3 June 2012
Grace Episcopal Church
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Ah, Trinity Sunday . . . a Sunday where theological sermons are being preached and listened to all across the world. Sermons about this doctrine of God . . . our understanding of God as three persons in one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But rather than preach about doctrine, Iíd rather talk to you about Godís identity, our relationship with this God, and what we are then called to do by this God. You see, I donít think of the Trinity so much as a doctrine as I think of it as a name for God . . . for Godís identity . . . for Godís being. The Trinity is our understanding about Godís Being wrought through our EXPERIENCE of God. And our experience of God, our relationship with God, calls us to behave in particular ways. Of our readings today, our first reading by the prophet Isaiah, is particularly helpful.
The passage from Isaiah we heard this morning comes near the beginning of the prophetís book; it describes God calling him to his vocation. Itís quite a scene! Godís throne is described as ďhigh and loftyĒ . . . our Jewish ancestors believed that Godís throne was above the Ark of the Covenant resting in the temple . . . and from this height Godís robes cascade down, filling the enormous space. Awesome and terrifying seraphim attend the Lord, reminding us of other angels that appear to Ezekiel and are with the Ark of God in the book of Exodus. The seraphim, of course, cover their faces for fear of seeing God, yet their voices are so powerful that they shake the very foundations of the temple. As the temple fills with smoke we are reminded of the cloud that engulfed Mt. Sinai signaling the presence of God, as Moses went up to receive the Ten Commandments. An amazing scene, indeed. No wonder Isaiah is terrified.
He fears he will die because, according to tradition, no one can see God and live. The magnificence of the scene also fills him with an almost crippling awareness of his own unworthiness to be anywhere near the presence of God. He says that he is a man of unclean lips and lives among a people of unclean lips. But one of those astounding seraphim swoops down carrying a burning coal from the altar in a pair of tongs. The angel flies to Isaiah and touches his lips with the coal and declares that Isaiahís sin is now wiped out. Now I donít know about you, but if I were in Isaiahís shoes I would find all of this utterly terrifying . . . let alone painful!
And yet, when God speaks and asks, ĎWhom shall I send? Who will go for us?Ē like an eager schoolboy, Isaiah shouts, ďHere am I! Send me!! Here am I, send me! Can you imagine it? After everything heís just heard and seen, let alone the burning coal placed on his mouth, wouldnít you think he might say something more like, ďWhoa . . . can we wait just a minute? Just how difficult, how challenging, how painful is this thing you wanna send me out to do? Can we talk for a minute?Ē But no, without any information, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Isaiah is moved to say, ďIíll do whatever you want.Ē Heís not weighing the costs or the danger, but simply saying ďYes!Ē Amazing.
This terrifying text was read at my ordination, as it is a many ordinations.
But this text is not just for ordained folk, itís for all of us. It reminds us about a very important aspect of Godís identity. Our almighty God, the God of heaven, the Lord of Hosts, the King of all, who fills the world with glory, asks for our help to work out the divine plan for and in the world. Our creator, who is all powerful, does not impose this power upon creation but, rather, asks us, please, to help reveal the Kingdom of God in this world. We need not be ordained, we need not be particularly holy Ė Isaiah certainly knows that he is less than perfect Ė to be called by God. God offers us forgiveness of our sins with every sincere confession we make, and cleanses us with grace far less painful than a burning coal. But then, but then, it is still up to us to respond to Godís call . . . to take the initiative to do Godís work.
Some of you know that just before I came back to work I went on a silent eight-day guided retreat. I went to a retreat house in Massachusetts, run by the Jesuits, and spent eight days praying and meditating and meeting daily with a spiritual director to discuss what I was encountering, and to receive some advice and suggestions for prayer and reflection. It was the best retreat Iíve ever taken. I experienced the full gamut of emotions . . . love, anger, remorse . . . you name it. Most importantly, I felt the presence of God very strongly, especially the presence of Christ.
