On this weekend in our nation when we appropriately commemorate those who gave their lives to defend us from our enemies, we can also take note of those who served as their commanders-in-chief, our nation’s presidents, especially those who died in particularly sad or tragic ways. For example, mention the year 1963, and many of us may remember, even if we were not alive at that time, that that was the year President John F Kennedy died in the midst of what is often called the Cold War. Mention the year 1945, and many of us may remember, even if we were not alive at that time, that that was the year President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died at the conclusion of the second World War. And mention the year 1865 and many of us may remember, even though for sure none of us were alive at that time, that that was the year President Abraham Lincoln died just after the end of the Civil War. Those years are big years in a nation’s history, and they are also part of what we reflect on on this solemn Memorial Day Weekend.
Our sermon text for this morning from the prophet Isaiah tells us about a particularly solemn and breathtaking event that took place in the year another leader died – the leader of God’s people in the land of Judah named Uzziah. The opening verse of our Lesson tells us, “In the year Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple – and then still more…” The year Uzziah died was about 740 BC – some seven hundred forty years before our Savior was born – and it’s exactly because of what happened the year our Savior was born in order to come to give his life so he could win the war that truly has ended all wars that I am sure you join me in my sentiment when I say about that king of Judah when he died, “I Hope Uzziah Saw What Isaiah Saw!”
Let’s first think a little bit about this King Uzziah, since that will help us think about the main point of today’s message – and that is to be sure that we will be able to see what Isaiah saw in the year Uzziah died when we die, since that is what our Holy, Holy, Holy Triune God so dearly wants for all of us.
Last week Pastor Casmer preached to us about the vision of the valley of the dry bones, which ended up being a vision of comfort for the many people of Judah who were so discouraged and disheartened by the disaster that had come upon their country through an unholy invading army that had destroyed so much of their country and that had carried off so many of their people to live in a land far away. The reason the year Uzziah died was significant is because this was basically the year some one hundred fifty years before the valley of the dry bones that everything started going so bad after a time when everything had been going so well – one of those constant reminders to every one us to thank God for the good times, but to stay humble during them and to realize who it is who allows those good times, even as he is the one who gets us through the bad ones.
At the time Uzziah lived and reigned, everything seemed to be going great – a great economy, great victories in war with a great army, great building projects, great fame. But all that greatness of earthly things was leading to a decay of spiritual things, because the people, including Uzziah, began to put their faith in their own greatness rather than in God’s graciousness – the merciful Lord God who was doing all this for them – especially the graciousness of forgiving their sins, which didn’t seem to be something they seemed to care thinking about all that much anymore. The Bible tells us that after Uzziah became so powerful, pride led to his downfall, with the result that he became unfaithful to his Lord and even entered the temple of God to burn incense on the altar – a place he was not allowed to enter and a thing he was not allowed to do – resulting in the holy God striking him with the disease of leprosy, from which he continued to suffer and because of which he lived in isolation for the last ten years of his life until the day he died. I am sure we all hope he came to repentance during those years, but the Bible doesn’t tell us whether we can be certain Uzziah saw what Isaiah saw in the year Uzziah died.
But we can be certain of what God wants you and me to see because of what Isaiah saw in the year Uzziah died, and we can be certain of what we will see as we think about what Isaiah saw and heard on this day when the Lord was calling him to be a prophet to God’s people. So let’s now think about that for a bit.
If you have ever been in a place where things around you started shaking, I’m sure you would agree that it is an extremely scary experience. I remember very well being with my cousin in San Diego, California a number of years ago just eating breakfast, when the cupboards started shaking and the a few items started falling off the shelves as we were momentarily held in that frightening time of suspension when you don’t know what’s going to happen next. That beginning tremor of an earthquake, which never developed further thankfully, only lasted for a few seconds, but it is something I will never forget, just as I will not forget the digging of my cousin’s fingernails into my arms, since as someone from California she knew what might be happening and was understandably afraid.
That ended up being just a very little thing. Now think about the shaking and trembling that Isaiah saw. It was not caused by a fault line in the earth’s structure, but by the voices of spiritual creatures called seraphs or seraphim, who were singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Of course it is! God is the one who created the earth. It is only because of God that the earth keeps going. And it is only because of the love of God that he sent the glory of God in the person of his Son to rescue people like us from the inglorious things we have done against the holy God so we can someday live in the glory of heaven when our time on this earth is done.
Even those six-winged seraphs in heaven realized they didn’t deserve to be in God’s presence. With two of their wings they covered their faces; with two of their wings they covered their feet; and with two of their wings they flew, ready to do whatever the Lord wanted them to do and to go wherever the Lord wanted them to go. It’s no wonder that Isaiah fell before his Lord and could only cry out, “Woe to me. I am ruined!” I’m going to die, “because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” We said it earlier in our service with perhaps less anxiety, but with what should be equal awe: “I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good. For this I deserve your punishment both now and in eternity.” It is like we were saying “Woe to me, Lord, for I am ruined. I am a person of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” And even though it didn’t happen, it would have been very appropriate if the altar up here would have started shaking, and if the entire sanctuary would have started filling with smoke. That’s what it’s like to think about people like you and me standing before a God like him.
But what did God do for Isaiah’s unclean lips? What words came from Pastor Casmer’s lips when he spoke for God in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit? For Isaiah one of those seraphs touched his lips with a live coal from the altar of sacrifice and said what Isaiah needed to hear to be able to survive that day and in order to go out and be a prophet for his people who needed to hear the very same thing: “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Yes, “God our heavenly Father has been merciful to us and has given his only Son to be atoning sacrifice for our sins. Therefore as a called servant of Christ and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Yes, Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord Almighty — the awesome, all-loving Triune God, who calms our shaking, trembling hearts and lets us know nothing will keep us from someday seeing what Isaiah saw in the year Uzziah died, because in his holy sight we are holy through the work of his holy Son.
Isaiah could then say, “Here am I. Send me.” Send me now to go and speak for you and to live for you. We say the very same thing. “Here I am, Lord. Send me. Send me now to go and speak for you and to live for you.” And as we go, God the Father will continue to watch over us, God the Son will continue to give us that undeserved, but wonderful, forgiveness for all we do wrong, and God the Holy Spirit will continue to fill us with the peace which the world cannot give, as we continue to listen to his Holy Word, which lets us live. So, may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship and peace of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Those are words that cause the seraphs to sing the Holy, Holy, Holy song we will someday join them in singing in the place where never again will there be another year when anyone dies. Amen.