Praying, Perceiving, Practicing Isaiah 6:1-8
I have been thinking a lot recently as to how, often, we begin at the middle. That is not always bad. We need a healthy diet spiritually We need to progress past the beginning in our lives and in our church. However, often we get so far past the beginning that we forget sometimes the beauty of simplicity. I think that the most happy people are the ones who appreciate simplicity when they see it. The ones who are content to leave a simple thing simple! There are others who are always are frustrate with simple things frustrated with simple ways frustrated with starting at the beginning. I am one of those people.
I can say from my own life experience that many of the things I have done and learned I would have done better and learned more carefully had I started at the beginning. Dont get me wrong with some things it is possible to start in the middle and to do a good job. I managed to pass High School Math without memorizing my times tables thoroughly or fully understanding how to solve Word-Problems. I learned enough to pass but beside the mediocre marks, it was harder and more stressful for me because I had by-passed the beginning. The same is true in spiritual things the place to start is at the beginning. With skills, with stories and with spirituality the best place to start is at the beginning. And that is how we come to this passage today we will look at the unspoken beginning of Isaiah vision in the Temple. The unspoken narrative of Prayer .
I cannot prove beyond all doubt that Isaiah came to the Temple to pray. Some may note that the text does not explicitly state that Isaiah was in the Temple. This is true Isaiah could have been in a field or body surfing on the Dead Sea for all we know! It is my belief that Isaiah the prophet was in the Temple when he had this grand vision of the Lord Almighty. But that was the primary use of the Temple for the devout Hebrews in all Temple periods. We associate the Temple with sacrifice and well we should that was the primary purpose of the Temple. It was a place where the glory of God dwelled in the holy of Holies. Nevertheless, the most common use of the Temple was for the people to pray . It was as Isaiah writes in chapter 56 v.7: a "house of prayer." Or the words of Jesus quoting Jeremiah 7.11:
My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers." (Mt 21.13)
Isaiah may have made an offering that day he may not have But since it was the custom to go to the Temple and pray 3x each day there is more than probable likelihood that he was immersed in prayer when the vision of the Lord came to him. That is the context in which I read this text. Isaiah was seeking the Lord for personal and national direction. This is the beginning, in my estimation, of all those who Seek God and his Will for their lives. It is the prayer for help and guidance that keeps us focused on Christ and opens our hearts, our ears, and our eyes to receive direction from the Lord of Hosts.
Beginning with Prayer. . .we are ushered into the state of hearing the Word of God. Or as in this text seeing a vision hearing and seeing are related in the Bible because both are rooted in "Perception". Moreover it is often our ability to perceive that is handicapped in this life not our ability to see or hear. In fact, that is the very prophecy that ends this vision that they will be hearing but never understanding seeing but never perceiving. We see and we hear it is the Grace of God that takes us from there to the place of understanding and perceiving. The spiritually blind cannot see the vision of Gods Glory. The spiritually deaf cannot hear the thunderous voices of the Seraphim. But there is none so blind as those who will not see and there are none so deaf as those who will not hear. The plans of the arrogant can help us to see and hear but it is only those plans that are incubated in humble prayer that end in perceiving and understanding. And our perceiving and understanding is twofold. As Isaiah saw the vision of God unfold he became completely aware of the greatness of God. And with the chanting of the Seraphim Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts the whole earth is filled with his glory.
Which, by the way is not a statement about the Earth but is a statement about the greatness of God that his glory cannot be contained in a building but shines out and fills the entire Earth. And Isaiah became aware of the Bigness of God. And as a direct correlation he also became aware of his own smallness and his unworthiness, his inability, and his sinfulness. And was when this two-fold realization was complete That the Lord made Isaiah aware of his grace. For the Seraph came with the coal and purified the lips of the prophet the lips he had just previously declared unclean. It is in the righteous prophets brokenness as Gods light broke through all pretense and position to reveal his sinful nature a nature he shared with all the people. It was in that moment that God acted in Grace to purify the Prophet from his uncleanness to help him understand the merciful nature of the Lord of Hosts.
God could have commanded Isaiah to do just about anything at this point. But he did not command, nor did he bargain with Isaiah he allowed Isaiah to hear the question: "Whom shall I send?" And in his restoration Isaiah found strength to serve God. More than this he had a desire to serve.
As with so many people who see others turning away from God sinning boldly and without shame it is possible to begin to look down on those people. It is possible to see them as spiritual underlings as inferior in the eyes of God. How easy it is for the righteous to pass judgment to hold as contemptible all those who fail in holiness. Perhaps God found in Isaiah a man who understood all about holiness, justice, and truth but had a lesser understanding of mercy, grace, & humility. The servant of God needs a passion in both realms To understand the command of God and also the heart of God. It is not enough to stand against tyranny or unrighteousness for if it is done with a heart that is happy at anothers failures this in no way pleases God. It was only when Isaiah saw himself as one with his people unclean and a sinner that God reached out and purified him atoned for his sin that Isaiah could become the leader God wanted him to be.
It is always out of our brokenness that God does his greatest work. The work he commissioned his servant Isaiah is the most widely remembered of all the prophets and the most quoted in the NT and by Jesus himself. As we come to this communion celebration today we come not with proud hearts rejoicing that WE are saved. Rather, we come with humble and contrite hearts knowing that we do not deserve his mercy anymore than the worst of sinners. We come thankful that we are saved by his grace and mercy. We come rejoicing that in the midst of our broken lives, Jesus Christ embraces us and heals us. His desire is to shape us into his holy people. A people who upon hearing the words: Whom shall I send? Respond as the prophet of old: "Here Am I Lord, Send me."