One morning after breakfast near the end of the retreat, as I sat in the dining room gazing out the window, it felt as if Jesus were sitting right beside me. Iíd already gone through all of the begging, and yelling, and confessing I had to do, so it was a companionable visit. And I seemed to be getting a message . . . not in words, per se, but it was pretty clear nevertheless. Jesus seemed to be saying, ďYes, Iím with you. I always will be. But the work is up to you.Ē Itís hard to relay what this really felt like to me. I didnít resent the fact that God wasnít going to do all the work for me. Itís unrealistic to think that God is going to fix everything for us. Rather, I was Ė and am Ė vastly comforted by the feeling of spiritual support, companionship, and strength Ė most importantly that infinite STRENGTH Ė that I can rely on. And at the same time, I was Ė and am Ė tremendously challenged that I Ė that WE Ė must be the ones to do Godís work in this world. For this message I received is not just for me, but for ALL of us.
Our creator God, our God of magnificence and power beyond imagining, holds back the hems of the robes of glory Ė Godís robes that filled the Temple as revealed to Isaiah Ė God holds back the hems just enough to allow creation to exist. Our creator God holds back just enough to allow us our free will. But God has not left us alone. God came to us as one of us . . . Godís creative Word made flesh . . . God came to us to save us . . . to save us from sin . . . to save us from ourselves. And yet, while we are offered the promise of salvation through the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the work of revealing the Kingdom of God in this world is still up to us. For WE are now the living Body of Christ in this world. And yet . . . again, ďand yetĒ . . . we still are not alone. The Holy Spirit is with us. Godís grace and power is available to us Ė to inspire us, to guide us, to strengthen us Ė as we reach out to do Godís work in this world.
Itís difficult to relay exactly what I felt Ė what I knew Ė sitting in that dining room, gazing out the window. But itís a message for all of us. Our God, who is in essence a relationship Ė Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier Ė is also in relationship with us. And this relationship is not just one on one Ė each of us individually in relationship with God Ė our relationship with God is of necessity, in its essence, also a relationship with each other. Remember, in our baptisms we became members of a single body, the Body of Christ. We are inextricably joined to each other and to God.
This amazing, all-powerful God of ours, on whom we rely for our very existence, does not play the tyrant. We are allowed our free will . . . we get to make our own decisions. But we are not alone, Jesus came to us as one of us, to teach us, to guide us, to model for us, and most importantly to save us . . . and in our baptism the Light of Christ is enkindled in our hearts . . . thatís how we come together to be united with each other and with God to form Christís Body in this world. This identity of ours, as the Body of Christ, is absolutely real.
But this identity is practically meaningless unless we act upon it. As an example, think about marriage. Those of us who are married know that in that sacrament our identities changed; we became united with another human being. But thatís not the end of the story. If, say, we marry someone to get him or her a green card and essentially live separate lives, then itís not much of a marriage, is it? Or, apparently like some celebrities, if we marry for the attention of the press and divorce shortly thereafter, thatís not a meaningful marriage, either, is it? But if two people come together and truly enter into the relationship of marriage, working and journeying together through life . . . well, then, that IS a real marriage. So it is, as well, with our identity as the Body of Christ. Thereís no getting around it, thatís us. Itís who we are. But what are we gonna do about it . . . will we show this identity of ours to be meaningless . . . or to be real?
Our infinitely generous and gracious God helps us even with this. The Holy Spirit has been given to us to guide us, to inspire us, to strengthen us as we grow into our true nature, our true identity, as the Body of Christ. The Holy Spirit will assist us as we grow in our love for each other and for God. And as our love grows and deepens, the Holy Spirit will assist us in reaching out to those outside the family to bring Godís healing love to this broken world.
For in the end thatís what itís all about . . . love . . . Godís love for us. Our love for God and for each other. But itís up to us. God is with us in so many ways . . . but the work is ours. Let us get to work and join with God in this beautiful labor of Love.
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