Encountering the Divine Mystery

+ A sermon preached for Trinity Sunday (B) at United Lutheran Church, Gardner, IL on May 31, 2015 +

Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

I would like to thank you all for welcoming me to worship with you this morning. And thank you to Pastor Jana for giving me this opportunity to share this word with you all. It has been a real honor to be among you today and I look forward to meeting more of you after worship.

Now that seminary classes are finished for the summer, I’ve finally had a chance to do one of my favorite things: read. Now that’s not to say that I haven’t been reading during seminary, because I assure you I have, but now I get to read for fun, and it feels great. On the top of my reading list have been books in one of my favorite genres: mystery. I love diving into strange worlds trying to decipher a new riddle along with the investigators. Putting the pieces together until I can explain it all. At the end of the book, the mystery is solved and I know exactly what happened. I know who is guilty and who was innocent. I know the motives and the means. Very cut and dry.

I don’t think I’m alone in this. We as a society like to have explanations; solutions to the questions we encounter. I think this is why investigative TV shows are so popular. Shows like Law & Order, CSI, and NCIS all are able to solve mysteries within a one-hour time slot. If we can live with the suspense (or just wait to binge watch them on Netflix), shows like True Detective or The Killing take a full season to solve a crime, but the murderer is still eventually found.

If you’re like me and love solving these types of mysteries, I have some bad news for you: today is Trinity Sunday. Today, we celebrate the divine mystery of our Triune God. One God in Three Persons. Three in One and One in Three. As much as I’d love to solve the mystery of how the Trinity works with you during this sermon, I fear any attempt to do so would include my committing severe heresy and possibly being kicked out of seminary.

Since the early days of the church, theologians have tried to rationally explain the Trinity. No matter how hard they tried, nothing was sufficient. St. Augustine once wrote, “If you comprehend something, it is not God.” The truth is, our human understandings are insufficient to fully comprehend the full mystery of the divine.

Today’s readings are also full of mystery. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again of water and the Spirit. The Apostle Paul writes to the Romans saying the Spirit makes them children of God. And, perhaps my favorite, we have the beautiful and mysterious vision from Isaiah of entering God’s heavenly throne room.

We see the seraphim and hear their hymn, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of God’s glory!” Even this song is mysterious and paradoxical. In the Old Testament, the word “holy” means ‘to be set apart from.’ And in Hebrew, when a word is repeated, that doubles the emphasis. So, for instance, in the temple in Jerusalem, the Holy of Holies was doubly separate from the world – the most sacred part of the temple where God was believed to reside. So when the seraphs say God is “holy, holy, holy” they’re saying that God is triply separated from the ordinary. God is divinely other. And yet, the entire earth is full of God’s glory. Even though God is triply separated from us, we see God through God’s glories in the world.

We can see God’s glory in mountain ranges and prairies, in forests and deserts. God is glorified in water: in summer thunderstorms and the waters of baptism. We see God in the hug of a loved one and the smile of a stranger. We experience God’s glory when we are amazed by the wonders that surround us throughout creation.

Perhaps the most pervasive imagery for me in this Isaiah text is this sense of wonder, of being awestruck by the majesty of God. The vision is packed with sights that confound and cannot easily be explained. The temple is full of incense and trembles on its hinges. Six-winged seraphim are all around. And there is God sitting on the throne.  How inexplicably awe-some.

According to a recent article in the New York Times, this experience of being awe-struck is actually very important for humans. Awe: that sense of wonder at encountering something that transcends our explanations of the world around us; something not easily explained. Researchers found that when people feel awe, whether by natural wonders, artistic masterpieces, or by encountering the divine in worship, these people are significantly more likely to be more concerned with the needs of the group rather than their own selfish desires. They’re more likely to be generous and kind. They are transformed from self-interested beings into people that care for those around them.

In the reading from Isaiah, we see the prophet’s own transformation when encountering the awe-some majesty of God. We see God choose Isaiah, a man of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips, to be God’s voice in the world. A self-proclaimed sinner is called to be God’s prophet. By encountering the mysteries of God, Isaiah is transformed into a person who would become one of the greatest prophets in the Bible.

Siblings in Christ, we gather here this morning, as we do every Sunday morning, to worship a God who is shrouded in mystery. Today especially, we celebrate the mysterious nature of our Triune God. We celebrate a God who is wholly separate from us and yet mysteriously and intimately close to us. A God that is both creator of the universe and also our Abba, our daddy. We celebrate a God whose infinite self became mysteriously and truly human in Jesus Christ. A God who chose to suffer and die on the cross and then mysteriously rose again. We celebrate a God who has decided to mysteriously come to us again and again in the simple elements of water, bread, and wine. A God whom we praise as we join the seraphim’s unending hymn of “Holy, holy, holy” each time we celebrate the Eucharist. We celebrate the mystery, because that is where we see and know God.

As much as we try, we cannot explain the mysteries of God. No matter how much we like to solve these mysteries and make things to be cut and dry, that is not God’s nature. And that’s one of the beautiful things about God, the promise that no matter how we try to explain God, no matter how intricate the doctrine we create, God is always greater than our explanation. Right when we think we’ve fully comprehended God, we realize that God is larger and more mysterious than we even imagined. But by encountering the divine mystery that is the essence of our God, we, a people of unclean lips living among a people of unclean lips, are transformed into a community in Christ and sent forth to proclaim God’s love for the world.

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