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15-43 149th Street
Whitestone, NY 11357

718.746.7858

The First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone has been at work in northeast Queens since 1871, seeking to proclaim God’s Word and live out God’s justice and peace in our lives and our community. We welcome all to join us for worship, fellowship, learning, and service in our small but vibrant community of faith.

Sermons

Mystery and Mission

Andy James

a sermon on Isaiah 6:1-8

We’re coming out of quite a festive season. Between the great church holy days of Easter and Pentecost, the more minor celebration of the Ascension, the various joyous Sundays of the Easter season, and the cultural celebration of Mother’s Day, we have been quite a festive group of people lately! Today, though, we shift from a season of festivals into that great season of green, Ordinary Time, with one final festival: Trinity Sunday.

Even though it is certainly rightfully considered a festival of the church, Trinity Sunday is not quite the same as all these others. While all the other festivals of the church celebrate moments in the life of Jesus or the church, Trinity Sunday celebrates something far more abstract: a doctrine. And of course this is not just any doctrine—it is the most misunderstood and most easily dismissed doctrine of the church! Far too many Christians either shake their heads and ignore this doctrine because it seems too complicated or actively choose to think and even preach against it because they think that it is an outdated, unnecessary, and artificial set of rules placed on our understanding of God. But the doctrine of the Trinity that we celebrate today has stood the test of time. It continues to shape how we think of who God is and what God does even as we remember that our understanding of God is limited by our humanity. And this doctrine gives us a dose of much-needed humility in a world where we seem to think that we can know and understand everything, for just when we think that we have this all figured out, the paradox of one-in-three and three-in-one crops up all over again!

Yet the gift of this day is not just in giving us a bit of humility, taking us back to this easily-misunderstood doctrine of the early church, or even the wonderful hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy!” that is practically required to be sung on this day! Through the wisdom of the lectionary, Trinity Sunday also leads us to thoughtful texts that look at the mystery and mission of God that stand at the center of this great and complex doctrine. Our reading from the prophet Isaiah today opens us to this mystery and mission so very clearly.

Here the prophet tells us the story of his call to serve God and the people of Israel that began with a strange glimpse at the mystery of God and ended with a call to serve the mission of God. In the midst of transition and turmoil in the life of the nation, Isaiah had a vision of God “sitting on a throne, high and lofty.” On this throne, God was surrounded by servant angels, ascending and descending by the throne, covering their faces and bodies with their wings as they proclaimed the wonder and holiness of their master:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.

As these angels offered their songs of praise, the temple filled with smoke and shook with wonder and majesty. Isaiah was stunned by this sight. His mortality and impurity and humanity became abundantly clear alongside the holiness of God. He could not even declare God’s holiness as we did in our opening hymn but instead offered a prayer of confession:

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!

But Isaiah’s impurity and humanity didn’t really matter in that temple, for everything there was centered in the holiness of God that could change everything for Isaiah. To make this clear, one of the angels flew over to Isaiah, carrying a live coal from the altar. The angel touched the coal to Isaiah’s lips and proclaimed,

Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.

In that moment, something changed for Isaiah. He went from being fearful of this mysterious God because of his sin to being called out to new life because of God’s wonder and glory. The mystery of God had opened just enough for the mission of God began to emerge. When another voice thundered through the temple, asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”, Isaiah knew that he could respond with confidence:

Here am I; send me!

Isaiah’s vision puts the mystery and mission of God on full display for us, too. Amidst the mysterious servant angels, we see God calling for someone to journey forth. Amidst the clouds of smoke that cover the glory of God, we see a revelation of God’s self that shows us that we must respond. And amidst the wondrous way of forgiveness opened by the fiery coal from the altar of God, we are freed to join in the mission of God without fear.

All this mystery and mission are a great fit for the mysteries of Trinity Sunday. After all, who really understands how God can be three in one and one in three? Who understands how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit manage to be three independent beings of one God? How we can identify the actions of one person of the Trinity when we have enough difficulty recognizing anything that God is doing in our world anyway? How we can see such distinction in the actions of the persons of the Trinity even as their actions are indivisible? And what difference does it really make why God is trinitarian in the first place? Answers to these questions are far more complex than we have time for in a twelve- to fifteen-minute sermon, yet the fact that we explore them as Christians ought to show that we take the mystery of God seriously.

Even as we get a clear glimpse of the mystery of God, the mission of God also becomes clear for us here. Just as God emerges from the mysterious cloud to call Isaiah, so we too are called from the mystery of God’s being to participate in God’s mission in the world. Over the last several months, our church leadership has been thinking and talking and praying about ways to engage us in intentional mission in the world. We have always been a missional church, with substantial financial gifts given to support mission efforts locally, nationally, and internationally through the deacons and many of you regularly inviting us to join in working with organizations and projects that you care about. Even as we honor these deep commitments and long histories of engagement, we also recognized the importance of taking up mission together, so we discussed several possible projects where we might come together to be active as a congregation in supporting mission efforts in our community and world. We agreed on two new projects as a long-term commitments to new mission engagement in our community and world even as we continue to support the Grace Church Food Pantry, Heifer International, and other projects and look to welcome even more ways to engage in mission together from the passions in our midst.

First, we will work to build relationships with mission partners in Madagascar. Last fall, we welcomed Lala Rasendrahasina, the president of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, to speak with us about that nation and the church’s work there, and he sparked some initial interest. We will be supporting Daniell and Elizabeth Turk, two Presbyterian mission co-workers who assist the church in Madagascar with agricultural, environmental, and health projects. The session has already approved a substantial contribution toward their work, and we will be working to engage with them in other ways in the coming months.

Second, we will be supporting UNiTE, the United Nations Secretary General’s campaign to end violence against women and girls. Among other projects, we hope to “Orange Our Neighborhood” during sixteen days of international activism around these issues in November and December. You’ll be hearing more about these projects as the date nears and we have an opportunity to learn more about these important issues and help others in our community join in these efforts.

These are places where we have heard God calling us, and I hope and pray that you will find a way to join in responding “Here am I; send me!” just as Isaiah did.

Even amidst the mystery of what this mission will look like for us in the end, our mysterious God who works in so many different ways and is so well described in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit invites us to respond just like this, offering ourselves in service that reflects the incredible presence of this mysterious God so that the mystery might be peeled back for others and ourselves as we join in God’s mission together.

So as we join Isaiah and countless others in joyfully responding to God’s call, may God’s mystery and mission become all the more clear for us so that we might welcome others to join us in watching and waiting and working for God’s new creation to become real in the world as all things are made new in Jesus Christ our Lord. Thanks be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.