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HOLY KEYS: BURNING COAL

The Feast of the Holy Trinity, 26 May 2024

A Sermon on Isaiah 6:1-8 by Carl Andrew Voges, STS

Isaiah 6:1-8  English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “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!” 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.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

HOLY KEYS: BURNING COAL

“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but, if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”                                                                                                          [Romans 8.13-14]

In the Name of Christ + Jesus Our Lord

Thinking of life that runs through this world, it is always relieving / strengthening to step into Lord’s presence through one of Church’s liturgies!

World surrounds us with gods it continually creates while LORD God keeps us surrounded with holy places of his Scriptures / his Sacraments of Baptism, Forgiveness / Eucharist!

This past Thursday one of psalms (115) reminded us of how world’s gods are

They have mouths but cannot speak, they have eyes but cannot see, they have ears but cannot hear, they have noses but cannot smell, they have hands but cannot feel, they have feet but cannot walk!

Such gods are represented today by three hundred dollars clutched in this left hand!

Even we, who are Lord’s baptized people, are highly familiar with world’s gods / we’re somewhat expert at committing ourselves to them!

But we also recognize that these gods, as good as they may look / possibilities they may offer, are true source of all world’s messes / noises

They wear us out, that’s why it is so relieving / strengthening to stride into Lord’s holy places this morning

LORD God is represented by right hand, one which appears empty, but isn’t because it scoops water out of this baptismal font / lets it flow over person’s head

Such action, though it may occur quietly, actually immerses individual into Life of Father, Son / Holy Spirit!

This Life overrides life given us at birth / runs on into eternity when we fall asleep in our Lord

It is highly fitting, then, to come into Lord’s holy places this morning to celebrate Festival of Holy Trinity!

In tradition / practice of Orthodox Church, coming of Holy Spirit on Pentecost is first celebrated with full revealing of Trinity – Father, Son / Spirit

In Western Church, Day of Holy Trinity began to surface during 900s

About four hundred years later (1334), Pope John XXII approved its observance / its celebrations gradually spread throughout northern Europe

Traditionally, Lutheran / Episcopal churches have referred to next six months as “Sundays after Trinity Sunday”

Roman Catholic Church refers to same months as “Sundays after Pentecost”; in current generation many Lutheran / Episcopal churches tend to follow Roman practice

Thus, today is not only Festival of Holy Trinity, it is also First Sunday after Pentecost!

Having been gifted with promised Holy Spirit week ago, today we focus our attention on Father who created this earth / everything involved with it…even though most people around us do not share this understanding

Today we focus our attention on Son who rescued all people living on this earth from death, pulling them from guidance / direction of evil powers in this world…even though most people around us do not share this understanding

Today we focus our attention on Spirit who continues Son’s rescuing work / makes their baptized people holy…even though most people around us do not share this understanding

All these insights emerge from today’s First Lesson – opening verses of Isaiah 6!

In them Isaiah has incredible vision of LORD God (it occurs in 742 BC, year of King Uzziah’s death)!

Isaiah sees Lord sitting on throne, high / lifted up / train of his robe filling temple!

Conveniently for us, nave of St Matthew’s Church approximates temple’s dimensions

Temple was rectangle, 90 feet long, 30 feet wide / 45 feet high

There were three rooms in it – vestibule (entrance hall or narthex), measuring 30×10 feet

[organ pipes on your left extend about ten feet from west wall]

Main room (nave) measured 60×30 feet [it would extend from trumpets to between first / second beams on your right]

Inner sanctuary (holy of holies) was perfect cube, measuring 30×30 feet [it would extend from first / second beams on your right to east wall]

Ark in holy of holies was crafted of acacia wood (high quality, similar to teak); it measured 4×2.5 feet / contained two tablets of Moses’ Law; ark is underneath wings of two immense gold cherubim (or seraphim) which stand 17 feet tall

Biblically, these figures are understood as angels (messengers from God or celestial beings)

While these beings stand beside Lord’s throne in heaven, singing his praises, we also

recognize that, during those centuries, there were similar beings reflected in Near Eastern literature / religions

These beings have six wings with four covering their eyes / feet, / two enabling them to fly (this description heightens their mysterious presence)

It is striking that they call to one another with same words we sing before Lord’s Supper – Holy, holy, holy is Lord of hosts; whole earth is full of his glory!

