Isaiah 6: 1-6
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. 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!’
6 Then 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!’
Sermon Feb. 6, 2022 St. Stephen’s, Summerland
One year when Gerald and I led a history and spirituality pilgrimage to England, Melva and
Sidney Black were amongst the pilgrims. The Rev. Sidney Black is an Elder from Sitsika First Nation, of
the Blackfoot people in southern Alberta, an Anglican priest, survivor of a Residential School, now a
During the pilgrimage we visited Durham Cathedral, with its immense pillars, and vaulted
ceiling. Sidney had never been in a European Cathedral before. We had told people to go in and let
their eyes adjust to the dimness. I stood beside Sidney just inside the door, as we both looked up to the
ceiling. “I see” he said. “if this is what the missionaries were used to, it is no wonder they thought we
had no places of worship. But this, (he gestured at the high ceiling) this is just to imitate what we
already have – Sky!”
Imitating sky! That is what I think now whenever I enter a sanctuary. This beautiful wooden
ceiling here, imitating nature to help us worship the Creator.
Epiphany Season is about encounters with God. Today, this mysterious story of Isaiah, often
paired with the gospel with the call of Disciples – any encounter with the Holy calls us, calls us into
service, to give ourselves beyond ourselves, pulls us into something more and better, of eternal worth
But today I want to look at the Mystery of this passage and what it says about worship, our need
as humans to worship, maybe especially as we are longing for a return to worship.
In the year that King Uzziah died: it was a time of political uncertainty and fear, Super-power
Assyria bearing down on their tiny nation.
Isaiah is at worship in the Temple – the biggest, most impressive building humanity could build
at the time. Temple considered to be the place on earth that was the footstool of God, the place where
God’s glory, God’s presence, dwelt. Elements of worship: Smoke filled the temple – incense, evoking
mystery; Confession and a ritual of Absolution/forgiveness; Hymns sung. And suddenly Isaiah is
engulfed in a vision of the eternal significance of the worship.
The hem of God’s garment fills the temple. Just the hem, stretching our imaginations toward
the immensity of God, God is “high and lofty”, transcendent on the throne, a sense of majesty and
Seraphim surround God, attendants – not little cuddly angel figures, the word means “fiery”
fiery snakes with wings, sea-serpent size.
They sing praises constantly: “Holy, Holy, Holy,” not just one Holy….Three, repeating, this
hymn of the Heavenly chorus. A hymn that we are missing right now. Ancient Jewish hymn, The
“Sanctus” has been said at every eucharist, through whole of Christian History. A hymns that pulls us
into the throne room of the Eternal God.
“Holy, Holy, Holy, the Earth is full of God’s Glory”. Glory means the “Weightiness” of God’s
Isaiah, filled with awe, suddenly feels small and inadequate, as we do in the presence of the Holy
: “Woe is me. I am “lost.” I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell amongst a people of unclean.”
Unclean, doesn’t mean dirty or disgusting; it means not prepared to be in God’s presence. God’s
presence has broken in without warning, no time for preparation.
Feeling of being “lost”: word translated lost could mean undone, brought to silence with AWE.
But notice God takes the initiative to overcome Isaiah’s sudden awareness of inadequacy; a
seraph takes a burning coal from the altar and touches it to Isaiah’s lips, a ritual of forgiveness, of
making Isaiah worthy, ready, to be in God’s presence – a painful startling burning touch. Readiness,
that leads Isaiah to respond “Here I am, send me” – readiness to serve God.
The Mystery and Drama of this vision! There is a weirdness and a wildness. Barbara Brown
Taylor, in a Mystics course I took from her, urged us “do not flatten the text or explain it”, any more
than we can explain our own encounters with the Presence of God. Like a camera can never capture a
sunset, or a morning on the lake or the mystery of hearing an eagle fly over. Isaiah’s vision is sensual
overload! One of the commentators I read this week said he’d like to see Stephen Spielburg portray
this – but the screen, we know, can’t capture the immensity of this vision – yes, we might have
surround sound, but not the smell, and feel of a burning coal, the wildness and weirdness of
What we try to capture in worship is the awareness that God’s glory fills the earth.
