Summary: Isaiah’s answer to God’s call.
Years ago there was a program on television called Welcome Back, Kotter. It was about a guy who taught at a New York high school. Well, he didn’t just teach; he was responsible for a group of kids called The Sweathogs.
They were called this because they were the kids who were always getting into things, always causing some kind of problem, always making bad grades. A lot of you probably remember this show.
There was one kid in The Sweathogs named Arnold Horshack. He was short and skinny with curly hair and a strong New York accent. Whenever the teacher asked a question and Arnold thought knew the answer, he was completely unable to contain his excitement.
He’d throw his hand into the air and start shouting "Oooooooooh, oooooooooh, pick me, pick me." Of course, this was designed to get the teacher’s attention, but instead of calling on Arnold immediately, the teacher would look around the room, hoping that someone else wanted to answer, because he knew what kind of answers Arnold usually gave.
I bet we’ve all done something similar to this in our lives. When we were in school, particularly elementary school, if the teacher asked a question and we knew the answer, naturally we’d want to let her know that we’d studied the material. So we’d raise our hands, maybe flap our wrists for added effect, and hope that she’d see us and call on us.
When I read today’s scripture, I couldn’t help but think about Arnold Horshack and the antics he pulled to get the teacher to acknowledge him.
Last week we read about the call of Jeremiah. This week we’re going to talk about the call of Isaiah. I really like this scripture. It was one of the ones I chose to have read at my ordination last year. It’s very meaningful for those who’ve been called into any type of ministry, because Isaiah’s response is so wonderful.
Verse 1 starts out, "In the year that King Uzziah died." Uzziah, also known as Azariah, was the king of Judah for 52 years, and his story is an interesting one. He was generally considered a good king, but he failed to acknowledge that all his success came from God. He became full of pride at his accomplishments, and that led to his downfall.
He was unfaithful to God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar. Eighty priests followed him in in order to confront him. They told Uzziah that it wasn’t right for him to burn incense because of his unfaithfulness. Uzziah got angry at them and began to rant and rave, and while he was doing so, leprosy broke out on his forehead.
The priests ran him out of the temple, and Uzziah himself was anxious to leave because he knew the Lord had afflicted him with this leprosy. I imagine he was scared half to death. Well, the leprosy stayed with him until he died, which was about 742 B.C., and that’s the year Isaiah had this vision of God.
The rest of verse 1 through verse 4 describes Isaiah’s view of God. There are several accounts in the Bible of people seeing God’s likeness, but this one of Isaiah’s is very grand. He sees God seated on a throne, which is raised up high, and the train of God’s robe fills the temple.
There are seraphs all around God, and they each have six wings. Seraphs are angels whose name is derived from the word for "burn," and who are thought to symbolize purity. They’re covering their eyes to show that no one can see God directly and live; they’re covering their "feet," which is a euphemism for their nakedness; and they’re flying back and forth calling out "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." The voices of the angels are so powerful that the doorposts and thresholds shake.
The throne, the angels, and the threefold "holy" all stress God’s holiness. To be holy means to be morally perfect, pure, and set apart from all sin. This time period was one of moral decay, so it would have been important for Isaiah to see God in his holiness.
We also need to understand God’s holiness. Our daily frustrations, society’s pressures, and our own shortcomings reduce and narrow our view of God. At seminary we were encouraged to look upon God as lover, brother, friend, acquaintance, or confidante. God was reduced to what we wanted him to be, something almost equal to ourselves. Our view of God became very small, something we could be comfortable with.
We need Isaiah’s view of God as high and lifted up to empower us to deal with our problems and concerns. God’s moral perfection, properly seen, will purify us from sin, cleanse our minds from our problems, and enable us to worship and to serve. We need to know that God is larger than we are, that God is huge and powerful and omnipotent, and that without God, we are nothing.