5/31/2015 sermon “I AM three”

Preacher: Jo J. Belser
Location: Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, Virginia 
Text: Isaiah 6:1-8
Trinity Sunday 2015

“I AM three”

“Diamonds are forever.”

“Snap! Crackle! Pop!”

“Finger licking good.”

Have you ever noticed that the most effective ad campaigns have three-word slogans? The marketeers have cashed-in on the old “rule of three” of rhetoric, of persuasive speaking, of debate. The human brain most easily resonates with a three-part concept.

Here’s an example: “Location, location, location, location.” Just doesn’t ring as true as “Location, location, location,” does it?

We preachers know this rhetorical device, exploit this rhetorical device, and sometimes overuse this rhetorical device. Maybe you’ll notice.

Photographers and artists also have a “rule of thirds.” I won’t go into specifics. However, what we perceive visually is more pleasing, more true, more innate, if the image is arranged according to the visual “rule of thirds.”

One could speculate, postulate, or just plain think up a reason why we humans resonate in triplicate. One theory is cognitive. Our human brains seem geared to recognize patterns, and three is the smallest number of elements needed to form a pattern. A second theory is physiological, given that our brain has three major parts. A third theory is theological. Could three things be most pleasing to us, resonate with us, and are memorable to us because God, our creator, is somehow one, yet three?

“Holy, holy, holy.”

That’s how the seraphs in our Old Testament lesson today address God. And did you notice God’s question at the end, “Who will go for us?” This “us” isn’t a translation error, but God referring to his one self in the plural. Just as at creation. The very first verse in the Bible, Genesis 1:1, reads, “In the beginning God [plural] created [singular] the heavens and the earth.” Somehow, in a way that is mysterious to us, God is both singular and plural.

God is also mysterious to us in another way: We don’t get to see God, at least not directly. Only a few get to see God at all. For example:

  • God appeared to Abram by some oak trees. There God appeared as three people, three visitors, three prophets, to tell Abram that his wife Sarai would bear him a son in her impossibly old age.[1]
  • Moses got to see God, along with 73 others, from afar, and then by himself on Mount Sinai for 40 days. There God provided a great cloud to allow Moses to be in God’s presence and live. On that mountain God gave Moses instructions for how to worship God, as well as the Ten Commandments.[2]
  • In today’s lesson, Isaiah saw God while he was worshiping God. Well, Isaiah saw what he called the “hem of God’s robe,” which Isaiah said “filled the temple.” God was so far beyond and above Isaiah that only a tiny part of God’s appearance was comprehensible to Isaiah. Like all the times before and since, when God puts in a personal appearance, God wants something of those who get to see him. And like every single person called by God, Isaiah didn’t feel worthy. So God used his messengers, the seraphs, to make Isaiah worthy.

When Isaiah saw God, God had the seraphs purify Isaiah to be a prophetic preacher. If we were to read on after today’s lesson, we would see that God’s message wasn’t a popular one, but that’s a story for another day. Today we are looking at God.

The instructive thing about looking at God is how the seraphs approached God. As God’s messengers, they knew well how to approach the holy/holy/holy and live. What did they do? They covered their faces and their feet.

We know why they covered their faces: few, if any, people can look at God and live. But why cover their feet? Would it help if you knew that, in the Old Testament, “feet” is a euphemism for “genitalia?” The seraphs covered the parts that seem often to lead us away from God.

So the seraphs “covered up” and approached God the only way that we should approach God: reverently, in worship, and in praise to God. They said,
“Holy, holy, holy.” Not one holy. Not two holies. But three: “Holy, holy, holy.”

Here’s a major clue about the nature of God: the one, true, living God needs three holies to address him. Here’s a major clue about where we humans might get our affinity, our love of, and our preference for threes.

Aren’t we, ourselves, made in the image of God?
Aren’t we, ourselves, triune?
Aren’t we, ourselves, id, ego, and superego?
Does OUR three-part nature make us three, or one?

Ut, oh. I’ve strayed into at least three heresies here, as is the danger for any preacher on this Sunday, Trinity Sunday, or “heresy Sunday,” as my preaching cohort calls this day.

The thing our church requires me to teach, remind, and assure you of today are these:

  • There is one God, and only one.
  • The one God is wholly indivisible—not made in three parts, or three programs, or three identities, all operating together as one, but one single unitary reality: God.
  • Yet somehow, inexplicably, we perceive God in three ways, each fully God:
    • God the Holy Spirit, which brings new realities into being, a force at creation which is still operative in our world, even today.
    • God the Son, the Christ, who we recognize as Jesus of Nazareth, who is operative in our live, through whom we can have eternal life.
    • God the Father, who also is operative today, the hem of whose garment fills our worship.

My testimony to you is that understanding the nature of God isn’t nearly as important as worshiping God. And that seeing God, even in an obscured or small way—such as out of the corner of our eye—is a sign that God wants something of us. AND that, like God, we are not meant to be unitary. Our triune natures compel us to be in relationship, one with another, with the church writ large, and above all, with God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

Holy, holy, holy
Lord God Almighty.

[1] Genesis 18:1

[2] Exodus 24—31

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