Evoke another, much more ancient story, another story that tells the truth about God and
human need to worship. The story of Jacob, much earlier ancestor of Isaiah, hundreds of years earlier,
Jacob running for his life into the desert, having stolen his brother’s blessing, running in fear and into
uncertain future, Jacob lays down in exhaustion in the cold desert night, taking a stone for his pillow,
(always makes my neck sore to think of this) , falls asleep with a billion stars with no light pollution!
Jacob’s Dream : a ladder going up to heaven with angels of God – messengers of God – going up
and down on the ladder. Jacob wakes and says: “Sure the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it!
How awesome is this place, this is none other than the House of God, and this is the gate of heaven”.
Jacob sets up the pillow- stone to mark the place, builds a cairn on top of it, a pillar, pours oil on it as a
way of consecrating it, calls it Beth-El, House of God. The first altar. Beth-El.
Jacob has the same sense of Awe in the presence of God that Isaiah experiences in the temple.
Our human instinct is to capture in a place what we know cannot be captured, the immense Mystery,
the Holiness that fills Creation and the Universe.
As humans, we need reminders, places marked to bring us awareness of the Presence of God in
our lives, in community, places to gather to pray.
But we also need to know we cannot contain that Mystery.
In Narnia, we are reminded: Aslan is not a tame Lion. The writer Annie Dillard asks: Do you
not know how dangerous it is to pray for the Holy Spirit to come? We should hand out crash helmets
at the door of the Church and have seat belts in the pews, a reminder of how alarming and precarious it
is to be in the presence of God!
Alan Jones, the former Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco cautions: The Church is in
dangerous business of domesticating God!
The ladder image evokes all of this sense of the Otherness and Mystery of this strange, stranger
God. This beautiful reredos that has been created for your sanctuary, the ladder surrounded by
beauty of nature, Green for Season of Creation, ladder leading up into heavens…..
Probably need to say something about this sense of up and down, imagining God is up there and
humans are down here. This is of course from earlier cosmology of Jacob and Isaiah’s time, but it still
affects our psyche our souls, but now when we have the James Webb telescope probing the universe, it
doesn’t work literally, mystery and immensity of universe not up and down. God is both out there and
imminently close. The meaning of the Ladder image, Brueggemann says, is that “There is traffic
between Heaven and Earth.” The Ladder on the Reredos goes up into Mystery. You grace your
sanctuary with this image that God is both Mysteriously Other, and yet very close.
Jesus self-identifies with the Ladder, the intersection of Heaven and Earth. The Cross.
Soon and very soon when you are able to return to worship in this sanctuary, this holy place;
may this reredos always bring for you a recognition that the God who fills the vastness of interstellar
space dwells with you in the community of St. Stephen’s.
Blessing the Reredos:
Holy God, we thank you for Beauty
that pull us into awareness of your Presence with us,
to Reverence and Awe,
to a sense of your Holiness.
We thank you for this Reredos that evokes your Creation.
We thank you for the story of Jacob’s encounter with You,
your Majesty and Mystery,
your awesome presence surrounding him during an uncertain and frightening time.
We thank you for the Ladder that reminds us of Christ,
the connection between Heaven and Earth,
the intersection of the realms of the Divine and Humanity.
We thank you for the texture and colour, the creativity and imagination, the skill and art.
Bless this offering to you to beautify your sanctuary.
Bless the artist. Bless the donor. Bless all who see it.
Bless all who worship here.
May this Reredos aid their worship,
lead them into your presence,
deepen their faith,
encourage and inspire them.
We bless this Reredos in the name of the One Holy and Undivided Trinity,
who is forever Creating, Redeeming and Sanctifying.
Isaiah 6: 1-6