Dear brothers and sisters,
if you live in the U.S., you could ask your great-great-father: “Do you remember what you were doing when President Lincoln died?” or you could ask your father: “Do you remember what you were doing when President Kennedy got shot?” Or, if you are Czech, you could ask your great-great-father: “How was it when President Masaryk died?” or you can ask any of the adult Czechs now: “Where were you when President Havel died?” By the names, we can know where we are in the historical time. The same in our Old Testament text with King Uzziah. We are talking about the year 740 BC when he died. But more than that! Anyone who has suffered some education knows that some names and historical events with them connected are pregnant with something, they carry a certain special meaning or represent certain historical changes. So, Lincoln´s election and death represent certain significant changes in the U.S. history, namely, the Civil War and the end of slavery and the beginning of the Reconstruction of the South. Alike, a certain significance is true for President Masaryk´s death and Czechoslovakia, namely, the overcast of the Czechoslovak republic by the German Nazism. Historical time does matter and there is no family in the history of the U.S. or Czechoslovakia that would have not been at least somehow affected by such a name as Lincoln or Masaryk. That is also why we remember what we were doing at the moment when President Kennedy got shot or President Havel died. Historical time does matter and we would be naïve infants to think we have reached the end of history with the happy after. The same with the Old Testament text. “In the year that King Uzziah died…” serves us not only to date Isaiah´s event to the year of 740 BC. It also informs us and it certifies for us the fact that the text is not a fantasy fairy tale but it refers to a real and factual point and event in the historical time. And still more than that. Like with Lincoln or Masaryk, when the text points to King Uzziah´s death, it is pointing to a certain significance of the historical time. King Uzziah was a great king of Judah 792 – 740 BC) and his death marks the end of “the good times”, after his death, the historical time sled into a decay. So, when Isaiah mentions King Uzziah´s death, every Jewish reader knew that the “good days” were gone.
And at this time, when things are starting to get troublesome or worse for the people after King Uzziah´s death, Isaiah is granted to see the Lord. He sees God seated high on a throne and His robe is fulling the temple. That is a clear sign of the majesty of the Lord, He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords who reigns in an omnipotent way, who is the alpha and the omega and who has all the power and might. The seraphim are fiery being that stand by the throne to serve the Sovereign. And even the celestial beings are covering their faces and their bodies when they are at the presence of God, like Moses when meeting the Lord. And these heavenly beings who are allowed to dwell with God sing the song of God´s glory: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.” These heavenly angelic beings who serve God day and night and are allowed to be in His vicinity not only cover their faces and bodies in the presence of God, but day and night they declare and acknowledge how infinitely separate and different is God in His goodness. That is what the word holy really means. And one has to have a blind heart not to see how the whole earth is full of His glory: every green leaf, every beautiful drop of water, every singing bird, every sun rise, every sip of wine and every breath I take declares the glory of the Lord who so splendidly created and sustains this word that I am allowed to be in and that fits all my needs. Every morning I weak up, every breath I take and every sip of water or wine I take declares the glory of the Lord. Alexander Hamilton used to say: “Beer is a proof that God loves us.” True but not enough. Every sip of a beer is a proof how glorious the Lord is that He created such a thing and is still allowing me to enjoy it. J “…the whole earth is full of his glory.” Even the beauty of the morning sun, the hope of every breath and the pleasure of every sip of beer is full of His glory – for He created them good, allows us, the bags of worms, to enjoy these wonderful things and thus, the Creator is glorifies.
“And the foundations of the thresholds shook…and the house was filled with smoke.” Do you remember the smoke when Moses was meeting God on the mountain? This is the visible and sensible manifestation of God´s presence. About 770 years later, the rock of the Calvary shook the same way.
We may unrepentantly think “What an amazing experience!” This is our sinfulness and pride that think we can enjoy such a moment of meeting God as He is, in all His holiness and glory, and somehow participate and take pleasure in that moment of glory. This is the old serpent whispering to you: “Enjoy it and feel sharing God´s glory.” This is the same deception when I think I can enjoy glory whenever serving the Church and perhaps you puff up the same way. Then, we better get a bell around our necks and go to the Old Town Square here in Prague to entertain the tourists by showing them how good Christians we are! On the contrary! Even the celestial beings who are serving God day and night cover their faces when seeing God!
And now, Isaiah! How does he react in this meeting of God face to face? Is he puffed up like you and I? Face to face God´s holiness and glory, Isaiah comes to himself and gives his desperate confession: “Woe is me! For I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…” Together with the prostitute who is supposed to be struck by the stones of the law and falls to the feet of Jesus and together with the woman who sinned a lot and the terrors of her consciousness let her to clean Christ´s feet with her tears (Luke 7:36 – 50), we can desperately cry out with Isaiah: “Woe is me! For I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…” Woe is me! Woe is you! For I am lost! For you are lost! This “lost” does not mean disoriented or looking for a way. This lost means destroyed or annihilated. I am unclean! You are unclean! And we all deserve nothing else than to be destroyed, for holiness annihilates sin and evil. And we are full of the filthiness and the corruption that defeats us as apostle Paul sees when looking into his own self : “ For I know that nothing good dwells in me.” (Romans 7:18). Together with Isaiah, the prostitute and the sinful woman, we can cry with the apostle Paul: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24).
Now, when we come so close to the realization of being reduced to nothing like Isaiah realized, when there is left only fear and faith face to face to the Holy One, then, there comes grace: One of the seraphim is sent to touch Isaiah and the gospel of grace is proclaimed and done: “Behold…your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
Two weeks ago, we were remembering the ascension of our Lord to the right hand God the Father, where at our Lord has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). Our Lord has been seated at the right hand of God the Father and had been there with Him since eternity. The holiness and shining and thundering glory that Isaiah saw is the power and the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the high and lifted up throne that Isaiah saw is the throne of love and mercy upon which our Lord was lifted up there on Golgotha 2000 year ago. God is love and out of His love that is not of this world, He came among us to touch our sinful lips and to offer to us His blood flowing from His throne of the cross to atone for our sins.
Brothers and sister, we are lost as much as Isaiah and as much as the sinful woman or the crucified criminal who has messed up and was losing his life. And the bleeding Lamb who is meekly and silently suffering on his throne of the shameful cross is proclaiming the gospel to Isaiah and to you and me: “…your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” Suffering Christ is bringing good news to the life losing criminal and to you and to me: “…today you will be with me in Paradise.” Nailed and pierced Jesus is bringing the gospel to the sinful woman who has nothing to lose, not even her dignity when shamefully coming to Christ´s feet as you and I must come to the feet of His cross and hear the wonderful words of hope and release: “Your faith has saved you, go in peace.”