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God For Us
The Reverend Krystal Leedy
May 27, 2018
A Reading from the Book of 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; 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!”
I’ve never asked, but I have a feeling that no one claims Trinity Sunday is their favorite Christian worship service. Maybe it’s Easter. Maybe it’s Pentecost. Maybe it’s Christmas Eve, but rarely, if ever is it Trinity Sunday.
It’s a strange Sunday, brought on because 4th century Christians were concerned that non-Trinitarian heresy was going to catch on. So, they wanted to make clear what was discovered at the Council of Nicaea—God is three in one, and each person of the Trinity is distinct and communal.
And a few decades later, still in the 4th century, we Christians couldn’t decide if the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son or just the Father. The Western Roman Church said Father and Son and the Eastern Orthodox Church said just Father. You’d think in 1700 years we would have reunited by now, but we haven’t.
And while all of this is interesting history, or perhaps not so interesting history, it is not my job to act as Christian historian. You can go to museums for that. You can look up the origins of Trinity Sunday, the Council of Nicaea, and the Council of Constantinople on Wikipedia. You can dig into the pages of Rev. Dr. Cindy Rigby’s new book Holding Faith, but be careful because you may stumble upon some fantastic practical theology.
Perhaps Trinity Sunday is the day of doctrinal sermons, the day where we unpack the mysterious nature of the Trinity, where we finally understand. But, I doubt it. Living a mystery is a lot different than mystifying a truth. So, today, we hold our Trinitarian doctrine (our God who is three in one), our 1700 years of history (even the schisms over minute details), and this living mystery: as we enter the text of Isaiah—our poet-prophet who gives story to this mystery, which may be our only way of even hearing it.
(Sermon text is read.)
Such wonder. Such wonder that we enter into this prophetic vision with. We gravitate into this text, the Lord hovering in a throne, with the hem of God’s garment filling the sacred space. The fullness of God is felt in this text—the Lord our God is one… One really big God. Angels dance around God’s presence like birds helping God get dressed. And their beautiful expression of praise is never ending. We know this song well, “Holy, Holy, Holy.” And the grandeur of God, the beauty, the largess, the king-like imagery creates visions of who God is in our minds, calling up the images that we have seen plastered on the ceiling of chapels and in larger than life pictures in gold gilded frames. The Old Man in a white robe with a beard as long as Meghan Markle’s train- this is our God- the king of heaven. And this image is certainly comforting—the God who is our king, who rules over all, who is sovereign, who must be addressed in royal terms, to whom one must bow before. There’s nothing wrong with this imagery. In fact, it’s really helpful to remind us of one image of who God is. And Isaiah knew it too. Isaiah knew the kingly imagery was going to come across really well during his time, so much so that he wanted to make this a prophecy with a time-stamp. Because he does not begin with this image of large robes and high thrones of a deity. He begins with one of the earthiest images– he begins with a funeral. In the year that King Uzziah died. We are tied to a specific place, with a specific time, with a people that are very concerned about having a king to rule over them. King Uzziah had been one of the good ones until he wasn’t. He was a great king, until he tried to do the job of a priest. He lived with leprosy until his dying day, and the people of God lived with a co-monarchy until then. This was a strange time. A tumultuous time. There was a people who needed a king. And God enters in a vision, high upon the throne.
It’s hard to get beyond this image of God. It feels so prevalent, and like I said, it can certainly be comforting, particularly when you feel as though your own monarchy or governing body is unstable. The sovereignty of God grounds us when we feel like we stand on shifting sand. However, it can feel like God is distant, that God is wholly other and not anyone we can relate with. This may make us a little insecure, a tad unstable. And when we ourselves start feeling unstable as individuals, Christmas becomes such an important part of our church calendar. In the midst of one of the coldest, bleakest times of year, where we don’t know if the sun will ever warm the earth again, here is God in flesh and bone. Here is God in an image we recognize. Here are God’s words outlined in many Bibles in red because they came through humanity and divinity to our own humanity. They remind us of this hybrid God– both divine and human. I suppose that’s why Jesus is occasionally painted with a very old face on a baby body. He is divinely wise and humanly chubby. But still, that baby is going to be holding the scepter and orb. We can’t seem to get away from this image of God as king. We just really love that one. I suppose it comforts us to know that a baby is in charge, or at least has an orb to throw at our enemies. And Christ Jesus certainly is our Immanuel, our God with us, our God that we can see in the wise faces and chubby arms of our friends and family. God with us. Right here. Here on earth. Not up in heaven while we are in turmoil. Right here to comfort us. God is with us.
And we have a Sunday for Christ as God with us: Christmas. But we have a Sunday for the God high upon the throne: Reign of Christ Sunday. We have these comforting Sundays to remind us that we are not alone. But this is not that Sunday. We hold these truths of God above us in kingly form and God with us in human form, and then comes the rushing wind of Pentecost. And we are in the time after we have experienced the unexpected rushing wind of the Spirit who comes in tongues of fire, who hovers over the water, who comes in the form of a dove. And we have to hold all of these views of God together on Trinity Sunday. One theologian calls a reductionist version of the Trinity as two men and a bird, and it’s not particularly helpful today to believe in two men and a bird. Because two men and a bird can’t save us from political turmoil unless we are looking simply for comfort in the midst of strife. A way to escape the chaos. Two men- one a king, the other a baby that we can hold, and a bird, whom we can cage to keep safe. These are all images that we can capture and grasp, that we can understand and control. And certainly, we are comforted by familiar things and they keep us quiet and happy and reserved. But this is not that Sunday.
Last week, I was so angry that the Duke Harry and Duchess Meghan of Essex went through with it. My Facebook was filled with pictures of the dress and the tiara. Last weekend, the top headlines were hats and fascinators. They were polite rules and regulations and an abundance of flowers. I was so angry. Before the bodies of our Texas children were in the ground, the headlines were taken from them giving voice to a wedding of two people from a monarchy that we fought for freedom from. We had just started the important conversation again as a mad boy took things into his own hands, when a mad boy decided who would live and who would die that day. We a boy played God. We had just started the political conversation again: the one that would land us in turmoil, again. We had just started the conversation again about gun violence and mental health. We had just started the conversation again about getting these students a safe place to learn and a place where teachers will not die in the line of duty. We had to start the conversation again. We have to start the conversation again. Even when it’s hard. Even when it feels like it’s at a stalemate.
But the conversation was halted by fascinators and a tiara. Then came who wore it best and lip-readers trying to understand what the British were whispering to one another. I was angry. It seemed as though we couldn’t even stay focused long enough to hear the cries of angels over the clinking of teacups and “God Save the Queen.” We were too busy worried about what other people were wearing. As I went to sleep last Saturday night, I was angry.
And as I awoke on Pentecost Sunday, my alarm clock went off to the prophetic voice of Bishop Michael Curry. I understood how the people felt when they must have first heard Isaiah.
In the year where more American children died in school shootings than American soldiers on a battlefield, I saw a preacher standing before a crowd, and he could not get this song off of his lips:
“When love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive, when love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook. When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the Earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more. When love is the way, there’s plenty good room, plenty good room, for all of God’s children because when love is the way, we actually treat each other well, like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all and we are brothers and sisters, children of God. My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new Earth, a new world, a new human family.”
The love he prophesied to was not the love of fairy tales. It was the love that Martin Luther King talked about. It was the love that the prophet Amos talked about. It was the love Isaiah talked about. It was the love that prophets for centuries have talked about. And it was the love they LIVED. Because they advocated for no child to go hungry. They advocated for righteousness to flow. They advocated for the Earth to be a sanctuary. They advocated for peace.
The prophets, though seemingly not ‘of the people’ have lived out what it means to be in unified community with one another, but they did not get this idea on their own. Because the one hint of Trinitarian language in this whole passage from Isaiah is one line:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
And this line is not enough to prove the Trinity, but it is enough to live it.
God is King and that’s a lovely thought. And God is with us, and that is a lovely thought. And those things are comforting and they tuck us into bed at night. But the doctrine of the Trinity is the prophetic alarm clock. It moves us to dance into the world that God is already creating. It moves us to dance to the angels’ song. It moves us to sway with “Stand By Me” during our moments of Sanctuary but to bust out the back doors to a recessional of “This Little Light of Mine,” the songs of angels. It moves us to advocate on behalf of those who cannot speak, to give voice, to be messengers of love in the midst of chaos. It moves us into community with people that we might have never met had it not been for our love for one another. And the only way that we know about this love is that God is sending us out with God’s authority. God is for us, and no one can deny the message of love that we bring.
The Trinitarian doctrine is not understood. It is lived. Because if God is above us, then our response is awe. And if God is with us, then our response if praise. And if God is for us, then our response is love. It is a love we hope for– that we somehow can join the dance of the God who is three in one. It is a communal and unified dance that we need to learn the steps to.
Sometimes this Christian life is about our comfort. God is there when we need comfort. And God is also there when we need to wake up. Church, it is time. It is time to let our little lights shine, to sing the song of angels, to speak the truth in love.
To the glory of one God in three persons, blessed Trinity. Amen.