Invited into the Holy Trinity

May 31, 2015

Bible Text: Isaiah 6:1-8 |

In the 1970s, life in Northern Ireland was complex and frightening. It was the height of the Troubles, as it was known, the violent collisions between Catholic Ireland and Protestant pro-British Ulster. Bombings were frequent as were targeted assassinations. And, of course, the great, disgusting irony of it all was that Northern Ireland was an extraordinarily religious culture. It was religious in all the best and the worst ways. There were aspects of their faith that were truly admirable and praise-worthy. And there were aspects of their faith that were simply diabolical.

And into the midst of this deep religiosity, a most surprising thing happened: a charismatic renewal movement. It was like Pentecost all over again: people were speaking in tongues; there were prophecies and miraculous healings. It was like these sincerely religious people had suddenly been slapped in the face with the realization that they were dealing with a real God. And here was the beautiful thing: it crossed all denominational boundaries and drew them together because there was no religious tradition in Northern Ireland that had a living memory of the Holy Spirit. No one could claim the experience for their tribe of faith. Suddenly, there was cross-fertilization all over the place: Catholic nuns were praying with Presbyterian house wives and it was a thing of glory…of unity and life.

And the experience of this living, intimate, present God drew people across the land into a posture of repentance – repentance for their sectarianism and bigotry, their fear and violence. It is a common response that when people have a profound experience of the presence of God and God’s glory, that they are intuitively drawn to some form of healthy repentance.

That is what we see in the Isaiah reading this morning. Isaiah was a faithful, obedient man. But when he had his vision of the glory of God filling the temple, his automatic response was to shout 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” (Isaiah 6:5)!

By the standards of his culture, Isaiah was a legitimately righteousness man. But it was nothing when compared to the splendor of God’s holiness. When Isaiah says he is a man of unclean lips, I don’t know if he was referring to some specific sin and guilt that he had spoken, or simply that – compared with what he was witnessing – none of his prayers or prophecies of God seemed even remotely adequate. By contrast they were like sin.

And I wonder about us, here in Gig Harbor, at St. John’s. To what degree are we simply religious: good citizens who are familiar and comfortable with church and our religious practices? (Well, that is until we have a liturgical dancer suddenly show up in our midst!) But, by and large, we know what to expect of religion and we’re content with that.

But are we ever encountering God in our lives, in real, fall-on-your face ways?

Now, to be clear, we can no more force God into revealing God’s self to us than we could pull a rabbit out of a hat. But I do believe that we can position ourselves in such a way that opens us up to being mindful of the presence of God.

I lived in Northern Ireland in the late nineties. For a short time I lived and worked on the Shankhill Road, a working-class, Protestant neighborhood that had known tremendous violence over the years. It was wintertime when I lived there, dark and dreary. I lived alone in a small house and was too poor to keep the coal fire going during the day, which meant the water tank never heated, so neither did the radiators. When I’d come home from work, the house was damp and freezing. I’d light the coal fireplace, but it was never enough to heat the house, and so I wore my heavy, wool coat indoors, huddled in front of the fire.

Those were not happy days. I was in a season of transition; I was moody and bored and lonesome, and … do you know… I wouldn’t trade them for the world. Night after night as I sat before the fire, I stared longingly at the glowing coals that were pulsating with energy and light … and I was mesmerized by them. And – in some instinctive way – I almost wanted to eat them. Now, I knew I wasn’t in danger of actually eating them, but I did allow my emotions to feel fully their innate desire for them. It was strange, I know, but I knew there was something significant going on. Over time I was able to discern that what I was feeling towards those glowing coals was my elemental craving for the holiness of God – a holiness pulsating with energy and light. And although I had been a “good Christian” for years, I now knew my desire for God in a very different way – different and yet familiar, for that longing has been in each of us since the beginning.

Our problem is we live in a culture and society that doesn’t honor or foster any kind of reflection and introspection. We have given ourselves over entirely to amusement of one sort or another. It’s as if our hands are always gripping some kind of remote control that will distract us from our minds and our hearts.

As parents, we overschedule our kids’ free time so that they lose the virtue and creative potential of boredom.

As adults we shop or watch TV or stream movies, or simply whittle away hours in the mind-numbing maze of the internet, in a way that can never bring us to any satisfactory conclusion.

I was horrified by something I read in the Atlantic this month. The editors posed this question to several authors:

What current behavior will be most unthinkable 100 years hence? And one author responded, Sadness. Drug companies will have developed an over-the-counter, side-effect-free pill that combats the feeling. People will swallow this pill casually, in the same way they take Advil, when they feel the first glimmers of melancholy. It will have no stigma and will be as common and unexamined as the Band-Aids and Tylenol in every medicine cabinet.

I don’t know if the writer was being wistful or sarcastic, but either way it is a valid reflection of our culture’s priorities: take the easiest route to eliminate any trace of sadness or melancholy in your life.

God forbid! We need boredom and sadness and discontent in our lives. That is where longing is birthed, where visions are dreamed. That is where clarity and resolve come from.

And, hear me, I’m not talking about depression or anxiety for which medication can be truly helpful. I’m talking about run-of-the-mill, everyday sadness and discontent. Those can be our allies in discerning what we long for in this life.

And for all people, of all personality types, at the core of that longing is our desire for God and relationship with God – not the boring-old-white-man-God, but the fall-on-your-face-woe-is-me-God, the glowing-coal-on-your-lips-God, the living and vital and glorious God who is the source of all life, the embodiment of all beauty, the truth of all righteousness, the peace beyond all fearing, and the unity of all being. This is our God.

And for this substantial and worthy God were we made and to this God are we to be united. For it is the nature of God to draw all things unto himself, to be at once many and one. When we speak of Trinity it is not short-hand for some kind of theological riddle to be explained by clever people. Trinity is the mystery of relatedness that stands at the core of God’s being. God is a community of fellowship that has been revealed to us Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

And this is our faith: that God draws us into God’s holiness. And though we should fall before God’s glory crying “Woe is me!” – God takes this glory, takes the burning goals from the altar, and touches our lips with them saying, “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” We may cry in shame when we perceive our shabbiness in the light of God, but when God’s holiness encounters us it is with mercy and healing. And it is God’s holiness that will prevail, transforming us into God’s likeness. And so we shall be drawn into the holiness and unity of God.

That Trinity of being will forever be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And it will also be Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Betty and Cathy and Bob and all God’s people. The mystery of the Trinity is the unfathomable – yet fully desirable – reality that God is one, but of an ever-widening oneness that shall embrace all God’s beloved.

And that transcendent God before whom we fall, crying, “Woe is me” shall also be the God to whom we cry in intimate, comfortable peace, “Abba, Father!” For you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and join heirs with Christ (Romans 8:15b-17a).

Do not be satisfied with mere religion, such as it is. And by no means allow all your days and evenings to be filled with the distraction of many amusements. They are not sin. But nor are they God. And you were made for God. Foster quiet, even to the point of boredom and discontent. For the boredom and discontent it reveals will be just that – the revealing of something that has been in you all along, but thinly veiled by your distractions. Let the discomfort announce itself, then offer it to God with the very appropriate prayer, “Do something about this.”

I believe that to be the kind of prayer which our Father is pleased to answer, and indeed has been answering for a long, long time. For God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him (John 3:17).

And so we are being saved. We have been made joint heirs with Christ, adopted by God our Father.

So come, join the dance of Trinity, for it is a dance that has made room for you.

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