Trinity Sunday – June 15th, 2014 –
John 3 and Isaiah 6
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost +
We have reached Trinity Sunday. Trinity Sunday marks a change in the Church year. For the past 5 or 6 months, with Christmas and Lent and Easter, we’ve really been looking at things Jesus has done – events in His life. But now, entering the Trinity season, our focus through November will be on teaching, Christ’s teachings, what we ought to know about God and His love for us. And so, this Trinity Sunday, we start off at the beginning with the most important and basic thing – We see the Holy God and our relationship to Him.
We see and learn in our Gospel that our God is Triune – that the One True God has three Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father Almighty sends Christ Jesus, the Son, to win salvation. The Holy Spirit takes people and has them born anew, gives them life, so that by believing in the Son, they might have salvation. This is what God does, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is what the Apostles’ Creed speaks to, this is what the Nicene Creed speaks to, and this is what the Athanasian Creed speaks to at length – that we worship a Holy God who is One God in three Persons, and Three Persons yet only one God. This God is righteous and good. This God is perfect and loving and merciful.
And so the question becomes what is our relationship with this God. How do we, we human beings, interact, relate, deal with God Almighty? For this, let’s start with our Old Testament lesson. Isaiah is a priest, a highly ranked priest. He is in the temple, and he is doing the one yearly sacrifice in the Holy of Holies. For that year, Isaiah is the top of the tops, the highest of the high. Humanly speaking, it doesn’t get better or higher than Isaiah. And Isaiah enters the Holy of Holies, and there, something unusual happens. Isaiah beholds not just the earthly temple in Jerusalem, but He beholds the heavenly courts, beholds God Himself. And what is his reaction? “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; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Isaiah knows that at this moment, his life is forfeit. By rights, he should be obliterated. Gone, done away with. Why does Isaiah know this? Because Isaiah knows that he is a sinner.
Sometimes I think we don’t really think about what it means to be a sinner. We will pay attention to specific sins, to acts which are bad. Acts which are naughty. Stealing is bad. Murder is bad. And that is true, but Isaiah points to something bigger than just sinful acts. Sin isn’t just something you do – it is a description of who you are. You are a sinner, and sin is part and parcel of everything you do. Here is Isaiah, and what is he doing? He is serving God in the temple. He is doing the things of a priest. He is doing the highest, the most holy service a person could do. If anyone could ever point to what he is, what he is doing, and brag about it, it would be Isaiah right here this morning. But he doesn’t. Isaiah beholds God, and he fears. He confesses his sinfulness. I am unclean. My lips are dirty. Everything that comes out of them is corrupted. Even there, even there doing the highest worship, Isaiah sees that he is a sinner, and that everything he does is sinful.
That’s what the word sinful means – it means full of sin. This is what you are, this is what I am. Full of sin. Everything, everything we do is tinged and tainted with sin. Everything falls short. Now, when we look at each other, when we look at the person next to us, we might strut out our chest – oh, I’m not as bad as this person. We can get all full of pride and stuff like that when we think we are better than our neighbor. And you know what? From a mere human perspective, You might be better than your neighbor, but who cares? Here in this place, before God, that all goes out the window. You are a sinner. Period. Plain and simple. Compared to God, judged by His standards everything you do, everything you have ever done is flawed and comes up short. Nothing you’ve done is perfect – rather it is sinful. This is what Isaiah confesses in this text.
This is the same thing that Jesus says in our Gospel. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” What are you like? You need to be born anew. You need to be born. In front of God, by yourself you are as good as dead. And we get this all over in Scripture. We hear this over and over again. Paul in Ephesians. “You were dead in trespasses.” Dead. Not alive. What we do, our sinful acts don’t impress God. Hear what Isaiah says in chapter 64. All our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. Oh, I’m so good – no you aren’t, you’re a mess in your pants. Scripture is blunt on our condition. By nature, there isn’t a good thing about us, and we are rotten through and through. We have sinned, and we fall short of God’s Glory, and if you think otherwise, you are simply lying to yourself. There is nothing in you which earns or deserves God’s respect or God’s love. That’s hard and harsh, and we don’t like to admit it, but when we compare ourselves to God, when we view ourselves in light of God’s Holiness, this is what we see.
