Sermon by Rev. Todd Weir
May 27, 2018
Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-8
(click above to listen)
Today is known as Trinity Sunday. In talking about God as three persons in one substance, we can get lost in the intellectual challenge of defining how the creator, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are inter-related. A neglected topic is how more images of God creates a depth and balance to our understanding of God. Our imagination of God has implications for how we live, our ethics, self-understanding and purpose. Religious dreams, like Isaiah’s vision of God and flying seraphs, are strange and wondrous things, that shape our view of God. St. Theresa had a vision of the soul as a diamond in the shape of a castle, with seven mansions, which were symbolic of seven stages of spiritual development. This vision became a standard text for seekers of God in their own exploration. On the other hand we have Roman emperor Constantine seeing a cross and hearing the words “Conquer under this sign.” His interpretation was to put the cross on his soldiers’ shields and he would be victorious in battle. This dream too has had huge and often unfortunate consequences. We can also point to Moses seeing the burning bush, or Ezekiel in the valley of the dry bones, as visions that have inspired generations to not only understand God, but to say, “Here I am, send me.”
I recall a few times that I identify as moments where God touched my life, moments with a spark of the burning bush. One called me to ministry. Another was a deep feeling of being truly loved by God, much like John Wesley experience of feeling “strangely warmed.” (My moment was on a riding lawn mower, but I think it is still valid.) I had a confrontation with what felt like the devil, and the Buddha met me and brought me back to Jesus. These have all shaped who I am and I’m struck by how interpreting what these experiences mean has shifted over time. The psychologist Gerald May studied spiritual experiences and noted that many visions were what he called “unitive” experiences. People feel a deep connection with God, other people, a union with all living things with a great sense of awe. If a vision connects you to life, then it isn’t just about what is happening to your soul, it will also influence your moral and ethical life.
Carl Jung, the psychologist who analyzed dreams, believed they revealed important things we miss in our regular consciousness. Jung studied categorized over 80,000 dreams in his career, and found various archetypes like the great mother, the wise old man, the trickster, the divine child, etc. He had a vision just before World War II of the Alps being filled with blood and even more strange, he always dreamed of Winston Churchill whenever he visited the European continent, including once when Churchill came in secret, and Jung only found out later.
Ultimately, Jung believed that dreams function to promote the most important developmental process of human life, namely, the uniting of consciousness and the unconscious in a healthy, harmonious state of wholeness. http://dreamresearch.ca/pdf/jung.pdf
Or as Mircea Eliade noted, “Life is not possible without an opening to transcendence, human beings cannot live in chaos. Once contact with the transcendence is lost, existence in the world ceases to be possible.”
Isaiah’s Vision, because it combines a vision of God, the state of the nation and a calling to be a prophet. Some background can help us understand what this might mean. First, verse 1 tells us that King Uzziah died, which occurred in 739 BC. Uzziah became king at age 16 and reigned for 52 years. He was an able king, won his battles, fortified the city, and it was one of the more prosperous times for Judah and Jerusalem. But Uzziah also disobeyed God, and was struck with leprosy, and his sons took over the last three years of his life. This was also the timeframe of the prophesies of Amos about injustice, inequality and poverty. (You remember Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”)
This is Isaiah’s context. Uzziah died, after a half century of prosperity and stability, which is starting to crack and crumble due to hubris and injustice. This is a time of fear about the future and instability. A dream of a God on the throne over all the earth inspires some much needed transcendence- a God who is much larger than life, a God who has mythical creatures like seraphs flying around the throne, calling out:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
This may have been even more magnificent than the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and now Princess Meghan. It signals a God much greater, wiser and more just than Uzziah could dream of being. This God is actually paying attention. God sees all and recognizes things are devolving. Isaiah chapters one through five, and the work of Amos, tell us of great injustice. We can imagine the appeal of a sovereign and powerful God, over and above any powerful earthly ruler, creating a sense of hope that things can get better, because God is the ultimate power. Chaos or injustice will not be the final answer. God will touch the lips of prophets with a burning coal, to speak the truth.
What if this is the only view of God available to us? With God so transcendent, so above and on the throne over all the earth, we can wonder if God touches our individual lives, or has more than just a generalized concern for the course of history. What is God doing while we may be individually suffering? Justice can take generations to work out, and we only live in the present.
As I was looking for hymns to fit the theme this week, I found the hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” which refers to Isaiah’s vision of the Seraphs flying and calling out “Holy, Holy, Holy.” We sing this hymn at Advent, which is when we celebrate the incarnation of Jesus bringing the love of God in the midst of us.
“King of kings, yet born of Mary….As the Light of Light descent, from the realms of endless day, That the powers of hell may vanish, And the darkness clears away.”
A transcendent God alone is not the full picture. If you haven’t yet seen Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry’s Royal Wedding sermon, catch it on YouTube, (or see it here). Note that he starts off his sermon on the power of love with a Trinitarian formula, “And now in the name of our loving, liberating and life-giving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.” What is the Trinity like? A God who is loving, liberating, and life-giving. If God is three-in-one, then God is communal, and God has to live in love, or God would be terribly conflicted. Curry asked his global audience to imagine the implications of this:
“Think and imagine a world where love is the way.
Imagine our homes and families where love is the way.
Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.
Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.
Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.
When love is the way, there’s plenty good room – plenty good room- for all of God’s children….
When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are siblings, borne of God.
Bishop Curry is not just saying nice words about love. This past Thursday, he joined hundreds of clergy for a candlelight vigil in Washington, DC, who all signed a moral appeal titled,
“Reclaiming Jesus: A Confession of Faith in a Time of Crisis.” The ethical details are much in line with Curry’s wedding sermon. What I want to emphasize is the starting point. We don’t start with our politics, our ideology, our patriotism or national identity, and then fashion a religion to meet our requirements. We start with the question, what is God like? Then we move to getting the work of love done.
In God, we live and move and have our being, and this God is our loving, liberating and life-giving God, Father, Mother, Jesus the Christ and Holy Spirit, blessed Trinity, who calls to us. Whom can I send? What will I do, what will you do with the precious love that has been poured into your heart?