Awed and Sent; Isaiah 6:1-8
Plymouth First United Methodist Church, May 30, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer
This is Trinity Sunday, the last in a series of Sundays of the Liturgical Year (beginning with Advent and continuing to today) that lay out our salvation history in the life, death, resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ, and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
“Trinity” isn’t a word you’ll find in scripture, instead, it is a word born later, in a human attempt to explain who the Christian Church has understood God to be on the basis of scripture.
It’s not an easy task to “explain” God. I mean: how big is God? How do you describe the One who is the source of—everything?
Over the years in sermons and in children’s messages I’ve tried to simplify the explanation of God in three persons, using images like water, ice and steam (3 in one, still the same thing), by describing roles—like—I’m a mother, wife and pastor (3 in one, still the same person). Those are all “kind of” okay, maybe helpful, maybe not. But they’re pretty simplistic. None embrace the fullness of who God is.
How can we adequately describe the One whose nature is indescribable?
There’s a story told about Bishop Augustine of Hippo in North Africa in the 4th Century. He happened to be walking along the shore of the Mediterranean one day, puzzling over the doctrine of the Trinity when he spotted a little girl taking bucket after bucket of water out of the sea and emptying it into a little hole. When he asked her what she was doing she replied that she was trying to put the ocean into that hole. Now, there are actually two endings to this story: the first is that this is when Augustine realized that he had been trying to put an infinite God into his finite mind.
The second ending has the bishop responding, “It’s going to take a long time to do that, isn’t it?”
“Not as long as it’s going to take you to explain the Trinity,” the little girl replies.
Choose your favorite.
All these centuries later, all the biblical and theological scholars have offered their best, and still can’t describe the Trinity in a way where we’ll respond, “ok, I get it now.”
We can very honestly admit that it’s a bit of a mystery—perhaps not to be so much understood, as to be experienced.
The scripture we’ve read this morning points to and bears witness to the Trinity through a vision experienced by Isaiah.
We read that it happened in the year King Uzziah died, about 740 years before the coming of Jesus. King Uzziah ruled over Judah for 52 years and brought the kingdom to new heights of economic prosperity, military power and political influence. 2 Chronicles 26 relates his many successes for as long as he “did right” in the Lord’s eyes and feared God. But as Uzziah grew powerful he also grew arrogant. Seemingly forgetting he was an earthly king, he entered the Lord’s sanctuary to burn incense, which was the role of a priest, not a king. When confronted by the priest Azariah (with 80 other courageous priests standing behind him for backup), Uzziah becomes angry. While “fuming” at the priests, leprosy breaks out on his forehead. In shock and suddenly humbled and compliant at the Lord’s swift punishment for his sinfulness, he is rushed out of the temple and for the rest of his life lives in a separate house and is barred from entering the Lord’s temple because of his leprosy. His son reins in his place.
Noting the placement in time of Isaiah’s vision catches our attention as he—and we—are reminded that God is holy and we are not.
Isaiah is summoned to the throne of God and he is awestruck. Imagine yourself seeing what Isaiah is seeing.
The temple is considered the earthly representation of God’s heavenly throne. It is believed to be the place where heaven and earth come together, and somehow Isaiah “sees” beyond the earthly temple and into the throne room above, where God is. He sees how the train of God’s robe fills the temple. He sees the seraphs (literally translated as “the burning ones”), God’s heavenly attendants, and they’re singing to one another: Holy, Holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.
Isaiah enters this holy place where God is, knowing he is unworthy. And yet here he is.
He’s humbled. He’s suddenly aware of how small he is; how inadequate he is. How unworthy he is to be in God’s presence. “Woe is me! I am lost,” he says, “for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; and yet here I am—my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!”
Isaiah is not only aware of, and confesses his own sinfulness, but he is aware that his people—even his own earthly king has failed in being faithful to God. In expressing these failures, rather than condemning him further, a Seraph flies to Isaiah, touching his mouth with a live coal, telling him that he has been freed: his guilt departed and his sin blotted out: forgotten.
The next sound he hears is God’s voice—speaking to Isaiah? To the Seraph’s? To the three persons of the Godhead?—"Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” To which Isaiah, in response to everything that has happened, replies, “Here I am, send me!”
This is only one of several places in scripture that causes us to ponder—who is God talking to? Who is God referring to? Right away in Genesis 1, in our story of creation, God says, “Let us make people in our image, to resemble us” (1:26). In the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve have eaten the fruit, “The human being now becomes like one of us, knowing good and evil” (3:22). In chapter 11, God speaks to someone saying, “come let us go down and mix up their language so they won’t understand each other” (v. 7). Later, in Genesis, God appears to Abraham as three persons (18:1-2).
God’s Spirit is noted later in Isaiah (48:14), and then in the Gospels. Remember how the Spirit descends like a dove when John baptizes Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17). Later, in the great commission, the disciples are instructed by Jesus as he ascends into heaven to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (28:19). Paul, in several letters blesses the readers of his letters, saying “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
Though the word “Trinity” isn’t being used in these situations, the three persons of the Trinity are certainly being referred to.
These early writers, the prophet Isaiah, the disciples, the apostle Paul…the early church, and the church today continue to try to address/acknowledge/the fullness of God. And I guess I’m at a place where I’m willing to admit that God’s greatness is beyond me and my ability to understand. It seems perhaps what is most important is to accept the mystery of the vastness of God, and to be willing to respond to what God calls us to do.
Isaiah responded in his vision with an immediate—oh, here I am, Lord, send me! I will do what you need to have done!! He’s been forgiven and set free. The weight of guilt that had rested on his shoulders is now gone, and he’s ready to serve. He doesn’t realize at this point that the work God needs to have done involves speaking a hard word to God’s people, a word that will ultimately lead them into captivity and leave only a remnant remaining. And yet that remnant will be a seed that will ultimately grow. Still, there are hard times ahead.
And yet Isaiah has said, send me. He didn’t say, send me, but first, let’s go down through my list of requirements for this task you’re calling me to do. He didn’t say, send me if it’s a good destination. Send me if there are good restaurants there. Send me if I’ll be safe; if it won’t be too difficult. Send me if people are going to like what I have to say, if they’re going to love me for doing your work. If it’s all good, then I’m your man.
It wasn’t all good for Isaiah. And following God’s call doesn’t promise it will all be good for us, either. Every little thing ain’t gonna be alright when you respond to God’s call. But when we listen, when we follow, when we give our best, God can work in us and through us to accomplish what God desires.
It seems to me that over the last couple of years, we’ve been called into a season of hard work…discernment… decision-making... We’ve been navigating our way into the future without a firm promise of success, at least in our human interpretation of what success should look like. But I am confident that God is moving us into a place and time that ultimately serves God’s purpose. I am confident that the greatness of who God is—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—will lead us as we trust in the mystery, as we step forward in faith.
The awesome presence of God fills this space.
Our sins forgiven.
The question is asked: Who will go for us? Whom shall we send?
How will you respond?