Word of the Week

I Saw the Lord: Isaiah 6:1-8

When is the last time you experienced the presence of God in your life? Where were you? What were you doing? How did you feel? What changed in you as a result?

I can imagine that all of us in this room this morning have at least one experience of God's presence in our lives-- or we probably wouldn't be here in this sanctuary on Sunday morning, up way before brunch time.

Experiences with the divine presence of God come in as many different forms as are number of people who populate this earth.

For some of us, God comes to us when we are in a service like this one. The music, the readings, the sermons (of course) stir our spirits to rest in God. Even more so, for some of us, God comes to us when we are in places of holiness that have stood the test of history:  places like great cathedrals in Europe or visits to places in the Holy Land, or even great religious sites of other faith traditions around the world.

For some of us, we don't need a particular space for God to come to us. The light of God shines on us when we simply take time to clear out our calendar from distractions and just find a comfortable position to be.  For some of us this might even be on a yoga mat, or in our favorite reclining chair, or in our prayerful posture every night before we go to bed.

For some of us, God comes to us most brilliantly when we are outdoors. We take in the majesty and glory of God's name when we stand on the edge of places like the Grand Canyon, take a walk in Rock Creek Park in the city or one of the many wonderful walking trails around Reston, or stand at the edge of the beach, our feet buried in the stand as the salty waters roll in and out over our toes.

Whatever our place or space or time frame of such experiences, there is one thing in common to all of them-- our hearts are stirred as we see, as we sense and we abide with the Lord.

Today, in the church calendar year is the day we set aside as Trinity Sunday. It's the one day all year that we see aside everything except our complete attention on who God is and how it is that we as creations of God abide with the divine.  

If we read the Bible cover to cover, the word “trinity” is not something that we would ever find within. The word “trinity” was actually coined in the 3rd century by Tertullian, a Latin theologian, as he sought to describe “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit" in just one word.

The historical question was this: how could the earliest believers in Jesus as the Son of God also serve the God of Israel and worship the Spirit of God that was sent to them after Jesus left the earth? How could such this be possible in was a monotheistic religion? If you are left scratching your head when it comes to answers-- you are in good company.

It was such a hard topic that it took nearly 300 years to get the first major council together to come to some consensus. (You know it is how us church people work . . . when we have a problem we form a committee to fix it). Even though the Council of Nicaea came up with some good ideas that most people in the church accepted, including them in the Nicene Creed (which some of you may know), everyone could still not agree. Church schisms and controversies over the meaning of the Trinity continued for years and would eventually even divide the church in the west from the church in the east.

But, yet the acceptance of the Trinity remained a part of what followers of the Christian faith passed on from generation to generation, even with all of the controversy. So much so, that planners of the Christian calendar year felt it best to mark the Sunday after Pentecost as Trinity Sunday—a day to celebrate the work of the Triune God unfolding before our eyes since Advent. The work of the God who came to earth in Christ Jesus in a manager, grew up to be a man with a ministry of teaching and compassion, faced death and triumphed in resurrection, and then left humanity with the gift of God the Holy Spirit coming on the day of Pentecost.

Then, enter our Old Testament reading for this morning—the call story of Isaiah, the great prophet of Israel. A passage that is read in most churches during the commissioning services for pastors or mission teams because of the hallmark response of Isaiah to God’s presence in his life found in verse 8: “Here am I, send me!” yet is a great text for the call stories of all Christians. But, on this Trinity Sunday, we reach Isaiah's call in order to see into a window into who God is-- what happens to us when we encounter the divine and what then is asked of us in after such sighting.

And this is what is going on: in chapter six of Isaiah, we find Isaiah having a vision after the beloved and righteous king Uzziah dies (an actual historical time and place). And in this vision Isaiah sees the Lord as the “hem of his robe filled the temple.”

Theologian Kate Huey describes this encounter as the original definition of awesome-- an overused word in our vocabulary these days that often goes to describe how we feel about everything from soda, to lotions that can cure balding, to weight loss drugs that can make us look 10 years younger, but in this cause, awesome is about Isaiah's meeting with God that temporarily leaves him without words.

Before he could catch his breath, not only does Isaiah see the Lord sitting on throne but seraphs with six wings flying around. A seraph is a word that literally means: highest order of angels, an angel whose “position” in the heavenly realm would be closest to God.

