"Merciful and Mighty". An unpreached sermon for Trinity Sunday 2024


Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;

the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “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.”

Then one of the seraphim 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. ”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? ”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

When we first moved to Queensland, Leisa and I worshipped at a lovely little old Anglican church in a lovely little historic township north west of Brisbane, St Aidan’s, Dayboro. Leisa is of Australian Methodist stock, its aristocracy even, while I am confirmed in the Church of England - by law established! So if you reckon John Wesley to have never renounced his Anglican Orders, we’re both Anglican. Sort-of. St Aidan’s had the most gorgeous saints you could imagine when we were there, a quarter of a century ago. Most of them are in Glory now, among them a World War II RAAF pilot, Ces. Like folk of that greatest generation, you wouldn’t have marked him out as a hero. By that time, he was an inconspicuous old man. But as a young man, he flew low level pathfinder missions over Germany by night, marking targets for following bombers, and then flew reconnaissance by day to see how the previous night had fared. On ANZAC Day, I don’t know how he stayed upright, his chest was so weighed down with medals. What brought him to mind was a story by an American Episcopalian friend about a Pentecost reading:

“A long time ago in New London, Connecticut, the reader went to the lectern to read the passage from Acts 2. He was doing fine until he got to ‘....How is it then that we hear them, each of us in his own native language?  Parthians <short hesitation>, Medes....<long pause>….and all those other guys….'.  We all broke out laughing. There may even have been applause.”

Ces was famed for something similar, he got to the lectern, took one look at the reading, and said “I ain’t reading this, they’ve all got weird names.”

What’s this got to do with Trinity Sunday? Well, my Episcopalian mate went on,

“And then there's the next Sunday. The best sermon I ever heard on Trinity Sunday was by Bill Kibitz of truly blessed memory. He said, while crossing himself, ‘In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.’ Then he climbed down and went on with Solemn High Mass. You can get yourself into big trouble when trying to preach on the Trinity.”

You sure can. Which is why, as I looked at, prayed about, and read around Isaiah 6, an entirely different tack presented itself.

The narrative places the prophet in the temple. Though Isaiah says, “I saw the Lord,” his description only reveals the edge of God’s enormous robe, as if he had quickly averted his eyes. I’ll come back to that. Divine transcendence and immanence are juxtaposed in the seraphs’ single chorus, setting God apart from all creation: Three times holy, but still seeing divine glory in creation’s fullness. Through the smoke and shaking we see echoes of God’s descent to meet the people at Mount Sinai in Exodus 19. Today’s Psalm 29 resembles Isaiah’s vision, especially in verse 9: “The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’’’ Like the Israelites witnessing God at Mount Sinai, the prophet fears for his life. But whereas they retreated, insisting that Moses mediate for them, Isaiah continues standing in God’s presence. Isaiah suggests that he is not ritually prepared to stand in God’s presence, nor are his people prepared to stand trial in the holy tribunal. A seraph touches his mouth with a hot coal and pronounces his guilt departed and his sin atoned.

Now, that robe. The Lord’s robes — from the waist down — fill the heavenly temple. Isaiah sees a massive God, evoking a sense of power and strength. The seraphs are flying serpents, with six pairs of wings. One pair covers their eyes, so that they cannot see the divine face. Smoke billows out; the whole temple shakes. The cries of the seraphs lift up God’s holiness and glory. The scene conveys no hint of weakness. God is strong, holy and glorious. Isaiah is unclean.

Where else do we read of a powerful God - and since this is Trinity Sunday, let’s not forget that our incarnate Saviour is the Second Person of the Holy and Undivided Trinity - whose robe at once conveys his power displayed in healing and forgiveness, and offers hope to another actor who is ritually unclean? Mark 5:24 - 34, Jesus is on his way to raise Jairus’ daughter:

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”

“You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

Look, I am a sacramentalist, each time I join in the seraphs’ song,

“Holy, Holy, Holy Lord,
God of Power and Might;
Heaven and Earth are full of your Glory.”

along with all saints of every time and space at communion, I am filled with reverent awe even as imposter syndrome kicks in to remind me that “I am not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from your table”. And the nature of our Holy Lord? It is always to have mercy.


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