Narrative Lectionary Text: Isaiah 6:1-8
[pretend to shoot a gun] “bang!”
“Holy Blank, Batman!”
Get it? I shot a blank. That’s funny.
Do you remember who used to say “Holy ______” all the time? Robin. Right. As in Batman and Robin.
The caped crusader’s sidekick was technically correct and biblically accurate in his use of the term.
Let’s see how this works. Let’s say you saw a turtle on the ground.
The word “holy” means set apart; something that is different, out of the ordinary, special. Holy Turtle.
Now, if something is bigger than big, far beyond even special, then you would give it a double whammy.
Have you had any holy moments, or Holy, Holy moments?
Do you remember the first time you saw a breathtaking view. I know, whenever I climb to the top of a mountain I have one. This summer we went to the top of Mt. Evans, near Denver. We were 13,000 up. When you look around, you’re like, “holy, holy landscape!”
Now, if you encounter something that totally blows your mind, that is beyond comprehension, then you would say, “holy, holy, holy”
Our journey through God’s Story of Redemption brings us to this scene in Isaiah chapter 6 where a young man, named Isaiah, has a holy, holy, holy moment.
The story begins in verse one. “In the year that King Uzziah died.”
We could blow past this phrase, but I think it is important to pause and capture the significance of this moment in Israel’s history.
Do you remember where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001? I do. I was in the office of a phlebotomist, being phlebotomized. I was having blood drawn at the lab. The tech asked me if I had heard that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. I hadn’t, and figured it was a Cesna, or something, and thought that it was sad, but not rattling.
Then I walked into my office to see that my co-workers had wheeled the TV. I stepped into the room just as the second plane hit. We were stunned. The skies stood still that day.
That is a similar moment to what is meant by the phrase, “in the year King Uzziah died.”
The year is 739B.C.E. A new force was rising on the Eastern horizon. The Assyrian Empire had conquest in its blood and had set its sights on the West. Within a few years the Assyrians would march into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and completely destroy them. The Assyrians were ruthless conquerors, too. They were the type that would impale the bodies of their victims on stakes and line the road leading into the defeated town with them.
When Uzziah died Assyria was on the move and everybody knew it, and they were afraid.
Isaiah is the one speaking the words.
Isaiah walked into the temple. Look what he saw. He saw the Lord, seated on the throne, and his feet are on the temple.
Do you remember the temple, this is the God box that Solomon built a few weeks ago. Here God is not in the box, God has blown the top off of the box. He’s using the box as a footstool.
There are creatures flying around the throne.
They’re called “seraphs.” This is the only time seraphs are mentioned in the Bible. Most scholars think that these are images found in Egypt and other Empires of the time that represent powers. They are fiery serpents with six wings and they are flying around the throne.
Then the seraphs cry out, “holy, holy, holy” and the temple shakes and smoke starts billowing through the room.
What would you do in that moment if you are Isaiah. I’d be like “Holy Spielberg!”
No, seriously, what would you do?
Isaiah cries out, “NIDMETI!” “I am lost, I am undone, I am RUINED!”
There he is, a puddle on the ground, undone by the triple holiness of God.
As I read this passage this week, I wondered: Are we ruined when we come into God’s presence?
Many of you know that I am working on a PhD at Luther and the focus of my study is on spirituality in the suburbs. So, I’m constantly running everything through the lens of the suburban lifestyle these days.
I wonder how willing we are to be ruined by God’s presence.
I think most of us in the suburbs prefer to keep God in the God box.
“Look at my God, it is so shiny. Isn’t it adorable. I just love to come and look at it every couple weeks or so. It is always there for me when I need it. If I’m feeling a little down, I just shine it up a bit, and it warms my soul. If I’m afraid, it makes the perfect night light, and everything is better.
As predominantly white, middle-class suburbanites, what needs to be ruined in our lives?
A few weeks ago I told part of my story and had the audacity to compare it to Joseph’s pit experience. I told about how I lost my house and had to live in my parents basement.
Last week something really interesting happened.
We have a new man on staff named Mel. He heard that sermon, and then, last week he went over to my parents house and saw, “the basement.” It’s technically not a basement, but a split level. It has a gas fireplace and is really warm and inviting.
Mel’s comment was. “that’s it huh? Nice basement.”
On Tuesday of this week I was in class at school.
Most of my colleagues are from other countries. This Tuesday my colleague from Burma was making his presentation. He showed us a video about what is going on in his country. There is a movement by the government to unify the country under the name Myanmar and the Buddhist religion. The native, tribal people of Burma are Christians and they do not want to become Buddhist, so the military is invading their land, murdering them, raping their women, and burning down their villages. It is pure genocide and it is happening right now. My colleague said that he has written articles speaking out against this injustice, and when he returns home he could very likely be arrested or even executed.
So I’m sitting there in our classroom, listening to his story, and thinking about my life. Here I am in the sububurbs, banging my head against the wall trying to figure out how to get teenagers to even want to think about God and the Bible.
And I think “Holy ______.” What is that all about?
I know it’s not fair to compare my life to his. And I know I could be accused of playing sensationalist tactics and trying to guilt us into something. That’s not what I’m trying to do.
I’m simply asking the question: Are we, in the suburbs, willing to be ruined by God’s holiness? I’m not even sure what that looks like, but it seems like that is a fundamental question that we need to ask.
Let’s look back at Isaiah. He’s undone, on the ground.
One of the fiery, flying snakes swoops down to the altar and grabs a red hot burning coal and flies right up to Isaiah’s face.
And then, he holds out the coal and touches it to Isaiah’s lips.
What do you think that felt like? Did it hurt? Was it sweet? Did his whole body flash with fiery heat?
I don’t know, but in that moment, Isaiah was made clean. He was purged. He was purified.
Then God leans back and says to the seraphs, “Whom shall I send, who will go for us?”
Isaiah jumps up and volunteers. “Oh, send me. I’ll go!”
Do you see that?
Isaiah isn’t afraid anymore. God and the fiery snake things and the smoke are still there, but Isaiah isn’t undone anymore. He’s made whole. He’s empowered. He’s even ready to volunteer to go out and tell people whatever God wants him to say.
He’s reconciled to God.
Here’s the cool thing.
We reenact this story every week. This story was completed in the story of Jesus. Here’s the wonder and mystery of God made flesh in Jesus. God—the holy, holy, holy—the one whose presence ruins us, was willing to be ruined right along with us. God became flesh, and Jesus lived among us. He died at the cruel hands of the Empire, and was ruined. And now, he stands on the other side of resurrection, fully reconciled and redeemed, next to us, in the presence of the Almighty.
This is an ongoing, and ever-deepening process of formation. we are all at different places on this circle today and the message we need to here is different depending on where you are.
You might be sitting there thinking, “I am ruined” My life is a mess. its a miracle I’m even sitting here. If that’s you, then you need to know that Jesus has been ruined with you and for you and God can touch you and make you clean and whole.
Or, you might be at a different place on the circle. Today you might feel like you have it all together, and God is kept nicely in the box. Are you willing to have a holy, holy, holy moment and let God expose what needs to be ruined?
This is an ongoing process.
It doesn’t happen once. It happens again and again. God burns away layer after layer in our lives and reveals new ways of holiness and grace with every layer.
Today, we have an invitation.
In just a moment we are going to have a time of confession. We come to our own God box as we stand in this room. Will we see the Lord, seated on his throne, and will we allow God to reveal what needs to be ruined in us, so that we can, once again, be purified by the fire of Jesus’ love? Will we be willing to be sent to share this amazing gift of Grace with our neighbors?