God Far – God Near
Introduction to Scripture
An introduction to our Scripture lesson. This passage, written in 739 BCE, tells of Isaiah’s majestic vision of God. It tells of Isaiah’s call to be a prophet. Isaiah was to speak to the people in Judah, the southern part of what was the nation of Israel. The king mentioned – King Uzziah – ruled Judah for 52 years. This passage speaks of creatures called “seraphs.” Seraphs were a high order of angels with three pairs of wings. Let us hear what Isaiah writes.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. 2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. 7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”
8 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!”
THE WORD OF THE LORD.
I want to tell you from that I had a little difficulty considering what to preach to you about this Sunday. What could I say that would comfort you, challenge you, or change you to have a better understanding of God.
This Sunday offered me the opportunity to go in three different directions with a sermon. One, I could challenge you on this national Memorial Day about the duty we have as citizens to meet the problems facing our nation. I have in the past spoken about such challenges. There will likely be opportunities in the future to speak on such topics if the Scriptures and events call for it.
Two, I could speak to you about Memorial Day on a personal level, to comfort you about “those who will not grow old, as we are left to grow old.” However, during Easter I hope we received comfort from the good news of Jesus Christ’s resurrection.
Three, I could speak – since this is also Trinity Sunday – about the Trinity. I chose the Trinity. I know someone is thinking – Jack, you had three chances! Before the elders in the back start passing out pillows and blankets like flight attendants on the red-eye special, I want to say I chose the Trinity because it is rarely explained, and we need a greater understanding of this God whom we worship, serve, and love. The Trinity may seem a strange topic; however, this week I did some serious studying, and I found pearls of wisdom buried in this obscure doctrine of the Trinity, and that, indeed, this teaching has something to say for our daily lives.
Before I get to these pearls, let me give a brief background. I will help us understand the Trinity by first explaining how this teaching arose; then, what the teaching does not say to us; and finally what it does say to us – the pearls for daily life.
How the doctrine arose
Briefly speaking, this teaching we call the Trinity arose during the four hundred years after Christ. Christians believed in one God, but they asked - Where does Jesus figure in our understanding of God? Was Jesus simply a good man, who taught about God? Or was Jesus more? Was Jesus Immanuel – God with us? If he was God with us, then his teachings and death meant more. It meant God came to us and spoke to us through this man.
These early Christians disagreed. Some said Jesus was a man; others said he was God too. After a few hundred years of un-Christian like name-calling, bickering, and one Christian telling another that they were going to hell, they all finally agreed there was one God but three forms – Father, Son, Spirit. They wrote statements declaring this truth. We say these every Sunday – the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. We say we believe in “God the Father Almighty,” “and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord,” and in “the Holy Spirit.” And we sing about the Trinity each Sunday in the the Gloria and the Doxology.
This is confusing at best - one God but three forms? An analogy should help.
Imagine a child walking with his dad on a warm summer day. The little boy looks up into the sky and sees this bright fiery ball. The boy asks - “What is that?” The dad replies – “That is the sun. It is far from us, but give us life.” The answer satisfies the boy.
Another day, the boy plays in his house. He sees a bright light shining through the windows, lighting up the carpet, and feeling warm on his skin and face. The boy asks his father – “What is that?” The dad answers – “That is the sun. We call it sunrays. They keep us warm, and brighten the night into day.”
Another day the boy goes with his dad on a trip near Alaska where the sun has been shining most hours of the day. The boy sees a plant – that has grown large. The boy asks – “Why is that plant so large?” The dad replies – “Because the sun shines most the day, the sun’s rays constantly nourish the plant and it grows large.”
One sun experienced and seen in three ways. One sun – both far and near. One God experienced and seen in three ways. One God – far and near. The Trinity.
What the doctrine does not say to us
What does the Trinity mean to us? What is it saying and not saying to us? First, what it is not saying.
Despite what others think, we – Christians - do not believe in three different though related gods. When I went to a synagogue in St. Louis and a mosque in Lexington, the people knew I was a Christian. They welcomed me, but they also said the same thing to me - “I could never be a Christian because you believe in three gods.” They moved on before I could explain that was not true and that we worship one God. In the Jewish synagogue I wanted to impress them that I believed in one God; and prove it by telling them the Hebrew my professor in seminary pounded into us students week after week as we learned biblical Hebrew. He made us learn and recite – Shema Yisrael; adoni eloheynu, adoni echad. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one God.”
The Trinity also does not say the Father is the real God, with Jesus and the Spirit subordinates. The Father is not the one with the real power and the others have lesser power. It is not like the story of Jesus, Moses, and an old man with a beard playing golf one day. Moses hits the ball, but it fell into the lake. No problem. Moses parts the water and hits the ball on the green. Jesus tees off and the ball also fell into the lake. So Jesus walks on the water and hits the ball onto the green. Then the old man with the beard hits the ball, hooks it badly, and it falls on a lily pad where a frog picked it up. An eagle swoops down, grabs the frog, flew over the green, the ball falls from the frogs mouth, and rolls into the cup for a hole in one. Moses says to Jesus – “I hate playing golf with you dad.” God the Father is not different and more powerful than Son and Spirit.
And the Trinity does not teach that God is the chairman of the board, with Jesus and the Spirit doing the Father’s bidding.
What the teaching does say to us
This Trinity does have something special to say to us.
· It tells us God wants to be in a close relationship with us. God wants to be near us. God is more than our Maker, but also our Redeemer and Friend. How near is God? God is nearer to you than every breath you take, nearer to you than your heartbeat. God holds you that close. It fulfills something in God for God to be near us and to relate to us personally. God is beyond us, yes, but God is also within us. You cannot escape the love of God.
· It tells us God is in control. When we feel our lives or the world is going badly, the Trinity teaches God is in control. Beyond the fray of everyday life, there is One who stands above and beyond the world, and directs its path. Theodore Parker said – “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” That is because God is just, and God moves the world towards the good. Gandhi said – “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it—always.” God directs towards love and goodness.
· It tells us God is for us. God is no tyrant. God leans towards mercy, not anger, blame, and judgment. Augustine said in the 4th century – “God loves each one of us as if we are the only one to love.” Think of that. As good as they may be to us, no lover, relative, or friend has ever loved us that way or that much. God loves as if you were the only one to love.
· It teaches us God is self-giving. God is far, but God is near. God does not remain aloof. God comes to us. That means if God is secure enough that God becomes vulnerable by giving to us, we should be self-giving too. We should reach out of ourselves to others and give to the world. That is life. God gives us only two commands – to love God and to love others. Those two are really one command. Loving others is how you love God; loving those you see means loving One you do not see.
Finally, the Trinity means the God who creates you and commands you, is the God who loves and redeems you, and is the God who is within you, strengthening you for every joy or trial you may ever face. God far - God near. Amen!