In the Presence of God

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes, Vicar
First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday/Year B
Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17
May 26, 2024

In the name of the undivided Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

“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!’” (Isa 6:8)

Isaiah chapter six, verses 1-8, is unsurprisingly, one of two Old Testament lessons appointed in the liturgy for the Ordination of a Priest. I chose this lesson to be read at my own priesting. I suspect that this passage is chosen because those who feel called to the priesthood may also recognize their own voice, as I did, in Isaiah’s desperate cry, “I am lost…I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen…the Lord of hosts!”

I ran away from my call to the priesthood for years. When I finally surrendered, and recognized the reality of my own human sinful nature, I had my own “live coal” experience touching my mouth, assuring me that my guilt had departed, and my sin blotted out. In that liminal space, the healing property of liberation was bestowed upon me, giving me the courage to answer God’s call, whether or not I felt worthy or capable, with, “Here am I; send me!” 

In our Old Testament lesson, the Prophet Isaiah recounts his first vision of God in the temple which ignited him to prophesy to God’s people.  Isaiah’s vision had everything that a blockbuster fantasy, suspense movie might have—the larger than human life deity sitting on a throne and the other-worldly, winged creatures, seraphs, attending him.

Isaiah was front and center as those seraphs sang their praise and adoration of God, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (6:3). Their voices shook the hinges of the thresholds and smoke filled the house.  How could it be, Isaiah wondered, that he, an unclean mortal, could be in the presence of God’s great glory. Isaiah did not distinguish whether or not it was his own actions making him unclean or if the actions of God’s sinful people, Israel, made him unclean—guilt by association, and therefore, he felt unworthy to stand in the presence of God.

Isaiah’s proclamation was essentially, “I’m not worthy to be here, but I am. How can this be?” While Isaiah’s vision placed him in the presence of God, and all the company of heaven, Isaiah was a mere spectator in the presence of the holy One. The seraphs did not interact with Isaiah, and God did not acknowledge him; it was as if he was invisible. But when Isaiah found his voice and exclaimed that he was lost, unworthy and out of place, a seraph touched his mouth with a live coal from the altar, freeing him from the prisons of guilt and sin. In Isaiah’s vision, God bestowed upon a mere, imperfect mortal, the healing property of liberation, giving Isaiah the courage to answer God when he asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” with, “Here am I; send me!”

Having been freed from the bondages of guilt and sin, and Isaiah’s self-imposed sense of unworthiness fell away, and was replaced with courage to boldly offer himself for God’s purposes. And for God’s purpose, Isaiah was used as God’s mouthpiece—a prophet amongst God’s people.

By contrast, in our gospel passage in the third chapter of John, a different circumstance is revealed, which forced another mere, imperfect mortal to wonder, in the presence of God, “How can these things be?” This time, the source of the question was posed to Jesus by a surprising source—a religious leader of the Jews by the name of Nicodemus.  We read that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night—literally walking in darkness. And, in a private encounter with Jesus, Nicodemus acknowledged that Jesus was a teacher who had come from God. But, when Jesus told Nicodemus about the spiritual birth—by water and Spirit—necessary for anyone to see and enter the kingdom of God, Nicodemus was stumped. “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Nicodemus asked (Jn 3:4).

This teacher of Israel could not get beyond his human understanding of “birth” in order to receive the knowledge of the heavenly things which Jesus imparted to him, and it would be his own stumbling block in receiving the truth, imparted to him by God in the presence of God himself, in the person of Jesus. Here is a teacher of Israel, who, as a Pharisee, would have considered himself worthy and capable of being used to serve God’s purposes, yet he unwittingly blocked himself from his own “live coal” experience touching his mouth. He came to Jesus, walking in the dark, and Nicodemus’ unbelief kept him stumbling in the dark when he departed from Jesus.

If our very lives are meant to be used in service to God and to glorify God, let us rebuke that spirit of unworthiness, and feelings of being ill-equipped, with the confidence that through our baptism, by water and the Spirit, our whole being has been touched by our Savior Jesus Christ—who, by his death and resurrection, used his healing power to liberate our souls from guilt, and blot out our sins. 

Today is Trinity Sunday.  Preachers all across churches will attempt to make sense of the divine mystery of God’s being—the three in one—assisting believers, and those who walk in darkness, with the question, how can this be? The good news is that the Triune God is not a formula; God is an active being, eternally in relationship with God’s self, for the sole purpose of pouring out God’s self in Trinitarian ways. God’s eternal self-giving is an invitation to humankind to be swept up into God’s divine dance of equality and mutuality. It is into this dynamic, unceasing dance which God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit invites His children to join the heavenly chorus of angels, archangels and all the company of heaven in their eternal song of adoration and praise, “Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might…”[1]

On this Trinity Sunday, let us recommit ourselves, whether or not we feel worthy or capable, to participating in the life of the Triune God by embodying, more fully, the ideal community to which God has called His Church—a trinitarian community that exists to bring about justice, love and equality in the world—the eternal unity in diversity that God intends for all of humanity.  Amen.

[1] Sanctus, BCP, p. 362.