How do you say no to God?
Take the case of Isaiah. Here’s this young guy, kind of unassuming. Not much to really remark on. But he finds himself in God’s throne room. Columns surrounding him. The throne before him—the Lord so majestic and mighty that he has to cover himself. Then there are these seraphim and cherubim creatures flitting around, singing at random times.
There’s an earthquake and the place fills with smoke. Isaiah is on notice here: God needs a prophet, a spokesperson, and Isaiah was just the man to do it.
Isaiah gives God the classic answer. “Who me?” Umm, no. You don’t want me God, I’m not from the right family, I’m not from the right background, I don’t have any power, I’m just not worthy—I mean, even my lips aren’t clean for you.
Well, we’ll fix that, God says. Bring out the coals.
Talk about a trial by fire!
This is such a strange, mysterious story. Why Isaiah? What are these creatures around God? Why this mission? Why burn the poor guy’s face?
But the true mystery here is God. What does this diety look like? Who are they? There is so much hidden, so much a mystery—and we only get a peak…and this little morsel of a glimpse simply deepens the mystery.
And Isaiah can only enter into this temple of mystery with a great deal of fear and trembling, lest he get burned.
Today the festival season closes out with the celebration of the great mystery of the Trinity. It also happens to be one of the favorite Sundays for booking a guest preacher. Because, after all who really wants to have to explain the Trinity?
These unclean lips are incapable of explaining this thing without resorting to some boring mechanical construction, or a trite analogy, or two men and a bird, or falling into some giant heresy trap that, in another day and time would have ended with your preacher tied to a stake and burned by a little more than some hot coals.
I’m with Isaiah here: “Woe to me! I am ruined!”
But perhaps the way to go about it is to not worry so much about the mechanics. After all, Isaiah didn’t fixate on the things that he could not see. You didn’t hear him say, “Yeah sure, I’ll do what you say, but first you’ve got to show me your face.” He didn’t beg for explanation or try to grasp what was beyond his understanding. Isaiah just lived into the mystery—owned it, if you will. He trusted God with all his being.
This isn’t the same as just blindly following. Nor is it an easy out—“You won’t get it. Don’t ask questions.” No, Isaiah resisted, he pushed back, he had a conversation. But he also allowed God to shape him and forge his identity as a prophet—a servant of God’s word.
Isaiah shows us one side of the Trinity: the creator God, the majestic God, the God shrouded in a great cloud of unknowing.
But this is also a God that so loved the world, the cosmos, all of creating, that this great unknowable, unrevealed God became known, through a person known to us as Jesus Christ. If Isaiah caught a glimpse of the hidden God, we get to see, behold the revealed God.
And like the coals brought to Isaiah’s lips, Jesus transforms and purifies us when we meet him. When his presence enters us, we are called up, too. And we respond, “Here I am, send me!”
A God that we can know, a God that we can’t know. But it’s really the Spirit—that third part—that binds it all together. The Spirit is the voice of God, the one that calls us up. The Spirit is the breath of God, that infuses us with life and allows our hearts to glow with passion. That turns reluctance into willingness.
You heard a report a few minutes ago about the experience of the Synod Assembly. Now, I can’t speak for either Hal or Nancy, but I can guess that they were probably a little reluctant to go. I mean, who wants to give up three days to sit in a conference center in Greensboro? Yet, when they were asked, the said, “Send me.”
And for three days, they heard stories about what God’s Spirit is doing in our church and our world. And they got to participate in that activity on your behalf. We were chosen to elect a new bishop, to serve on this 624 member call committee, to find someone who would guide our church and our churches. We don’t see the bishop on a day to day basis, but his or her impact is there at all times.
The Spirit called a man named Tim Smith, a North Carolina native (a Tar Heel) who up until now was serving at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Atlanta, Georgia. Did he feel a little like Isaiah, entering into the temple, not really sure what to expect next? I would guess so. Will his time as bishop sometimes feel like touching hot coals? Yeah, pretty good chance.
But like all servants called by God, our new bishop, Tim, modeled for us a willingness to venture out and answer God’s call. In spite of all our doubts and misgivings to say, “Here I am.”
But perhaps most of all, to put trust in this mysterious, hidden/revealed, three-personed God. To embrace it for all its weirdness and beauty.