Summary: When God Makes An Appearance 1) We say, "WOE!" 2) But He says, "NO!" 3) Then He says, "GO!" God’s unconditional love moves us to unconditional service (Sermon theme adapted from sermon theme by Professor James Tiefel of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Me
(Sermon will begin by playing the opening bars of Also Sprach Zarathustra, the theme song from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”) When you hear this music, don’t you expect the arrival of something awesome? Indeed today we do get to preview an awesome sight: the glorious God of the universe. We’ll learn that when God makes an appearance we say, “Woe!” but God says, “No!” and then he says, “Go!”
Although no one has ever seen God in his full glory, 2,750 years ago a man by the name of Isaiah received a glimpse of God’s splendor. In the year the king of Judah, Uzziah died, Isaiah saw THE King that never dies. He saw God seated on a throne. Not just any throne, mind you, but a throne that was “high and exalted” soaring awesomely above Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1). There was something else awesome about God’s heavenly throne room; it looked like a temple. If it was identical to Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem, it would have been about 30 meters long, or approximately the third of the length of a football field. That might not sound so impressive for a divine throne room but the temple didn’t house God himself, only the train from his royal robe. Isaiah says that the train was so big and long that it filled the temple (Isaiah 6:1).
Like any king, God had attendants and they were awesome. Isaiah calls God’s attendants seraphs. We know them as angels. The Hebrew word “seraphim” means “burners.” That name must have described their appearance - bright and shiny as if they were on fire. Isaiah also tells us that the seraphs had six wings: two to cover their face, two to cover their feet, and two with which to fly. The song the seraphs sang might explain why they covered their face and their feet. “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3) the seraphs sang. The basic meaning of the word “holy” is “separate.” God is separate from his creation. He’s not like us. He’s without beginning or end. He doesn’t have mood swings. He’s absolutely fair in everything that he does. And most importantly he’s without sin. God is so holy and great that not even his angels dare to look directly at him or expose their feet to him. Therefore in an act of humility, they cover their face and feet with their wings.
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty...” We sang those very words in the opening hymn this morning but not like the seraphs did. Isaiah says that the seraphs were so loud that the doorposts, even the very foundation of the temple shook! Big deal you say? You’ve had those cars with the suped-up stereo systems drive by your house rattling your windows. Trust me. This was much more awesome. The doors of Solomon’s temple were made of pine, overlaid with sheets of gold, and were 10 m high. It would take a lot to get a doorpost holding a door like that to shake wouldn’t it? And it wasn’t just the doorposts but the very foundation of the temple that was shaking – a veritable earthquake! While all that was going on the temple filled with smoke. Isaiah didn’t just see and hear what was going on, he could smell and perhaps even taste it!
Can you imagine standing in Isaiah’s shoes? You will be some day. “Wow! Really? Awesome!” That’s what we might think but that’s not what Isaiah thought. Instead of “Wow!” he said, “Woe!” Not “Whoa, Dude!” But “Woe to me! I am cut off! 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” (Isaiah 6:5). Standing before God, Isaiah saw himself with awesome clarity. In the glare of God’s holiness Isaiah realized just how ugly his sins really were. For once there was no one else to compare himself with other than God and he knew that he was deserving of God’s eternal punishment for his sin.
Isaiah’s preview of God allows us to see God for who he is. God is love, yes, but God is also just. He doesn’t accept plea bargains to reduce sentences. He doesn’t compare us to others – only to himself. When we realize that, Isaiah’s confession becomes our own: “Woe to me!” Not, “Whoa, I’m glad I’m not like other sinners.”
If we’re not convinced of our guilt, look at how Isaiah described his lips. He called them unclean. Could we also not admit the same thing about our lips? Think of the kinds of things our lips take in that aren’t God-pleasing. Maybe it’s an excessive amount of alcohol, or an addiction to prescription drugs. How about the things that pour out of our lips that make them dirty? Things like half-truths, hurtful remarks, and proud boasts. Why, we don’t even have to open our lips to make them impure. Just by smiling at a dirty joke, or frowning when someone asks for a minute of our time we show ourselves to be sinners deserving of God’s wrath. And that’s just our lips! We haven’t even talked about how unclean our eyes, our hands, and our heart make us.