This is what God sees as well. He sees our lack. He sees our shortcomings. The flaws we work so hard to hide, the sins we try to cover up, the problems we pretend we don’t have – God sees them. And this is the wonder. Although by rights God should wipe us out, toss us into the trash can – He doesn’t. For God so loved the world. God loves the world – God loves you, and this is how God loves you. When we hear “God loves you” – it’s not just a matter of God thinking you are nice. It’s not a matter of God loves you so He puts up with you. This is how God loves you – He gives His only Son, gives Jesus Christ over to death, sheds the blood of Christ so that your sinfulness might be covered, washed away and clean – so that you don’t perish. Everything about you that is wrong, that is lacking – the fact that you are a sinner, through and through, is covered by Christ Jesus. Just as you are completely a sinner, Christ Jesus is completely and totally righteous and good, and upon the Cross He sheds His blood so that you might be made righteous and good and brought into God’s presence.
This is what God does with us. He takes us sinners, and He purifies and forgives us so that we can be with Him. We see this in the Old Testament. Isaiah is there before God, and Isaiah knows His life is forfeit. The wages of sin is death, and Isaiah is expecting to get paid in full. But what happens? Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And He touched my mouth and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” God wants Isaiah to be with Him, so what does God do? He sees to it that Isaiah is forgiven. The Altar, the place of sacrifice, that applies to Isaiah, that is done for him. Who is God? Do you wish to know what God is like? This is what God is like – He is the God who forgives sinners.
This is what Jesus teaches in the Gospel. You must be born again. You must be given new life. And this isn’t something you can do by yourself. You didn’t choose to be born of your parents – and likewise you don’t do anything to be born again. God does this, and God did this when He took you, and brought you to His font, and taking Water and His Word, washed you clean in Baptism. God did it when by Water and the Word He poured His life giving Spirit into you. And you are now born of the Spirit. The blood of Christ covers you. You are now completely and totally holy. He has taken all your sin, your sinfulness upon Himself and put it to death on the Cross. You are now a saint. Just as the Angel brought a coal from the altar and touched it to Isaiah’s lips – what do we get? Christ Jesus brings us Himself, His own Body and Blood from the true altar, the Altar of the Cross, and He places His own Body and Blood on our lips, and we are clean, we are righteous. All that Jesus is, all that He has done, overwhelms us, and we are forgiven. What Isaiah foretells in chapter 1 is brought to completion in Christ – though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. By yourself, by your own nature, apart from Christ you are a filthy, bloody rag – but Christ Jesus has won your forgiveness, and God has washed you, cleansed you, purified you so that you are white as snow, like clean fresh wool.
When God sees you, He sees you as completely righteous and perfect. Why? Not because of who you are or what you do. Rather, when God looks at you, He sees Jesus. The Father sees His Son when He looks at you, He sees you as His New Creation, He sees that you have new life in Jesus. This is the entirety of our lives as Christians. By nature we are completely sinful – and if we look to ourselves, if we trust in ourselves, if we persist in justifying ourselves – sinners is all we will ever be – and we will be damned. But the Triune God comes into our lives, calls us to repentance, and makes us holy and righteous. And now, in this life here on earth, we see both. We see the sinner, worthy of damnation; we see the saint given heaven. This is the struggle in your life. This is why your life is difficult. Because you are both sinner and saint. This is what we see in Baptism. “What does such baptizing with water signify? It signifies that the Old Adam in us,” that is our sinfulness, “should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts and, again, a new man,” the righteous saint we are in Christ, “come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” While we live, we have both – we are at the same time sinner and saint. And as God’s people, we struggle against our sin and confess it. We don’t hide our sin, we don’t puff ourselves us, we fight temptation and confess our sin. And God makes us righteous; God makes us holy, God washes us clean and gives us forgiveness as often as we need it – and since we are always sinners, that’s often, that every day. He gives us this forgiveness in His Word, in His Sacraments – bringing us ever closer to Him, and making us look more and more like Christ.
Dear friends in Christ, marvel and delight in the God whom we Worship. God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost beholds us sinners, but because of His love for us, wins for us salvation in Christ Jesus, and makes us Holy by the Working of the Spirit. Our God wishes to be with us for all eternity, and He does all that is required to see this happen. Our Lord gives us heaven, He gives us Himself. Thus to Him be glory forever. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.