Meditation on Isaiah 6:1-8
May 27, 2018
Merritt Island Presbyterian Church
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.” 4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 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!”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 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.” 8 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!”
Ruby was about 4 when her family moved from Tylertown, Mississippi, to New Orleans. Her dad, Abon Bridges, had lost his job picking crops when new farm machines made his job obsolete. In New Orleans, Abon found work at a gas station. They move into a small apartment where Ruby shares a room with her sister and 2 younger brothers. Ruby’s mother, after taking care of the house and the children all day, tucks her 4 little ones into bed at night, says their prayers with them, and then goes to her job scrubbing floors in a bank.
Every Sunday, the family goes to church. “We wanted our children to be near God’s Spirit,” said Lucille Bridges, Ruby’s mother, in the award winning children’s book, “The Story of Ruby Bridges,” by Robert Coles. “We wanted them to start feeling close to Him from the very start.”
In 1957, black children weren’t permitted to attend school with white children in New Orleans, despite the Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education three years earlier that effectively outlawed segregation, declaring “separate was not equal.” The New Orleans school board resisted integration and attempted to keep black children out of all-white schools by requiring an entrance exam for black children that was so hard, most children—white or black—couldn’t pass. But early in 1960, Ruby Bridges was one of six black children in New Orleans to pass the test. Her father was against her attending the all-white William Frantz Elementary school, at first, even though the school was closer to home than the all-black school she had attended for kindergarten the year before. But her mother persuaded him not to let this opportunity for Ruby—and for all African American children—pass by. She saw God’s hand in this. The other 3 children transferred 2 miles away from William Frantz– to McDonough No. 19 and became known as the McDonough Three. The remaining two of the six New Orleans children who passed the test stayed at their old school, fearing the violence of Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957, when 9 African Americans attempted to attend the all-white Central High School.
Ruby’s first day was Nov. 14, 1960, the day Judge J. Skelly Wright ordered New Orleans’ schools to integrate. Four federal marshals escorted Ruby and her mother to her new school.
They were met by a mob of angry white people, yelling, threatening violence, throwing tomatoes and carrying signs with messages such as, “Integration is a mortal sin” and “God demands segregation.”
Norman Rockwell would later commemorate that day in his 1963 painting, The Problem We All Live With.
As Ruby entered, parents of the 500 students at William Frantz removed their children from their classrooms.
The little girl spent the first day of school sitting in the office. All the teachers had left. But on her second day, Barbara Henry, a new teacher from Boston, arrived. She taught Ruby for more than a year in an empty classroom, as if she were teaching an entire class.
Also on that second day, a 34-year-old Methodist minister, Lloyd Anderson Foreman, broke the white boycott. He walked his 5-year-old daughter, Pam, through the angry mob, saying, “I simply want the privilege of taking my child to school …” By the end of the first week, another white child, 6-year-old Yolanda Gabrielle, returned to the school that separated all 3 children in different classrooms, though these were the only children in the school for the rest of the year.
The angry mob continued to gather to taunt Ruby every day.
Every morning, a woman would threaten to poison her, while another held up a little black baby doll in a coffin. Marshals escorted Ruby for the rest of the year, overseeing her safety, and allowing her to eat only the food she brought from home.
Former U.S. Deputy Marshal Charles Burks recalled, “She showed a lot of courage. She never cried. She didn’t whimper. She just marched along like a little soldier, and we’re all very, very proud of her.”
Ruby’s family suffered for their decision. Her father lost his job. The grocery store the family shopped at would no longer let them shop there. And her grandparents, sharecroppers in Mississippi, were turned off their land.
But at the same time, they saw God’s grace. Many in the community, both black and white, showed support. A neighbor provided her father with a new job; local people babysat, watched and protected their home, and walked behind the federal marshals on the trips to school. Their church and the NAACP offered some financial and moral support.
Lucille Bridges says in The Story of Ruby Bridges, “Our Ruby taught us all a lot. She became someone who helped change our country. … She led us away from hate, and she led us nearer to knowing each other, the white folks and the black folks.”
In the face of mob violence, Ruby responded with love. Every day, she stopped a few blocks away from school to say a prayer for the people who hated her.
“Please, God, try to forgive these people,” she prayed. “Because even if they say those bad things, they don’t know what they’re doing. So you could forgive them, just like you did those folks a long time ago when they said terrible things about you.”
