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God in Isaiah



First Reading

A READING FROM THE BOOK OF ISAIAH

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. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: "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!" Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." 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!"

ISAIAH 6:1-8


Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Maryann Amor

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. And they 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.


Today is Trinity Sunday, a day when sermons become focussed on answering the question of the trinity…preachers try and explain how God can be three in one and one in three. Today God becomes an object of our study, someone whose precise nature we try and figure out. Today we look for answers to the question of God.


But then we come up against our first reading from Isaiah and answers are difficult to find. Isaiah is calling us to use our imaginations to experience God, but he doesn’t give us a lot of detail. For example, he says the seraphim have six wings, two cover their faces, two their feet, and with the remaining two they fly…as we try and imagine this, we might ask what colour are the seraphim, how big are they, are their wings furry, do they look like people, are they young or old…Isaiah doesn’t give us any of this information. As we hold in our minds the image of God in the temple, train overflowing, seraphim in attendance, our nose would need to smell the smoke, maybe it is like incense burning or like flowers, again, Isaiah doesn’t say. Then our ears would need to hear the cacophony of sound, so loud that the temple shakes as the seraphim call to one another, “Holy holy holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Again, we have no clue what their voices sound like, because Isaiah doesn’t tell us. Isaiah has constructed what can only be described as a 4D, sensory experience of God, that inundates us, his audience, with overwhelming sights, sounds, smells, none of which we can easily make sense of or understand.


When I read this passage, I think back to when I was asked to draw it in the introductory prophets course that I took at VST with Pat Dutcher-Walls, the guest speaker at the ACW Conference. I got so frustrated trying draw what I read in Isaiah 6 that as soon as the class ended I tossed my design into the recycle bin. When confronted with trying to decipher the same reading today, I still couldn’t figure it out…there was just too much going on. I even plugged the passage into ChatGPT to see what AI could do and all I got was a description of the scene telling me to draw it myself. A major AI fail.


And this experience made me realise how completely different Isaiah’s God is from how we might imagine God…how it stumps us as we seek answers, seek to understand who God is. For many of us, we think of God using familiar, warm, comforting images, like a shepherd or our companion on the journey…familiar images makes God familiar, easier to understand…God becomes a comfort to our lives, a real, close presence that we can make sense of.


But Isaiah’s God is the complete opposite of this. For Isaiah, God is the ‘Holy One of Israel’… “the transcendent one, who is wholly other and exalted above humanity and the rest of creation.” This image reminds that while a shepherd companion God comforts us by supporting us through what we endure, Isaiah’s God stands above everything we endure. As one scholar comments, “We need not fear the overwhelming problems of the world, because God is high, lifted up.” God stands above wars, suffering, illness, death…God is exalted over it all and God is in control.


And when things get to be too much, and God feels too far away and as if God doesn’t care or has forgotten us…Isaiah’s image also calls us to look around, look at the glory of God that is here with us, right now…because, as he describes, the whole earth is full of God’s glory. God might be terrifyingly awesome, apart from us, but at the same time God is with us, all around us, God’s amazing glory filling the earth. God hasn’t forgotten us, but God’s glory runs beyond the confines of the heavenly temple, spilling out into creation…being found in the wonderful things we do have, a beautiful world, loving friends and family, the little joys we get to experience every day.


Our reading from Isaiah does not give us any answers to the question of God, it doesn’t even help us figure out what it means for God to be trinity…it is overwhelming, so much so that it even stumped AI. And I think this is exactly why we read it today, on Trinity Sunday. Isaiah is reminding us that God is bigger than our imaginations can conceive, God cannot be fully understood. And while this can feel frustrating, especially when we might want answers to God…it is such a gift. On those days when you are struggling with life, when the companion shepherd God isn’t working for you…reread Isaiah 6:1-11, you might even try and draw it, just lean into what Isaiah says, as a way to help you remember that God is so wonderfully big that our little human minds cannot grasp all of who God is. And this God not only reigns above all that we endure…but this God is also so loving that our world pulsates with God’s glory. Today, let’s embrace… let’s celebrate Isaiah’s mind-blowing image of God.


Amen.

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