Holy, Holy, Holy!

“Holy, Holy, Holy!”

Isa 6-3 sanctus-holy-holy-holy

Isaiah 6:1-8 (6:3) – May 27, 2018

Today is Trinity Sunday. In the children’s message, we talked about a straightforward way of understanding the Trinity. The theological concept of the Trinity is an idea that has been and still is misunderstood—for centuries. Christians and non-Christians alike just plain do not understand it. Even knowledgeable ministers and bible scholars have problems talking about it clearly. That is one reason the children’s message about the concept of the Trinity was stated the way it was.

The simple idea behind the children’s message is an idea that can work for us adults, too.

Jesus said to approach Him as little children. He was talking to adults at that particular time. He meant that piece of advice to go for His disciples, His followers, and anyone else who was thinking about following Him. This can work in terms of the theological idea of the Trinity, as well. What’s a good way to talk or think about the Trinity?

One of my favorite commentators, Carolyn Brown, observes Trinity Sunday as one of her favorite Sundays of the year. She says: “It is God Sunday. The call is not to explain God but to celebrate God’s mysterious, more-than-we-can-ever-explain presence.  What could be better!” [1]

As we consider God’s unsearchable mystery and God’s awe-inspiring power and might, we all can look at God from a child’s point of view. We might even think about “the unanswerable questions people of all ages ask about God, such as but definitely not limited to:

  • What was God doing before God created the world?
  • How can there never be a time before or after God?
  • How can God pay attention to each person in the world all the time?” [2]
  • Why did God create rattlesnakes and mosquitoes? Along with spiders, sharks, viruses, earthquakes, and volcanos?

 

Let’s look at the Hebrew Scriptures. There have been hints of the Trinity from the very beginning. Think of the first chapter of Genesis. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And, the beginning of the Gospel of John that starts “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God.”

Imagine a universe still and dark. Imagine a solar system just before it was going to spring into being, with nothing hung in space—yet. Imagine a place where the earth will orbit, but nothing there, yet. Except—the spirit of God—the Holy Spirit hovering, ready to hold the newly-born earth in loving embrace. Imagine the Word, the Logos, the creative force of God, speaking forth the whole of creation with astronomical power and might. Not only the earth, but also our solar system. Not only our solar system, but all other solar systems. And stars. And meteor showers. And quasars, and black holes, and everything else that is in the universe.

Traditionally speaking, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit had differently described roles in different expressions of the creation of the universe.   

As we look more closely at both of these passages, Genesis 1 and John 1, we see God created the universe in the beginning. Genesis tells us that God spoke, and the world came into being. The Word, the Logos, the pre-Incarnate Son was the powerful Word spoken at the beginning of all things. And then, the Holy Spirit—or the spirit of God—described as moving over the surface of the waters, holding the earth secure. Can you begin to understand what a mind-blowing image that was?

We continue to get glimpses of this Triune God in our sermon passage for this morning, where the prophet Isaiah has a sweeping, magnificent vision of the heavenly Temple of God.

“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.

                    As Isaiah describes it with vivid word pictures, I think his vision sounds fearsome, and glorious, and terrifying. But, that’s not all! “And the angels 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.”

This passage from Isaiah 6 contains important liturgical language:. Did you recognize that language? “Holy, Holy, Holy!” This is called “the Sanctus. The song is an acclamation from the congregation honoring the presence of the Lord. The minister celebrating communion has just said, “The Lord be with you… lift up your hearts… let us give thanks…” and then prayed a prayer of acknowledgment (the Preface) for what God has done in language that calls up the time of the church year.”

We find out more—in another way—about how great and mighty and powerful this God is, by looking at the Psalm passage from today’s lectionary.

Psalm 29 deals with the mighty powers of God in nature and in the crashing sounds, stunning displays and fearsome descriptions Eileen read to us.  “For the psalmist, the storm is a symbol not of the power of nature, but rather of the power and sovereignty of Israel’s God. Seven, the number of completeness, is significant [in this psalm]. Israel’s God is completely powerful and ultimately sovereign. There can be no competing claims.” [3] Just in case anyone was wondering, that is. God is the ultimate in power, majesty and glory.

