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Holy, Holy, Holy!
June 1, 2015
selections from Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17
The worst sermon I have ever preached happened five years ago on Trinity Sunday. Now I know that I have many years of preaching ahead of me and am sure that I still have a few crash and burn sermons in my future, but this sermon sticks in my memory like a thorn. I was invited by a local church to come and preach on Trinity Sunday when I was just finishing up my second year of seminary. Preaching Trinity Sunday is like catnip to a young theologian in training. It is irresistible.
The theological doctrines surrounding the Trinity are vast, tantalizing, and profound. I remember writing that sermon and trying to decide what topic to focus on. Should I talk about the divine mechanics and formulas of God being one in three and three in one? Should I talk about the mystery of the perichoresis – the image of the three persons of the Trinity dancing in harmony with one another? Or should I talk about some of the historical Trinitarian heresies and common misunderstandings of the nature of God? Or perhaps I could address the matter of the great east-west church schism over the language in the Nicene Creed that references who begotteth whom?
With all of these heady and pretentious ideas swimming around in my head, I made the one fatal error in judgment that most new preachers make sooner or later. Because I couldn’t decide on which doctrine or theme of the Trinity I wanted to preach on, I decided to preach on all of them. Yes friends, the resulting 27 minute long sermon was the stuff of Presbyterian nightmares. In the receiving line after the service, I got comments like “Well, that was thorough” and “I never knew a sermon could be that full” and “You’re just a guest preacher, right?”
The mysterious nature of the Trinity is profoundly complicated. Whenever humanity is presented with an unsolvable mystery, it is in our DNA to attempt to solve it, to figure it out, to wrap our finite minds around that which is infinite. We sketch diagrams for our youth, we find images and metaphors for our children, we read the works of Calvin and Barth with our adults.
All of these attempts to seek understanding are good, and in the end, they all fall short. At the end of the day, the inner workings of the Trinity are a beautiful, frustrating, inspiring, nonsensical, and awe inspiring mystery. And although we can never fully comprehend the mystery of the Trinity, we can still live into its story.
Like Isaiah, God is revealed to us in the majesty and splendor of the heavenly throne. We see God, our creator, in the wonders of nature, the power of the storm, the unnamable sense that we are a part of something larger than ourselves.
Like Nicodemus, God is revealed to us as a teacher, as a healer, as the one who came not to condemn the world but to save it. We see God, our redeemer, in the face of the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the leader, the friend, and the servant.
And like the early church in Rome, God is revealed to us in the awesome power and ever-present witness of the Holy Spirit. We see God, our sustainer, wherever new life and hope are found, in our baptism, in our vocation, in our creativity, in our discernment, and in our prayers.
It is not difficult to look around and see countless expressions of God’s nature revealed to us. And perhaps even more overwhelming is that God’s nature is not just revealed to us, as if we were merely the passive consumers of God’s character development on a television show. God’s nature is not just revealed to us, God’s nature is revealed through us.
Each of our readings from Scripture today illuminates how the mystery of the Trinity, the very nature of God, and our calling to love and serve the world are intertwined.
The letter to the Romans reminds those early Christians that they are the spiritual children of God. Their very being is no longer of this world, but rather grafted by the Holy Spirit into the infinite being of God. If that idea is tough to wrap your mind around, think back to the lyrics of the song we’ve heard sung many times here at UPC, “I know no mother, no father, no sister, no brother. I am an orphan girl. But when He calls me I will be able, to meet my family at God’s table. I’ll meet my mother, my father, my sister, my brother. No more an orphan girl.”
In the letter to the Romans, it is revealed to us that God welcomes all people to the table of grace. No matter who you are or where you’ve been or what you’ve done, you are welcomed into the family. When we live as welcomed people, we in turn feel empowered to welcome others. Church is no longer a cold, us and them establishment, but a table, full of food, where sinners gather to tell stories, break bread, and pass the wine. The nature of God is revealed to us and through us.
This revelation continues in the Gospel of John. We hear a story about a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. The call of Christ to Nicodemus is one that we echo here this morning. “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”
Whenever we come to the font, we see the kingdom of God. We see the very nature of God revealed and we see God’s call made real in our lives. The waters of the font are a womb of rebirth, from which we are born again to the new life of Christ. It is out of this spiritual rebirth, this being born from above, that we live into the gift of grace and salvation promised to us in John 3:16,
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”
In our baptism we are saved from sin and death by the Son of Man who was lifted up on the cross.
In our baptism we are saved by grace, the love of God that we did not earn nor do not deserve. A love that is offered freely and without prejudice.
In our baptism, we are saved by grace through faith, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the sign and seal of the Spirit’s work in our life.
Today we witnessed this revelation of God’s nature to us and through us. When we live as a baptized people, we in turn become a baptizing people. This new, baptized life we live, a life where we are no longer defined by our sin and death does not have the last word, this new baptized life is too good not to share.
So we baptize our babies, we sprinkle water on the heads of children and youth and adults, and occasionally we dunk one or two of them in a river. In these moments of rebirth, we laugh, we cry, we sing songs of life and love, and we see the kingdom of God. We in turn teach our children to see the kingdom of God so that one day they might bring others with them to the waters of salvation. Life begets life. In our baptism, we see the nature of God, revealed to us and through us.
The revelation deepens even further in our Old Testament lesson from Isaiah. “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; 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 of the threshold shook at the voices of those who called, and the house was filled with smoke.”
When confronted with the unleashed glory of God, the very essence of the Trinitarian mystery, Isaiah knows he is lost. “Woe to me!” Exclaims the prophet, “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!”
Isaiah knows that this God is so very other, so very different, so very holy, that he is unworthy to even exist in the presence of such a being. But God’s nature is once again revealed to and through Isaiah.
One of the seraphs, a burning angel, flies toward Isaiah with a hot coal and touches it to the lips of the prophet. God reaches out and purifies Isaiah, refining him, cleansing him of his sin and freeing him of his guilt.
God is continually reaching out to us, coming down to meet us where we are, saying to us over and over again that we are indeed worthy to live as children of God, free from anything that would separate us from God’s love and life. But the story doesn’t stop there. God calls to his servant Isaiah, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” To which Isaiah responds, “Here I am, send me!” Having been reconciled before the throne of God, Isaiah is then commissioned to be an agent of reconciliation to the world. God’s nature is revealed to Isaiah and through Isaiah.
At the end of our service today, we will be commissioning our youth mission team as they prepare to accept God’s call to go and serve the people of New Orleans. These are the children of our church that we have nurtured in the faith.
They have known the love of God, they have experienced the joy of faith, they have felt the power of forgiveness. The God that has been revealed to them is now being revealed through them.
None of us would be here this morning if some part of the goodness of God had not been revealed to us. Our lives are tapestries of shining moments of revelation when we feel the dance of the Trinity enveloping us. The grace of God, the love of Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit swirl and spin around us, through us, and we are left breathless before the God who calls us his own. In light of this revelation to us, how then will God be revealed through us? As God’s own children, let us join in the dance and help others learn the steps. Let us welcome all to the waters of new life. And let us teach our children the words to that unending hymn of praise, the one that was sung before the beginning of time, the hymn that is written in the stars, coursing through our veins, and is the very fabric of existence itself.
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Amen.