Put. It. Down.
I know you’re reading this on some kind of electronic device, but when you’re finished, maybe take a walk. Play Scrabble with your kids. Walk on The Mall or go to the Smithsonian. Whatever you do, unplug in a major way. Because when you are paying attention to your screen, what kind of information are you missing? What kind of dreams would you have if they weren’t interrupted by pictures of falling candy? What kind of knowledge would you pick up that you couldn’t get from Google?
A lot, actually.
Google and your electronics will definitely give you world news, but what about how your family is doing emotionally?
Our passage from Isaiah focuses on that point exclusively. Isaiah has just been through one of the worst times in his life. The king of Judah that he loved, Uzziah, was pushed out of his throne and into a life of solitude, even unto death. He’d committed a major sin according to the High Priest by burning incense as a gift to God, but to the High Priest, it came across as a major power play. Burning incense as a gift to God was an authority given only to the descendants of Aaron, so HOW DARE HE? Uzziah contracted leprosy soon afterward, and the High Priest declared it punishment for Uzziah’s sins. He wasn’t even buried with the other kings- set apart because of his mistake.
The king that took over, Jotham, conspired with Pekah, the King of Israel, to form an alliance with the Assyrians. Isaiah felt that the Jews were turning their backs on a God that had delivered them from their distress, all the way back to Moses leading them out of the slavery they’d suffered in Egypt.
He went into the temple to pray, and had a vision. This scripture is very important to the life of both Judaism and Christianity, because it is the moment Isaiah steps up and says, “here I am.” It doesn’t come easily, though. At first, the vision is of his pain. He knows that he and his people are unclean in the way that they are ignoring the same God that’s been there for them all along. He deems himself unworthy, and then an angel steps forward. Hear it in his own words:
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!”
Isaiah is not anointed by oil; he is anointed by fire… and yet, he doesn’t speak of it burning him. He speaks of it as doing what fire does. It tempers him. He takes the fire and lets it burn away the old version of himself, the one that feels unworthy to serve. When God says, “Whom shall I send?” Isaiah STANDS UP. He says plainly, “HERE AM I; SEND ME!” The old Isaiah is no more. He takes his power of vision and is considered one of the greatest prophets who ever lived. His predictions turned out to be accurate. As I have said before, Isaiah’s prose on Jesus is like looking at his baby pictures from hundreds of years before he was born. Fire on his lips in his visions became fire in the belly in his daily life and he USED IT.
We don’t get this kind of vision in our daily lives unless we sit as still as Isaiah did. Unless we unplug our electronics and sit in our own unworthiness and decide what kind of fire we need to create the kind of passion that Isaiah exhibits.
Last week, I preached a confessional sermon on how my Holy Spirit moment occurred, also through fire that tempered me. What is your moment? Have you found it yet?
Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit moment in a different element. Hear his words:
The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
The context is that he is talking to Nicodemus, who is confused by the concept of being “born again.” Of course you cannot reenter your mother’s womb, but every life gets fresh starts. We do it all the time. I just moved from Texas to Maryland. What have you done? Perhaps it is seeing a bad relationship and either departing from it or refreshing it anew. Maybe it is a job you hate that you’ve finally decided you’ve had enough.
Or perhaps you have unplugged enough that you can say, “here I am; send me” to the other people in your world. Perhaps there’s a sick person that needs your attention and you just haven’t had the fortitude to visit, but today is the day. Perhaps you’ve let church relationships fade because of one conflict or another and you’ve had enough of your own passive aggression and show up, anyway.
Maybe, just maybe, you’ve had enough of you. Maybe the person you are is not the person you’d like to be. What kind of coal should go on your lips so that you can be born of the spirit instead of watching it happen to others? To you, is self actualization just for other people? Are you hiding in your own darkness because it’s comfortable?
On this Trinity Sunday, I ask that you ask yourself these burning questions, because if you sit with them long enough, they won’t burn anymore. You won’t have seen fire, you’ll have walked through it.
Where is your Holy Spirit moment? What do you need to ask God to heal? Are you calling out for Jesus, the Mediator and Advocate?
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.