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Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Lectionary Reflection Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Lesson Year C, Trinity Sunday

Isaiah 6:1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." 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!"

NRSV Copyright Statement
Reflection on Isaiah 6:1-8 by John Gibbs, Ph D

As we discussed for Cycle A, Trinity Sunday, there is no full-fledged developed doctrine of the Trinity within Scripture. What we see in biblical literature are, rather, the seeds of the later developed ideas about the interrelations between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Earliest Christians spoke of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on the bases of their experiences of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Reconciler or Sustainer. We may say, then, that biblical thought about God uses an incipient or “practical” Trinitarian language rather than a “systematic” or philosophical/theological language. [See, for example, R. Mehl’s outline of N.T. talk about God in the article “God” within J.-J. von Allmen, A Companion to the Bible (NY: Oxford Univ. Press, 1958), pp. 146-51.]

As a consequence of the incipient nature of biblical references to the “persons” of the Trinity, as they were later denominated, subsequent theological discussions about the Trinity have ranged far and wide, all the way from excluding this doctrine from any central importance in theology (a position difficult to support on biblical grounds) to, on the other hand, making this doctrine the centerpiece of one’s theology. Karl Barth may be foremost among those who have done the latter during the last century. For an excellent short article about his Trinitarian theology, see Cynthia M. Campbell, “Trinity,” within Donald K. McKim (ed.), Encyclopedia of the Reformed Faith (Louisville: WJKP, 1992), pp. 374-77.

The difficulties of the doctrine of the Trinity for laity, not to mention clergy (!), have led some folk to treat it with silence, especially within preaching. Before doing that, however, we might well recall what happened to the adolescent Carl Jung when he was in his father’s communicants’ class, his father being a Protestant pastor. Carl read ahead in their textbook, and awaited eagerly the forthcoming discussion about the Trinity. But when his father led the class to that chapter, his father remarked that the doctrine of the Trinity was very complex, and that he could not make anything of it himself. So he skipped over that chapter. The young Carl claims that his disaffection with the Church began at that moment.

What, then, do we find about the Trinity in the texts for this day?

Isaiah 6:1-8 predates any Trinitarian language, of course, as it describes God’s call of Isaiah to be a prophet. Isaiah sharply contrasts his own “uncleanness” with the majestic “holiness” of God. One wonders what the anthropologist Mary Douglas may have made of this particular contrast between purity and uncleanness, and let us know if you have found her treatment of this text. In any case, the prophet strongly emphasized that his calling came to him and was not something he himself achieved. As if “touched” by a live hot coal, his life was transformed from uncleanness and from being “lost” so that he could speak for God to the people of his time (6:6-8).

However “Other” than himself God is, then, Isaiah was “touched” by the divine presence. That touching images a closer connection between humanity and God than even Michelangelo envisioned in his famous Sistine Chapel ceiling panel depicting Adam’s hand reaching out to God, and God’s hand reaching out to “Adam,” but without their hands actually touching. Yet, Isaiah emphasizes no less the difference between holy God whose “glory” fills the whole earth and, on the other hand, unclean man who is fully dependent on this “high and lofty” God mediating (through a seraph’s hot coal) the divine presence into himself.

Isaiah’s God is God the Creator, whose glory fills the whole creation, but who also reaches out to the peoples for their “healing” (6:10).

Copyright Statement
NOTE: All readings for this day may be combined into one reflection.
To Reflections on other Readings for this Sunday:
Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Isaiah 6:1-8
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Psalm 29
New Testament Revelation 4:1-11
Gospel John 16:(5-11)12-15
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John Gibbs, PHD, is a retired theologian, who attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2004. He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC Holy Trinity Church Box 65 Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

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