In the New Testament, God the Word, God the Logos becomes incarnate; He is born and grows to adulthood as the son of Mary, Jesus the Messiah. Jesus the Anointed One, the Lamb of God chosen before the foundations of the earth, the Prince of Peace revealed to us in the Gospels of the New Testament.

Remember last week, when we celebrated Pentecost, the birthday of the Church? That was the expected coming of the Holy Spirit in each believer’s life, in great power and might. The Holy Spirit blew powerfully into the lives of the assembled persons praying. The Holy Spirit ignited their hearts and minds to go forth and tell others about the might and power of God, in raising Jesus from the dead with resurrection power, and saving us from our sins.   

Is there any wonder that we are likely to fall on our knees as we sing the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy?” As we consider the word holy the most special and important, set-apart, and awesome aspect of God. We reflect on the Trinity as we sing this hymn:

First, we praise God. Second, everyone in heaven praises God. Third, even though we do not fully understand God, we praise God anyway!.And last, everyone and everything on earth praises God. [4]

There are not enough superlatives to even begin to describe God. We do not have enough glorious, magnificent words fit to praise God. Our vocabulary falls far short.

Why don’t we consider the words of the heavenly beings in Isaiah 6, and close today with the words of the angels from Isaiah 6: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of God’s glory.”

Amen. Alleluia. Praise be to the Trinity, Eternal One in Three, Three in One.

[1] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/04/year-b-trinity-sunday-may-31-2015.html

Worshiping with Children, Trinity Sunday, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2015.

[2] Ibid, Worshiping with Children.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2453   Commentary, Psalm 29, J. Clinton McCann, Trinity Sunday, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

[4] Ibid, Worshiping with Children.

 

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

God’s Dwelling Place

“God’s Dwelling Place”

Rev 21-6 Alpha and Omega

Revelation 21:1-6 – April 24, 2016

It’s spring! It is finally spring! Bushes and trees are budding, the grass is greening up, the spring flowers are in full display. After the long, cold winter, everything finally is blooming and budding—showing signs of green, fresh, new life.

It seems like it’s been a long, long time since we have seen the last leaves fall from the trees, last year—in the autumn of the year. This past week I read several books to the four and five year old children at Kids Academy about trees. In one book, I read about what happens to trees during the winter. They certainly appear dead, from the outside. But now in spring time, life starts shifting into forward motion. Full speed ahead, with the new growing season!

Imagine the newness of spring, of exactly this time of year, with everything outside budding and blossoming and growing. See that in your mind’s eye. Now, imagine it, 100 times bigger and better. No, 1000 times bigger and better! Now we’re getting the beginnings of an idea of what the new heavens and the new earth are like. That’s a little of what Eugene Peterson meant when he wrote his translation of Revelation 21:1; “I saw Heaven and earth new-created. Gone the first Heaven, gone the first earth, gone the sea.”

Doesn’t it say somewhere that “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good?” As the book of Genesis tells us, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, and God created everything good.

God gave humanity the world and everything in it for us to enjoy. It is all a gift, everything, for us to enjoy together with God. Not only that, God wants to be in relationship with us. Can you imagine, daily strolls through beautiful gardens, in the cool of the evening? That’s just the picture that is painted for us by Genesis chapter 3.

You all know the plot line. God did have a close relationship with Adam and Eve. Then, one day, God came looking for Adam and Eve, but what happened? Sin happened. That relationship was fractured. Humanity was separated from God by sin. Now, today too, I am separated from God by my sin. We all are separated from God. Alienated from God.

When the world was created, everything was created very good. God says so, at the end of Genesis 1. Beautiful, glorious, magnificent Earth was created, and humans were placed on it to be good stewards of the Earth, and to take good care of it. But, we all know what happened. Sin happened. Not only we—us humans—were separated from God, but something catastrophic happened to the Earth, too. The world has been suffering from the catastrophe of sin, inside and out, ever since.

Another word for sin is separation. I know I sin. I displease God. And when I sin, I am separated from God. I feel it. I know I am alienated from God. I feel intense sadness, sorrow, and longing to be back in relationship with God. (And with other humans, too.)

