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In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
CCI: To encounter God is to be challenged to change.
Intro: Today is the first Sunday after Pentecost. Today is the day that Christian churches around the world celebrate Trinity Sunday. For those of you who find the doctrine of the Trinity confusing, let me quote a summary of what the Trinity is:
The Christian doctrine of the Trinity holds that God is one but three coeternal consubstantial persons or hypostases —the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit—as “one God in three Divine Persons”. The three Persons are distinct, yet are one “substance, essence or nature” (homoousios). In this context, a “nature” is what one is, whereas a “person” is who one is.
According to this central mystery of most Christian faiths, there is only one God in three Persons: while distinct from one another in their relations of origin (as the Fourth Council of the Lateran declared, “it is the Father who generates, the Son who is begotten, and the Holy Spirit who proceeds”) and in their relations with one another, they are stated to be one in all else, co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial, and each is God, whole and entire. Accordingly, the whole work of creation and grace in Christianity is seen as a single operation common to all three divine persons, in which each shows forth what is proper to him in the Trinity, so that all things are “from the Father”, “through the Son” and “in the Holy Spirit”.
Did that clear up any confusion you may have had? The belief in the Trinity has been central to orthodox Christianity since the 3rd century. But the way God’s nature, as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer has been described and understood through history has evolved.
Even from the beginning God has been understood to exist in community. “Let us create humankind in our image” God said at creation. The Book of Job opens in the Throne room of God at a time when all the sons of God gathered before God. In the Psalms YHWH gathers an assembly of the gods and declares that they will die because they have not defended the weak and the fatherless; or upheld the cause of the poor and the oppressed (Ps 81). And in the passage we read this morning, the question from God is: “Who will I send and who will go for us?” These early traditions point to the truth that God exists in community, a truth that the early church later identified as “Trinity”. To understand, or to fully explain the community we know as God, is beyond our human minds, but the need of every human to be a part of community is a shadow of God’s nature and being.
And in the words of Forest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”
In Isaiah 6 we read of the Call of God in Isaiah’s life. Isaiah was a priest who served in the temple. He was not a commoner, in fact, some commentators suggest he may have been a cousin of King Uzziah.
King Uzziah had been a stabilizing influence in the nation throughout his 52 year reign. The nation was prosperous, and under the tutelage of the prophet Zechariah, he had walked with God through most of his life. So, when Uzziah died, it hit the country very hard.
Isaiah, a priest in Jerusalem, entered the temple to mourn the king’s death and to pray for the nation.
As he prayed, the earthly temple opened into the heavenly throne room of God. And there Isaiah experienced a vision of the majesty of God.
Isaiah’s vision was splendid. It was filled with angels who would not try to supersede God. The vision shook the very foundation of everything Isaiah believed, it shook the foundations of the temple. The vision recalled to Isaiah’s mind the holiness of God and as the heavenly court declared “Holy, Holy, Holy is YHWH, the almighty, creation is filled with the glory of God!”
Isaiah looked on this scene with awe. His whole being was shaken.
And as Isaiah, the priest, the honorable man who lead others in worship, the man who was honored with a personal relationship with the King, this man who had called the nation to God, suddenly found himself befog God and realized he was lost.
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” These were his words of confession, repentance and restoration. Isaiah had received a glimpse of God and he knew that nothing could ever be the same again.
And God heard his prayer, God sent a messenger who took a coal from the very altar of incense and with the fire of that sacrifice, Isaiah’s lips were purified.
And then, and only then, only after Isaiah had been touched by God, God asked the one question that really mattered: “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” This was God’s call. Following that encounter with God, we know what Isaiah did. He said, “Here am I, send me.”
And God sent him, and God gave him a difficult message. And God went with him every step of the way. When Isaiah encountered God, Isaiah was challenged to change. Much of Isaiah’s message reflects this vision. Having encountered God, Isaiah the priest became Isaiah the prophet with a message that he had to share.
Now I can hear you saying, “That is a fine story, Pastor. Isaiah must have been a special person for God to appear to him like that. But, what does that have to do with me. I do not ever expect to have a vision where God burns the evil from my lips.” And you make a good point. Isaiah’s encounter with God was extraordinary. And in fact whenever people in the scripture encountered the glory of God like that, they all responded the same way. Moses removed his shoes; Joshua surrendered to the Captain of YHWH’s army; Zechariah was struck silent, and John the Revelator fell to his knees in worship.
But God does not appear only though glory and a resplendent throne room. With Adam, God walked in the cool of the evening; with Elijah, God spoke through a gentle whisper; for the Psalmist, God was encountered while gazing at the stars; for the writer of Proverbs, God’s ways were revealed through the ants; and in Jesus we encounter God as Jesus interacts with women and lepers and children and outcasts. Here is what we must not miss: Every time a person encountered God, they were challenged to change, to repent, to obey, to share, to speak, to act, to write, or to go.
In short, whenever, a person encountered God through the scriptures and throughout history, they faced a crisis of obedience, they had to decide, would they change, would they repent, would they obey, would they go. Some said, “No!” The young man who came to Jesus to ask about living in God’s Kingdom, refused to sell what he had. The people to whom Isaiah preached refused to listen. Many in the crowds who heard Jesus turned on him and called for his execution. But they all faced a crisis of belief, they were pushed to a moment of decision.
And we are too.
Isaiah’s encounter with God occurred while he was at worship. That is a pretty good time and place to encounter God. When you gather to worship with other believers, you will encounter God. It may be through prayer, it may be through hymns, it may be through scripture, it may be through silence, I don’t know, but you will encounter God. At that moment, the question each of us face is, “How will I respond to God in this moment?”
Of course, worship is not the only place we will encounter God. Jesus said we encounter him when we see a hungry person, or a stranger, or, dare I say, an immigrant, or a transgendered woman sharing the love of God on the front lawn of the Baptist church. When we encounter God we always face the question, “How will I respond to God in this moment?”
When we, with the Psalmist, encounter God through the heavens on a dark night, how will we be changed by God’s glory? When a true friend helps us see our sins, will we hear God’s call to repentance? When we encounter community, at a fire pit, at an everyday party, at a farmer’s Market or a Sunday school class, we are in fact, encountering the nature of the Triune God. How will we respond to God’s call?
Throughout this Summer, we are going to be challenged to taste and see that God is good. Isaiah experienced a taste of God that took his breath away. Ah, friends, I would suggest that whenever we encounter God, even in the most unexpected ways, it will take our breath away if we are willing to say yes to that taste of God.
Last night, my son’s best friend, Brian wrote a statement to the world that said, “I ate a sushi burrito tonight. Some insane person created this. I love insane people.”
I could not help myself, I wrote back and said, “That looks and sounds really something. . . I guess insane is the word. Was it good?”
And Brian said, “YEEEEEAH!”
I gotta tell you, if I had encountered a sushi burrito, I probably would have decided that it was not for me. But apparently if I had, I would have missed out on an insane taste.
I think our encounters with God are similar. Sometimes we look at a person or a situation and quickly say, “That’s not for me.” But, when we do, we miss out on the insane Goodness that God longs to release in our lives. So I challenge you, Taste and See that God is Good.