Trinity Sunday (B)
Isaiah 6 1-8
May 27, 2018
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Old Testament reading, which was read a few minutes ago.
The word “holy” appears in the Bible 688 times and has several meanings including: to be clean, dedicated, sacred, and without sin. God declares the Temple to be dedicated to Him and sacred. He instructs the priests to be sure they’re ritually clean before assuming their duties in the Temple. He tells the people that they are holy because He has set them apart from all other nations as His people. He also commands them to be holy as He is holy. It’s this last one that many Christians have struggled with the most. God is telling us that we have to be sinless and perfect, that we have to be sacred and dedicated only to Him. How easy is that? It’s not easy at all. When Martin Luther was a monk he struggled with this command. It wasn’t until he had spent substantial time in prayer and the study of the Bible that he came to realize what God was really saying. God does demand that we are holy, but He isn’t anxiously waiting for the day He condemns us to hell for lacking it. Instead God comes and gives us the holiness we need – His holiness.
When it comes to the Bible, and God’s message to us, holiness plays an extensive role. Twenty four times in Isaiah, God is referred to as the “Holy One of Israel” and He’s indeed holy. In Isaiah’s vision of Heaven he sees the seraphim calling to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” Three times the angels shout “Holy” about God, so God isn’t just holy; He’s three times holy, He’s supremely holy and He’s absolutely holy. Because He’s holy, God is perfect, He’s without Sin, and He expects the same of us. God says, in Leviticus 11, “You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” Well, this is pretty easy, right? Something holy is something set aside for God’s purposes and we’d all agree that as Christians we’re set aside for God. As those who are set aside for God, are we’re holy because we don’t sin that much, or at least our sins aren’t as bad as the sins of others? Many people think that if they keep the Law and don’t break the Ten Commandments, they’re holy, and God is pleased.
Well, do we keep the Law? Not at all! Saint James says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” So even if you’ve never cursed or missed church, yelled at your kids for no reason or lusted after your neighbor’s spouse, if you even once coveted something or maybe briefly made something into an idol, you’re just as guilty of breaking the Law as the murderers, thieves, and unbelievers. God says, “Be holy”, be without sin, and none of us can achieve that, we can’t even come close. We think we’re doing a good job because we don’t murder and we aren’t mean to others. We think we’re holy because we help those in need and we come to church, but what we do doesn’t make us holy. In fact, because we sin repeatedly, even in small ways, we’re the opposite of holy, we’re defiled. We’re not fit to be in God’s presence at all, and if we were standing before Him we would be terrified.
Look at the prophet Isaiah. He’s given a glimpse into Heaven and as he hears the cry of the angels, he’s blown away by his unworthiness. He says, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Not only is he unclean, he lives with unclean people and he knows he’s unworthy to stand before God. He’s terrified because he expects to die, but God certainly not waiting to kill Isaiah. Instead, He sent a helper, an angel that touches Isaiah’s lips with a flaming coal from the altar and declares him to be forgiven, to be holy. He says, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” Now, Isaiah can stand confidently before God, for God has made him holy.
As we live before God, we too are unholy, we’ve talked about that already, but what’s next? Do we have to see an angel to be made holy or is there another helper of sorts? Today is Trinity Sunday, the First Sunday after Pentecost Sunday, and it’s fitting that as we contemplate our unholiness we realize that God sent the Holy Spirit to bring us up out of our defilement and to make us holy. We need help; we need a “flaming coal” of our own to take away our guilt and to atone for our sins if we are ever to hope of seeing God face to face.
You are holy because Christ came to make you holy and He sent the Spirit so you would know what it means to be holy. Your sin defiles you so you’re unfit to be in God’s presence. But God wants you to be with Him, He finds no pleasure in the death of the wicked and He wants all to come to the saving knowledge of Christ Jesus. So God isn’t waiting to damn us, He wants to save us, He wants to restore the image that was tarnished when we fell into Sin, so He sent His Son to be defiled and cursed in our place.
Paul writes in Galatians, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’”. By nature of being born, we were unholy, but Christ took our unholiness upon Himself and in return gave us His holiness. Just as the angel touched Isaiah’s lips with the flaming coal, we’ve been touched with baptism and the Word of God. Our sins are paid for and our guilt is taken away because Christ was the flaming coal that forgave Isaiah and also forgives you. Now, despite your sin and unholiness, you can stand in God’s presence knowing that Christ has made you holy. The Holy Spirit, whom the Son sent to us from the Father, is the guarantee of our salvation. Saint Paul writes in Ephesians, “In Him you…were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it”. Isn’t that wonderful to hear? You were unholy and you’re a sinner but because God the Father sent the Son to die for you and because the Son sent the Holy Spirit into your heart you can be assured that you are a forgiven and holy sinner.
And as sinner and saint you have a difficult road ahead of you because you can’t just rest on the laurels of your holiness in Christ; God calls you to live a holy life. Paul says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” A Christian who doesn’t fight against the sin in their life or who refuses to live in holy ways grieves the Holy Spirit. Instead of embracing our sin, we live holy lives by turning our backs on our Sin and seeking to live only in God pleasing ways. We’ll fall, a lot, but the forgiveness that we receive enables us to get up and move forward again under the power of Christ. The power of the Holy Spirit whom Christ sent to us is amazing, not only is our forgiveness guaranteed, but He helps us in our every day battles as we remember who we are because of baptism.
Today is Holy Trinity Sunday and it’s fitting we praise them for their work is crystal clear. They work together to make us holy. The Father sent the Son who sent the Holy Spirit and now the holiness of God is poured out on us to forgive our sins and lead us into eternal life. It’s a struggle, there’s no doubt about that, but with God all things are possible, even your holiness. You don’t need to stand before God with a woe is me attitude, and you don’t have to worry that you’re in the hands of an angry God who hates you because you’re unholy and sinless. You are forgiven sinners who have been given His Son’s holiness. You don’t need to find it on your own, He’s given it to you, and that’s all that you’ll ever need.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen