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Worship as Inspiration

Isaiah 6:1-8

I read a book at Christmas that had probably the most arresting line I’ve ever encountered. The set up for the book, The Life of Pi, was a young Canadian writer wandering through India, struggling to find his next point of inspiration. It comes by an older man sitting by himself in a tea shop. The older man asks him what he does for a living, the young man explains his writing, and the man says this: “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” For that reason alone I was going to read that book. And I did.

Serephim Isaiah saw

We’ll never get past our need for a sacred story. And we’ll never get past our need for people to share a sacred story with the world. In Isaiah 6 we have that story. It is a behind-the-curtains revelation of God. So inspired was Isaiah that this encounter becomes the origin for his calling as a prophet. And inspiration is the reason the story is told. It’s as if he says, “To live as inspired as I live, you must see what I saw.”

If worship of God is anything in our lives, it has to be inspiring. And that is our focus this morning. I want us to look at the distinct ways this story reveals the reasons we should be inspired when considering God.

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of his robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with tow he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of his glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Isaiah 6:1-4

Our first point of inspiration is God’s greatness.

It is predictable to put God’s name before greatness, but it not inevitable. Isaiah is considered great. King Uzziah is considered great. But worship that inspires comes by seeing that God is greater than our greatest people. Isaiah describes God as on a throne, a sign of royalty and power. His robe is so large as to literally fill the temple. The Seraphs, angelic beings attending Him are so struck by His being and bearing that they cover their eyes and feet. He is too bright to watch and too pure to stand near. And the conversation between the two beings is one word: Holy. Because Hebrew has no way to express the superlative, it must repeat the word three times for effect. And the shaking of foundations is akin to the tabernacle in the wilderness filling with the glory of the Lord.

There is an important application here, most noticeably that Isaiah sees this vision “in the year of King Uzziah’s death.” King Uzziah was a great king, and long-lived king. But he died under a shadow of shame for taking the duties of the priests on himself. His punishment was leprosy and isolation until his death. For Isaiah, the death of Uzziah was the loss of a great king and a great source of comfort. The world probably felt a lot safer when King Uzziah was alive. For the Seraphim to sing that “the whole earth is full of his glory” is to remind Isaiah that the glory of God in the whole earth is far more important than the glory of kings and nations in the whole world.

Make no mistake. There are days on the calendar when life changes. There are days on the calendar when people as we’ve always known people and answers as we’ve always known answers will no longer be with us. Here we have to remember that the whole earth is full of God’s glory. God’s greatness made the great people great. God’s grace makes the graceful people so graceful. And though there is a line before us all—a line where we will be absent of people, absent of answers—the God who carried us on this side of the line exists beyond the other side of the line.

Read verses 5-7: Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal n his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.”

Our second point of inspiration is God’s forgiveness.

Isaiah’s response is a typical one. The tradition of Moses and all that followed was that seeing God was too much for the constitution of humans. To see God was to die. (Ex. 33:20) God reveals the difference between Creator and created. The seraphs cover their feet and Isaiah yells, Woe is me. No matter how he saw himself or how others saw him; no matter how he saw his people or his people saw themselves; in God’s presence a great humility descends. The response is to bring a coal from the altar, touching his lips, signifying forgiveness of the unclean lips. There is forgiveness.

The application is simple, but important: all is not lost. With God there is forgiveness. The New Testament gives stories of people changing their fortunes through forgiveness: the woman at Jesus’ feet whose gratitude shames Simon the Pharisee and the paralyzed man who enters through the roof and finds Jesus forgiving him before healing him.

We have with Jesus what we call a symbiotic relationship. Literally, “the intimate living together of two dissimilar organisms in a mutually beneficial relationship.” We live intimately with him and so find that he is unlike us in that he does not sin and we do. Because he is unlike us, he can help us. He is not bogged in our swamp. He is not limited as we are limited. We are beneficial to him in that he loves us and we serve him, and he is beneficial to us as he forgives. Forgiveness is supposed to be inspiring. As long as we make grace a little thing in our lives, it can only do a little work. But when we make grace a big work, a great part of our story, forgiveness becomes inspiring.

Finally, verse 8: Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”

The third point of inspiration: we are asked to speak in our own voice.

“Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” On that side of the curtain, it seems, are the questions of God. We are buried in all the questions of What, When, and Why while God is asking, Who? Isaiah’s answer is so simple. “Here I am! Send me.” I, me, are first person pronouns we discourage. But in service to God, “I, me” are the words of humility.

When Isaiah speaks the “I” of Isaiah, He cannot offer an ideal version of Isaiah. He’s just a hair’s breadth from the moment of receiving forgiveness.

Our application: Answering with your voice is the only place to begin with God. He knows full well that Isaiah’s “Here I am. Send me.” comes from a flawed man. He lives in a flawed time. He sees through a very limited lens. He has very little understanding of what it means to follow God into this work of prophesying to Israel. There may be far more heart that head in “Here I am. Send me.” But that is the point. It is Isaiah’s voice, not someone else’s. It is his prayer, his openness, his will. That’s why it is valued. We do not have to speak to God with someone else’s voice. Ours is all we have, and ours is enough. You don’t need someone else’s voice.

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