Rembrandt: The King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy (1635)
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
The Odd and Overwhelming Otherness of God
The odd and overwhelming
otherness of God
- In which Isaiah stands as if
he's some divining rod
Who's found the source of life
and all creatIon's power -
Is followed by so deep a self-
awareness, he just cowers
In his inadequacy:
Woe! Lost! And unclean!
And he is doomed, for all
the majesty that he has seen;
But God has means, it seems,
the doomed one to reclaim,
The coal in tongs atones,
and guilt departed is proclaimed.
But lest we think the prophet
basks in holy bliss,
All-glowing with what must have seemed,
with such an act, God's kiss,
The one who's touched, looks up,
and from his bended knee,
And knowing what he's called to do,
says, "Here I am; send me!"
Such odd, persistent grace
comes when and where it will;
To you, to me, and everyone,
So love its name fulfills.
Scott L. Barton
(Slightly revised from 5/31/15)
[The phrase "the odd, overwhelming otherness of God," and other ideas in the poem come from Walter Brueggemann's "Isaiah 1-39" in the Westminster Bible Companion series, pp. 57-60.]
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
And I said: “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!”
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
Henry Ossawa Tanner: Nicodemus Visiting Jesus, 1899
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia
John 3:1-17 (see also John 7:45-53 and John 19:38-42)
That Jesus was on to something
With all that talk
About being born from above,
Even though he hadn't a clue
Of the wind's comings and goings.
Thus he went to that meeting
Where the blowhards
Wanted to do Jesus in,
And tried to talk some sense into them.
I wonder where he got such courage,
Going again by night,
The weight of the world on his back,
Or at least a hundred pounds,
To bury his rabbi,
Winded by the law of love?
Scott L. Barton
John 3:1-17 (with a reference to Numbers 21:9)
It's not just at a football game
Where you will see the sign
That God so loved the world, God gave
God's son; for now "divine"
Means whatsoe'er is given from
The bottom of the heart;
And when that comes, like wind, unplanned,
You'll find your life can start
Again! You're born as if anew,
Since you've looked up to see
The love which from all poison now
Has set the whole world free.
Scott L. Barton
(Previously at 3/16/14)
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
"Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."