“Woe is me, for I am UNDONE! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Harambe was a 440 pound western lowland Silverback gorilla at the Cincinnati zoo. Officials there made the quick, hard decision to shoot him dead when a four-year-old boy fell into his enclosure. Because they couldn’t be certain what Harambe would do. Knowing what he could do—kill the boy in a moment—they killed him.
One of the things I don’t love about social media is how brutally “unsociable” it can be at times. Within minutes, Twitter and Facebook were aflame with posts from people grieving and enraged: criticizing the zoo, the enclosure design, blaming the mother, the child, zoos in general. 313,000 people signed a petition called “Justice for Harambe” in the first 48 hours, seeking criminal charges against the family. Demonstrators gathered outside the zoo later in the day. People suggested new rules for children, even requiring they wear leashes while in zoos! Some openly questioned the sacrifice of a splendid patriarch gorilla in exchange for the unknown risk to a child “whose parents couldn’t contain him.”
In every tragedy, the question immediately possesses people: WHO is responsible?!
WHO is responsible?!—for the horrific loss of human life at the Orlando night club two months ago. (Is it ISIS? Some crazed lone wolf? Or the Church? Or the gun lobby?)
WHO is responsible?!—just a couple of days later, in the same city, when toddler Lane Graves was wrestled away from his father’s arms by two alligators in the lagoon of a Disney World resort. (Is it Disney? Or Dad? God or Nature?)
WHO is responsible?! Who is responsible for Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, for Dallas, for Baton Rouge? Who?
Isaiah says, “I saw the Lord…”—unveiled, glorious, high and lifted up, staggeringly incomparable—in his temple!
Isaiah sees the Lord. And then he sees himself. And then he sees that the holy Lord Almighty sees him. And, you know, it’s all a little overwhelming. The best way to put it is: Isaiah is UNDONE! “I am ruined/doomed/destroyed/lost/I’m a dead man!” (as other versions translate!)
Isaiah has a problem! We have a problem!
God says to his people (see Isaiah 1:11-17), “All your religion without repentance, your exhaustive superficial charades of form without faith, of practice without piety, all your sacrifices, pilgrimages, worship gatherings, church year observances, and voluminous prayers… I’m tired of it! I’m rejecting it all.” God says, “I will hide my eyes from you” (1:15).
WHO is responsible?!—for the SCOTUS ruling on marriage, for the transgender bathroom quandary, for refugee immigrants, for ISIS, for Brexit, for hate crimes and terrorist acts, for all lack of love of Life—from the unborn, to sex trafficking, to refugees and child soldiers and addicts of every variety?
WHO is responsible?! The easy answer: “Well, Lord, they are!”
But, no, Isaiah’s spent plea is this: “I am undone. I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” So the prophet both owns and confesses the sin of the people and culture around him (as all real priests and prophets do!). As the prophetic representative he preaches first to himself, because he knows the sin of the people around him is his sin.
WHO is responsible?! The reality beyond the blaming impulse of unsocial social media is: I am. We are.
Standing before God, seeing my broken world, my tribe, my church, my denomination, my family, my black heart.
Seeing the little boy in Harambe’s grasp.
Seeing the Orlando victims and knowing they are my neighbors.
Seeing the terrorist, a created child of God who still somewhere bears the marred image (and who represents people groups to whom I live on this terrestrial sod to deliver God’s Word).
Seeing little Lane Graves, and knowing that sin grasps me with Alligator-size jaws.
But this is not the end of the story…
The Apostle John is given and gives insight about what Isaiah was seeing. “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him” (John 12:41).
Isaiah has fixed his eyes on the holy king Lord Almighty, “high and exalted” in his temple of covenant… but now we understand that Isaiah has been given insight to look forward and effectively see Christ high and exalted, holy on the cross! This king, the Lord Almighty—captain of heaven’s arrayed armies, the Holy One of Israel—he “undoes” all our undone!
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”—Isaiah 6:6-7
Now the king God Almighty bends forward in his throne chair, motions the seraph messenger, points to the altar, and says to us, “Yes. You are undone. But that is not the final answer. The final word belongs to me, to the One who called out in triumph, ‘It is Finished!’”
WHO is responsible?! Almighty Lord Messiah says: “I AM.”
“Here! This is coal from the altar of my own sacrifice. It is a live coal. It is the living Word of the gospel—that brought the Holy Living One to death, but brings flat-out-undone dead ones back to life!”
Our sin and our guilt, and the scarlet sin of the people to whom we hold out the gospel: It’s all undone! By an Undoing Savior!
There is an altar call here, but the distance traveled is not down the aisle. It is the application of the Word of God, soaked in the blood of Christ, and applied directly to the sin of the person. The steps to peace with God are all Jesus’ steps! At the end of our resistance, we simply respond in repentance and faith.
This Word calls us to be undone. It calls us to repentance and to live again.
Rev. Paul Larson is President of the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.