Meg Peery McLaughlin
June 13, 2021
Isaiah 6: 1-8
Prayer for Illumination
by the power of your Holy Spirit
speak to us in the language of our hearts
that we may hear your Word with understanding
and answer your call with confidence.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2Seraphs 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. 3And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’
4The pivots* on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5And 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 the King, the Lord of hosts!’
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The 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.’ 8Then 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!’
The Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.
I have a father who cares a lot about order.
He’s the kind of guy who sets out his cereal bowl and vitamins for the morning
before he goes to bed at night.
It’s summer time now,
and even a simple trip to the beach has a sequence.
A melanoma survivor, sunscreen first. Before leaving the house.
At the beach, tent must go up first, then chair, kindle has its own special place in his bag, and before he takes his sandals off, he goes on a walk,
by the time he is “ready” it’s time for lunch.
It is no surprise to anyone that he is a Presbyterian.
Presbyterians are known for orderliness.
Not just because we are prone to being type A,
but because even the order of things can communicate our theology—
how we do things in our life together says something about the God we worship.
Did you know there was a Reformed Order of Worship?
Our Catholic siblings, worship has the Mass – the Meal—at the center.
Some non-denominational churches change it up every week. There isn’t a set liturgy.
Quakers leave it up to the Spirit, with generous silence and stillness.
For we Presbyterians, there is most certainly an order and the Word is at the Center.
Scripture- read and proclaimed—
is how we come to know God[i] and understand ourselves.
Okay, preach, you might be asking?
what about everything else? How do you decide where all that goes?
This is where Isaiah 6 can really help us out.
If you will allow me,
I’d love to use our text as a guide through our understanding of worship, and of God.
When the prophet Isaiah describes this God-sighting,
he says he sees the Lord high and lifted up,
and it is a wild and wondrous picture of angels flying,
God’s robe so grand that only the hem fits in the temple,
the hymn Holy Holy Holy ringing out and the whole place shaking.
Perhaps it all sounds a bit odd, but I’ll tell you what:
when we get back together in person
and sing our praise to our wild and wondrous God,
I think my knees will be shaking and
my hunch is that Joey’s organ will make the whole building shiver.
These first verses of Isaiah chapter 6 draw us into the experience of
being in the presence of Almighty God.
And that is exactly what our voluntary, call to worship and opening hymn intend to do—to scoop us up into the wild and wondrous. A moment of holy awe.
And then immediately, juxtaposed to that is our prayer of confession.
If you sense this is a bit of a roller coaster, you’re not wrong!
We’re caught up in the majesty
and it’s then that we realize that we are not God,
and we sink into the reality that we pale in comparison to that holy splendor.
People sometimes complain that the corporate prayer of confession is such a downer.
Perhaps that’s fair, but it’s also an honest recognition we all fall short of the glory of God. And we do well to acknowledge it.
We are bruised and broken and bullies and bozos.
We don’t admit all that to wallow in self-pity,
but rather to lean into the promise that we are not defined by our worst,
but freed to be our best. We are made right by the grace of God.
Isaiah’s prayer of confession is simple:
Woe is me! I am lost.
And as if he is reaching into our current national conversation about personal vs. collective responsibility for wrong,
Isaiah also acknowledges that his brokenness is not only about him, but about the soup he swims in. His confession is both personal and collective: I live among a people of unclean lips.
But any uncleanliness,
any condition of the heart that seeks to separate the creature from the creator
is blotted out, forgiven.
Isaiah describes it as a hot coal of grace,
that burns all the mess away.
The assurance of forgiveness frees us for a life lived in God’s way,
enabling us to hear a word from God.
And that’s what God does in this story. God speaks.
Isaiah says I heard the voice of the Lord.
And that voice was doing what it consistently does:
God calls, God asks, God sends us out for God’s purposes.
Whom shall I send, God says, Who will go?
And the rest of worship—and life (might I add) is response to God’s Word.
All of it: our stewardship, our generosity,
our prayers for the world,
our commissioning into the world to get to work.
Isaiah lays all of this out, after a little phrase orienting us in time.
In the year the King Uzziah died, Isaiah says,
In the year 742 BC.
Perhaps the prophet includes this just so we have a sense of the calendar.
But a bit of Bible Study will reveal more of the story.
Uzziah became King of Judah (that is the Southern Kingdom of Israel) when we was 16, and reigned for 52 years. Uzziah “did what was right in the sight of the Lord.”
He was successful and loved: known for building up the military, impressive building operations, and agricultural breakthroughs.
But pride got the best of him and greed began to be his guide.
Uzziah entered the temple, attempting to offer his own sacrifices
and burn his own incense on the altar. Back then, it was deadly for a King to meddle in the inner workings of God.
According to historian Josephus, a huge earthquake shook the temple,
and Uzziah broke out in leprosy. He had to live the rest of his life in a separate house while his son took the throne. He was buried in the field outside of the city, rather than in the Tomb of Kings. His death led to chaos in the nation. And the stability he’d worked to build crumbled. His legacy was boiled down to four words: “He was a leper.”
So, Isaiah could have started, saying–
in the year when a beloved King royally messed up,
and the whole community was floundering,
I had a profound experience of worship,
and got sent to do God’s work.
We could say,
in the year 2021,
after 16 months of COVID 19 trauma and disruption
when the congregation hadn’t stepped foot inside this sanctuary
UPC continued its worship of God
who–though our world was up-ended–never stopped speaking
UPC continued its worship of God
who–though so much had changed—never stopped loving and calling and sending.
we have been able to do this,
because of your faithfulness and stewardship
and because of this volunteer, John Wilson.
Since March 15th 2020 John has been producing our worship services.
66 weeks without break or fail he has
taken each piece of that Reformed order of worship and stitched it together
to get it into your homes.
And anticipating our return, he is helping to equip the sanctuary to support livestreamed worship so that when we are all back in here, those who are unable or feel unsafe gathering in person can still worship God.
There is not an adequate way to say thank you for John’s steadfast stewardship,
and Ashley’s partnership with him, adjusting their family schedule to make room for weekly editing and constant texting with the church staff.
John is quite humble and has been clear about his discomfort with a focus being on him when we’ve tried to thank him publicly, so. . .
the Session of this congregation has launched an effort called GIVE LIGHT.
We invite you to help install solar powered lights on the church grounds
as a way to honor John Wilson
who has lighted our way through this dark covid time.
Those who know John, know his faith also leads him to passionate care for creation
so this campaign feels true to him and who God is calling us a to be as a congregation.
The goal is 30K,
and every gift –
small, large, and all the in between,
every gift from children teens and seniors
from visitors who have just happened upon our worship,
from those of you who have keep our lights on in here for decades,
as a thank you to this fella.
And as an expression of gratitude to God.
Our wild and wondrous God who invokes awe
who grounds us in confession
who speaks to us–revealing saving grace through the Word around which we center-
and who calls us to respond
with all that we have and all that we are.
In that order.
At this time.
[i] Scripture provides the knowledge of what is necessary for the glory of God and for human faith, life, and salvation. The subject of the Bible as Holy Scripture is God and God’s way with humanity and the world. Holy Scripture is nonnative with respect to its theological subject. The purpose of Scripture has to do with questions about the ultimate origin, meaning, and goal of human life in relation to God, all of which lie behind or beyond the scope of secular scientific and historical disciplines. This guideline means that Scripture is rightly used with respect to this subject matter. (Presbyterian Understanding and Use of Holy Scripture, page 9)