Bible Tuesday for Holy Trinity Sunday, 2015
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!’
This is traditionally referred to as “The call of Isaiah”.
“I am a man of unclean lips…yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!” The only people who ever enjoyed face to face conversations with God were Adam and Eve. After they were expelled from the garden, humans and God can no longer have face to face conversations. God appears to Moses on Mt. Horeb/Sinai as a cloud, also to Jesus at the transfiguration. Abraham and God talk but not face to face. Same with Elijah, David, Hagar, Jacob, Joseph. God is complete, perfection, and fallen humanity is not. When sin comes in contact with God it ceases to exist, so when sinful beings come into contact with God, they cease to exist. God’s perfect presence is also transferred to the Ark of the Covenant. No one could touch the ark and survive. There are at least two stories of people touching the ark accidentally, even just to steady it, and they died instantly (giving rise to many screwy theories about the Ark of the Covenant being a primitive battery or some power source given to the Israelites by aliens).
When in this vision, Isaiah sees God, he is certain that he will die. He has unclean lips and has seen the fullness of perfection and cleanliness. God’s attendant takes an ember from the altar of the temple, an ember of burning sacrifices for atonement, and touches Isaiah’s lips, thus purifying them. How interesting that for Isaiah, his uncleanliness comes from what he has done with his lips: speech, eating, facial expressions. For contemporary Lutherans, our uncleanliness comes from the evil that “we have done and what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole hearts and we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.”
As Isaiah has survived certain death and has been made clean, when God ponders aloud who should be God’s messenger, Isaiah joyfully leaps at the chance.
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,[a]
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name;
worship the Lord in holy splendor.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,[b]
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to his people!
May the Lord bless his people with peace!
The psalmist calls for all beings, on earth and in heaven, to acknowledge the power and might of God. The psalmist states God’s command of the great powers of the psalmist’s world. The netherworld gods that haunt the seas have nothing on Yahweh, who is not in but over those chaotic waters. Lebanon cedars are like sequoia trees in the minds of ancient Middle Easterners, and God can snap those like twigs. God does not suffer from tornadoes or hurricanes, but actually makes them! God shakes the world with earthquakes. And while the gods and goddesses suffer from the great flood, Yahweh sits above it. May this all powerful being, “I AM” grant peace and strength to His chosen people!
12 So then, brothers and sisters,[a] we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— 13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba![b] Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness[c] with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
When Paul talks about flesh vs. spirit, such as in this text, modern readers tend to read it as Holy Spirit vs. sinful self. While I think that is an accurate understanding of Paul in same cases, I don’t think it is here. In Romans 7, Paul has been discussing the dichotomy between The Law and the Spirit. The Law points out where humans has strayed from God, Sin, whereas the Spirit is that person of God which guides us in Godliness, Righteousness.
In Romans 8, the flesh is that part of us which trusts the Law and believes that adherence to the Law will earn us righteousness. Whereas, the Spirit teaches us the truth: “we are children of God.”
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews.2He came to Jesus* by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’* 4Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ 5Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.* 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You* must be born from above.”* 8The wind* blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ 9Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ 10Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
11 ‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you* do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.* 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.*
16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Last Thursday I spent the day listening to Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis as she taught us, pastors, how to preach John. I am eager to share with you what I learned!!!!
A key to understanding the gospel of John is the writer’s use of light and darkness. We know that in John, Jesus says, “I AM the light of the world,” and says things to the disciples like “We must work while it is day for night is coming.” But light and dark are used more obviously and concretely too.
Nicodemus comes to see Jesus “by night” because Nicodemus is “in the dark” spiritually and figuratively. Nicodemus does not recognize Jesus as The Light of the World, but rather as a puzzling, possibly threatening rabbi. Jesus tries to teach Nicodemus but he thinks too concretely and unspiritually to recognize Jesus and receive the testimony about Jesus and the nature of God. Nicodemus. Not included in this text are the last verses of Jesus’ teaching of Nicodemus: “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” John 3:19-21 NRSV. In this statement, Jesus reproaches this Pharisee who comes to see him in the dark of night. Now, if, at the end of this conversation, Nicodemus had come to believe Jesus, then the writer of the gospel would tell us that Nicodemus left as the sun was rising. As it is, we must wait for Nicodemus’s other appearances in the gospel for him to “see the light.”
In the gospel of John, Jesus comes “that they might have life and have it abundantly.” Who is they? Well, in John, “they” is “the world.” In chapter 3 Jesus tries to lead a Jewish leader to the truth. In chapter 4, Jesus successfully leads a Samaritan woman and her whole town! In this gospel Jesus witnesses to Romans, Jews, Samaritans, other Gentiles equally. Those who stay in the dark, usually literally doing things at night, as well as spiritually, are those who reject the testimony of the disciples and/or Jesus. Those who come into the light, like the Samaritan woman coming to the well at noon, are those who accept the light of Jesus exposing them, and welcoming them to abundant, freed life.