Mennonite World Review—May 27, 2013
In the Bible and in the Anabaptist tradition, leaders come from the people and remain part of the people. There is also no split between the worshiping community and that work of peacemaking and social justice.
The account of Isaiah receiving his prophetic commission in Isaiah 6 emphasizes both these points. Isaiah’s vocation as prophet includes the call to be an exemplary Israelite. He may be called to speak words of challenge his community, but he does so as part of them, not over against them.
And he receives his prophetic call in the temple, while at worship. He will bring a message of justice, a message that speaks about politics and social transformation, but he receives his calling and direction as a worshiping member of the community of Israel.
This call story does emphasize the greatness and holiness of God—and Isaiah’s own frailty, even uncleanness. But we must understand these contrasting emphases in the broader context of Isaiah and the Bible as a whole.
God’s intention for Isaiah is that Isaiah confront God’s people—but for the purpose of bringing a message of healing. The people have departed from the life-enhancing ways of Torah. They are walking the paths of injustice. What will indeed be sharp, even harsh, words from Isaiah are nonetheless meant to bring a message of hope, of the possibilities for a return to wholeness.
God as a holy God does indeed confront wrongdoing and demand repentance—but God’s holiness serves God’s will for healing and wellbeing for the sake both of God’s people themselves and of all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3).
While Isaiah accurately portrays himself as a person of “unclean lips” (and in this he marks himself as a member of his community, also characterized by unclean lips), God’s response is not to cast Isaiah away but to heal Isaiah. Isaiah finds healing in order to devote himself to bringing healing to Israel. The deference to God in worship and especially the confession of sin are part of the bigger movement toward a vocation of peacemaking.
We worship in order to be empowered to serve God’s will for creation. If we were to state the main theme of the Bible in a single sentence, this would be my nomination: God creates a people in order to bring God’s message of healing to all of the earth.
Isaiah 12 is a great short statement of the biblical meaning of worship. Notice all the key aspects of the biblical message that are mentioned in this short chapter:
We owe gratitude to God, maker and sustainer of the universe.
Our gratitude flows most centrally from God’s mercy that brings comfort, not condemnation, even as we fail to honor God in all our acts.
God deserves our trust, because God brings us salvation—in our need. God’s response to our sinfulness in empowerment for healing that comes to as simply as we turn to God in trust.
Out of our thanksgiving flows witness of God’s love to all the nations of the earth. We are healed so that we may bring healing to others.
God’s power, seen most definitively in God’s life-giving mercy to sinners, will be made known throughout the earth.
Worship is a time to be reminded of God’s greatness and to endeavor to share that greatness to those in need by our witness to all the ends of the earth.
One remarkable point in this portrayal of worship is the linking together of God’s greatness and holiness (12:6) with the worshipers’ joy and sense of wellbeing. God here is indeed great and holy—but this greatness and holiness is not something to evoke terror and a sense of unworthiness. Rather, God’s greatness and holiness empowers sinful but trusting humanity to bring healing to all corners of earth. Praise God’s name.