The Holy Trinity
June 7, 2020
“Better Than Us”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
At times there is no one better than you, right? I mean at your best moment, when everything is clicking and you find yourself on top, there is no one that can keep up with you, right? Sorry. This is Trinity Sunday and on this day we confess what should be so apparent to us – our Triune God is much better than us.
We sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” today, a hymn about a God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who is greater than us. The author of that hymn based it upon Revelation 4:8-11, part of that reading says, “Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stopped singing: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (Verses 8)
Our reading from Isaiah 6 sounds similar to that Revelation reading. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3) Holy – set apart, unique, different, pure, perfect…better than us. Isaiah tells about his call to be a prophet of God and tells when he met God. The scene was frightening. God sat on His throne and the train of his robe filled the entire temple. Angels flew all around. The whole place rumbled. And then smoke filled the place. Some years ago we sang the praise song, “Surely the Presence of the Lord is in this Place.” But when we sang it, it left us with a more peaceful feeling. This sight of God to Isaiah was unsettling. You see God is much greater than us.
But Isaiah’s problem wasn’t just about God being greater, it was that God was better. Or, put another way, he was so much worse. He inspected his life and realized how dirty he was. He was in the presence of the one who three times was called holy and the failures of his soul were too much for Isaiah. And I think they are too much for us. Isaiah speaks, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5) Instead of wanting to go back to his buddies with the word of astonishment, “You’ll never guess what I just saw…”, (robes, angels, smoke, even an earthquake) he realizes that he found himself in the wrong place. He was too dirty and sinful to be in such a holy place.
In Luke 5 a similar event occurred. The presence of God wasn’t in a Temple, but on a lake. Peter and the other followers of Jesus were fishing and hadn’t caught anything all night long. But Jesus, on the shore, told them to let down their nets for a catch. Peter told Jesus, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down my nets.” (Luke 5:5) And they caught fish!! Lots of fish. And Peter, after hauling in the load didn’t come and give Him a high-five, or even an elbow bump – he made this request, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8) Holy, Holy, Holy isn’t always comforting. It wasn’t for Isaiah. It wasn’t for Peter. It’s not for me. It’s probably isn’t for you. Our God is better than us and we know it.
But my heart is made alive again because our God is better than us. Better – not just bigger and holier, not just perfect and sinless – but compassionate, caring, forgiving. To his confession of sin, God gave His forgiveness. “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:6-7) When I see this action and treasure the outcome, I think of the good words of Psalm 103, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” (Verse 10)
Our God, triune, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is better than us. When speaking about the atonement of our sins through the death of Jesus upon the cross we hear, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:21) Every attribute that God possesses, especially his patience, kindness, forgiveness and love are better than ours!!
He is better than us because in His grace He gives us a purpose. Isaiah, at one time only hanging his head low, with the “Woe, is me, I am ruined”, has his head lifted when the sin that defiled him was forgiven. And He is better than us because He then puts us into service. Remember this was the day of Isaiah’s ordination, this was His calling into service and ministry. After his sin was forgiven the question was asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” Isaiah, with confidence, speaks, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)
A friend of mine has repeatedly told me that Christians don’t fully understand grace and forgiveness. He has said to me, “Christians think that forgiveness is nothing more than a ‘get out of jail free’ card.” I hope that he is entirely wrong on this. Forgiveness is much more than that!! Elizabeth Achtemeier, a brilliant Bible scholar, in her comments of this reading says, “But we must notice in our text that Isaiah is forgiven not just so he will feel good about himself. He is forgiven in order that he may carry out a task for God.” (Emphasis May-June, 2000, Page 54)
Our God is better than us. He forgives and then He sends. Peter, after his denial three times of Jesus, is forgiven. But his forgiveness wasn’t just for him, it was for others too. Jesus recommissions Peter after his failure and says, “Feed my sheep; tend my lambs.” Jerry Kieschnick, the former President of our Synod, in a sermon about 10 years ago said that the three greatest days in a person’s life are: The day you were born; the day you were baptized; and the day you found out why you were born and baptized.
Have you figured that one out yet? Why were you born? Why were you baptized? Why has God allowed you to live on this earth, at this time? Why did God decide to claim you in Holy Baptism to be His own? The three greatest days in your life are the day you were born, the day you were baptized and the day you discovered why you were born and baptized.
Peter, in his epistle, tells us what it is to live as children of God, forgiven and sent to do God’s will, “Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” (I Peter 1:13-16)
Isaiah was amazed that God is better than him – in every way. God is better because He is holy (in fact – holy, holy, holy). He is better because “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our sins from us.” He is better because He sends the forgiven sinner to a world of sinners. It made every sense in the world to Isaiah, when he saw with humility how much better God was than him, and when he was asked, “Who will go for us?”, would say, “Here am I. Send me.”
I close with the hymn. “I the Lord of Sea and Sky” (WOV 752, verse 1)
I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in darkest sin my hand will save
I, who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright
Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send?
Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.