Trinity Sunday (May 27, 2018)
“Angels Bearing Witness to the Trinity” (Isaiah 6:1-8)
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I once heard a true story about someone who was raised as a Christian, baptized, confirmed, the whole package. Later, she married someone of the Jewish faith. She went to synagogue with her husband, was instructed, and eventually became a convert to Judaism. Why was she so willing to do this? Here was her answer: “When I was confirmed, kneeling in front of the altar, with the pastor's hand on my head, I didn't see any angels, so I figured it probably wasn't true.” If I had been there, my response would have been, “Did you see angels when you converted to Judaism?” I highly doubt that she did.
By converting to Judaism, this woman turned away from her baptismal grace and her confirmation vows. She denied that the Triune God and his promise of forgiveness had anything to do with the water that was poured over her head. She went back on her word to be faithful to God for the rest of her life, the promise she made when she was confirmed. Sadly, she now rejects Jesus Christ as her Savior. To her, Jesus of Nazareth is not God. He is not the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. To her, he was just a man … a wise teacher, yes … but just a man. But as you know, Jesus doesn't leave us that option. If he was such a wise teacher, how would you explain that he made the blind to see, the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, the dead to live? How could you explain that he turned water into wine, fed the five thousand, and stilled the storm? If he was such a wise teacher, how could he make such claims as to be equal to God? Wise teachers give credit where credit is due. They don't claim to be God, as Jesus did.
Now, I’m fairly certain that none of you have ever seen any angels when you come before this altar. Not when you were baptized. Not when you were confirmed. Not when you kneel here to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus. There was someone, however, who once did see angels as they stood before God's Altar. It was the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah had a vision in which he was standing in the temple. He saw the Lord sitting on a throne, and the train of his robe filled the whole temple. Above the Lord were angels, or seraphim, as they are called. Seraphim means “flaming ones” in Hebrew. Perhaps this means that they burned brightly with holiness and zeal for God. In Isaiah's vision, they had six wings. With two they hid their face, as if to say, “As holy as we are, even we don't deserve to look upon the glory of God.” With two wings they covered their feet, a sign of modesty and humility … their wings would reach around to cover their feet, and in so doing would cover their entire body. With the two remaining wings they flew, signifying their swift readiness to do God's will.
What can we learn from these seraphim, these “flaming ones,” these holy angels?
First, let's consider their name: seraphim, flaming ones, burning with holiness and zeal for God. Does that describe you? As God's baptized child, the Holy Spirit empowers you to live a God-pleasing life with a heart eager to do God's will. But you and I still have our sinful nature that tries to snuff out any flame of faith. Sometimes we are more like a smoldering wick than a fiery flame.
Let's now look at what they did with their wings. With one pair of wings they covered their face and with another they covered their feet. In the presence of the Lord God himself, they showed reverence and awe. If even the holy angels in Isaiah's vision covered their faces and feet in humility, then you and I ought to approach the throne of God with humble hearts. Too often, however, I think we take God's love for granted. We worship and pray half-hearted instead of humble-hearted, remembering that we don't deserve any of God's gifts, but that he gives them to us out of pure grace.
With the third pair of wings, they flew. In the Bible, angels were God's messengers. That's in fact what the word “angel” means … messenger. In Greek mythology there was a god by the name of Mercury. He was the messenger for the other gods, and he is often pictured with wings on his sandals. This describes his swiftness in delivering his messages. Likewise, these angels in Isaiah's vision have wings with which they fly. Now, angels are spirits, so they don't literally have wings. But they are indeed quick to respond to God's call and to deliver his Word … just like Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Savior, like the angels who announced the birth of the Savior to the shepherds, and like the angel at the empty tomb who said, “He is not here, but has risen.”
What about you and me? Are we quick to respond to God's call and deliver his Word? We're more like Moses, who found himself tongue tied and afraid to speak. An acquaintance or a classmate says something, and there's a part of us inside that says, “Wow, what a perfect opportunity to talk to them about Jesus!” But we hesitate, because we might be afraid of what they will think of us. They might think we're weird. Or they might ask a question about our faith that we can't answer, and we'll be embarrassed. And so the moment passes, and we don't say anything.
As we see these angels today in Isaiah chapter 6, worshiping God with their three-fold “Holy, holy, holy” … pointing us to God’s Triune being: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit … you and I and all the rest of us gathered here know that we're more like Isaiah than those holy angels. Isaiah stood before God's altar, and knew that he didn't deserve to be there. And so, each one of us can say right along with him, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.”
Thankfully, Isaiah's vision didn't end there. One of the angels still had more work to do and a message to deliver. He went over to the altar where the priests offered the sacrifices in the temple. He picked up a hot coal and flew over to where Isaiah was standing. Touching Isaiah's lips with the coal from the altar, the angel declared, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for." Isaiah was forgiven. The sacrifices on the altar in the temple covered over his sin.
Other than the angels in our text today, you don't get to see any angels. Two young people will be confirmed next week in our late service, and I can guarantee that they will not see any angels as they kneel before the altar to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus for the first time in their lives. No angel is going to place a hot coal on your lips today, and I bet you are glad of that. But you do get to hear this messenger from this pulpit talking about another sacrifice for sin. Your Savior Jesus gave up his life for you at the cross. He shed his blood so that your sins are covered over. He forgives us for the ways in which we are not very humble or reverent, for the times when we are slow to do God's will, for the times we close our mouths when we should be delivering the message about Jesus. Because of Jesus, our guilt is taken away and our sin atoned for.
And then, to assure you of your forgiveness – and to deliver that forgiveness to you in a very personal way – this messenger goes over to this altar, picks up some bread and wine which are the very body and blood of our Sacrificed Savior, and touches them to your lips, as you hear these words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of all your sins.”
Isaiah was forgiven, and then he was sent out for service. The angel touched his lips with the hot coal and announced God's forgiveness. Then Isaiah heard the Lord say, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah was swift to respond, “Here I am! Send me.” And in a similar way, you and I are forgiven and sent out for service wherever God places us, in our various stations in life, whether it’s clergy or congregation member, parent or progeny, teacher or student, employer or employee. Together we can respond to God's love in Christ Jesus and say, “Here I am! Send me.”