Sermon: What A More Divine Imagination Might Look Like

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. 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.” The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
And 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!” Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The 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.” Then 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!”

Isaiah 6:1-8

My sermon from Trinity Sunday (May 26, 2024) on Isaiah 6:1-8.


We’re nearing the end of my first year as a volunteer coach for my town’s rec track and field team. I am, to put it mildly, not an athlete and I’ve never particularly enjoyed running. But when the track team asked for help, I decided to not let others do what I’d like seen done in the world. I agreed to spend up to three days a week, one hour at a time, corralling up to 30 kids, one hour at a time. At first, I spent most of the time lingering in the background – letting more athletic parents lead the kids in stretching, agility training, and more. Yet as the season progressed, I was soon blowing whistles and shouting various affirmations with the best of them. Track, as practiced in my town, is as competitive as each kid wants it to be. Some turn every practice into an all out race while others spend most of the time talking to their friends. The goal of the season is to help kids set their personal records and then push past into something more. Even though these kids might never stand on a podium with a medal hanging around their neck, they can, with a little work, learn how to progress and grow. It’s a way summed up by another parent-coach who, while helping kids with the long jump, invites kids to focus less on getting the perfect jump and focus instead on getting one inch better. These small incremental and measurable bits of progress we make are a beautiful thing we should celebrate. But I’m also mindful of how our philosophy of progress doesn’t always last. There are times when getting one inch better is no longer an option since life is a bit different than a track and field program for elementary aged kids. I wonder if the heavy focus we put on growing, improving, and not letting things be might not be big enough to embrace the fullness of our lives. What we need to do is expand our imagination so we can be who God imagines we can be. 

Now the prophet Isaiah, in our first reading today, lived through something that not only expanded his imagination; it changed his life. He was, most likely, young when Uzziah, the king of Judah, died. Uzziah had ruled for over 50 years and was seen as an able administrator and successful military leader. Through his leadership, the borders of the country expanded and the community’s imagination of who it could be began to grow. Uzziah, though, wasn’t only interested in making the kingdom more prosperous than it once was. He also wanted power over their religious rituals and practices too. Uzziah, at one point, challenged the priests at the Temple, attempting to preside over rituals reserved for them alone. The question of what – and who – was allowed to shape the spiritual imagination of the wider community lingered even after Uzziah’s death. It was at that moment when God invited Isaiah into something amazing. Isaiah, while at the Temple, suddenly noticed something different filling that physical space. God, it seems, chose to reveal God’s self as an over-the-top version of earthly royalty. The throne God sat on was gigantic, pushing beyond the physical limitations imposed by the Temple or Creation itself. The royal robe God wore was also fancier than anything on earth. God filled that space with divine majesty but God and Isaish weren’t the only ones who were there. Kings and queens on Earth were surrounded by all kinds of soldiers, servants, and advisors. And so God made sure Isaish’s vision matched those expectations. The things surrounding God, though, were a bit different – resembling flying serpents instead of angelic beings. Each one of these seraphim had six wings – two to cover their eyes, two to cover themselves, and two they used to fly. While darting back and forth across the heavens, they kept singing “holy, holy, holy,” in a voice that probably matched what they looked like. The vision God gave Isaiah did more than overwhelm him. It also challenged him to re-imagine his world and himself. 

And so Isaiah began that process by admitting exactly who he was. He was, for all intents and purposes, terrified by what he saw and experienced. The words he uttered are similar in feeling as the ones we used during our confession at the start of worship. He realized, while experiencing the divine, how small and vulnerable he truly was. We don’t know exactly what was going through Isaiah’s head before this vision took place since his book doesn’t really flow in chronological order. But seeing the hem of God’s royal robe was enough to change him from seeing himself as a holy, religious, faithful, or even good person. Isaiah no longer could easily imagine his way into a future defined by his work, effort, or opportunity since he realized how limited he truly was. God, though, refused to let Isaiah linger with an imagination that was more human than divine. God made the vision bigger through a holy ritual inviting Isaiah to recognize his place in God’s imagination rather than only in his own. And then, with a rhetorical question God already knew the answer to, God pushed Isaiah into a tomorrow built on the promise that he is with his God – forever. 

Now I know, like I said last week, it would be amazing if our personal experiences with God resembled something like Isaiah’s. It would be amazing to build our faith on a moment so overwhelming and over the top. Some of us, I know, have had experiences just like that – serving as the foundation for everything that’s come next. But the rest of us, I imagine, have moments that aren’t always full of so much divine majesty. Our experiences with God might feel a bit small when compared to seeing God enthroned as king of all creation. Yet I wonder if Isaiah’s story is meant to act on us in the same way it acted on him. The smallness of our faith story compared to Isaiah’s doesn’t mean God isn’t with us. God hasn’t ignored you, brushed you aside, or decided others are worth way more than you just because you’ve never seen the hem of God’s royal robe. God isn’t, I think, primarily interested in your so-called progress but rather cares about how rooted you are in God’s holy imagination. Isaiah, after experiencing God, doesn’t really progress because he knew nothing he could do would ever get close to what he just saw. And so rather than relying on the inches of improvement to chase after God, God chose to change him. The work it takes to grow, change, and accomplish our goals is truly a beautiful thing. And God wants us to celebrate the journey we undergo while learning a new skill, starting a new career, or tending to the relationships that matter the most to us. But progress, itself, isn’t the whole of who we are. Rather, because of our baptism and through the gift of faith, God has already included you in God’s imagination for the world. Pushing ourselves from a  progress-based imagination into something more divine will, I think, do more than help us live through those times when getting better is no longer something we can do. It will also help us recognize how every holy moment, no matter how small, is really part of the one big experience of living with a God who promises to never let you go.