The Holy Trinity (Isaiah 6:1-8; John 3:1-17)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

The Holy Trinity + June 16, 2019

Text: Isaiah 6:1-8; John 3:1-17

In the course of our lives, there are people we come across who are worthy of respect, who we look up to.  One that comes to mind for me is the technical director at my community college.  As I was just getting started in theater, he was an influential mentor.  He taught me the value of teamwork, dedication, and attention to detail.  He handled the logistics of getting performances in motion, and he was a teacher at heart.  I looked up to him and even aspired to the same work when I was done with school.

You have your own examples of role models—teachers, supervisors, or commanders whom you have respected and have inspired you.  It’s a privilege to learn from them and work for them.  Sometimes their influence can even change the course of your life.

While we all have different examples of those respectable leaders, there is One whom all of us “work for” and who inspires and teaches us: He is the Lord of Hosts.  Here’s how the prophet Isaiah met Him:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

                      “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;

                      the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Isaiah got immediately dropped in the boss’ office (so to speak)—and he was rightly terrified at the sight!  Even the holy angels who serve in the Lord’s presence cover their faces!  How much less does a impure man of dust belong!  But in response to Isaiah’s terrified, true confession, the Mighty One made peace with Him and declared Him worthy to be in the presence of the Most High:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

The fear of condemnation and destruction is removed, so that this man can stand in the presence of the Holy, Triune God.  But then there’s an amazing turn!  And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”  Isaiah—who just moments before feared eternal destruction—now eagerly volunteers to serve the Lord!  And that, even before he finds out what the job is!

This is the same awesome, holy God we worship here.  He is Thrice Holy, and He dwells in unapproachable light.[1]  Yet, He has cleansed us by His Word and washed us in body and soul.  This is the God who has come down to us in the flesh and said, “You are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you.”[2]  Not only be safe in His presence, but abide in him, the Holy One of Israel!

Having been cleansed, this is the same God we serve in our various vocations—husbands and wives, children and siblings, employees and managers, citizens, hearers of the Word.  All that we do is in service to our Lord, as St. Paul explains in Colossians: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality.”[3]  Where ever and whatever He calls us to, the one on whom His peace rests replies, “Here am I! Send me!” 

Yet, we serve a God who is beyond our understanding.  Being in His service, we may begin to think we understand Him better than others.  As the saying goes, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”  Maybe not always contempt, but a lack of fear.  In the Gospel for today, we hear of Nicodemus, who was a Pharisee and teacher of Israel: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”  He was sure he knew the things of God.  After all, he was a Pharisee who studied the Law of God day and night.  He knew the Torah and the Psalms by heart!

However, he was humbled by the Lord to learn he didn’t know as much as he imagined.  Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”  So much for being an expert on the things of God!  Not only did he have to go back to school—he had to go back to the womb and be born again!

It’s ironic that they issue pastors a “Master of Divinity” degree.  One lesson we should take from Nicodemus, the teacher of Israel, is that God has no Master and He cannot be studied and dissected.  He cannot be fit into nicely organized categories or domesticated for our fulfillment.  Whenever we, the creatures, think we have a leg up on Him, we find that we are the ones who are under His gaze: “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.”[4]

It’s true for every Christian when we find ourselves thinking we have a handle on “our religion.”  It’s about going to church, living a good life.  You support the good causes and oppose the bad.  Basically, we learn how to talk the Jesus talk and walk the Jesus walk.  We know more about God than unbelievers.

But do we really?  If we think we’re so wise, why don’t we explain the Trinity to someone?  Go and explain God’s justice to people who have lost everything in a tornado.  Try to argue exact dates for the age of creation, when the flood is, where the dinosaurs are, and how the Grand Canyon was formed.  When we try to tackle things like that, we run into the fact that God is infinite, immortal, omnipotent, and we are dust.

And that’s just the way it should be, because we are His creatures: “He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, the sheep of his hand.”[5]  There’s nothing greater that we can be!  This great and awesome Triune God we serve has all knowledge and upholds the universe by His powerful Word.[6]  But this same God who has spoken to us by His Son.  And of all majestic and sublime things He could tell us of, this is what He says: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  God speaks and the world is created; He speaks and you are forgiven and given victory over death and eternal life with Him; His Spirit brings you to believe this good news and will raise you on the Last Day.  We truly serve an awesome God, here in time and hereafter for eternity.  Amen.

[1] 1 Timothy 6:16

[2] John 15:3, see also John 13:7-10

[3] Colossians 3:23-25

[4] Psalm 11:4

[5] Psalm 95:7

[6] Hebrews 1:3