Rev. Katherine Todd
For thus says the Lord: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.
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. 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. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 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!”
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 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.” 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!”
‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
Make the mind of this people dull,
and stop their ears,
and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
and turn and be healed.”
Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
and houses without people,
and the land is utterly desolate;
until the Lord sends everyone far away,
and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
I find this scripture about Isaiah’s experience in the presence of God mesmerizing. How exciting and terrifying. I can understand why Isaiah was terrified and confessed his own sin and unworthiness to be in God’s presence! But this fear is met by a cleansing by fire – not something scary but something experienced more as sanitizing or purifying Isaiah, so that his sin is blotted out, and he can be safely in the presence of God. How fabulous!
It is after this moment that Isaiah hears God conversing with Godself about who they will send for a task, and Isaiah appears unhesitant; he immediately offers himself, saying, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.”
I find this quickness to offer himself in service to God both utterly beautiful and perhaps a little hasty and short-sighted. Isaiah doesn’t learn until after he’s volunteered himself, that he will bear a hard message to God’s people. Though mercy and grace do enter into Isaiah’s message many times, it is intermittent, with much of the message he is entrusted with delivering being what will feel like bad and dreadful news indeed.
Isaiah is entrusted with the hard role of speaking a hard discipline over the people of God. God is not finished with them, though they have been unfaithful upon unfaithful. God is still involved, loving and disciplining them, that they may return to God, in righteousness and justice, love and faithfulness. But the means to that end can feel harsh indeed.
Isaiah must pronounce their destruction, letting them know that this destruction is not merely bad luck or happenstance but that it is God’s judgement over them.
I would not want this job. I cannot imagine signing up for a more dreadful kind of job.
Now some of you may have no qualms at all with a role like this. Many of you have lived this role in various ways through-out your lives. Some of you may actually enjoy it.
But I struggle. I struggle because in stark discipline I hear the echoes of every person who’s ever abused their power and authority to enact control and power, manipulation and perhaps revenge over another human being. I think to each one who’s ever been misunderstood and demonized, maligned and victimized. I think of punishment that is full of reactionary rage. I think of adults who have not yet learned to master their reactions and choose to respond, in accordance with their values.
And while these situations do exist –
while many, many through-out history have and continue to abuse their power in order to control others and
while discipline is often confused with punishment and revenge –
this is not all that exists in the world.
There are also those whose discipline flows out of their fierce love. Discipline for them is a supreme act of love; it shows a love that is not giving up; it shows a re-investment in a person or relationship, despite the challenge and effort. Discipline in its most true form is fundamentally love.
Discipline says to one who’s crossed a line: “No more!”
Discipline says to one who’s harming herself or another: “No more.”
Discipline says, “I love you too much to allow you to continue in this way.”
Discipline is, in fact, a primary way children will feel their parent’s love. Despite the fact that they rage against it, the alternative (a parent who does not care or even get involved) is much more scary and heart-breaking. That is why they say that children yearn for discipline.
So despite the fact that we, as human beings, detest most discipline, we utterly need it. We need to know we matter. We need to know our lives and actions matter. We need to know that other lives matter too. We need to know that our wellbeing cannot come at the expense or exploitation of another.
We too crave discipline.
And here, we read of a God who has not given up on the people. We read of a parent who has not stepped away, thrown in the towel, or flown the coup (though at times one may need to step away).
No instead we find a parent finding a way to lead beloved children away fromsin and back toward all that is life-giving and good.
For those of you who’ve had the opportunity thus far to parent another or those of you who’ve paid attention to the lives of children, you probably know the dynamics that occur in children who receive only compassion and generosity, without any discipline. Feelings of entitlement brew. Free, undeserved gifts of grace are often seen as due. Gratitude for the mercy and grace and goodness that surrounds them can be non-existent, as this goodness is largely taken for granted and thus invisible to the child.
Without experiencing the pain of their bad behavior and sins, they cannot in fact SEE the mercy and grace that covers their lives.
This is why we have to work hard to not rescue children from their own consequences. This is why discipline is so essential. For without it, we cannot EVEN SEE God’s goodness and grace.
Though contemplating the discipline of God may be a very hard pill to swallow, let us rejoice in the knowledge that our God cares. Let us rejoice in the assurance that our God has not given up on us. Let us rejoice in the hope that God is not done with us but is still active and moving in our lives.
And let us rejoice that our God does not tolerate sin and evil. Our God detests all that brings death and destruction into this world. Our God fiercely loves each one of us, and all of creation.
Could we serve a God who did not fight for us and all that is holy and good?
If our scriptures ended here – if all we knew about God was this verse – I would likely feel no hope at all. I would feel that God must be a harsh God. I would be scared for my life. – and God is indeed powerful and mighty!
But scripture does not end here. Isaiah does not end here. God does not stop the message here.
This same God speaks hope to us in the verse that declares: “God desires that each one would be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.” God’s heart is expressed in the verse, “Christ did not come into the world in order to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.” We know God’s love in this: “that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son in order that all who believe might not perish but have everlasting life.”
God’s love is in the beauty and fullness of creation. It is in the summer shade and the winter’s sunshine. It’s seen in the miracle of new life. It’s seen in the healing of forgiveness and second chances.
While none of us have lived charmed lives free of pain, God’s love has attended us, even before our birth.
May we be a people who, like Isaiah, are quick to offer ourselves in God’s service.
May we be a people who, like Isaiah, are faithful to God’s call, even when it is hard and unpopular.
May we be a people who can see and give thanks to God for love shown in discipline
– knowing that we have a heavenly parent, who loves us so much, that we are not left alone to our own devices and destructions,
– knowing we are pursued by the God of all creation, who loves us too much to allow us to continue in ways of death and destruction.
May we ever heed our heavenly Lord’s instruction.
May we trust that our God withholds no good thing, but surely hears our cries.
And may we believethat God indeed has plans to prosper us,
and not to harm us,
to give us a future