thank you for the work he did on our behalf, the work that lifted the curse, that offers reconciliation -- to you and to one another. Help us to live as if this matters. Because it does. Yes, it truly, does!!