“One of Those Years”
February 6, 2022
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!’
2020 and the start of the global pandemic has become a marker event. Like other marker events, 2020 will be remembered for generations to come by simply stating the number “2020.” It is comparable to saying “9/11.” Just saying those two numbers generates visceral memories.
2020 was not just a year of pandemic. There were large protests in many cities over racial unrest. There were highly charged battles over public safety protocols. There was a bruising election season resulting in even deeper political divisions. 2020 was one of those years from which the historical imprint of events will not be forgotten.
It was one of those years. 2020.
The biblical reading of note today, from Isaiah refers to one of those years. In this reading we encounter a man named Isaiah who shows us a picture of faithfulness in the midst of trying times.
Additionally, it provides us perspective as well as some practices that provide fruitfulness for the living of these days: 2022.
The perspective comes in the first words of verses 1. “In the year that King Uzziah died.” It is one of those years in collective memory. To our 21st century ears this means nothing. But for the people of that time, it is the year that things started unraveling for them.
In the year that King Uzziah died it was the beginning of the end for the people of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. This is the year the Empire of Assyria made the first move to capture a huge chunk of the Kingdom and take people captive.
Yet it didn’t seem to end. The Assyrians kept coming. They captured more land. They slaughtered more people. They completely destroyed the Kingdom of Israel and laid siege to the city of Jerusalem.
It was a horrible time for the people of Judah, and it all began “the year King Uzziah died.”
Life was a mess. Everything that the people thought was right and normal was getting turned upside down. And the immediate future did not look good.
It was 9/11. It was 2020.
The entire book of Isaiah is a message that God was sending to the people called Judah and it is not pretty. To understand today’s passage, we need to know what has already transpired in the first five chapters. This is a summary of what Isaiah was proclaiming to the people:
“OK, Judah. I called you to be a light to the nations. I planted you like a vineyard to produce the sweet wine of my love to all people. And you blew it. Now, you are too far gone. The consequences of your destructive behavior are coming, and I am going to let it unfold. You will be cut down by the invaders and all that will remain is a stump. But, someday, a faithful shoot will rise from the stump.”
It was a harsh message. The people have forgotten who they are and what God had called them to do.
They had lost their perspective. The key message was this (Isaiah 1:16–20)
“Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes;
cease to do evil, learn to do good;
seek justice, rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD:
though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land;
but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword;
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
The people needed to readjust their perspective and this starts to emerge “in the year King Uzziah died.” God is seated on the throne. Rather than believing that a little box in the Temple contained God, Isaiah tells his people that God’s glory is overflowing the Temple. God’s feet are resting on it like a footstool.
There is more! Flying, fiery, six-winged serpents are flying around the throne crying out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts.” Amidst the carnage of the Assyrians and their intimidating presence, Isaiah wants the people to know that the one on the throne is the true commander-in-chief of all the world. God is not afraid or dissuaded by the Assyrians or anyone else.
In other words, Isaiah is saying, “God’s got this” and this is not about political domination such as they were seeing in the Assyrians. Rather, this is about God’s holiness and the mission of God to bring healing and light to all nations.
This is the heart of the Kingdom of God. Every nation will be judged by God on one standard.
Does your nation seek justice by:
ü rescuing the oppressed,
ü defending the orphan, and
ü pleading for the widow.
OR, does your nation and its system of rule make the rich and powerful, more rich and powerful at the expense of the weak?
God calls Isaiah to spread this message. To bring a new perspective. Especially when it is “one of those years.”
How would you feel if this were your calling? In today’s passage, Isaiah’s response to this perspective shows us some practices that may be the ticket.
The first practice is confession. When Isaiah is confronted with the holiness of God, and his perspective is realigned, it brings him low. He cries out, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.”
This practice starts with self-examination, exploring the ways we have contributed to the division and unloveliness of our society, leaving the oppressed and forgotten on the side.
The second practice is humility, understanding there is a higher power and you are subject to it. In the temple scene described in today’s reading, one of the freaky, six-winged beings that fly around the throne picks up a burning coal from the altar and touches it to Isaiah’s lips.
Can you imagine how much that must have hurt? Yet, the fire did not consume Isaiah. It burned away the guilt and blasted out all the gunk. In a way, God blew away the sin. He was purified.
Now, Isaiah, with his confession complete and his humility established, is aligned to the Lord’s perspective. He is ready to finally get around to good things.
The third practice is openness. The LORD asks, “whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Remember the message that the LORD has for the people and their nation. It is not an easy message to proclaim:
ü cease to do evil,
ü learn to do good;
ü seek justice,
ü rescue the oppressed,
ü defend the orphan,
ü plead for the widow.
It is not a prosperity Gospel to announce to the people. “Do this and you will be blessed, enriched, on the easy street of life.”
It is not a “do whatever you want to do because God’s just a big push-over” Gospel.
It is a message calling people to make hard choices.
It will challenge us to inspect our lives and evaluate whether our perspectives are aligning with God’s perspective.
It will ask of the nations to evaluate whether they are seeking justice by rescuing the oppressed, defending the orphan, and pleading for the widow. Or are they making the rich and powerful more rich and powerful at the expense of the weak and marginalized?
Would you sign up for this assignment that the Lord is giving Isaiah?
Remember, Isaiah engaged in self-examination. He took on humility and finally openness. “Here I am, send me.”
Are you seeing how this Old Testament story which comes from the year “that King Uzziah died” has application to us?
2022 is one of those years. Still. After 2020. And 2021.
In the midst of these years, we could easily give into perspectives that focus on anger, disdain, division, despair, loss. The convergence of events in 2020 and 2021 has sucked the best of us into the worst of us. As one of my friends said the other day, we have “resiliency fatigue.”
Do you remember in the first months of the pandemic the message that was broadcast often: “We are all in this together?” How long did that last? How has that been made known in our country?
My hope is that this story of Isaiah helps us remember the bigger perspective. Isaiah eventually called his people beyond “the year King Uzziah died” to think beyond domination by the Assyrians.
As followers of Jesus, we are called beyond the way things are. We not called to the American systems of power or allegiances to particular political parties. We are not called to pursue the American Dream, whatever version of it you may dream.
We are called to the Kingdom of God, which is to remember that we are blessed to be a blessing to all people.
We are forgiven and set free by the true King of Kings.
We are called to be advocates for the disenfranchised.
We are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
We are called to be the vessels of sweet wine of God’s love for all people, no matter who they are.