Isaiah, like Ruby, had a prophetic calling, but doesn’t learn of it till he is an adult and sees a vision of the Lord on His throne, asking, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
But Isaiah is all too aware of his sinfulness in God’s presence. None of us feel worthy of serving the Lord of Hosts, not if we are honest with ourselves. Isaiah sees the seraphim—burning snakes with 6 wings each—attending to the Lord, he hears them singing God’s praises, and he imagines he will die.
“Woe is me! I am lost!” he cries out, for he has “unclean lips” – a metaphor for sin —like “uncircumcised lips” in Exodus 6:12, 30. He confesses his own sin and declares the sin of his community, a people of “unclean lips” who have turned away from God and His Word.
“Woe to you who call evil good and good evil,” says Isaiah in chapter 5, “you who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! All you who are wise in your own eyes, shrewd in your own sight,… who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of their rights!”
But God doesn’t give up on anyone. He is always beckoning sinners to return to Him and His ways of love and righteousness, peace and justice.
God removes Isaiah’s sin from him with a burning coal. None of us can take our own sin away or equip ourselves for God’s calling.
We all need redemption through God’s Son and strength and guidance from the Spirit. Isaiah’s mission will mean suffering and hardship. God’s people don’t want to hear the truth just like our society today doesn’t want to admit to sins of racism, hatred, and prejudice, which are always hiding in the shadows, ready to rise up, without warning, and hurt and destroy.
God sends Isaiah out to go and tell people whose eyes are blind, hearts are hard, ears are deaf, and minds won’t comprehend to turn back to God and be healed.
Isaiah trusts the Lord.
“Here am I!” He says. “Send me!”
In one year of Ruby’s life, we see the important roles others played so she would fulfill her calling. Her parents, her teacher.
The marshals. The child psychologist. The Methodist pastor who brought his daughter on the second day. Many other people—white and black—helped Ruby and her family, too, after the Supreme Court opened the way for change and Judge Wright did his part.
On Wednesday we honored our 13 VPK grads with a simple worship service. Many people—volunteers and staff– work behind the scenes to make this a powerful outreach to the preschool families every year.
God is glorified as each 4 or 5 year old child is lifted up and encouraged for who they are—children of God, as we are, given the spirit of adoption, joint heirs with Jesus Christ… We all have a calling, unique to the gifts and plans God has for us. And our callings are connected. We share the same Spirit; we serve the same Lord.
Ruby accepted her calling when was just 6, without knowing what racism was or the suffering or trials ahead.
She thought she was just going to school that first day—thought all the shouting in the streets was Mardi Gras. Her faith still compels 64-year-old Ruby Bridges Hall to confront the problems of poverty, racism, and unequal educational opportunities through her foundation.
In 2001, she was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal. And in 2006, a California elementary school was named for her.
Like hundreds of thousands of others in the greater New Orleans area, she and her family lost their home in the catastrophic flooding of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But the same storm brought new life to William Frantz Elementary School, which was on the school district’s list of closures before the storm. The school, under 5 feet of water after Katrina, was put on the National Register of Historic Places, renovated and now houses a public K-6th grade charter school, Akili Academy. The school that is 89% black embraces 5 values: “Teamwork, Grit, Excellence, Enthusiasm and Kindness.”
Ruby’s story is told every year as part of the curriculum. A statue of her stands in the courtyard.
And Room 2306 is the “Ruby Bridges Room” to honor the little girl who spent a year alone in a classroom, shunned because of her skin color. A brave girl who answered God’s call. “Here am I.”
Let us pray.
Lord, we hear you calling to us now—to come and follow you. Here we are. Send us! Stir us to acts of bravery as we confront the problems of racism, prejudice, poverty, and other injustices in our society, rather than sweep them under the rug as past history. We ask for your healing to come to this land. Let us never be afraid to ask the hard questions and move forward, step by step, trusting your Spirit to guide and empower us to do your will. Thank you for the many gifts and blessings you have given us. May we use them for your glory and not be frustrated or discouraged by the darkness around us and if we don’t see immediate results and positive change. For Isaiah was called to preach to those without ears to hear, eyes to see and minds to comprehend. Keep us working to reveal and build up your Kingdom, which has no end. And teach us to pray every day—as Ruby did—for her enemies, that you would forgive them and lead us to love and forgive them, too. Through Christ we pray. Amen.