Manuscript of First Sunday after Pentecost Isaiah 6:1-8
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
Sunday, May 31, 2015
On March 24, 1991, one of the oldest and largest Redwoods in California crashed to the ground.
People call the tree the Dyerville Giant, and it lies where it fell. When it stood, the tree was 362 feet tall (the height of a 30-story building). Its diameter is 17 feet. Its circumference is 52 feet. Experts estimate its weight at over one million pounds and its age at nearly 2,000 years.
When the tree hit the ground, a person living a mile away said that it sounded like a train wreck. Vibrations were felt 10 miles away.[i]
That’s a description of the Dyerville Giant that Craig Brian Larsen read on an informational display at Humboldt Redwoods State Park in California. Most trees don’t get a display and historical record like that. Most, perhaps, aren’t even heard when they fall in the forest. This one, however, was no ordinary tree, one whose downfall made not only a sound but the kind of impact people could experience miles away.
The text we have heard and read this morning from Isaiah 6:1-8 is a description of what happened when an extraordinary life fell in the kingdom of Judah. It was the death of King Uzziah, a king who had reigned for at least 50 years. His death was felt by many people miles around where it happened, but it was most certainly felt and noted by Isaiah as he writes these words in the same year the king died. We gather from his words that Isaiah was close to Uzziah and was in the midst of grief over his death. The reverberations of King Uzziah’s death were not just in personal grief, but were unsettling to the nation who feared what would happen next, as the absence of a king would create national and personal vulnerability to outside kingdoms. It is during his sorrow and mourning that God shows up in such a memorable and powerful way, as Isaiah described,
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.”
In the depths of his grief and anxiety about the future, Isaiah experienced the powerful transcendence of God as he caught a vision of God enthroned in majesty and surrounded by chanting Seraphs. Like a dream so real and so deep you never seem to wake from and think about for days to come, Isaiah’s vision was arresting and transformational. It is fair to say that this was a pivotal moment in Isaiah’s life, as God revealed Godself to him in a way he—and Israel—needed the most. Isaiah and the people of Israel needed to remember that God was still God.
Isaiah would also see a God who was up close and personal. Actually, it was more of what he heard as the Seraphs chanted the “whole earth is full of his glory.” Yes, God was Holy and other than creation, enthroned in heaven yet God was with them on earth. God was transcendent yet immanent, hidden yet obvious, incomprehensible yet comprehensible, out there yet in here, unknowable yet familiar, perplexing yet clear. God wanted Isaiah and his nation to know the proximity of God’s presence with them, right where they were. They were to understand God’s presence, tangibly in their grief, mercifully in their sin, and assuredly in their future.
I heard a country song this past week that expressed what Isaiah must have been feeling. It is “God Must Be Busy” song quote by Brooks and Dunn,
That anchorman says they’re fighting again
Somewhere in the Middle East
The world prays for peace
There’s a single mom, just got laid off
Went and lost her job to foreign hands
In some far away land
Last night in Oklahoma
Some twister took thirteen
And they’re praying they find the missing three
God must be busy
And I know in the big picture
I’m just a speck of sand
And God’s got better things to do
Than look out for one man
I know He’s heard my prayers
‘Cause He hears everything
He just ain’t answered back or He’d bring you back to me
God must be busy
Have you ever felt that way? That God is still God, yes, still there somewhere, but too busy to help you with details in your life? I’m thinking you and I can relate to Isaiah this morning. Perhaps we know what it is like to be in mourning over a loss, to know the strangling hold of fear for the future, or to feel unworthiness and guilt over sin. Maybe you can relate to Isaiah’s fear of God or his sense of unworthiness to approach God, focusing more on the trembling and smoke than the majesty and grace of God’s presence. We, like Isaiah and his nation, do need to see that God is still God. We do need to know that there is a higher power out—or up if you prefer—there, One who is other than us; One who is majestic and powerful enough to handle the earth as well as the universe, One who is capable of bringing order to chaos.
But, we also need to see that God is not so busy doing all of that to pay attention to all of us. God is not distantly detached from our hurts, struggles, and circumstances in life but immensely attached to us in them all. We are to feel the powerful shaking of God’s power in our lives but only as it comes with the repetitive chorus of angels that the whole earth—even the details of our lives—are full of God’s glory.
Isn’t this what we have heard from Paul today in our Romans 8 reading? On this Trinity Sunday, we recall that God has come to us not only as an enthroned King and Father, but as Son and Holy Spirit. Paul reminded the Christians in Rome that the details of their lives mattered so much to God that God had adopted them as children and loved them, through human flesh as Jesus, and via ongoing presence as Holy Spirit. God’s self-revelation had gone from general to specific.
That’s how it is to go for us. Sadly, we may see God in just a general sense. God for us may be just the “man upstairs,” a “higher power,” or an unknowable deity rather than a God who gets as up close and personal as discovered by Isaiah and Paul. We may mistakenly turn away from God in the midst of our need because we are unwilling to receive God’s coal of grace, to hear of God’s proximity of presence, to experience the unconditional love of being a child in God’s family. This morning, each of us has the opportunity to get the message of God right; right here in our congregation, right here in our pain, right here in our worries, right here in our grief. This morning, the impact of recognition of how God comes to us right where we are can have more reverberating impact than the the mighty trees of our lives that fall around us.
Do you feel the tremble? Do you hear the heavenly chorus? Have you experienced the love?
[i] Craig Brian Larson, editor, PreachingToday.com; source: booklet on “Founders Grove” distributed at Humboldt Redwoods State Park in California [accessed in October 2012], and an informational display.