Last night I drove home as the sun was setting: a large golden orb on the horizon, infusing the surrounding clouds with a fiery glow. It was a glorious sight. Minutes earlier, I had looked across the field where I was parked and marvelled at trees and grass alike glowing yellow in the fading light. Here, though, the bright, reflected beauty of the setting sun accentuated the darkness of the surrounding clouds. In recent days I have noticed this contrast a number of times as we have moved from blue sky and sunshine, through heavy, but short-lived downpour, to sunlight once more. When storm clouds mass in a summer sky, the contrasting play of light and shade always seems to accentuate the darkness, bringing a sense of menace; an awareness of impending change.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord’ [Isaiah 6:1]. With these words the prophet Isaiah begins his description of the vision which became his call. The vision takes place in the Jerusalem temple: the earthly focal point for Jewish worship; God’s earthly residence; the holy place. No doubt Isaiah had been inside the temple on many occasions, it was a familiar place. This time he has a vision; this time he ‘sees’ God in all God’s glory. So high and lofty is the Lord in Isaiah’s vision that the temple, this magnificent centre of the community’s spiritual life, is only large enough to contain the hem of God’s robe; His glory fills the whole earth.
Isaiah was already a ‘man of God’. The book that bears his name tell us he was already active as a prophet during the reign of Uzziah [Isaiah 1:1], that is before this vision. There is nothing to suggest that Isaiah was doing anything wrong. In the vision there is no call to him to repent or change his ways. There is simply a contrast: the awesome light of God’s presence; the failings, or uncleanness, of Isaiah and his community [Isaiah 6:5]. With this contrast comes a dawning moment of self- awareness which opens the door for God’s healing, cleansing touch. That moment seems to have laid the foundation for a closer walk with God, albeit one which would bring him a lot of trouble in a human sense.
Our senses notice contrast, but to appreciate contrast we have to dwell on it long enough to let it sink in. The glory of God in the natural world; a vision of God in an earthly temple; where might we glimpse the contrast between life as we live it now and life as God would have it; if only we acknowledged the contrast, and our true need?
Rev Philip Payne
The Pew Sheet for 30th May can be found here