Bribery in the highest offices of government,
ethics are trampled as officials chase after trade deals that line the pockets of those in power,
people are dying of plague and poverty in a world that doesn’t seem to care,
partisan politics and dehumanizing opponents is the norm in a world where the powerful and those who aspire to it are too proud to admit when they are wrong,
promises are made over and over again for unity and peace, promises that are broken time and time again,
and a God who fits an ever-changing list of attributes and vaguely supportive images is presented in support of this side, or that side, or this proposal or policy, or that one.
In case you’re wondering, you’re reading the newspaper—not in 21st century America—but in the kingdom of Judah, in 738 BCE. We find ourselves there in today’s Old Testament lesson, “in the year that King Uzziah died”. The death of King Uzziah brought about political turmoil—turmoil that would topple the Northern Kingdom of Israel just a few years later by the Assyrians, and would eventually consume the Southern Kingdom of Judah, which fell to the Babylonians over a century later. But the book of Isaiah is very clear that the trouble started much earlier, with a people who forgot their Creator, who forgot the very God who led them to this land in the first place.
The prophet Isaiah speaks to us from the kingdom of Judah, in the year that King Uzziah died, with a vision of this God. Not the God of greeting cards and saccharine sweet images and metaphors, but a terrifying God, whose attendants are seraphs with six wings whose voices shake the thresholds. At the very least, this God is terrifying to Isaiah, who cries out that he is a man of unclean lips, who lives among a people of unclean lips, who has somehow seen “the King, the Lord of hosts!”
And so Isaiah stands before God, in that famous passage, where he is cleansed and annointed a prophet of a hopeless cause: to warn a people who have forgotten the holiness and fullness of the God who created heaven and earth, to speak to them of the inescapable downfall of their kingdoms and powers and principalities.
Why today, of all days? Why, on this Trinity Sunday, do we read this call narrative from Isaiah? The authors of the lectionary chose this passage for Trinity Sunday because of this mention of “us”—one of the references in Scripture that we believe points to the God who is three in one.
And so like Isaiah, we find ourselves standing before God in America, in 2021, on this Trinity Sunday, a Sunday where our readings remind us that we worship a holy God, whose power, mercy, and love is in all and above all. I know some of you are waiting with baited breath for me to unpack the mysteries of the Trinity in this sermon, while others of you are trembling at the very thought.
But I don’t want us to think about the Trinity as merely an academic exercise that preachers undertake several times a year. The Trinity—Father, Son, Spirit—is not something that exists merely to be defined, but is the way that God chooses to exist in time and space, in relationship with us. God: one in three, unity in community, is not an exercise in minutiae, but is a key part of our faith that asks us to imagine power and authority differently…
We are asked to imagine in God—not what we wish we could or couldn’t see in our earthly rulers—but the strange and awesome holiness of our Creator who just won’t stop loving us, no matter how far we try to run.
And run we do, even when we don’t realize it. Like the people of the Kingdom of Judah, we live with injustice, pride and a love of easy wealth that dooms us to ever repeating the same mistakes. Our offertory hymn, “O God of Earth and Altar”, lifts these things up as a cry to God, lamenting how “our earthly rulers falter/our people drift and die/the walls of gold entomb us/the swords of scorn divide.” It begs God to “take not thy thunder from us/but take away our pride”. Rulers, walls of gold, swords of scorn, and pride. The hymn text—a poem by author G.K. Chesterton—is a biting condemnation of the very things we hold on to in this world: this or that political message, or money, or just stubbornness that surely doing the same thing again will get a different result.
So where is our hope? Where is our hope when our present reality seems so far from this heavenly vision of Isaiah? Where is our hope when the Lord of hosts, sitting on a throne high and lofty, seems so terrifyingly far away and distant? Where is our hope when there are wars, and plagues, and famines, and pointless death and suffering?
“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!”
Whom shall I send?
One of the most shocking things about this text is the fact that God—this Lord of hosts, the very image of majesty and power—asks this question.
Whom shall I send?
Surely a God surrounded by seraphs shaking the very pivots on the thresholds with praise doesn’t need to ask who to send. Surely(!) there are angels and beings beyond description, who could be sent?
And yet God asks, whom shall I send, and who will go for us?
The authors of the lectionary chose this passage for Trinity Sunday because of this mention of “us”—“Who will go for us?” But it is most remarkable because we find that this God, who exists in community, in relationship, is a God of sending. We find that God needs us, and it is through this sending that we are folded into relationship with the Trinity.
Whom shall I send?
If you are in the middle of making a decision: a decision about what the next right, faithful thing is in your life—in whatever stage of life you find yourself—you are answering that question. I answered that question when I said yes to a college, then again when I said yes to the church, said yes to becoming a priest, and then answered it again when I said yes to a curacy program in North Carolina.
You, God’s people at the Chapel of the Cross said yes too, when you agreed to take part in the Reimagining Curacies Program, to take on a new curate every year. You took a risk that is bigger than just me, or even bigger than us three curates. You said yes to a new way of doing church—letting go of the pervasive “each parish for itself” mindset, and said yes to being in a community of three churches, and tying our lives more closely together through shared curates, services and programs. You said yes to experimenting, and trying new things to see if they’d work… and got a pandemic thrown in on top of it. You said a hearty and enthusiastic yes to our work over the past year, as we explored the many ways that love does indeed dwell here. We have taken steps towards tying our lives more closely with one another—through pastoral care of one another, and care of the poor and outcast.
Because ultimately, it’s not about you or me or this church, or this program, or powers and principalities of this world. Our hymn makes this very clear in verse 3.
Tie in a living tether
the prince and priest and thrall,
bind all our lives together,
smite us and save us all;
Tie in a living tether…. bind all our lives together.
Our God, who sits enthroned in the heavens, whose Christ came to redeem us, who sends the Spirit to accompany us, invites us out of our pride and love of wealth, invites us away from our love of earthly rulers and tolerance for injustice.
The Triune God invites us into a new national allegiance, where we are tied in a living tether with all of God’s people… those in Orange County, and those saints past present and yet to come.
God: Father, Son, and Spirit, invites us into relationship that will change our lives and hearts if we let it, if we say yes to this new allegiance.
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
May we all have the grace to know how to say “Here am I, send me”