Sinners Among Sinners
The 5th Sunday after the Epiphany [c] February 10, 2018
1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he 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 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people: “‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ 10 Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” 11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, 12 and the LORD removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. 13 And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.
In the Name of Jesus.
A man stands at the face of God, and he trembles. He’s vulnerable. He stands face-to-face, with no protection. With what will he defend himself? Maybe he shouldn’t be here, standing at God’s face. Maybe he should be elsewhere—any other place would be safer.
It doesn’t matter. No one shows up at the face of God on his own. This isn’t like showing up at the local brew-pub, or the corner drug store. You get yourself to those places. You drive there, you walk in, you present yourself. It’s your decision to show up, it’s your will. At the face of God? No one is at the face of God unless God has them there.
Isaiah, God has brought him to his face. Has stood him front and center at the heavenly council. The Lord is there on his Throne, high and lifted up. The Seraphim, the fiery angels, they say,
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole Earth is full of his glory!”[Isaiah 6:3]
Isaiah, what will he say?
“Woe is me! For I am lost,”
What else could he say? I deserve to be here? I’m right where I belong, at the face of God and among the holy angels?
No, “Woe is me! For I am lost.”
And he doesn’t day “Woe is me, I am lost, for I am but a little person, and God is really big.” Nor, “Woe is me, for I am finite, but I stand before eternal, infinite God.” Nor, “Woe is me, for I am but a creature, and I stand before the Creator of all things.”
That God is big, and powerful, is spirit, and eternal and infinite, this is no problem. It brings no Woe. That Isaiah is but a man, is creature, is finite and small, is flesh and blood, this is no problem. To be a man, to be what you are created to be, brings no Woe.
Woe is me, says Isaiah, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.
That’s his problem. Not that God is big and powerful and infinite and spirit. But that God is holy. And not that Isaiah is small and finite and flesh and blood. But that he is unclean.
His sin is his problem. That’s what undoes him at the face of holy God. That’s the Woe. And the sin around him is his problem, too. Not just the guilt of his own sin belongs to him, but that he is covered in the shame of the sinners around him.
Isaiah has no way of removing the Woe. But God will. That’s why God has called Isaiah to stand at his face.
Isaiah is a prophet. As prophet, he stands in for all Israel, for all those who belong to the Lord. If Woe is to come to Isaiah, then Woe is to come to all the Lord’s people.
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” 6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
The guilt, the sin, taken away, atoned for. Isaiah is clean. There is no more Woe, only blessing and grace.
Then, when that Lord whom Isaiah saw sitting on the Throne, that Lord who is all-powerful and eternal and Creator of all and is spirit, comes in the flesh some 700 years after Isaiah, when becomes a man, we find him out on a lake with some failed fishermen including Simon Peter.
He, the creator of all things, of the water, of the lake and the fish in it, of the wood of the boat and Peter in it, tells Peter to put the nets down in the lake, so that they pulled in more fish than the boat could handle.
Peter now knows he’s at the face of the all-powerful, eternal, creator God, who is spirit, but who has now taken on human flesh and come by the Name Jesus.
Isaiah, at the face of God, had said,
“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”
Peter, at the face of the same God, says,
“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”[Luke 5:8]
Like Isaiah before him, Peter knows that his problem is not that God is powerful and he is weak, that God is Creator and he is creature, that God is awesome, and he is not. Peter knows, his problem before God is, he’s is a sinner, he is a man of unclean lips and lives among a people of unclean lips.
But God, who is powerful and eternal and big, came in the flesh for just that reason. To cleanse Peter. And to send Peter forth with this word of Gospel on his now clean lips, making Peter a fisher of men. Luke 5:10:
And Jesus said to Simon [Peter], “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
How do we stand at the face of God?
As Isaiah stood. We stand as those with unclean lips and who live among a people of unclean lips.
As Peter stood. We stand as those only able to say in fear,
“Depart from me, O Lord, for I am sinful.”
But then Jesus has his way with us, so that we are given to stand as those whose mouths have been touched by the Body and Blood—the Body and Blood once given as the sacrifice on the cross, but now brought from the cross, distributed to us as a gift in the Sacrament—so that, with mouths touched by the Body and the Blood, we hear our Lord’s promise, “Your guilt is taken away, your sin is atoned for.”
We stand as those who, in fear of our sin and of the shame from our world we covered in, we hear our Lord say, “Fear not.” For though he brought us to his face to stand in our sinful flesh, he has now given us to stand as those justified by the Gospel.
He doesn’t send us out as he did Isaiah to be his voice to Israel (for Isaiah was a prophet, and we are not). But we are those given to live from the prophetic Word.
And he doesn’t send us out, as he did Peter, to be fishers of men, for that call was given to the Apostles, and we are not Apostles, but are those who live from the Apostolic Word.
But he does send us out with cleansed lips to speak his forgiveness and extol his grace. He does send us out with guilt taken away, with sin atoned for, with lives, then, where we live in no fear, but in the joy and confidence of the Gospel.
He sends us out as those who, even while still in our sinful flesh, and still living in a sinful world, live also, at the same time, our lives of faith, our lives lived as those justified the Word of Gospel and lived in the confidence of a cleansed conscience.
In the Name of Jesus.