Mysterious Encounter

Trinity Sunday – Isaiah 6:1-8

What does God look like? An old man with a long white beard, sitting on a throne? That’s the classic image of God. Or does God look like us? We’re created in God’s image, right? Or is God simply a breeze, a wisp of cloud on a sunny day? I don’t know. But what I’ve just described to you is how most people have come to view the Trinity.

Now, we’re not the first generation to struggle with the image of God. In the text we have before us today, Isaiah is utterly and completely mystified. I mean, think about his context.  He lived in a world where the Temple in Jerusalem was considered God’s earthly home. And to encounter the holy, to gaze upon the face of God, would mean certain and immediate death. So, picture the scene with me, there’s ole Isaiah in the Temple, doing temple stuff, when suddenly, he’s surrounded by smoke from the burning sacrifices and incense. And right then he had a vision; the mysterious encounter with the Divine that we read about today. But instead of death, Isaiah found restoration; instead of being destroyed, he received grace; instead of individual condemnation, he came to realize that God was sending an opportunity for repentance to the entire people of Judah.[i]

And this is where it gets really interesting. Isaiah knew God was holy. But his mysterious encounter with God redefined what it meant to be “holy”.  Isaiah came to understand that “God exists in community.”[ii]  God’s call for repentance wasn’t an individual mandate, but rather, God was telling the prophet to challenge the entire nation to turn from their destructive ways.

Now, let’s fast-forward to our context. Far too often I think we see God as the white-bearded judge, and as a result, we feel we must please God in order to avoid punishment.  So, we view holiness through the lens of individual piety.  In other words, we think, “if I’m good enough, if I keep all the rules, if I say the right creed and condemn those who disagree with that creed, then I’m holy.” But here’s the thing. The Triune God isn’t about individual piety.  Even Gods-self exists in community. Creator, Christ, and Spirit; Three-in-one.

But if God is more than an old man sitting on a throne in heaven, what does that “more” look like?  Well, Theologian Daniel Migliore, when speaking about the nature of the Trinity, invites us to see God in a different light. He says, “…to confess that God is triune is to affirm that the life of God is essentially self-giving love.”[iii] God is love. It’s that simple. Jürgen Moltmann affirms this position when he said that the story of the gospel is, “…a divine love story in which we are all involved with heaven and earth.”[iv]

Maybe this of it like a dance.  When you were in junior high, did you ever go to a dance? Did everyone there, dance? Did everyone have a good time? Probably not. Why? Well, some might have worried about stepping on a partner’s toes or, out of fear, chose to stand by the wall all night. Others may have felt they were too good for the rest. But whatever the reason, in some cases, the invitation to dance went unfulfilled.

Now, we’ve all been invited to dance. We’ve all been asked to spin around the dance floor together in the seamless waltz of life.  All of us are a part of this earthly community. All humanity and all creation are encouraged dance with God on this wonderful planet.

But, being the human creatures that we are, we sometimes step on the toes of creation.  Or sometimes we’re afraid of change or to take a chance by putting ourselves in the company of what Jesus called “the least of my children.” And because of our fear, we choose to stand by the wall when God calls. But that’s not even the worst of it. Sometimes we might think, as Christians, that we’re too good for the rest, so we shun their very existence.

My friends, you and I both know from experience, through reason, and from the example of Christ’s life in Scripture, that God doesn’t exclude anyone. We know that God is the God of a Wide-Welcome. So, what if we were to view God from this perspective? Communal embrace rather than individual piety? What if God looks more like an act of compassion? What if God looks like a black child hugging a white child? What if God looks like a church community welcoming a refugee family, or an immigrant, or a transgendered person. What if God looks like the neighbor we are called to love and serve. I think this is what holiness looks like in the 21st century.

I’m going to leave you today with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Annie Dillard.  She said, “I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.”[v] I can think of no definition of how to approach this contemporary definition of holiness than to “dangle limp” and let the Spirit take us where the Spirit will.

May it be so. Amen.


[i] Michael Floyd. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. III.  (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) p. 31

[ii] Daniel L. Migliore Faith Seeking Understanding (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991) p. 69

[iii] Ibid Migliore p. 70

[iv] Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendel and Jürgen Moltmann, Humanity in God (New York: Pilgrim Press, 1993) p.88

[v] Annie Dillard. (, 2018)

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