Whenever she struggled to pray, a friend of mine several years ago confided that she instead of picturing God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, she instead pictured what she called, “The Ladies.” A self-identified questioning Catholic who wanted to have a vibrant faith, she often found the chasm between herself and the God that she knew too vast to traverse; sometimes the version of God that she had spent her whole life believing in just failed to connect. She was also convicted, however, that the things for which she wished to pray were too heavy to carry on her own and too important to not hold in some sort of prayer. This is when she would picture The Ladies, a powerhouse trio of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Mother Teressa. There at the feet of The Ladies, she would lay her prayers, and she knew that while she didn’t feel able to carry them to God, that The Ladies would take it from there; she felt sure that her prayers would find their way to God when put into the hands of these three saints. I have loved this image of The Ladies waiting to assist us in our prayer since the moment I heard it; it resonated in no small part because of the vast distance that so many people feel between themselves and the triune God.
This week, I have been struck by the idea of distance that we perceive between ourselves and God, and even though it’s Trinity Sunday, the passage that I think speaks clearest to this is our passage from Isaiah. It was the year that King Uzziah died; it was a year wherein which something difficult happened that affected everyone around. In that year, Isaiah saw this vision that he relays here. In the vision, the Lord’s presence upon the throne was so lofty that it filled the whole space. Angels with six wings, four for hiding themselves and two for flying called to each other in loud voices, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts.” At this moment, even the hinges of the doors shook and the whole house filled with smoke. Isaiah cries out in terror at this, “Woe is me!” as he notes that he is unclean and lives among those who are unclean, and yet he stands in the presence of the Lord. Then an angel brings a hot coal, touching it to his lips which cleanses him of not just his sin, but the guilt associated with it. Then the Lord calls out, to which Isaiah responds, “Here am I; send me!”
It shouldn’t be overlooked that this passage begins with death. This is the setting in which Isaiah relays the vision of Lord and in his charge to respond to God’s call. This setting sets the stage, it primes the pump for what Isaiah is about to share, but let us not overlook the terror, shock, and wonder that Isaiah experiences before he is able to respond to God’s call. All senses are engaged. There is the smell of smoke, the trembling of foundation shaking, there is the visual and auditory experience of the seraphs, there is the touch of the hot coal to his lips. For Isaiah in this vision, there is no space between God and himself, God is all around him.
I have to admit, that when I imagine God in this Nave—and maybe I should pause to invite you to imagine God in this Nave with us as well—when I imagine God in this Nave, I picture a being roughly human size, I picture a wisp of smoke in the shape of a dove, and maybe, if I’m feeling creative, I will also picture some sort of ambient light source from on high. Vague visions of the three persons of the Trinity come to mind, each one different, each one the same. This week, though, when I was praying through Isaiah’s vision, I could not help but be drawn to the way in which he describes that the hem of the Lord’s robes—the hem alone!—filled the whole temple. Now, the hem on the robe I’m currently wearing is approximately 1.5 inches, and while a direct compassion might not be helpful, I couldn’t help but be convicted about how small my idea of God is compared even to the Lord’s hem in Isaiah’s vision.
The largeness of God, the fullness of the Trinity cannot be contained in any space or even in any mind, and yet, it so fully surrounds us that to try to comprehend it would be like trying to explain water to a fish. In God we live, move, and have our being, and of course we cannot fully grasp the intricacies of the Triune God, but what is more compelling to me is what happens when God, in the three persons of the Trinity, draw near to us. God is all around us, and yet the Trinity offers us many different paths to see it; what’s more compelling to me is how will we respond to God’s call like Isaiah did when the nearness of God cannot be denied.
A question that is often asked in church circles is does the church have anything to say to the world right now? Can our traditions or our beliefs speak to a world ravaged by war, poverty, disease, and abuse, and if so, what would it say in the face of such evil? Unequivocally, I respond to that and say, yes. Yes, the church has something to offer the world right now, and it’s not just because I blindly believe that belief makes us better people, but because I am convicted about the power of the hope of the resurrection. The church has something to say to the world right now in the same way that Isaiah has something to say to the world in the year that King Uzziah died. God is all around us, and even though we are a people of unclean lips in a land of those with unclean lips, we trust that our lives have been changed by God.
We believe that the persons of the Trinity provide paths to relationship with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But will we respond to God’s call upon our life? Will we step into and live into our baptized life of faith wherein which the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out upon our very souls? Will we choose to follow the Son of God, the very Christ whose name we wear? Will we trust that God the Father’s presence is so entirely present that even this very Nave could not contain the hem of God’s robes? Will we let ourselves be changed by the ever-present Triune God?
These are not rhetorical questions for us to ponder on briefly this morning, but rather I want it to be a charge for you as you go about your week. Spend some time in prayer contemplating the Trinity; be like a fish who tries to understand the very water in which they swim and exist entirely. In that contemplation, hold also this vision from Isaiah. Hold the vastness of God, and as you do so think about how you might respond to God’s call. Would you also respond, “Here am I, send me!”?
Whether you feel so distant that you need the help of the Ladies to carry your prayers, or if you are able to see that God is all around us and that the three persons of the Trinity all provide a path to connection with God, I challenge each of you to hold this all in prayer. And once you have prayed, move your feet. Our prayer does not just change how we think and feel, it should change what we do. Our faith in the Trinity should change our lives; it should shape how we will respond to God’s call. So that we can not only say, “Here am I, send me,” but that we will then be willing to be sent. My prayer for us is that we follow in the path of the prophet Isaiah, drawing near to God and then going out to do the work given to us to do, and that may we do it all in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer, the holy and undivided Triune God.
A sermon delivered to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY on Isaiah 6:1-8 for Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2021.