Skip to main content

Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of hosts. A sermon for Trinity Sunday.

Isaiah 6:1-8

The story is told of the little girl who came home from Sunday school. What did you do today, asked dad. ‘I drew God’, she said. ‘But Lisa’, said dad, ‘nobody knows what God looks like’. Lisa looked at him defiantly, and said, ‘well, they do now’.

Isaiah 6 introduces us to God: not to the God of our imagination, but to the living God

1. To the God who is Holy

The angels cry out ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of hosts’

We are going to say that later on in the service, in the prayers and then during the communion prayer

What does it mean to be holy?
If someone or something is holy then it means that it is set apart, sacred, hallowed.

It is the same root that we use in the Lord’s Prayer when we pray ‘hallowed be your name’.

There is the holiness of the divine being.

Philosophers speak of this as God’s ontological holiness.

God is completely set apart from us, other to us. He is beyond all our categories.

He is the creator of space and time and so is beyond our ideas of space and time.

There is an absolute difference between the Creator (God) and us, the creature
- creation was not born of God, like a child coming out of its mothers’ womb
- creation is not of the same nature or matter as God

The writer to the Hebrews says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible”. Hebrews 11:3

Theologians speak of that as creation ex nihilo, creation out of nothing.

In the beginning, God spoke and creation came into being.

That is why all our speech about God is inadequate.

We are a bit like ants, with our ant language of feelers and scents and whatever ways that ants communicate with other ants, trying to explain a human being. It is not just that God is so big and we are so tiny and so we cannot see him. It is also that our language, concepts and logic are just not up to the task. 

We speak of God as Father, as a person, as love – and of course that is true. But God is far more than a human father writ large, he is far more than a person or than love as we understand the person or as we understand love.

And we have the positive words to describe God: God is omnipresent, omniscient, Almighty (the one seated 'on the throne')

But because even those words cannot describe God, quite often the language that we use for God is the language of negatives: God is immortal, invisible – he is not mortal, he is not visible
There is the remarkable hymn, 'Immortal, invisible God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes' (that line is taken from 1 Timothy 6:16)

That is why no image can represent the eternal God, no art, no music. Not even little Lisa's drawing!

Rublev’s icon of the Trinity does not, for instance, portray the three persons of the Trinity. It portrays three angels who represent the persons of the Trinity.

There is the Holiness of divine being, and in addition there is the holiness of the divine heart – moral holiness:

All that is true and beautiful and perfect comes from God and can be found in God.

Last week we remembered the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit came as tongues of fire. And fire is a great picture of the holiness of God, because it is both pure and also makes pure. Fire burns up everything that is not pure, and through fire we separate different metals. If we want to separate metals from gold to be left with pure gold, then we need fire. We will need to heat the gold and metals to temperatures between 1000 and 12000 degrees celsius.

So it is no wonder that 
even the perfect angels in Isaiah 6 cover their faces, and when Isaiah is given a glimpse of the holiness of God, he cries out ‘woe is me! I am lost’.

2. We are introduced to God who touches the earth

When I read these verses I assume that Isaiah saw this huge throne, and God is seated on the throne. Isaiah doesn’t even begin to try to describe God, because he could not look at him: God was just too awesome

But what Isaiah can describe is the hem of God’s robe, and this hem fills the temple.

Notice how the word ‘filled’ is used in these verses: the hem of God’s robe robe filled the temple, the whole earth is full of the glory of God, the house (the temple) was filled with smoke.

The Old Testament Jewish temple was the address where God touched the earth. It was the place where God said that his name would dwell. It was the place where he said that his presence would live on earth, where he would listen to the cries of his people when they turned to him in prayer, where his glory, his holiness would dwell.

And it is in the temple that Isaiah meets with God.
He sees the glory and the holiness of God
He confesses his sin, his lostness, his need for God
He receives forgiveness, cleansing: the God of fire touches his lips with a burning coal and he is made clean
He hears the call of God

And yes this happens in the vision that Isaiah has of the temple, but we are also told that the glory of the Lord filled not only the temple, but the earth.

The temple may have been the address where God touched earth, but it was also the place from which the glory of God spreads out and fills the earth.

There is an old English hymn which speaks of the glory of God filling the earth as the waters cover the seas.

In Isaiah 6, we are shown the God who touches the earth.

3. We are introduced to the God who sends

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’

Just as the glory of God fills the temple and flows out from the temple, so God sends his servants out of the temple to bring his word to the world.

Christians have often spoken of the triple Holy, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ as referring to the Trinity. And there is the tantalizing verse 8, when God says, 'Whom shall I send and who will go for us?'

However Calvin wisely said that if he was looking to persuade people of the truth of the Trinity, he would use other verses.

However, what we see here: the God who is holy and utterly other; the God who touches the earth, and the God who sends – are three aspects that we see in our understanding of the three persons of the Trinity.

There is our Father in heaven, whose name is hallowed. The God who is completely other to us, and yet – if only we could see – whose glory fills the earth.

