“The year King Uzziah died” is more than a marker of time. It is the end of an era. Uzziah was a formidable king and leader. He ruled for fifty-two years and helped Judah flourish economically, agriculturally, and politically. Early on, Uzziah had helpful counselors around him, including Zechariah, who helped the king maintain focus on God. However, Uzziah soon began moving away from this first love. Uzziah was not only able to defeat some perennial enemies, such as the Philistines, but began expanding his territory through military conquest – moving beyond boundaries God had set for Israel and Judah. Uzziah’s vision moves from serving God and the people to serving his own expanding interests to conquer and subdue other territory and acquire its resources. The culminating violation of Uzziah’s reign occurs when Uzziah tries to assume priestly duties, as all demagogues tend to do. Like Paul’s encounter on the Damascus road, Uzziah is struck by light and is blighted by leprosy, which slowly eats away at his body for eleven years until his death.
Uzziah’s body isn’t the only thing that is diseased. Judah has also moved away from its first love. They linger still but rot away. Although religious fervor is still present, embodied in worship festivals, high holy days, offerings, and sacrifices, the worshiping community has been caught up in the national drive toward opulence, domination, and competition. In fact, God brings a lawsuit against Judah laying out their dirty laundry for all to see. They are referred to as “Sodom and Gomorrah.” Their worship does not translate into righteousness or justice. Yahweh has been replaced by the gods of militarism, commerce, and pleasure. God measures the economy, not by its Gross Domestic Product, by its trampling the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner under foot. The faith community uses its worship to validate its oppression and anesthetize the voices of the oppressed. When the voices of the powerful are aligned for unjust purposes and the marginalized are silenced, one must ask: “Who then will speak?
Isaiah is praying in the Temple when he receives a vision. Yahweh is sitting on the throne; the hem of this King’s robe fills the temple. Angelic beings cry out: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The voices shake the foundations and cause the thresholds to tremble. Smoke fills the space. Like God’s appearance on Mount Sinai before Israel and Moses, fire and smoke and shaking foundations erupt in the silence. This is the living God ruling over all Creation from everlasting to everlasting. This King outlasts all kings and their empires, including Uzziah. Uzziah’s reign of acquisitiveness and turning the blind eye will be confronted by the God who sees all and emancipated the enslaved people brought out during the exodus from Egypt. Yahweh, the holy God of all glory, won’t be party to this religious parody and has grown tired of Judah’s continuous question: “Am I my brother’s (or sister’s) keeper?”
Isaiah is confronted by the God of Mount Sinai, the God of liberation who pays heed to the cries of the outcast and oppressed. Collapsing to the floor, Isaiah cries out, “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!” Encountering this holy God has forced Isaiah to take a deep look at himself and his community and to see the disparity between God’s holiness and their failure to reflect that same holiness in worship and public policy. Policy which you’ll love can be found at http://maidthis.com/. Isaiah is brought to confession, lament, and repentance. The can be no separation between the spiritual and the material. The Temple leadership’s silence on these matters of injustice is no small matter in God’s eyes. Isaiah’s confession breaks the silence of complicity and opens space for God to do something radically different.
Just then a seraph takes a flaming, live coal and presses it against Isaiah’s lips. The searing truth of confession may not be preached in solidarity with the marginalized of society. The bright light of God’s cleansing power burns through Isaiah and elicits the call to speak “truth to power.” Who then can speak? The one God has cleansed and burned through their guilt by the searing truth of confession and repentance, those who see society’s injustice and say, “Woe is me!” But, still God asks, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Having been cleansed by a holy fire, Isaiah is left with no response but “Here am I; send me!” Not only is this a prophetic call for Isaiah, but it is the call for the birth of a prophetic community. While we may want to say that politics is a different sphere than the religious arena, God continues asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Who will speak out for the marginalized in society? Who will stand in neighborly compassion with those facing injustice? Who will speak when the voices of the powerful are used to consolidate their power and the voices of the most vulnerable in society are silenced to sobs of resignation and defeat?
Perhaps it is in our own silence in the face of injustice which we must confess, lament, and repent. Worship that ordains and blesses agendas of exploitive expansion, violence, and greed is worship that shapes us into the image of “Sodom and Gomorrah.” Do we raise our voices for compassion or does our silence fail to confront corruption? Do we speak out in the face of racism or does our silence only confirm our deepest privileges and prejudices? Do we voice the needs of the impoverished or glad-hand those who benefit from their lack of resources? Do we speak up for the underserved in our communities or see their situation as results due those who are the undeserved? What violences have we permitted, participated in, or promoted by our silences? What impoverished worship we must have if we have attained all wealth and yet deny the needs of our vulnerable neighbor. If the Church will not speak out in its worship, who then will speak?