I wonder if you can remember how you felt when you first set foot in this building. If you're a visitor, and arrived only half an hour ago it will be pretty easy, but long standing congregation members may find it a bit harder.
For me, it's a vivid memory.
I was a very small child, brought here by my parents...who were enthusiastic church-crawlers, so I was no stranger to visits to all sorts of places of worship.
Usually, though, they were small, quite dark and very very old – so the impact of stepping into this place of openness and light was extraordinary.
I never knew God was so BIG – was the first thought that crossed my mind, as I sat myself down firmly on the floor by the West Screen.
More than 4 decades on, not much has changed!
Certainly, as I walked up the aisle together with my church family from Cainscross 2 weeks ago, to be installed as Canon Pastor I felt very very small indeed...
I looked at the figure standing between Christ's feet on the great tapestry and thought
“Yes, that's me. Too small for the space. Too small for the job. Dwarfed by the majesty of God and the grandeur of this holy place. Help...” or, more Biblically, “Woe is me”
And of course, that's without the theology.
Isn't it interesting that the lectionary gives us Isaiah's account of his own call – in that holiest of holies which was filled with the glory of God's presence...on this day above all days...Trinity Sunday...
It's there, I think, because of the “Holy, holy, holy” - but it seems to me that as we set ourselves up to engage with the doctrine of the Trinity, its also a valuable reminder of our own intellectual inadequacy, an acknowledgement of just how small we are.
Because nobody can pretend that it's EASY to understand the Trinity....and today makes that obvious.
One way and another I've been wrestling with it for years. I was baptised in the church of the Holy Trinity Hastings...spent my undergraduate years at the College of the Most Holy and Indivisible Trinity, Cambridge – and I was ordained in the Cathedral Chuch of St Peter and the most holy and undivided Trinity in Gloucester. Note the distinction between those two labels if you would...It does sound rather as if, while Trinity Cambridge is dedicated to God the Trinity, indivisible, Gloucester Cathedral is dedicated to a Trinity who could be divided, but happens not to be. Something to ponder, now that I can consider such heresies from a safe distance. Because, of course, today is also known in the trade as “air your favourite heresy” Sunday. The theology of the day seems designed to make the unwary, whether preacher or listener, feel very small indeed...and not a little stupid. Small wonder that incumbents the world over invite their curates to preach, and that wet-behind-the-ears Canons also find themselves rolled out for the occasion.
Woe is me....
This is the day, too, when the Athanasian creed comes into its own, and I'm reminded of just why it isn't our default expression of the faith.
8. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, and the Holy Spirit uncreated.
9. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.
10. The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal.
11. And yet they are not three eternals but one eternal.
12. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensible, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.
13. So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty.
- And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.
Is your head spinning? Do you feel utterly inadequate? If so, you're probably on the right tack!
Today is a day to give let go of any intellectual pretensions...to acknowledge the limits of our understanding...God is indeed a mystery – but not one to be solved by a clever detective, rather one to enter in to, with wonder, love and praise.
So better, today, to stand before the mystery that is beyond all words and simply worship. The seraphim give us the lead with their cry of “Holy, holy, holy” and even their chorus of praise is overwhelming, making the building shake as the clouds of incense reflect their proclamation that “the whole earth is full of God's glory”.
In the face of this – we needs must fall silent – and it might be tempting to leave this sermon right there. There is, after all, rather too much irony in proclaiming the need to fall silent, and then continuing for the full 10 minute semon!
But in Isaiah's account of his theophany, the story contiues. Having set a scene in which awe and wonder are the only possible response, Isaiah takes us in a new direction.
Confronted with the glorious sight of God in his majesty, his own state becomes obvious.
“I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips YET mine eyes have seen.....”
It is in fact only that encounter WITH the Lord of hosts that enables Isaiah to recognise just how far from holy he is. Yes, there is the sense of unwarranted privilege “YET mine eyes have seen” but also the certainty that it is the light of God's presence that enables him to recognise his state. For surely, the closer we come to God the greater our sense of our own shortcomings. It is because we glimpse ourselves and our world by that light that we begin to understand just how flawed, how broken we really are...tiny figures dwarved by God's majesty
“I am a man of unclean lips...AND mine eyes have seen”.
But do not despair.
I'm reminded of a story told by Adrian Plass, in which an old-fashioned hellfire preacher, having spent a long long time reminding his congregation of their burden of sin, shame and shortcomings, places a chair at the head of the nave and says
“Imagine Our Lord is sitting there....Imagine his dreadful majesty...Imagine that he calls you forward. Aren't you terrified, awestruck, appalled?” - and Adrian's inner dialogue as he realises joyfully
“Our Lord is sitting there...He's calling me forward. He will make EVERYTHING ALL RIGHT”
Because, of course, the God of Isaiah's awe-filled vision is the self-same God who, incredibly, loves the world, loves US so much...The same God we meet in Jesus...The same God whose Spirit transforms us day by day...
Trinity Sunday is, above all, about God in relationship...God in relationship with Godself – in that ceaseless love that circles from Father to Son to Spirit, filling all creation with delight
And God in relationship with us...for, like Isaiah, we are called – not in a voice of imperious command, but in one of gracious invitation, which forces nothing upon us.
Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?
This, of course, is why we so often hear this passage read at ordinations, or at the start of a new ministry...but that question is one to respond to no matter where we are in life.
God, enthroned in glory, surrounded by all the company of heaven, needs you...NEEDS you to collaborate with God's work of transforming grace in the world.
Graham Sutherland left space between the pierced feet of Christ for us to find a sanctuary. It's a space in which we will feel, rightly, very small...but in which we are totally safe and secure. Place yourself there for a moment...and ask to share the perspective from which Christ sees this building and each person who comes here...Ask to share His his love for each one who comes through the doors, his grief for the pain each bears or inflicts.
Ask that the Spirit will lead you into all truth – and all love as well...then, if you will, echo Isaiah's words
Here I am. Send me