There is the eternal Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, God with us – not a place, but a person, where God touches earth. Jesus is called ‘Emmanuel’, which means ‘God is withu us’.

And it is in communion with Jesus, as friends of Jesus, that we see God.
Jesus said to Philip, ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’.
Jesus is the meeting place where God touches earth.

It is when we see Jesus that we realise that we are lost, that we are sinful and that we desperately need God.
It is when we come to Jesus that we receive forgiveness and cleansing.
And it is when we come to Jesus that we hear the word of God.

Jesus is the person in whom God touches the earth

And the Holy Spirit is the one who, we are told, proceeds from the Father. 
He is the one who the Father sends, the glory of God who fills the universe. 
He is the one who comes to us and witnesses to us about the truth of the Father, and the truth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 
And when the Holy Spirit comes to us, and we welcome the Spirit into us, so we find that we are sent.

I’m not saying that we find all this in Isaiah 6.

We find most of what I have said about the three persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in John’s gospel.

For instance, in John 3, we have the Father who nobody can see,  (Jesus says, ‘no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born from above), and who loves the world that he created;
we have the unique Son of God who God (the Father) sent into the world to save the world, who was with the Father from before time  – Jesus, the meeting point, where God touches earth.
And we have the Holy Spirit, invisible and yet the one who gives us life and enables us to see the Kingdom of God, to see the glory of God.

Three persons, One God, working in each other and through each other, with one source, one nature, one glory, one goal, one desire and one love.

Isaiah is given a glimpse of God and he is given a glimpse of the worship of heaven.

This is worship that is awesome and true and therefore powerful (the temple shakes at the worship of the angels)

Our worship is so feeble in contrast, our words so pathetic; but if it comes from a heart that is beginning to understand the holiness, otherness of God and yet also the love of God, and that longs to see more of God and to worship God, it is OK.

When we come together, or when we are on our own, and we choose to put aside time to worship God, to declare his holiness and his otherness, and his presence on earth – then we are not creating worship, as if God would not be worshipped if we were not there.

Instead, we are joining in with the worship of heaven. And when we say ‘Holy Holy Holy is the Lord of hosts’ we are but echoing the worship of the angels.

Can you hear them ..!

We are adding our ‘amen’ (which means ‘so be it’) to their prayer.

And maybe today we do this as a duty, but one day, when we glimpse God, his authority and holiness and glory, his presence with us in Jesus Christ and his love and forgiveness and cleansing, then our hearts will fill and explode with joy, and together with the angels and with all creation we will acclaim:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory.”


Most popular posts

On infant baptism

Children are a gift from God. And as always with God’s gifts to us, they are completely and totally undeserved. You have been given the astonishing gift of Benjamin, and the immense privilege and joy of loving him for God, and of bringing him up for God. Our greatest desire for our children is to see them grow, be happy, secure, to flourish and be fulfilled, to bring blessing to others, to be part of the family of God and to love God. And in baptism you are placing Benjamin full square in the family of God. I know that those of us here differ in our views about infant baptism. The belief and the practice of the Church of England is in line with that of the historic church, but also – at the time of the Reformation – of Calvin and the other so-called ‘magisterial reformers’ (which is also the stance taken in the Westminster confession).  They affirmed, on the basis of their covenantal theology, which sees baptism as a new covenant version of circumcision, of Mark 10:13-16 , and part

Isaiah 49:1-7 What does it mean to be a servant of God?

Isaiah 49:1-7 This passage speaks of two servants. The first servant is Israel, the people of God. The second servant will bring Israel back to God. But then it seems that the second servant is also Israel.  It is complicated! But Christians have understood that this passage is speaking of Jesus. He is both the servant, who called Israel back to God, but he is also Israel itself: he is the embodiment, the fulfilment of Israel In the British constitution the Queen is the head of the State. But she is also, to a degree, the personal embodiment of the state. What the Queen does, at an official level, the UK does. If the Queen greets another head of State, then the UK is greeting that other nation. And if you are a UK citizen then you are, by definition, a subject of Her Majesty. She is the constitutional glue, if this helps, who holds us all together. So she is both the servant of the State, but she is also the embodiment of the State. And Jesus, to a far greater

The separation of good from evil: Matthew 13.24-30,36-43

Matthew 13.24-30,36-43 We look this morning at a parable Jesus told about the Kingdom on God (Matthew talks of Kingdom of heaven but others speak of it as the Kingdom of God) 1. In this world, good and evil grow together. ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil’ (v37) The Son of Man (Jesus) sows the good seed. In the first story that Jesus tells in Matthew, the seed is the Word of God, and different kinds of people are like the different soils which receive the seed. Here the illustration changes a bit, and we become the seed. There is good seed and there is weed, evil, seed. This story is not explaining why there is evil. It is simply telling us that there is evil and that it was sown by the enemy of God. And it tells us that there is good and there is bad. There are people who have their face turned towards