Sermon Commentary for Sunday, May 26, 2024

Isaiah 6:1-8 Commentary


For many congregations in North America, this lectionary text will coincide with graduation celebrations — a season when the story of God’s calling and, especially, God’s overcoming our weakness and frailty to accomplish God’s purposes will be a very live factor in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings.  This would be a great Sunday to invite testimonies of God’s call and our human responses.  As you think about and pray over the members of your congregation:

  • Who has a story of starting a project at work or a degree at school that seemed too big for them? But who have seen God’s blessing others and using them in the process?
  • Who has experienced earthly supports stripped away but then replaced by God’s intervention and inbreakng into human time?
  • Where has the veil between heaven and earth been lifted for a glimpse of God’s glory here on earth?

Invite a few members to share about God’s work in their lives, coaching them for a format (time, language, etc.) that would work well in your context.

Comments, Observations and Questions:

Call and Response

In this series of post-Pentecost lectionary readings, preachers might choose to draw attention to God’s call and human response. If you want to do that, be prepared for a wide diversity of calls and responses. Generalizing from these narratives is problematic, not least because they do not all agree with one another. In Isaiah, God seems to be putting out a general call, which Isaiah takes up directly.  Jeremiah, knowing the challenge he is going to be up against, tries everything he call to wriggle out of his call.  Moses, knowing his great weakness, asks if someone else can instead. Samuel doesn’t understand that he is being called.  David is out in a field because even his own father can’t imagine he would be called.

“In the year that King Uzziah died”

This brief comment sets the narrative in context.  Historically, dating King Uzziah’s death proves problematic to scholars but outside of literal placement in a timeline, the importance of this phrase is the way it teaches us to see God breaking into human time.  God intervenes in ordinary junctures of time with extraordinary plans and purpose.  Brevard Childs observes, “Isaiah’s vision is specifically anchored in Israel’s history—it functions much like the inclusion of Pontius Plate in the Apostles’ Creed—but thereby a major turning point in God’s dealing with Israel is being marked. Taking a traditionally metaphorical approach, the Patristic Father, Origen of Alexandria observes the wickedness of King Uzziah’s reign and suggests that “As long as Uzziah is alive, we will not be able to see the glory of God” because “we will be able to see God only when we put to death the vil that rules our souls.”

Earth and Heaven Meet

Just as the first phrase of the text signifies the movement of our Eternal God within the chronology of human history, the description of the heavenly temple moves us from the landmarks of an earthly temple — doorposts, smoke, altar — but each is used, like an icon, to reveal a deeper heavenly reality.  “God is revealed as king on a throne, dressed in a robe.” (Childs) The interplay of heaven and earth repeats the claim of the first phrase.  An earthly King demands a great deal of loyalty, even worship and exaltation.  When we look to the kingdoms of this world to execute justice, administer mercy and lovingly protect the nation, we may forget to turn our eyes toward a heavenly kingdom, to seek from God what no earthly ruler can provide.  In this scene, God’s people — through their representative Isaiah — are being reoriented toward their Holy God, the one whose glory fills the whole world.

God’s Holiness and Human Humility

Hearing the angels’ song, magnifying the great holiness of God, it is notable that the prophet’s next move isn’t to chime in on harmony but, rather, to pull the whole song into a minor key: “Woe to me! I am ruined!” In the Hebrew, the meaning might be translated, “I am silent.” In other words, I am not yet worthy to join in the eternal song of the angels. Why? Isaiah goes on, “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”  We might shy away from someone’s self-perception as “unclean”, responding by trying to bolster their self-esteem. But, in this text, humility seems to be the entirely right initial response to God’s holiness. What is it about God’s holiness that prompts our humility? “If a person or people comes to stand in their purity before the holy God who is set apart by an infinite distance from the angels and even more from all mortal creatures, it becomes evident that they have spoiled their lives.”  The assessment rebukes the prevailing ethos of moral therapeutic deism that serves as a default or status quo self-assessment in many churches today. This text forces us to reckon with the distance between God and humankind and yet, the commentator goes on to say, “God s free to make the fallen, guilty one an instrument nevertheless.” Further, in order to use Isaiah has God’s instrument, God initiates everything that Isaiah needs to be made pure and, in this way, “The guilty one is to be preserved from the otherwise inescapable consequences of his failings.”  Isaiah will be God’s mouth in speaking this same call to repentance among God’s people.


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