Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
Isaiah 6:1-8 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
A Vision of God in the Temple
6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 The pivots[a] on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph[b] touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
Certain events stand out in bold relief in our memory. We remember in vivid detail where we were and what we were doing. We even peg the chronology of any event in relation to it. It might be a national tragedy: the assassination of KFK, the bombing of Pearl Harbor, September 11, or Hurricane Katrina. It might be a personal tragedy: the death of a loved one, the diagnosis of an illness, a car accident, or a betrayal of trust.
We often date events in our lives by these memories. We might say, “I’ll never forget it—it was just after 9/11.” Or, “I’ll always remember when that happened because it was the day after my grandfather passed away.”
Of course the events that stick in our memory aren’t just the tragic ones. They may be joyful ones. They may be large-scale, public celebrations: landing on the moon, the Berlin Wall coming down, the end of a war, or the Cubs winning the World Series. Or, they might be personal celebrations: a wedding, the birth of a child, a surprise family trip, or the day you received some great news.
We often date the events in our lives by these memories, too. We might say, “I’ll never forget it—it was the week our second child was born.”
The early life of the prophet Isaiah was shaped by the events of his own time. Little wonder then that he dates his vision in the Temple by the time when the great King Uzziah died. Uzziah began his reign in 783. He became king when he was only six years old, and he ruled for almost fifty years as a great and good king. He ruled so long that the fortunes of the nation and the rule of Uzziah almost seemed as one. He developed the nation’s agriculture. Throughout his reign there was prosperity in the land. His leadership inspired his people. He raised a mighty army and strengthened the walls of Jerusalem against attack from without. Under his leadership the nation prevailed against the Philistines and the Arabians. It was a good time for the country and for the people. It was a period of peace and stability. And it was also a time of unprecedented prosperity. The people felt affluent and secure. But suddenly King Uzziah died and everything changed overnight. The people no longer knew what to expect. There was uncertainty about the future. There were even threats of war. The way of life that they had enjoyed for so long was coming to an end.
No wonder Isaiah is careful to tell us that it was in the year the king died that he went to the Temple to worship—as he had probably done many times. But this time he experienced a powerful mystical vision. It is remarkable in that it includes a number of the senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and, probably even taste. As Isaiah tried to describe his experience in the Temple in Jerusalem, he strained to describe what must have gone beyond words. His experience was a kind of faith journey compressed into one remarkable experience. As is so often the case in scripture, symbol and metaphor and image must be brought to bear to express the inexpressible. This is highly symbolic language. It is, in fact, dream language—the language of visions. Flipping through the pages of scripture, one encounters this sort of language from time to time: in the Hebrew Scriptures primarily in the prophets and over in the New Testament most notably in the Book of Revelation. Isaiah’s experience was a worship experience described in this kind of powerful language.
We can identify with Isaiah and his contemporaries, in some ways. Our time has many uncertainties. We live in fear of just about everything! The news shouts “Crisis!” at us 24-7. There are deep divisions in our society. As we face a global pandemic there is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. Some have said that for the first time in our history as a nation, children may not live as well as their parents. Everything seems to be changing right before our eyes, and we have a difficult time coping. The old and sure ways of the past don’t seem to work as they once did; and the new ways remain unproven. So what are we to do in such stressful times?
Well, we can do the same thing Isaiah did: turn to God. In a time of uncertainty Isaiah went to the temple to pray and to seek direction and comfort. There he experienced some things you and I need to experience and we do experience in the drama of worship. Isaiah experienced in quick succession
- the awesomeness of God, reminding him that God is God and he isn’t,
- his own sinfulness and need and that of his own nation,
- the amazing grace, forgiveness, and healing of God,
- God’s call to respond with his life, and then
- his own response of saying “yes” to God and making himself available to God.
That journey recorded in a few verses of the sixth chapter of Isaiah has often been cited as a pattern for worship. And, I think it’s helpful in that way. Sometimes we move through worship in a routine way, virtually unmoved by God in the process. At other times, like Isaiah, the very foundation is shaken and when we leave everything is different. Our lives have a new course or a new purpose or a new foundation or a new hope.
Consider the possibility that in this unprecedented year of 2020 with all that we are facing, allow the Holy Spirit of God to touch your lips, your eyes, your heart. Place on hold your own attempts to find meaning. Let the Holy Spirit of God transform your vision of who and whose you are. May you respond, then, as did Isaiah, “Here am I; send me!””
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster