The Incense

The Incense

This sonnet is based on Isaiah 6:1-8, and is part of a new series on Isaiah titled, Full of His Glory.

I have always been brought up a bit short by the coal touching Isaiah’s lips and his subsequent eagerness to be sent. I can’t get over how painful I imagine it.

Much is made in my circles of the atonement made for Isaiah’s sin and the conviction that the coal must have come from the altar of sacrifice in the Temple’s courtyard. But Isaiah’s explicit mentioning of Uzziah at the beginning leads me to believe that the altar of incense inside the Sanctuary is what he has mind. Though I hold firmly to justification by faith, it seems that there is more going on than the battles of atonement theories.

In Isaiah more generally, but here too, the all too often malady of giving lip service to God while having a heart that is far from him seems to be more at hand. Even here, Isaiah’s preaching will fall on ears that cannot understand and be set before eyes which cannot perceive. Judah’s problem is in the heart. So this brings me back to Isaiah and his lips, and mine if I’m honest.

Burning coals and lips do not go together, but what if the image is not one of atonement but of sanctification. What if Isaiah is the incense who when ignited by God’s Spirit sends up the offering of prayer and praise –rising to heaven and suffusing everything around with the fragrant message of God’s word? What if Isaiah’s heart has been ignited in holiness and zeal and love? That he would rush forward and say, Send Me! Send Me! makes much more sense. So, here’s to Isaiah and hearts set aflame to make lips smoke with prayer and praise.

If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

In the year that King Uzziah died I
Saw the Lord seated in His Temple high
Above where he speaks, makes the threshold shake
At the sound of his voice and glory’s weight.

And I shake too and break, for I am one
Who has seen the Holy. I am undone.
Unclean in heart my lips lie, lay claim
To the greedy loves of self, pride, and fame.

But from the altar where Uzziah sinned,
Comes heat and fire born on wings and wind.
I, the incense, the coal touches my lips,
Ignites his word, prayer smokes, calling grips
With grace. My heart aflame, he calls to me
To proclaim His favor, set captives free. 

© Randall Edwards 2020. This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com).

artwork: Marc Chagall, Le prophète Isaïe, 1968–1968.

Doesn’t Look Like Much

Doesn’t Look Like Much

This past Sunday was the first time the church had physically gathered for worship and the Lord’s Supper. It was a morning of expectation, and I sensed deep appreciation among those gathered for the opportunity, and our worship was full of gratitude.

Yet, there was a tinge of sadness. Our numbers were limited to under thirty people. We were socially distanced and masked. We were outside in the morning heat in our picnic shelter and not in the climate controlled building worshipping in the comfort of our sanctuary. The elements of the Lord’s Supper were one of those single, prepackaged, shipped-in-box-of 250 MRE’s. It all, we all, didn’t look like much. Yet, on the other hand, it seemed to be just about perfect.

You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

It doesn’t look like much, no high altar,
No stained glass; it’s just a picnic shelter:
With a concrete floor and wooden tables.

It may not have looked like much,
But God first spoke, first reached with hands to touch
Us in a village stable.

We don’t look like much, not more than thirty
In our number gathered on a Sunday,
Scattered here to hear of Him who freed us.

They may not have looked like much:
Uncouth, unschooled yet bold in the clutch—
All knew they’d been with Jesus.

This doesn’t look like much, this plastic cup
Of juice, this tasteless bread, on which we sup,
Sealed in cellophane for distribution.

It may not look like much,
But the wicked and proud ne’er fed on such
A feast of absolution.

Yes, it isn’t much, only bread and wine
Bur it’s more than food on which we dine
It speaks pledge through sign, by words unspoken.

It may not look like much,
But here is promise more than enough:
He still loves and is for you, broken.

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© Randall Edwards 2020.
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com)

Ordinary Prayer: Psalm 20

Ordinary Prayer: Psalm 20

Psalms 20 and 21 are prayers for the king. It strikes me that they are connected in thought with David’s Psalm 18 in which he recounts and praises God for God’s deliverance from Saul.

Here is a paraphrase of Psalm 20. In it I was taken with the line in verse 1, “may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.” You may remember in Genesis 32 that Jacob wrestles with God and in that night match, Jacob clings and asks, “Please tell me your name.” To which the Unknown adversary responds, “‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him.” That scene obviously influenced my paraphrase or midrash. The Lord does not reveal to Jacob his name, and yet he blesses. The name of the Lord is not a talisman or a ‘spell’ that one invokes to gain power over circumstance. Nevertheless, the Lord comes to us, engages us, blesses us, and promises never to forsake us.

May the Lord come to your help when you need,
and may the one to whom Jacob clung, cling to you.
May help come straight from the holy place
and reinforcement come from Zion.
May God remember your service to him
and smile upon the gift you give him.
May God fulfill all your wants
and bring your plans to pass.

