Series B: Isaiah 6:1-8; Acts 2:22—36; John 3:1-17
Trinity Sunday is a strange day, a festival without a narrative. All the others: Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost – they all have rich historical accounts, vibrant characters and theological plots and sub-plots. Today the Church celebrates not an event, but a doctrine. Not the play, but the play-write. Not the movie but the director and lead actor. The whole earth and the whole church year are full of his saving glory.
On this day the Holy Trinity reveals and gives us His holiness, just as He did for Isaiah in the year that King Uzziah died.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”
The whole earth is full of His glory!”
Or to say it the Athanasian way: The Father is holy, the Son holy, the Spirit holy; and yet there are not three holies but one holy.But while the angels sing in heavenly bliss, Isaiah cries out in terror: “Woe is me! For I am undone, lost, silenced; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”
That old cliché is wrong: it’s not your eyes that are the window to your soul; it’s your lips. The lips confess and reveal what your heart believes. Before our neighbor we dishonor, hate, lust, lie, gossip, and covet without even moving our lips. And the same is true before God: we have not kept His Sabbath or his Name holy among us any more than we have feared loved and trusted in him above all things. Our lips reveal the real trinity we worship: me, myself and I.
And so Isaiah confesses the truth not only about himself, but about us. I am a man of unclean lips. Not a little smear of iniquity easily wiped away with a napkin, but the leprosy of sin. The curse of death. Like Isaiah, we are unclean. Dead to sin. And we live among a people – in the pew next to you and in the pulpit, in your house and neighborhood; sinners everywhere - all of us unclean before Yahweh’s holiness.
No wonder Isaiah was terrified. Sin and the Law do that to a man – break us and bring us to our knees. Woe is me! Isaiah read Exodus and Leviticus. He knew what happened when unholy sinners came into contact with a holy God: dead, purged in holy fire. What are we sinners to do before this holy God?
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
Here a resurrection from the dead takes place. The seraph is sent to set the prophet to free him from sin bearing a Word and a Sign from the Lord himself. The Word: Isaiah, your iniquity is taken away. It’s accompanied with a sign: a sacred, live coal. But this was no ordinary coal. For where there’s a burning coal, there’s a sacrifice; where there’s a sacrifice, there’s atonement; where there’s atonement there’s forgiveness; where there’s forgiveness there’s holiness; and where there’s holiness, there’s Yahweh himself, to reveal and give his holiness. He did for Isaiah and he does it for you.
“That’s great for Isaiah,” you say. “But what about us?” Isaiah had the vision and the coal. And you have something just as sure: a Word and a Sign. You have a messenger sent from God who is God. The God who has flesh and bones like you do, yet without sin the stain of sin. The one who stands upon the royal throne of heaven and declares to you, “Behold I am a man of clean lips and I will become unclean for Isaiah and for you and the whole world.” Before the Father, he lives to plead for you and before his neighbor he loves as he is loved.This morning you probably won’t see any visions of the heavenly throne room or have seraphim flying fire-berries to our lips. Because Trinity Sunday is not simply a day to stand in awe of God’s total almighty awesomeness. The whole point of today’s festival isn’t that God is big and mysterious. That’s true, but it doesn’t do you any good. Trinity Sunday is the celebration that the big, mysterious, all powerful God has come and revealed himself to us in the flesh and blood of the God-man Jesus.
What’s really awesome about Trinity Sunday is that He who could condemn us redeems us instead. That He who should have consumed us in holy fire instead calls down the flames of His wrath upon His own Son on the cross. That He who is everywhere comes for you in particular places: a manger, cross, the font, altar, pulpit. This Jesus, whose glorious robes billow throughout the heavenly throne room, whose holiness shakes the foundations and thresholds of heaven also became man.
The Holy One of Israel became unholy, defiled and unclean so that you might become holy, pure and righteous in his sight. This Jesus reveals and gives you His holiness just as He reveals and gives you His Name. And wherever you have Jesus, there you have the Father and the Spirit. “Truly I say to you, whoever has seen me has seen the Father. And when I go away I will send you the Comforter who will glorify me and give everything that is mine and declare it to you.”
This mystery of the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit - must be revealed in the Word and by Jesus, the Word made flesh. This is one mystery our own reason or senses cannot solve. After all, if we were going to invent a god and a religion, we wouldn’t start with the paradox that God was three in Person yet one in Essence. It just doesn’t make sense. Or as the writer/apologist Dorothy Sayers put it: “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Spirit incomprehensible, the whole thing incomprehensible.” And that’s how it should be. Any god that fits neatly inside of your head is not God.You may not comprehend the doctrine of the Trinity. But know this. You have the God of the manger. The God who bled and suffered and died on the cross and ate breakfast with his disciples after his resurrection. “We saw him, ate with him, touched and heard him,” the eyewitnesses declare.
Look for God in the manger and on the cross, in Baptism, in the Supper, the voice of Absolution, in the Word of Scripture. Look to the God revealed in His Son Jesus, who touches us by His human nature. For it is through Jesus, and Him alone, that we come to the Father and receive the Spirit and His gifts.
You may feel unclean, sinful, and dirty before God like Isaiah, but you are clean. You have been washed and absolved. And every time the Body and Blood of Jesus touch your lips, you are once again made and declared to be clean in God's sight. There we sing “Holy, holy, holy” as we approach the Lord’s Table. Here the Holy Trinity who is holy in himself grants our prayer – hallowed be thy name. For in the holiness of Jesus’ body and blood, his name and salvation are kept holy among us also.
These are the words to sing when God shows up. Isaiah had the coal. You have the Lord’s Supper, the live coals of Jesus; body and blood. The best thing for unclean lips like ours is holy food. And once again, a messenger of Yahweh stoops down to touch your lips with a Word and a Sign. Your iniquity is taken away. Your guilt is purged. Your sin is atoned for. You are clean. Forgiven. Holy. Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided unity; let us give glory to him because he has shown his mercy to us. A blessed Trinity Sunday to you all.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.