Who Am I?
6In 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. 2Seraphs 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. 3And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” 4The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
5And 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!” 6Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7The 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.” 8Then 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!”
What a strange and unique rich reading this one is, from the Old Testament lesson for today. If people tell you that the Old Testament is all law and judgment, and the New Testament is all Gospel and Grace, you can point to this one as proof that what they are saying is a load of rubbish.
Here we have the vision of the prophet Isaiah that results in him being called to proclaim the word of the Lord, (and often the judgements of the Lord), to a nation with a succession of more and more evil kings, for a period of 45 years or more. To be able to do that you can see this experience must have affected him deeply, to push him to these lengths of service.
And what amazing imagery it is. Isaiah says that he was in the temple that by now was 150 years old. There he had a vision of God, and just the hem of his robe fills the temple. Now the inner ceiling of Solomon’s temple was said to have been half a football field long, by thirty metres in width, and 16 metres (about 4 stories) high. And just the hem of God’s robe filled this space? What is this trying to tell me about who I am and about who God is? I am very small. And God is very big.
You might remember that the prophet Elijah was told when he was called that no-one can see God and live, and Isaiah also immediately cried out “I am ruined!” because of this same knowledge. And what separated him from being able to see God? “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips”. So who am I? I am sinful, and that sin separates me from God.
God is Holy, absolutely pristinely perfect, and I am not.
Now Isaiah was in the temple, and the temple was the place where people came to make sacrifices to God in order to be made right with him. But did you notice that in this account Isaiah made no sacrifice? He offered no burnt offering? Yet he was still told that his sin was atoned for! We know now there is nothing that we can offer to make us right with God. But Isaiah did not have to!
A seraph was sent by God to cleanse his lips and he was told that his sin was atoned for. Not by him, but by an act of God. That means that God just broke all the rules of the Old covenant, and the sacrificial system, (that he himself had set up) by forgiving sin and sinfulness, without the sinful person shedding blood, and offering a sacrifice!
But this is the God we know, isn’t it? And not just in the new testament. This is the God who even put s a mark on the first murderer so that he will be protected, an act of grace. This is the God who provides the ram so that Abraham doesn’t have to sacrifice his Son Isaac. This is the God , unlike all the other stories of great floods being sent to wipe out the world, saves his people through the flood, another act of underserved grace, and then, in the New Testament: The God who in the person of Jesus reinstates Peter the denier, and confirms the faith, (forgiving the doubt) of Thomas, the God who in all these cases demands no sacrifice, who promises the thief on the cross an eternity in paradise starting today, the thief who can do nothing for him, can burn no lamb on an altar or even raise a hand in prayer.
This is the God who knows your every thought, who made you to be who you are, who you can’t hide anything from, who knows you every secret and still says “you are my child, whom I love, with you I am well pleased”.
So who am I now? I am forgiven. I am right with God, by means of NOTHING that I have done, or could have done.
How amazing it is to have this relationship with God. In our second lesson, from Romans, we are told that we did not receive a spirit of slavery. What if we had a God who, like ours, was so utterly different to, and above us but who did not love us? I feel so sorry for people of the Muslim faith who do not know a loving God. I once spoke to an Imam, and I said that Christian people have the relationship with God of being much loved children, and asked him what is a Muslim’s relationship with Allah? And with a look on his face that suggested that he did not want to answer my question, after a long pause he said: “we are slaves of Allah”. Slaves!
Do we realise just how amazing and uniquely different the gospel of full and free forgiveness from God our father, through Jesus Christ his Son, that we are able to believe in by the Power of the Holy Spirit really is? And how terrible the alternative is?
Now I will ask again: Who am I? And who are you? I am a child, and an heir, and I am loved, loved by a God who loved the whole world enough that he did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save it.
Who are you?
You are worthy.
You are enough.
You are created in the image of God,
you are a much loved child,
you are more than a conqueror,
you are bound for heaven,
you are loved,
you are forgiven.
That is sometimes hard to accept.
Even now there will be a voice in some of your heads saying “not me”. I don’t belong here. I am not as good as everyone else here who seems to have it all together.
Yet you are part of a greater company than just this.
You are before the throne of God with Kings David who was an adulterer, a liar and a murderer.
And with Jacob who was a swindler and a con man but who God made into a great nation.
And Jeremiah whom God used even though he suffered from terrible depression
And Peter who denied,
And Thomas who doubted,
And Paul who hated Jesus and his church,
And St. Augustine who was a womanizer,
And the list goes on.
And every single one would think they were a fraud who doesn’t belong in God’s plan of salvation.
And every one of them would we wrong.
And so would you.
God does not love you enough that if you clean up your act and come to church often enough and believe all the right theology your sins are atoned for and you are right with him and a child and loved. No. He says that about you right where you are, right now.
And God loves the homeless person and the poor person and the Chinese communist and the transgender person and the gay person and the feminist protestor and the atheist just as much as he loves you. For some, that is even harder to accept.
Do you know the love of God? Can you imagine what life would be like not knowing it? Well, there are plenty out there who do not know it.
Isaiah, transformed by the love of God threw up his hand and said “Here I am, send me!”
Is there anyone who needs to know the answer to that question?
Who am I?
Then go. Go and tell them. Thanks be to God for who we are.