Recently, I was asked to say a few words about Isaiah. It is a big problem to say only “a word” about the book of Isaiah—sixty-six dense chapters, three distinct sections, neatly compiled over 250 years.
One of the parts of the book that stands out to me—and many of us—is the call and commissioning of Isaiah in chapter six.
“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 . . . ”
I love it when Isaiah, taking in this scene, says “Woe is me!” You can see Isaiah hunched down, averting his eyes, God’s presence spilling into the temple from the ceiling above. “Woe is me!” he utters. Who can stand in God’s presence? He drops to his knees. Who can come into the presence of God and live? Isaiah laments, “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips and I live in the midst of a people of unclean lips!”
When I tell people that I am pastor of St. Giles Presbyterian Church they often ask me, “How do you like it?” I say, “Fine. Thing is, the whole church is filled with sinners.” And I, of course, may be the biggest one. Isaiah comes at his ministry as we all ought, with humility. Not only does he understand that he lives in the midst of sinners, he understands that he is one.
And yet . . . and yet one of the seraphs in that glorious scene flies to the altar, gets a live coal with a pair of tongs, and he touches it to Isaiah’s lips. “Look . . . your guilt has been removed and your sin forgiven.” Now the man with unclean lips can speak a word from God.
Isaiah has a lot to say, but it’s the way he keeps lifting up hope that moves me. It the middle of condemning the people of their national sin, in the middle of talking about the destruction that will befall them for their unfaithfulness, Isaiah always has a word of hope.
Did you not know? Have you not heard?
Yahweh is the everlasting God,
He created the remotest part of the earth.
He does not grow tired or weary,
His understanding is beyond fathoming.
He gives strength to the weary,
He strengthens the powerless.
Youths grow tired and weary,
The young stumble and fall,
But those who hope in Yahweh will regain their strength,
They will [mount up] wings like eagles,
Though they run the will not grow weary,
Thought they walk they will never tire.
* * *
After Isaiah’s mouth is made clean in that temple in chapter six, he hears a voice. “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” The voice is God’s, of course. And I think most of us have heard it before. God says to us, Can I count on you to speak up for those who have no voice? Can I count on you always to reach out in love. Can I rely on you to bear my hope to people who ache?
The voice I always strain to hear next is my own. And I want to say exactly what Isaiah said in that temple, in chapter six, some 2,700 years ago:
“Here am I. Send me.”
I was born and raised in the sight of water in Hampton, Virginia. I was baptized and nurtured in the Presbyterian church. There was never a time when weekly worship attendance, the giving of ...