Pray, all of you, shout for joy because you’ve been saved,
and unfurl the banners for his praise!
Pray Lord, answer our prayers!
I’ve seen it, I know he saves his chosen king;
from his holy place above, he’ll send his answer,
and his fingerprints will be all over the salvation he works.

You know, some kings trust in their armies, their war machines and cavalry.
Not us, we trust in the Lord God who says we can call anytime.
Those others give way and fall down, but we rise up and stand tall.
Lord, we pray, save the king! Pray, answer us when we call.

© Randall Edwards 2020. This paraphrase of Psalm 20 is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com).
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Ordinary Prayer: Psalm 19

Ordinary Prayer: Psalm 19

The psalms are not the high-culture language of a life lived looking down on others. They are the down to earth lyrics of God’s people. The Psalms are words penned by some of them most famous Old Testament saints, and they have worked their way into the hearts of the church for millennia. Psalm 19 is one of those songs.

This is a paraphrase of Psalm 19.

The night sky is the word of your worth, O God,
and the daytime brings all your skill to light.
Day after day something new is said
and each night more news is shared.
You can’t get away from it;
everywhere you hear it and everything has something to say.
The news goes all ‘round the globe,
and its word goes from one end to the other.
The expanse above is like a blue tent
for the sun which runs straight across the sky
like a bridegroom to his wedding or a strong man into battle;
it delights to do so.
From his rising he crosses the sky
from one end to the other
and nothing can escape its heat.

The law of the Lord is just-right, giving life to life;
the word of the Lord is dependable and makes sages of plain folk.
The things the Lord says are right, they give joy through and through;
the commands of the Lord are clear and help one see;
Knowing the holiness of Lord makes one holy forever;
the measures of the Lord are straight and completely just.
You’ll want these more than money, more than the best investments,
and these are sweeter than any honey you’ll ever come across.

And what is more, You keep me safe in their warnings
and show me the great fruit of following them.
Tell me now, who can really see?
Who can disentangle a heart from the knots of wrong?
Who can clear up one’s inner self-deceptions?
Please don’t let me stumble into presuming upon you.
Don’t let sin gain leverage against me.
Only then will I be free of blame and innocent.
Let the words I say and the thoughts on which I chew
be what would bring pleasure to you, O Lord,
the one who holds me up
and the one who has my back.

© Randall Edwards 2020. This paraphrase of Psalm 19 is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com
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Psalm 15: Who May Go and Stay?

Psalm 15: Who May Go and Stay?

Psalm 15 is hard news. It may come across as a such high standard of righteousness that its promises to be with God are unattainable and beyond hope of reaching. We read it, and move on rather than letting it do its work in us in prayer. So here are a few ways as to how to let it work in us.

Firstly, just admit it. You can’t do it, live up to it, or achieve it. You need help. Ask for it. Examine yourself according to it, and if you find yourself lacking, turn to God and believe. He can work this kind of integrity and truth in us. He desires truth in the ‘inmost place,’ and he is able to work truth there.

Secondly, Psalm 15 is a picture of the heart of faith. By this I don’t mean ‘heart’ as in ‘core.’ — the central part of faith, but rather I mean what faith loves. Faith longs to be with God, faith speaks sincerely, loves the truth and one’s neighbor. Faith is merciful and patient. It doesn’t love wickedness, neither is faith drawn to it. Faith loves what is lovely, and so faith esteems the honorable. Faith loves fidelity and so it keeps promises. Faith does not seek to undermine truth by letting it be bought and sold to the highest bidder. Faith over time leads to faithfulness, and faithfulness is righteousness — that person, rather than working to deserve getting God, is the person who is always pursuing God. Faithfulness and righteousness are indivisible.

Lastly, in reading Psalm 15, one must apply the gospel. God does not remain above and expect us get ourselves there or else. God is the one who is truthful. God descends, he ‘rends the heavens and comes down.’ He comes to us to take us to where he abides. God himself is the one who “swears to his own hurt and changeth not.” And so, what he promises those who in faith turn to him, he is able to bring about. He will do it. What is our part? It is to ‘abide in him.’ And in ‘staying with him’ we find ourselves immoveable.

Here is the ordinary prayer paraphrase of Psalm 15.

Who may go with you to where you stay?
Who may make a home in the House where you abide?

I”ll tell you who:
The one in whom there is no fault–
And from his heart, truth can’t help but leak out.
Who doesn’t murder with words
And they do not one wrong thing to their neighbor.
When his friend is pulled down, he doesn’t pile on,
And she can’t stand to look at what no one should,
But they hold in high esteem those who live knowing God is watching.
They are those who make a promise and keep it, even if it hurts;
She doesn’t lend demanding more in return,
And His good word can’t be bought.

They who are faithful shall stay, and no one make them move.

© Randall Edwards 2020. This paraphrase of Psalm 15 is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com)