Rev. Drew Stockstill
BBQ and Discipleship - Trinity Sunday
Rev. Drew Stockstill - May 30, 2021
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.”“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 The pivots 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 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!”
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord.” When you start a story with a death, you know that story is going to be important. A lot of us have important stories that have something to do with a death – foundational stories. 1988, the year my mother’s mother, father, and grandmother died of cancer, and my father’s father of a heart attack, my mother was pregnant with my sister and we moved for my dad’s job. I don’t really remember that year because I was two, but there are many stories in our family that begin, with, “In the year that 3/4 of your grandparents died…” and those stories all mean something.
When we tell stories that begin with September 11, 2001, they mean something. Forever, when we speak of the year 2020, well, we know, this time will always mean something; the year will carry a weight.
The young prophet, Isaiah, begins this story with a death, and that means something. Everyone listening to his story would know the weight of that year. Isaiah says, “It was the year King Uzziah died, and I saw the Lord, and I became his prophet.” King Uzziah had been one of the great kings of ancient Israel, and a cautionary tale. Uzziah took the throne of Kingdom of Judah at just 16 years old. And he did something very smart as a young man called to make important decisions – he listened – to advisers, prophets, and God. The Bible says, young King Uzziah, “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” And it served him well. He became a very strong king and his fame spread all the way to Egypt. His kingdom grew, he built towers and commanded a great army fit for war.
They say, with age comes wisdom. But the opposite was true for Uzziah. Perhaps it was all that power, or his ego, or greed, or all of it, but 52 years is a long time to rule and he probably should have stepped aside earlier because eventually Uzziah overstepped, did wrong, and took liberties in God’s territory and was put in his place. He lost his temper, got angry. Powerful people don’t like to be corrected, and they don’t like to lose. So, God afflicted Uzziah with leprosy on his face – made him shameful. Because of the law of the land in those days, it meant Uzziah had to go live apart from everyone else, in a separate house and he was excluded from the house of the Lord. He could no longer rule. His son took on his official responsibilities and that is how Uzziah lived out the rest of his days: an isolated, powerless leper to the day of his death. And when he died, though he was allowed to be buried in the field that belonged to kings, it was always only said about him, “He is a leper.” How the mighty do fall. This would all come to mind as the prophet recalled the day he received his vision of God. It was that year Uzziah, the leper king, died and Isaiah saw the Lord.
King Uzziah, Studio of Rembrandt, circa 1640
How the mighty do fall. This would all come to mind as the prophet recalled the day he received his vision of God. It was that year Uzziah, the leper king, died and Isaiah saw the Lord.
What is God’s message for us today and who are the prophets of our time, the ones who will one day tell their stories which will begin, “In the year of a global pandemic, we saw the Lord?” Isaiah’s mission was urgent. The fate of his people was at stake. And there is some urgency in our own time. We do not have a king who died a shell of his former self, but there are other powerful people and forces who lead us, who try to control; industries and personalities our culture treats as royalty. There are systems and institutions and a few individuals who hold so much wealth and power, who, like King Uzziah, have overstepped.
We have seen the depths of disfunction in our political systems where the power of political tribe is more important than the health and wellbeing of the people it was created to serve. We’ve seen people in authority in the media, education, public service, businesses, faith organizations, youth organizations, sports organizations who have overstepped, transgressed, done what was wrong in the eyes of the Lord and most people. We’ve seen how often those powerful organizations fail to do what is right. Isaiah said what could be said today, “Woe is me! I live among a people of unclean lips.” The prophet reminds us, even kings do fall, even the mighty can be brought low with the disease of corruption and greed. The Bible says after Uzziah died it was forever said of him, “He is a leper.” It was for his shame that he was remembered, and not for the many more years of good leadership. Even mighty businesses and nations, if they overstep or if they no longer serve for the good of the people, may crumble, and be remembered like Uzziah the leper, more for their sad endings than noble beginnings.
As we think of the list of those of our time who thought they were above reproach and were shockingly held accountable, what Isaiah reveals is that these powers of the world are ultimately predicable, disappointing, fleeting, and easily replaced. Isaiah begins with the memory of the sad death of a once promising leader but then describes his vision of true power and it’s truly a terrifying vision. Remembering the humiliating fate of a worldly king, (a warning to any political leaders of our day,) Isaiah then presents quite the contrast to that human powerlessness and it is God. Revealed is a true King – God on the throne, high and lofty, so huge that just the hem of God’s robe fills the entire temple. This is true grandeur, true power, totally awesome.
And horrifying – swarming above God are six-winged fiery snakes called Seraphs. FLYING FIERY SERPANTS, those are angels, not pink little babies. And as these flying fiery serpents swarm around God, they are covering their faces with one pair of wings and their serpent feet with another, because they cannot look upon the awesomeness of God. God is so grand, and good, and magnificent the seraphs feel almost embarrassed. That is true power, the power of God. And as the seraphs fly above God they are calling out to each other, crying, shrieking, singing? Who knows what it sounded like, but it was so loud the earth shook. Uzziah is in the ground and God is on the throne.
God shows up and the very presence of the divine puts all earthly systems into perspective. The heavens open and the heavenly host swarm and the glory of God shines and the very image of the very good God exposes the fraudulent powers of the earth. And so, at this moment as the heavens are shaking, Isaiah is filled with dread and fear and cries, appropriately, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people with unclean lips,” which is about as close as he could get to what the seraphs were doing covering their face and feet in the face of God’s glorious holiness. But because it was God, Isaiah wasn’t only afraid, he was also in awe and relieved to be in the presence of true power and good power, and so HE continued, “yet, my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
In the presence of such pure goodness as God and the heavenly beings, any human being would feel a little underdressed, a little impure, so Isaiah felt inadequate and unclean. Shame is on the scene and so God does what God always does when God encounters our guilt, our sin, our shame: God is full of grace, God not only forgives, God cleanses us, God makes us worthy of the gifts God gives us. One of the seraphs flew up to Isaiah holding a live coal, taken from the Memorial Day weekend holy BBQ grill with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched Isaiah’s mouth with the coal and cleansed all his sin, made him a worthy vessel for God’s gift of service. And with that act of grace, Isaiah is ready for his mission. God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” and Isaiah replies, “Here am I; send me!”
Beloved, God has come to us too, but mercifully in the form of Jesus Christ. We know him through the testament of his disciples, we know him through the work of the Holy Spirit, making him alive to us in our hearts, we know this God as the Trinity. All this power and might revealed to Isaiah in an apocalypse is revealed to us in Jesus, so we don’t have to cover our faces, but we do get to be overcome by his awesomeness, the awesomeness of his love. Through Jesus, God calls to us as well. We must know the idols of power, the King Uzziah’s of our day, the political parties, and the tech companies, and the banks, and the halls of justice and injustice, with their good and their bad, will all pass away. But we belong to the mission of a God who does not pass away. We are called into the service of a God who brings new life from the stump of what has fallen away. Church, all is being revealed for what it truly is in this world, but it is our call to share the good news that what remains is a power that is full of grace and love. We are gifted to point out in the waste land, the places of life.
We don’t need coals to cleans us for this work of discipleship; Jesus did that for us with his life. Beloved, we, the body of Christ, get to be the ones who help answer what comes next, and we have the good news: that it is beloved community, fellowship around the table of grace, where all belong to a truly glorious God. And we pick up with a song that has been sung for eternity: “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord,” and by his grace, so are we.
The Trinity: Mark Jennings, Artist