Trinity Sunday (NL2) John B. Valentine
Isaiah 6:1-8 June 7, 2020
“SO CLOSE AND YET SO FAR?”
Truth be told ... I don’t myself remember that “day the music died.”
I wasn’t alive that day ... but I’ve heard about it a time or two or three ...
That February the 5th in 1959 day when three budding stars of an emerging musical genre called ‘rock and roll’ ... Richie Valens and Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper ... boarded a small plane amid a snow storm ... and were killed when it crashed near Clear Lake, Iowa.
But I suspect some of you may know WHY I know about that day.
You see ... there was a musician by the name of Don MacLean who marked his life by that event.
And Don MacLean wrote a song about that day ... and about how his life was changed by the death of those he held in high regard.
Do you remember that song?
So ... bye, bye ... Miss American Pie,
Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.
Those good old boys was drinking whiskey and rye,
Singing “This ‘ll be the day that I die.”
The day ... the music ... died.
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Now what I want you to do today is hold that image ... that image of a young man grieving of the death of his heroes ... in your mind’s eye ... and think back on that lesson that we heard read from the book of the prophet Isaiah.
How did that lesson begin?
“In the year that King Uzziah died.”
Big deal ... you’re thinking to yourself ... “I’ve never heard of anybody named ‘King Uzziah’.”
But think about it this way:
∙ King Uzziah was the only king that Isaiah ... and many other of the Israelites ... had probably ever known.
∙ King Uzziah had ruled for more than four decades when he died ... and his rule was marked by both peace and prosperity.
And the news of the death of King Uzziah was something that the people of Israel marked the days of their lives by:
∙ Not unlike the way Don MacLean marked the days of his life at the news of the death of Buddy Holly ...
∙ In a certain way ... not unlike the way some people still mark their lives around a date we celebrated just yesterday ... June 6th, 1944 ... D-Day.
• Maybe ... in a certain way ... not unlike how our nation ... years from now ... may mark itself around these days we’re living through right now ... as we recall stories of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery and COVID-19.
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You see ... there are certain events that sometimes shake the foundations of the our existence ...
Be they public ... communal events ... like:
• The assassination of John F. Kennedy ... or
• That of Martin Luther King ... or
• The explosion of the space shuttle Challenger ... or
• September 11, 2001 ...
Or be they private ... personal ... events ... like:
• The death of a loved one ... or
• The demise of a relationship ... or
• The invasion of our body by a cancer.
Because ... somehow ... events like that ... be they public or private ... communal or personal ... they cause us to take inventory of who we are and where we’re at ... and where we’ve been and where we’re headed.
Events like that can give us cause ... and pause ... to wonder ... .whether there is ultimately ANYTHING solid ... and whether or not there is ANYONE to hold on to.
That ... folks ... that IS Isaiah’s question.
It’s what HE wanted to know when his world had been turned upside down.
And maybe it’s a question that’s reared its head in our own lives in recent days:
∙ Is the God of heaven and earth ... the God who is the almighty -- omnipotent -- ruler of the universe ... near enough to hold us when times get tough?
∙ And is the God of compassion ... the God who is “merciful, slow-to-anger, and abounding in steadfast love” ... is that God strong enough to hold us when times get tough?
But ... given those questions ... what is the answer?
Let’s take a look ........
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First off ... what happens? What’s the text say?
“In the year that King Uzziah died ... I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty ... and the hem of his robe filled the temple.”
In the anxiety created by King Uzziah’s death ... the prophet Isaiah does what many people do ... he turns to things of faith.
And there he encounters ... there he experiences God ... as the ruler of all that is.
Isaiah encounters the AWESOMENESS ... the grandeur ... OF GOD
In other words ... the first thing that Isaiah discovers is the conviction that no matter how uncertain ... how threatening ... how painful ... things may be for him and for his people right now ... that the world in which he lives is still God’s world ... that God is still God.
Isaiah discovers ... like the words of that old familiar hymn declare:
This is my Father’s world, O let me not forget,
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet!
You see ... when we remember the awesomeness of God ... the TRANSCENDENCE of God ... when we believe that God is the ruler yet ... we are armed with a defense against despair.
Sure ... the absence of a loved one ... or the stress of a grave illness ... or the black hole of depression ... or some crisis within the community may still very well be fearsome ...
But it is not ultimate ... it is not the end-all ... the all-in-all ........ BECAUSE GOD IS STILL GOD.
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But ... you know ... as important as the transcendence of God may be for us when times get tough ... that not the only thing we need to know.
The immanence ... the nearness ... of God ... is equally – if not even MORE – important.
∙ Yes ... it is incredibly vital for us to know that God is in control and able ultimately to make sense out of things even when we cannot ...
∙ But it is no less vital to know that God cares.
Otherwise ... we may find ourselves confronted by a God who is strong enough to hold us ... but not NEAR ENOUGH to hold us!
So it is key for us to see what happens NEXT in the text.
Did you notice that?
• After Isaiah encounters the awesome transcendent “beyondness” of God ...
• After Isaiah hear the angels in heaven sing “Holy, holy, holy” ... and feels the foundation of the earth itself shake ...
• After Isaiah says “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips ... yet my eyes have seen the LORD of hosts!” ...
What happens then?
Then ... the text says ... an angel comes and touches his lips with a burning coal and announces “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”
In other words ...
The God who is high ... comes down low.
The God who is far away in power ... comes near in cleansing love.
The God who is transcendent ... becomes palpably near.
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Any of you ever grow up in a house with a basement?
Now ... I don’t know exactly how old I was at the time ... but I do remember that there was a certain time in my life when I really didn’t WANT to go to the basement all alone.
A time when ... if I had to go down to the basement ... the dimly-lit basement ...I wanted Dad or Mom to go with me.
It wasn’t enough that they be there at the top of the stairs while I descended to the dark and dreary basement all alone ...
I wanted one of my parents RIGHT THERE ... down in the basement with me.
I didn’t just want my parents up there ... at a distance ... being transcendent and all ...
I wanted them imminent ... there at my side.
And I suspect that is what Isaiah wanted ... and what on occasion we all want ... from God.
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I don’t know whether we’ve made a big enough deal about it today for you realize it or not ... but today ... on the church calendar ... is the day we call “Trinity Sunday”.
Today is a day for us to think about “theology” ... a day for us to bring into focus the God whom we have come to know as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Today is a day intended for us to rediscover something about both the nearness and the beyondness of God.
You see ... if we want to grow in our awareness and our understanding of God ... we have to constantly rediscover that the God who is revealed to us in Jesus is BOTH near AND beyond.
Or ... as Martin Luther said over again and again in his explanation to the Ten Commandments ... “We are to fear and love God.”
For when we give too much weight to the beyondness of God ... our religious experience becomes cold and remote.
But when we give too much weight to the nearness of God .... our religious experience becames perhaps too warm and too shallow.
∙ Because faith that is too highly objective may yield a lot of strength ... but very little comfort.
∙ And faith that is too highly subjective may yield a whole lot of comfort ... but very little strength.
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My earnest hope for all of us this Trinity Sunday ... and really truly EVERY day ... is that you might know:
That fear AND that love ...
That strength AND that comfort ...
The transcendence AND the imminence ...
The beyondness ... and the nearness ... OF GOD!
So let us confess our faith this Trinity Sunday ... using the words of the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.