I wonder how many of you have been to the ordination of a priest? It is an impressive service. Most churches pull out all the stops — the best of the best music, beautiful flowers in abundance, often incense. The procession includes all the clergy of the area, and, of course, the bishop.
At the moment of ordination the priest-to-be kneels, and puts his hand on her head. All the clergy present also come and lay their hands on her head and shoulders. She can feel the weight as the bishop calls upon the Holy Spirit to make her a priest.
In today’s Old Testament reading we hear an ordination of sorts. Isaiah is not being made a priest, but he is being set apart, called by God to be a prophet. There is not a service in a synagogue, but there is a vision of commissioning.
Isaiah sees God sitting on a throne, surrounded by seraphim, heavenly beings with six wings, calling out praise to God. One of them approaches Isaiah with a tong holding a live coal, and touches it to Isaiah’s mouth.
The heat of that coal purifies Isaiah, makes him ready to do God’s bidding. When he hears the voice of God saying, “Whom shall I send?’ Isaiah immediately replies, “Here I am; send me.”
Here’s the thing about prophets. They are not called for fun and games. The prophet is blessed, or cursed, by seeing the world as it truly is and how it falls short of the way God dreams for it to be.
The prophet is called to speak God’s word into the world, to point out the ways the nation is not living as God would have them. God’s words are not necessarily words that people want to hear.
The first words God gives to Isaiah are puzzling. “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’
And then God adds, “Make the mind of these people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.”
Eyes that don’t see and ears that don’t hear are a common theme in scripture. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus refers back to this prophecy from Isaiah when he explains to the disciples why he teaches with parables.
Jesus says of the people, “With them, indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will look, but never perceive. For their ears are hard of hearing and they have shut their eyes.”
The prophet Jeremiah has the same message: “Hear this, foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see; who have ears, but do not hear.”
Just like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Jesus we live in a time where people often do not see or hear, even if they have 20-20 vision, and perfect hearing.
This week we passed the 900,000 death mark of the pandemic. Remarkably, 480,000 of those deaths have occurred after the vaccine began to be distributed. The overwhelming majority of those deaths are of people who have not been vaccinated.
Public health officials and reputable doctors have tried over and over again to educate people about the effectiveness of the vaccine, and how it may save their lives.
But a large percentage of our fellow citizens’ eyes and ears are closed to the truth. They listen instead to the false prophets of FOX News and politicians who do not have their best interests at heart.
When I was in Montana last month, Covid was rampant. In the town in which we stayed only one restaurant was open, and many businesses were closed because so many people were sick.
In our motel there was no maid service because there were no maids. And yet no one was wearing a mask, including the front desk clerk at the hotel who was telling us of all the closings. I asked if he was vaccinated, and he responded that he “didn’t believe in vaccines.”.
“Don’t you think you should at least wear a mask?” I asked. He scoffed and said, “If I get it I’ll get extra days off work.”
We are also a people of eyes that don’t see and ears that don’t hear when it comes to climate change.
In 2006, former Vice President Al Gore, released the movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” warning of the consequences of climate change and other environmental issues, with an urgent plea for people to make the necessary changes to save our planet.
Many other prophets have warned us about what we are doing to the Earth, but many, many people refuse to hear, especially when there is money to be made by polluting the land and sea and air.
The other big truth to which many seem to be blind is that the 2020 presidential election was not stolen, a lie that is corroding our democracy. No amount of facts will convince a large percentage of our citizens of the truth.
It is a mystery to me why people cling to lies that literally kill them rather than acknowledge the truth.
But Psalm 135 has an answer to that.
“The idols of the nation are silver and gold, the work of human hands,” it says. “They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear. Those who make them, and all who trust them shall become like them.”
If your idol is money, then one becomes blind to things that threaten wealth — like regulations to protect our water and air, and restrictions that force businesses to find new ways of manufacturing their goods.
If your idol is so-called individual freedom touted by conspiracy theories and FOX News, then pleas to wear masks or be vaccinated fall on deaf ears.
If your idol is power or white supremacy then you believe then you close your mind to the facts, and instead believe conspiracy theories and lies perpetuated by politicians whose idol is to amass power.
Prophets of truth are among us delivering God’s word, calling us to care for one another and creation. Like Isaiah, they may wonder how long do they have to continue. God’s answer is for as long as it takes.
All of us have blind spots, truths that we would rather ignore. But God calls us to the truth, no matter how inconvenient it may be.
One of my favorite hymns speaks to that.
Open your ears, O faithful people.
open your ears, and hear God’s word.
Open your ears, O faithful people,
God has come to you.
They who have ears to hear the message,
they who have ears, then let them hear.
They would learn the way of wisdom,
let them hear God’s words.
God has spoken to the people, hallelujah!
And God’s words are words of wisdom, hallelujah.