This separation and alienation is a problem. Not only for you and for me, but for the Earth, too. The Bible is not specific on this point, but when Jesus died on the cross, the gospel of Matthew tells us that the Earth shook and the rocks were split. Somehow, the Earth knew when the Son of God died. The Earth reacted when the Creator of the heavens and the Earth died.

Thank God that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, became a human being. Just like us. Thank God that Jesus reconciled us to God, so that we don’t have to be separated from God for eternity. And, this passage from Revelation reminds us that the world is going to be renewed, reconciled to God. The Earth is going to become that fresh, new, spring green place that it once was.

Remember, the book of Revelation was written by John. This book of amazing, fantastical visions was written for our edification and to help us get ready for things to come in the future. When you read this passage, this description in Revelation 21, what is your reaction? Do you think this description is pie in the sky? Is it way, way far-fetched? Or, is it a blessed promise of things to come?

Let’s read more from Eugene Peterson’s translation. Starting with verse 3: I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.”

That doesn’t sound like this crazy, messed-up world, at all. Does it? Especially the part with God moving into the neighborhood!

How would you like God—the Lord God Almighty, who created the heavens and the earth—to live in your neighborhood? On your block? Across the street, or maybe even living right next door?  For some, it’s a scary, daunting thought.

Some bible scholars say that cities—like Chicago—are scary! Sometimes, they are. Dark, dreary, dangerous places, where sin, evil, violence and alienation reign, and keep the good Christian folk huddling inside their homes and buildings. However, that is not the case here. John tells his readers that the New Jerusalem is a bright, shining city! The city of God, where God dwells. That’s God settling down, getting comfy in our very own neighborhood!

The commentator Dana Ferguson describes urban settings and cities in a fascinating way: she talks of cities being places of cooperation, interdependence and welcome. (See Feasting on the Word Year C, Vol. 2). Let’s go with that description, and think like that. What a positive, encouraging way to think of the Heavenly City, the New Jerusalem.

Yes, this bible passage provides a vision of the future, of where we’re going. These descriptive words tell how wonderful it will be. Not only a bright, shining city, but also a welcoming snapshot of what God has promised to us. And, just think. That’s where God is settling down. As Peterson translated, “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women!”

Theologian Frederich Buechner gave a telling response: “What does it mean to be ‘with God’? To say that a person is ‘with it’ is slang for saying that whether he’s playing an electric guitar or just watching the clouds roll by, he’s so caught up in what he’s doing and so totally himself while he’s doing it that there’s none of him left over to be doing anything else . . . In other words, to live Eternal Life in the full and final sense is to be with God as Christ is with him, and with each other as Christ is with us.” [1] [italics mine]

Let’s enlarge that vision to include all of Earth. Have you ever thought of caring for the Earth as caring for God’s creation? We just celebrated Earth Day on Friday. Earth Day is a day of responsibility and caring for this wonderful world. And, it serves as a tangible reminder of God’s unconditional love, extended toward all humanity.

We can celebrate God’s love, God’s presence with us, and the gift of God’s creation.

Sometimes, I hear language like, “Jesus lives in my heart.” Or, “My heart, Christ’s home.” Is it, really? How welcome is Jesus Christ in my heart? Am I generous and kind with my heart and my attitude, or does Jesus feel unwelcome when He knocks at the door of our hearts? Great question! An intriguing thing to think about. Sometimes, a serious thing to think about.

I know, I know. We aren’t there yet. The new heavens and the new earth are not here, yet.  However—what are we going to do with these Bible words in this in-between time? How can these words from Scripture impact our lives, today?

We can take these words as hopeful, encouraging words: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women!”  We can celebrate God’s presence right by our sides, today. Now, in the in-between time, and at the time of the new creation, too.

Alleluia, amen!

(Thanks to Kathryn M. Matthews and her online commentary, Sermon Seeds, http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_april_24_2016 Several of the ideas in this sermon were used in Kathryn’s article.)

[1] Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC by Frederick Buechner, Harper & Row, 1973, 21-23.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!)