Flies in Heaven
Trinity Sunday, B
May 31, 2015
2 Baptisms today!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we get to have a very rare experience. We get to be flies on the wall in heaven. What goes on there? Is there even a “there”? Does God sit on a throne with a long robe whose hem touches the floor in the temple in Jerusalem? Are there angels—whom we call seraphim—who serve him? Is God even a “him”?
Well, the 21st Century person can come up with so many questions after reading this passage. Maybe it’s best to acknowledge that Isaiah 6 is something out of our ken, and maybe it’s best to treat it as a sort of dream experience—whichalso happens to reflect very spot-on truths about the Divine.
So, our skepticism laid to rest for a bit, let’s look at what Isaiah encounters in heaven. He sees the LORD sitting on a throne in the throne room. He sees the highest order of angels—the seraphim—attending God, and they have their faces covered with their wings so that they cannot see the divine splendor—because if they see it they will be undone. They have their feet covered with their second set of wings for feet are the dirtiest part of the body, and feet also are a biblical euphemism for the genitals. They fly with their 2 remaining wings.
And they’re calling out to each other in praise of God, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” The floor shakes and the place fills up with smoke—another sign of divinity.
Isaiah’s reaction is that he’s going to die, for he’s seeing God. And Old Testament tradition, beginning with Moses, is that no one can see God face-to-face, and live. And Isaiah also knows his sin is great, since he is a typical human being.
So one of the seraphs cleanses his lips with a burning coal, and that blots out his sin. Then Isaiah hears the LORD calling out, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And in the only Old Testament instance of someone actually volunteering to be God’s mouthpiece, Isaiah replies, “Here am I; send me!”
It’s interesting that this story is our Old Testament reading today on Trinity Sunday. Maybe the lectionary makers were attracted to the 3-times refrain of “Holy, holy, holy.” Maybe they liked the question that God asks, once in the singular and once in the plural, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? In any event the Trinity whom we adore is nowhere explicit in the Old Testament. This was about the best the lectionary makers could do.
So let’s look at the thrice-repeated HOLY. You’ll recognize that it’s the beginning of the musical piece we call the Sanctus. We sing the Sanctus right before the consecration of the bread and wine. And when we sing it, we can recall this throne room scene where the Seraphs sing it. You see it on the bulletin cover, the 3-fold Sanctus (which means “holy” in Latin) outlining the one triangle. 3 in 1 and 1 in 3. For ever.
We often associate holiness with God—it’s one of God’s foremost attributes, isn’t it? God is holy. But what does that mean, exactly? It’s really hard to define without falling into a circular definition. Holiness is the character of God—think of that hymn that says “in him there is no darkness at all.” Holiness is the opposite of sin or impurity of any kind. Holiness is the main attribute of the divine.
When I became an Episcopalian those decades ago I remember sitting in a Bible Study and being told I was holy. It was all I could do to stop protesting—I can’t be holy, no way, I will never be good enough.
But now I think I have a better grip on what it means to be holy. / To be holy is to be set aside for God. It implies that we each partake of the divine nature in some small measure. And it does NOT come with ordination to the priesthood. No, holiness comes with baptism.
When we baptize Dylan and Tyler today, they’ll be given the Holy Spirit and set aside to do God’s work. We‘ll actually pray to God to ask God to fill these children with God’s holy and life-giving Spirit. That will make them holy, just as the Spirit has made us holy.
The Holy Spirit will help them throughout their lives to be witnesses to the good news of God, to choose for the Good, to serve Christ in all persons, and to strive for justice and peace for everyone—nearby and far away. They will continue to be holy.
Now, another way our holiness shows is that it shines out through our relationships. Theologians are fond of saying that the Trinity is a community of love. I touched on this a little bit in last week’s sermon. The father begets the Son through all eternity. The love that flows between them is the Holy Spirit.
They are a community of perfect relationship.
Let me illustrate this truth with a facsimile of a very famous icon. The original was made in the early 1400’s, in Orthodox Russia, and today is in the Tretyakov Museum. …
explanation of the icon’s symbolism
explanation of the illustration of relationship among the three
our invitation into the center, around the table
our sanctification—being made holy—in baptism and Eucharist (the chalice in which Jesus is centered and we are invited.)
So take up the invitation. Open to the Spirit working in you and invite him in again, mirroring the movement of the Spirit we’ll soon see as we baptize Tyler and Dylan.
Be holy, and live a holy life.