Those of you who took Richard's Baum's class last winter will remember that their six wings symbolize the appropriate responses to the divine presence: with one pair they shield their faces from the Heavenly King’s majestic glory, with a second pair they hide their nakedness from the divine holiness, and with the third they go about their appointed tasks. And in this case the particular task was to speak praise about God. Calling out: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

In a moment of ecstasy, Isaiah sees this heavenly court, God seated on his throne with his seraphic attendants and the temple shook and the filled with smoke ¯ something no one is supposed to see. So the only response Isaiah can muster in verse five is: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips . . . “ so that one of the seraphs fly to him holding a live coal and touch it to Isaiah’s mouth saying “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin blotted out.”

As I describe this scene, you might have the same response as a friend of mine did when I told her of today’s text: “so Isaiah feels unworthy and sinful and so an angel who is hiding his face and feet touches this guy's mouth with burning coal and says he's good to go?  Yeah... no clue what the point of all that is! Couldn't you preach on something easier - John 3:16 or something.”

And, while I could have taken her advice and diverted my attention toward a more tame or familiar passage, I feel we might miss something about the Triune life of God if we don’t sit with our text for a bit.

What Isaiah’s vision was and is asking us as readers of the text to do this day, I believe is to take in a moment to  sit with the mystery of God. To recognize God as holy means to acknowledge the set apart being of God all together. God as more than we can wrap our mind around . . . . God as holy, holy, holy (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) is the LORD of hosts the whole earth is full of God’s glory. God as so completely unlike our being that no one can be face to face with God and live! We can only see the hem of his robe. Our own attempts of purity won’t amount to much that the angels of God had to come and purify Isaiah’s words before he was ready to be in the presence.

Many of you have heard the following quote, but it is so true that it is worth repeating again and again, especially on Trinity Sunday.

Anne Dillard, the famous American poet and spirituality writer says this about God: “I am astonished that (at least back in the day) women wore velvet or straw hats to church rather than crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should latch us to our pews. Why? Because the One we court with the eloquence and flattering speeches is a wildfire we are crazy to think we are to contain.”

Following God, as Isaiah’s vision shows us is a bit more like riding a roller coaster that spins and curves upside down than it is God like a causal Sunday drive in the country. If we truly want to be in the presence of the holy, if we truly want to sense where our holy God is taking us—then we might start following Dillard’s advise and bring our helmets with when we seek to worship this holy three in one beyond all comprehension God.

Part of bringing our crash helmets, is beginning as God’s people to think more about what we are getting into as we seek to worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the God whose name we call specifically every single Sunday as we bless the offerings and sing the Doxology.

What do we sing? Praise God from whom all blessings flow, Praise Him all creatures here below. Praise Him of the heavenly host. Praise Father Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

For I believe that when begin to see God, I mean really see God and share with others what we see (just as Isaiah tried to describe in this passage for this morning PLUS recognizing that God has and always will be a mystery-- beyond all comprehension-- so we MUST leave room in our minds for God to do and be the unspeakable, the unexplainable and the unattainable, then our hearts are truly ready to worship the Lord.

One pastor describes the mystery of God’s name like this: “By ‘mystery’ I do not mean a question or problem that disappears when the solution is found, but the kind of amazement that grows as knowledge increases."

So that as we worship our God,  we are using what to know about God to sense there is always more to God than we could ever dream or imagine. And, in light of this, opening ourselves up to visions of God that might cause our worship to become a little zany every now and then . . . When we are following our God, our Triune God, we might find the plans and hopes and dreams for our own journeys need to grow to fit how BIG our God already is.

This morning, as we approach the table of the LORD, a table that always proclaims the mystery of faith: we have an opportunity to recognize God in some ways we haven’t maybe thought about or done in a long time. We get to proclaim that God is God and we are not. We get to proclaim that we are a people of unclean lips and all our righteous comes from our Creator alone.

We’ll have the opportunity to make peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ before coming to the table knowing that seeing the holy in one another is the first step to seeing the holy in our Creator.

We’ll have the opportunity to drink this morning from one cup, one type of vine—being reminded of the mystery that in Christ we are one.

We’ll have the opportunity to taste and see that the LORD is good through simple elements that become for us signs of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

As we join our voices together to sense the holy, here in a very midst, let us do so, giving thanks that even as we are people of unclean lips, we are a people who can be made clean through the redemption of Jesus, our Savior and Lord. Let us come to the table today to see God and to see God as mystery as much as we can.