Rev. Michael Woods
CSB Vespers Service
June 3, 2012
When you read the call story of Isaiah, you have to wonder if the guy knew what he was getting into. I notice he doesn’t bother to ask God exactly what it is God wants him to do. God appears in the Temple of Jerusalem one day during the 8th Century BC – a lot of smoke, a lot of six winged seraphim … it all looks like something out of Lord of the Rings – and says in essence: “I have a very tough assignment that needs to be done – I wonder if there are any volunteers?” And Isaiah’s hand immediately shoots up!
Now, if Isaiah had known what lied ahead for him – that he would have to bear a message that was counter-intuitive and politically unpopular to King Ahaz of Judah … if he had known that his own people would call him a traitor to the nation … if had any inkling that God would ask him to do some pretty crazy things like walk around in the middle of the city completely naked … if he had known ahead of time that he would endure physical abuse, slander, and rejection – I wonder if he would have still gone through with it?
It’s kind of the same question we preachers are faced with on Trinity Sunday. Do we really know what we’re getting into when we agree to preach on this day? It’s a Sunday where at a lot of larger churches the senior pastor decides to take some vacation time and let one of his or her associates preach instead. And then to compound the situation, Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary gives us this text from Isaiah to preach on. Somehow, we’re supposed to find evidence of the Trinity in this passage … some clues that point to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
A lot of biblical scholars have tried to do just that. John Calvin once pointed out that the song of the seraphim, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” may point to one holy God in three divine persons. Our opening hymn follows in that tradition. Reginald Heber, the Anglican clergyman who wrote the lyrics for this hymn, wrote it specifically to be sung on Trinity Sunday; and since that time in the early 1800’s many churches have opened their services on Trinity Sunday with it. Many of you probably sang it this morning at your own churches.
But even Calvin thought, overall, this passage from Isaiah made a rather weak case for the Trinity. He felt there were other passages in the Bible that could make a better case. Certainly, the opening verses of Genesis hint at the existence of the Trinity much more strongly – we have God the Creator present at the beginning, and the scriptures tell us that the Holy Spirit of God was there, as well, hovering over the waters, and when God creates, God does so by speaking the divine Word: “Let there be light, and there was light.” The divine Word, we learn later in the Gospel of John, is another way of describing Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And speaking of the Gospel of John, does not that Gospel make an even stronger claim to the existence of the Trinity when Christ prays on the night of the Last Supper when he gives thanks to the Father that he and the Father are one, and then says to his disciples that he is sending an Advocate to them, the Holy Spirit? And finally in the Book of Revelation, we see God once again upon a heavenly throne in the middle of another scene that also looks like something out of Lord of the Rings, with the heavenly host singing once again: Holy, Holy, Holy, the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.
And that is kind of the way the whole Bible tells us about the concept of the Trinity. It doesn’t come right out and say: “God exists as “one in essence, distinguished in three persons,” which is the way the ancient church in the 4th Century at the Council of Nicea tried to describe the Trinity. The scriptures just drop little hints for us here and there. They talk about God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer … they speak of God who was and is and is to come … they tell us of a God who is like a father who has been scorned by his youngest child, but rejoices when that same child returns … they tell us of a God who is like a mother hen, who longs to gather all her chicks beneath her wings … they tell us of a God who is like a very eager bridegroom who can’t wait for his wedding night, and forever embrace all of humanity!
In short, the scriptures give us a picture of a God who created us, who loved us so much that God became one of us, and who can live within us, so that we can love God and each other. The Bible doesn’t come right out and say that in so many words – but that seems to be the evidence it leaves, as best as we can tell … there’s a lot we have to accept on faith. We have to be a lot like Isaiah – willing to commit ourselves to something without entirely understanding what we’re committing ourselves to … we have to be willing to be comfortable with some uncertainty … that’s what faith is.
But to commit yourself to the existence of a God who creates, redeems, and sustains is not to just accept a particular intellectual concept. To believe in the Triune God is to believe in a God who is going to stare us straight in the eyes and ask us a rhetorical question: “I have a very tough assignment that needs to be done. Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Will we raise our hands? Will we commit ourselves to the God who creates, redeems, and sustains?
That is the invitation given to us at the Lord’s Table – to break bread with one another and share in the cup of our Lord’s suffering. And to go forth from here, nourished and fed, walking with the Holy Spirit, joining in God’s work of re-creation.
Thanks be to God: Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Amen.