Power of those calls is so strong it shakes temple’s foundations (imagine bricks under us / beam footings heaving!); area, which is covered with Lord’s train from his robe, is filled with smoke (all these realities reflecting Lord’s eternal mystery / power!)

Isaiah’s response is stunning – Woe is me!  I am lost, man of unclean lips! I live among people whose lips are also unclean!  My eyes are seeing King, Lord of hosts!

This stunning response reminds us that this evening (morning) we are in holy place, holiness not streaming from our polished / covered attitudes / actions, but from workings of Holy Trinity in our lives

Next part of Isaiah’s vision, while still stunning, makes us wince…painfully

One of seraphim flies to Isaiah with burning coal in his hand that has been moved with tongs from altar

He touches Isaiah’s mouth / says: Behold, this burning coal is touching your lips; your guilt is taken away; your sin is atoned for!

Isaiah then hears Lord’s voice saying, Whom shall I send, / who will go for us (“us” implying Holy Trinity)

Isaiah responds, Here I am; send me!

Incredible vision!  What do we make of it not only for our lives this evening (morning), but also for next six months of this Pentecost season?

Answer turns on burning coal that is placed to Isaiah’s unclean (that is, sinful) lips

Remember how homily began with description of world’s gods, how they create / maintain all world’s messes / noises?

Those messes / noises all trace back to drive for one’s self, drive which infects every person born into this world

Isaiah’s vision emerges from strikingly similar circumstances!

In preceding chapter, Lord describes how his people are living; he unloads six reproaches which are striking because they still exist in world’s life today:

  • People are wanting things they don’t have
  • People are living with no thought of being responsible
  • People are mocking Lord by challenging him to show something of himself
  • People are thoroughly depraved in living for themselves
  • People are chokingly full of themselves
  • People are drinking as much as they can / are always bribing others

Lord then announces that, because they have rejected / despised him, he will turn loose strong / destructive powers of this world on them!

Those powers continually distract us from Lord’s Life / make us addicted to their gods

Suddenly, Isaiah’s vision breaks in, overwhelming Lord’s people with his eternal reality (his Word) that breaks us down / restores us!

Where is this burning coal today?

First, it resides in Lord’s Scriptures / Sacraments

Second, it is centered in Son’s crucifixion, resurrection / ascension

Third, it vividly, perhaps painfully, reminds us of how Son’s dying / rising breaks apart realities of our instinctive wrapping of self

Fourth, burning coal reflects difficulty of communicating realities of Trinity’s Life while living in today’s world

Earlier we had noted how world’s gods are represented tonight (today) by three hundred dollars in this left hand!

We’re aware of how they distract / addict us; we’re familiar with them, we commit ourselves to them; most often they are attractive / offer intriguing possibilities, but we’re also aware that they are true source of all world’s messes / noises

As this homily was coming together, thought occurred that perhaps email could be sent to parish administrator week before this Liturgy stating three year olds who were present in it would receive significant gift, namely this three hundred dollars

Can you imagine reaction if that thought was actually carried out!  Response would have been staggering, we would be running to ATM to replenish this stash!

It would have made for memorable celebration of Holy Trinity, one that would endure, but not carrying it out reminds us how magnetic world’s gods are / how their intentions for us are not always for our well-being

That’s why, my friends, it is so relieving / strengthening to stride into Lord’s holy places this evening (morning)

Here LORD God is represented by right hand, one which appears empty, but is not because it scoops water out of this baptismal font / lets it flow over person’s head

Because of this scooping, we exult in Father, who creates us; in Son, who rescues us; in Spirit, who makes us holy

Yes, we still have to deal with realities that involve living in this world, but this evening (morning) we are overwhelmed with reality that Holy Trinity has immersed us fully in their eternal Life!

Now may the peace of the LORD God, which is beyond all understanding, keep our hearts and minds through Christ + Jesus Our Lord

The Rev’d. Fr. Carl Andrew Voges, STS

Columbia, South Carolina

carl.voges4@icloud.com