Summary: A sermon on the call of Isaiah and an exploration of the greatest mystery of our faith--God the Holy Trinity.
Sermon for Trinity Sunday Yr B, 15/06/2003
Based on Isa. 6:1-8
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Today is a rather significant Sunday in the church year. It is the day in which we celebrate God the Holy Trinity; the three persons, yet still only one God—the Father-Creator, Jesus the Son-Redeemer; and the Holy Spirit-the Sanctifier. Ever since day one, Christians have grappled in their language to adequately speak and worship; preach and teach with precision who and what God the Holy Trinity is. Jokingly, Christians might speak of “Big Daddy, his Son, and the spooky Ghost;” or in a more practical vein, we might rely on the older analogies like the three shamrock leaves on a plant stem; or the three different forms of water—vapour, liquid, and solid; or the three ingredients in shortbread—sugar, flour, and butter. Yet, at the same time, we all, I’m sure, realise that such analogies fall far short of adequately explaining or understanding our Triune God. When all is said and done, no matter how brilliant and inspiring our explanations might be; I believe that we begin and end with accepting God the Holy Trinity as THE GREATEST MYSTERY OF OUR FAITH. This, I believe is likely what the eighteenth-century German mystic, Gerhard Tersteegen meant, when he said: ‘A God understood, a God comprehended, is no God.’
Taken, indeed, in its purely natural sense, mysterium would first mean merely a secret or a mystery in the sense of that which is alien to us, uncomprehended and unexplained. Taken in the religious sense, that which is ‘mysterious’ is –to give it perhaps the most striking expression—the ‘wholly other’, that which is quite beyond the sphere of the usual, the intelligible, and the familiar, which therefore falls quite outside the limits of the ‘canny’, and is contrasted with it filling the mind with blank wonder and astonishment. 1
This too, I believe is something of what Isaiah so powerfully describes in our first lesson today, when the Holy God calls him to be a prophet. It was the same year that King Uzziah of Judah died, about 736 or 735 B.C., that Isaiah is given a vision of God in the Jerusalem temple. Notice though that there is no real description of God in Isaiah’s vision beyond seeing the Lord sitting on a throne and lofty; with the hem of his robe filling the temple and Seraph-angels flying above God. This is the case because, as scripture elsewhere emphasises, NO ONE CAN SEE GOD FACE-TO-FACE AND LIVE. God’s HOLY OTHERNESS shall always remain transcendent—above and beyond our experience and comprehension.
Then, the HOLINESS of God is stressed as the angels proclaim the Sanctus, which we sing in our liturgy of Holy Communion: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Such a loud sound did the seraphs make with their voices that Isaiah tells us: “The pivots on the (temple) thresholds shook.” That description is a colourful one is it not? Think of it! Those words resounding so powerful that they shake the temple pivots thresholds! Could such a shaking not have symbolic meaning as well? Perhaps it refers to the shaking of all false securities, all vain and temporal glory, all passing worldly attachments. No matter how solid we may find the wisdom and riches; the securities of this world—nonetheless they shall not last or be able to resist or stand up against the majesty of God.
At any rate, I’m certain there were more than merely the temple threshold pivots shaking on that day! Was not Isaiah himself shaking too?! Were his bones rattling and his teeth clattering; were his toes tapping and fingers flapping at such a vision of God?! It seems to me that he too was shaking, when he finally gets enough courage to speak, and says: “WOE IS ME! I AM LOST, FOR I AM A MAN OF UNLEAN LIPS; AND I LIVE AMONG A PEOPLE OF UNCLEAN LIPS; YET MY EYES HAVE SEEN THE KING, THE LORD OF HOSTS!” Here we have Isaiah completely undone. Here we learn something of what it means to come into God’s HOLY PRESENCE. It means to confess one’s own impurity and sinfulness as well as to admit the impurity and sinfulness of one’s own nation and people.
In the face of God’s holiness Isaiah knew in a very profound way that he and his people stood condemned in their impurity and sinfulness. It is revealing that Isaiah uses the words “unclean lips” to describe the state of being of himself and his people. Why such a description?
From our lips come our words. They are our gate to the world. And what all goes through this gate! Oh, to be sure, good, strong, pure words proceed from our lips, words of love and trust. But there are other words: words like poison, words like sewage; words that are dull and emit too much nonsense. None of us is absolutely free from them. 2