Sunday, May 30, 2021
What is your post-COVID wardrobe looking like? In all of the studies of how people’s habits have changed over the last year and a half, I’d be interested in seeing statistics of how many days people went to work in their pajamas or at least sweatpants! In fact, perhaps some of you are worshipping with us this morning in your pjs right now! I came across an article recently of a woman whose Sunday morning “Zoom church” photos went viral as she dressed up in her Sunday best, wearing a different dress, hat and gloves to go to church from her living room to keep her fellow congregation members’ spirits up for almost a year. Those of you who are older I’m sure remember the days where a three-piece suit and tie was required for the office, or restaurants that would not accept blue jeans…even before the pandemic casual attire was certainly more and more the norm. It does seem that when it comes to dress these days, almost anything goes, and I’m not pointing fingers…my go-to comfortable outfit is a T-shirt and jeans myself. But our casual dressing habits make me wonder in a much larger sense, is anything holy anymore? Is there any time set apart to dress differently, to be more care-ful in our speech, to enjoy a sacred space and have a time, like Sunday morning, dedicated to something or someone outside of myself, like God? Is anything holy anymore?
A few Sundays ago, I preached a sermon on how Jesus is our friend. Jesus calls his disciples, who include us, friends in John 10. It is a comforting and important to remember that Jesus is relatable to us as our best friend. However, of course, God is much more than just a good friend. Today, on this Holy Trinity Sunday, we tend to the opposite end of the spectrum to remember that God, Holy One and Holy Three, is in some ways wholly other, transcendent, and infinite mystery beyond human comprehension. In our first reading from today in Isaiah’s vision, just the hem of the Lord’s robe fills the entire temple. The seraphs cover their faces because no one can look at God and live, God is so powerfully holy. And they sing a song which we know so well we forget that those who are worshipping God are almost rendered speechless in awe before God’s throne. They can only manage to say over and over, “holy, holy, holy.” The whole EARTH is full of his glory. It is a magnificent, awesome scene of totally sacred worship.
Where do we experience awe and wonder of God’s holiness today? What is still holy for us? I wonder. The seraphs proclaim that the whole earth is full of the Lord’s glory, so where do we see it, if God’s glory is everywhere, amidst the sweatpants and traffic jams and hectic routines of daily life? We see Isaiah struggling to approach God’s holiness in chapter 6. He basically cries to God, “I am not worthy!” Nonetheless, a seraph touches his lips with a hot coal, taking away his guilt and sin to prepare him for a holy calling, to be a prophet of the Lord, to heal the separation between God and humanity because of Israel and Judah’s sins. Not just Jesus our friend but the transcendent, omnipotent Creator of the universe wants to be in closer relationship with humanity. The Lord is grieved at the state people’s faith in Judah and Israel, that the people are devoting their attentions to other gods and trying to rely on their own strength rather than placing their hope, faith, and trust in the Lord. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” the Lord asks. And Isaiah, like Abraham, and Jacob and Moses, and Samuel before him is able to say “Here am I; send me!”
The miracle of Isaiah saying “yes” to God in this instance is that God’s task for Isaiah is a difficult one. The Lord says, “Go and say to the people, ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’” Isaiah is to preach words of harsh judgment upon those who don’t return to the Lord. Only after a LONG time of preaching judgment will Isaiah be able to offer a word of hope that the Lord will still deliver the people. God doesn’t give Isaiah a job that will make his life easier – in fact, his life is made more difficult by his agreeing to be the Lord’s prophet. And yet, Isaiah continues to be faithful, perhaps because he recognizes that serving God is more important than serving any human inclinations.
We can scratch our heads about Isaiah’s call story and this particular worship scene passage in Isaiah 6 and the whole idea of the Trinity at all, and that’s the point. God wants to relate to us in an intimate way in Jesus Christ but God also is a mystery to be worshipped and never fully understood. Our faith is a balance of walking with God who is as close as our own breath, who is born a baby in a manger and walks among us as Jesus the Christ, and standing in awe of the One who was and is and is to come, eternal creator and maker of all things. It seems to me we are tipping the balance too far in the direction of praying to God as my personal Santa Claus who will do everything I want him to do and never asks me to do anything difficult, or struggle to understand anything beyond human comprehension, or be uncomfortable. We too often start with what we can get out of our relationship with God, rather than asking ourselves what God would like to do with us. And if the scale tips too far in the direction of a totally accessible and relatable God, suddenly we are like the people of Judah and Israel worshipping false gods of our own making created in our image, rather than the God of scripture who looks nothing like me and is completely, holy, other. God is both: human and divine, immanent and transcendent, spiritual and incarnational, in the world but not of the world. Lutherans in our theological tradition ultimately rest on the side of God, rather than humanity. This means that today, along with Isaiah and Nicodemus who’s taken down a few pegs by Jesus, we remember worship is about God and not how we are spiritually fed or what we get out of it. God’s calling on our lives is sometimes difficult, countercultural, and not what we would necessarily choose for ourselves. And while we can honor one another in admiring that we are all God’s children, gifted with a spark of divinity, we should also like Isaiah practice humility before the maker of all things.
I learned this week that some Roman Catholic priests have to encourage one another not to get “altar fatigue” because they offer mass daily. The sacred consecration of the wine and bread can become too ordinary that they forget that what they are doing is holy. Like wearing sweatpants every day or getting too used to violence on TV or explicit language on the radio, we can forget that what we are doing as God’s people is holy because God who created us is holy. The Lord who fills the whole earth with his glory takes ordinary things and makes them holy. Water – from a river or lake or tap – is used for Holy Baptism. Bread and wine – baked at home, grown in a local vineyard or purchased at the Shop Rite down the street – becomes the holy body and blood of our Lord and Savior. May God’s holiness take us outside of ourselves enough that we not become completely self-absorbed and selfish. May our awe at God’s majesty in all things bring us at times to our knees so that we might say along with the seraphs and the angels, “Holy, holy, holy!” May we stand in wonder that it is this mysterious Holy Trinity who even still wants to be in relationship with us. Amen.