February 7, 2022: Sermon Preached by The Rev. Carolyn H. Eklund
Year C; 5 Epiphany; 2.7.2022 FB
Isaiah 6:1-8; Luke 5:1-11
It’s February in Maine. True to the season, we were just treated to all the elements of winter weather in less than 24 hours: ice, snow, sleet, fog, rain, wind. Let me not complain because today the sun is shining…and the temperature is 10!
It’s been two full years since a pandemic was declared. As I watched Olympians from all over the globe parade into the stadium on Friday night, they wore masks, some in the pattern of their flag. Some were double masked. The stadium was empty.
I realize that mask-wearing obscures the faces of people and creates a barrier to hearing clearly what people say. Thank you for committing to wearing your mask in this assembly. I know we are losing patience with the pandemic and the precautions we still must take.
I do wonder, though, if the foggy glasses and the constant remembering to take mask on and off might be wearing us down. The energy we spend on precautions and worry to not be infected…might these concerns be hindering our relationship with the divine?
I’ve had to ask myself these weeks after I’ve returned from my restful sabbatical, have the mid-winter blues and chronic nature of this pandemic come between me and my vibrant relationship with God? Am I missing God’s call to me, so focused as I am on wearing a mask, shoveling my driveway and making sure I don’t fall on the ice?
Just when we are at the point of despair, the majestic, mysterious vision of God’s holiness and splendor is served up in the story of the call of Isaiah this morning. The story is a vision of the holy of holies where God sits on the throne. God’s overflowing train fills the temple. I am sure that God’s train is purple velvet decorated with beautifully colored crystal beads and silk ribbons!
The story includes six-winged seraphs singing. They are strange-looking heavenly bodies, kind of serpent-human-like. They are singing to each other of God’s holiness. “HOLY! HOLY! HOLY!” they sing to each other, back and forth.
And if that’s not enough, they sing some more, “…THE WHOLE EARTH IS FULL OF GOD’S GLORY.” “THE WHOLE EARTH!” There is not a place on earth that is void of God’s glory.
There is smoke! Hot coals! There is a pilgrim looking up, standing in awe, grounded in history. “In the year King Uzziah died.” This remarkable heavenly vision of God is told in the context of a specific period in time. Scholars know that year in history, 742 BC. Assyria was starting to assert its might across the Northern Kingdom and threaten Judah. King Uzziah was the king of Judah.
Isaiah faces the throne and is in the presence of God’s holiness. The vision is remarkable, awe-inspiring and dangerous. It’s dangerous because against the holiness and glory of God, Isaiah comes face-to-face with his inadequacy.
“Woe is me!” he shouts. “I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…”, he confesses. We hear similar words from Simon Peter, another one who is called in the service of God. After Jesus’ miracle of the great catch of fish, we can hear Simon Peter’s awareness of his own powerlessness and inadequacy. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
“Woe is me!…I am a man of unclean lips.” “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
It’s dangerous and painful to come face-to-face with the truth of our own chronic complaints and short-comings and sinfulness. “Go away from me!” My own feelings of short-comings force me to ask, “Do my mid-winter Maine doldrums give me a kind of excuse to stay disconnected from God’s call to me? Am I afraid to call out, ‘Here am I; Send me!’ for fear of being too close in proximity to God’s love and purity and the gap from God too wide?”
In the essay Debie Thomas (Journey With Jesus) wrote on this passage, she admits to her own doubts. She writes…I believe in a God who wants me to love, serve, hope, do justice. But I don’t always believe in a God who desires to meet me.”
But the consolation for us is that everything about God’s call to Isaiah; everything about this story draws our eyes up, up, up and our ears to hear, hear, hear the word, “holy, holy, holy.” And for just a moment each one of us can say, “I saw the Lord.” Maybe we even sing with the seraphs,
“Holy, Holy, Holy…the whole earth is full of God’s glory… The six-winged seraphs, in full-throated song declare that there is none beside the One seated on the throne. Can we believe that God does desire to meet us? God is always acting to close that gap between God’s holiness and our feelings of inadequacy.
Last week, I was called to visit one of our long-time parishioners. I knew that this person liked to sing. The healthcare worker who called me to visit said that I might encounter a sleeping person and to not have high expectations. I wore my mask and entered into the full protocol of visiting the facility.
When I entered the room, I saw this beloved person of God alert, sitting in the chair and greeting me with a smile. I shared our worship booklet for this Sunday and said, “I know you like to sing and I’ll bet you know the first hymn. Shall we sing it?” Sure enough, the words and music came in a strong voice. It grew stronger. Some of the verses we sang multiple times. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty…”
I’ve known this hymn from childhood. I thought I knew every word of every verse. But I hadn’t really paid attention to the verse about holiness. We sang that particular verse over and over. It didn’t bother me at all that we were stuck on that verse, as I was joyfully jolted to recognize the awe and wonder of God over and over again. “….only thou art holy; there is none beside thee; perfect in power, in love, and purity.”
I began to think about God’s holiness, unmatched, “none beside thee, perfect in power in love and purity.” What IS the holiness of God, anyway? I went to the bible dictionary. I LOVED what I read! “The basic theological problem of God’s divine quality of holiness is that this holy God desires to have fellowship with sinful human beings in a fallen world. Since God cannot become less holy in order to fellowship with humans, they must become more holy, sanctified…”
We CAN believe in a God who desires us! Completely. Absolutely. And Christians know this in Jesus whom God sent to be in complete fellowship with us.
God stops at nothing to be in communion with us. How will we answer, “Who will go for us? Whom shall I send?” “…and they left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:11)