Saturday, May 30, 2015

Majesty Mercy Mission

Sion Lutheran Church, Lancaster, MN
May 31, 2015
Sunday of the Holy Trinity
Isaiah 6:1-8

This may come as a surprise to you, but many pastors fear this day, Trinity Sunday.   They get so nervous that they avoid preaching today because the doctrine of the Trinity spooks them.

So some pastors even schedule their vacation to be gone on this Sunday (though I’m sure that’s not why Pr. Melodi headed home to Ohio!)  

Or they let this be the Sunday we recognize our graduates or our veterans or our quilters.  Anything to sidestep preaching a sermon on the Holy Trinity!

Why is that?   

I think it’s because some preachers have gotten it into their heads that they need to EXPLAIN the doctrine of the Trinity. 

“If I don’t understand the Trinity for myself,” a pastor might well wonder, “what makes me think I can explain the Trinity to others?”

Earlier in my own ministry I shared this same nervousness about Trinity Sunday, until it dawned on me that Trinity Sunday isn’t about explaining the Trinity as much as it’s about adoring the Trinity. 

Trinity Sunday is more about praising the Triune God than it is about diagramming the Triune God!

And with a text like this one from Isaiah 6 before us, how can we not stand in awe of our astounding, mysterious God….who meets us in his majesty, his mercy and his mission?

Here in Isaiah 6, the prophet finds himself suddenly transported into God’s heavenly throne room.   The vast space is filled up—just with the hem of God’s royal robe!   There’s smoke in the air, the foundations are shaking (as in an earthquake), and a band of  seraphim--monstrous six-winged creatures are flying around and crying out:  “Holy, holy, holy!” (v. 3)

Encountering God in God’s “Godness”—in God’s majesty—produces a sense of awe, an awareness that God is God and we are not! 

Nearly a century ago a book appeared entitled, God is My Co-Pilot.  That title later inspired a bumper sticker that read:  “If God is Your Co-Pilot, You’re Sitting in the Wrong Seat!”

There is a vast distance between us and God—a distance that you and I cannot traverse.  We can’t get from here to there, we can never grope our way to God—God is that high, that mighty, that “beyond” us!

Such a sense of awe is healthy for us.   We need such awe in our lives, because awe “locates” God in God’s place and puts us in our place, cuts us down to proper size, humbles us in God’s overwhelming presence…

…..and, in fact, awe does even more than humble us! 

Encountering God in God’s majesty magnifies our awareness of our sin.

So Isaiah cries out:  “Woe is me!  I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”(v. 5)

When Isaiah beholds God in his holiness and majesty, he can only confess how it is with him:  Isaiah has to confess his sin—both Isaiah’s own sinfulness, and the collective sin he shares with his people.

A man once requested an appointment with his pastor because he had some sins to confess.   “What’s troubling you,” the pastor asked.  “What have you thought, said or done that’s so sinful?”
“Oh, I didn’t come to confess my sin,” the man replied.  “I’m here to confess my neighbor’s sin!”

Sin-talk in the Bible never lets you or me off the hook.   It’s always less about “them” and “their” sin—and always more about me and my sin, our sin. 

My lips, my heart, my hands are unclean….and I live among a people who’re all in the same boat!

Awareness of God’s majesty magnifies our unworthiness….and opens us up to the second characteristic of God that shines through here in Isaiah 6:   God’s mercy.

Sinners deserve to die, as Isaiah acknowledges, but God never takes pleasure in the death of even one sinner.  God’s majesty could easily have snuffed out scrawny, sinful Isaiah….but God desired not to kill Isaiah, but to forgive him.

So one of the seraphim, who moments before terrified Isaiah, suddenly becomes an instrument of God’s mercy:   “Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’”

God’s preferred path isn’t to catch people in their sins or keep a ledger of their sins or punish sinners—but to forgive sins and rescue sinners.

And there’s a reason for that:   God saves us in order to send us.
As soon as Isaiah’s sin is blotted out, he has ears to hear what God is saying.   

In like manner, when God deals with our sin, when God gets us uncurled—out of the perpetual fetal position sin puts us in….when God liberates us from the self-absorption of sin, when God finishes off the navel-gazing that sin induces in our lives…..when God’s forgiveness gets us looking outward and upward for a change….we become open to the work God wants to do through us…..which leads us to the third reality about God that’s lifted up here in Isaiah 6:   God’s mission.

God is on a mission, a mission that God insists on involving you and me in carrying it out!

God’s mission is to make you and me and all things new.  

God’s mission is to reign over his kingdom, not as a tyrant or a dictator, but as the self-giving, self-emptying Lord of Unfathomable Love.

So the seraph touches Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal from the altar of God….and as Isaiah’s sin is burned away, his ears are opened up to hear what God has to say:  “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

There were all those folks whom Isaiah had already mentioned when he confessed he was a man of unclean lips who lived among a people of unclean lips.   What about them?

God the King of heaven and earth needed someone—God needed a human being who would represent God and seek out all those sinners.

And why, we wonder?    Why doesn’t God just deal with all those sinners himself, directly?

The great 20th century missionary to India, Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, liked to say: “God’s purpose is precisely to break open that shell of egotism in which you are imprisoned since Adam first fell and to give you back the new nature which is content to owe the debt of love to all [people].  And so God deals with us through one another.  One is chosen to be the bearer of the message to another, one people to be God’s witnesses to all people.  Each of us has to hear the gospel from the lips of another or we cannot hear it at all…Salvation comes to each of us not, so to say, straight down from heaven through the skylight, but through a door that is opened by our neighbor.”[1] 

One is chosen to be the bearer of the message to another, one people to be God’s witnesses to all people.

Here in our text that one was Isaiah.   The whole reason God caught Isaiah up into God’s heavenly throne room….had Isaiah’s sinful lips cleansed with that hot coal...asked his heavenly court, “whom shall I send?”…..the whole point of all that God did here was to get Isaiah’s feet ‘a-moving, away from himself, out to his neighbors, to share with them the best news ever:  that God is making us and the whole creation new!

On this Trinity Sunday 2015, we know how this saga has played out and how it continues to play out in the realm of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We experience the awe of standing always in the presence of God the Father Almighty.  We behold the majesty of God that puts God in his proper place and us in our proper place.

Standing in awe of God’s majesty, we confess all the ways we and everyone else fail to measure up.  We confess our sin only because in Jesus Christ we have come to know that the God of majesty is also the God of supreme mercy, who would rather die for us (as Jesus poured out his life on the Cross for us!) so that our sin might be blotted out, our guilt burned away by the refining fire of God the Son.

And the point, the goal of all that, is that God the Holy Spirit who saves us from sin, might send us as Isaiah was sent.   You, my dear sisters and brothers, are the way the mission of God encounters your neighbors to make them and all things new in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.


[1]   Paul Weston, Lesslie Newbigin:  Missionary Theologian, A Reader (Eerdmans, 2006), p. 50.

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