The Image(s) of God

The Image(s) of God
Isaiah 6:1-8
Rev. Dexter Kearny
Longview Presbyterian Church
May 30, 2021

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!’

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Close your eyes and imagine God. What do you see? Do you see the stereotypical western view of an old white man with a beard sitting on some clouds? Do you see a Palestinian homeless man like Jesus? Do you envision the Spirit blowing through the world like the wind? What other images do you have for the divine, for God, for the holy of holies? Okay, you can open your eyes now. 

Isaiah in our scripture passage today has a vision of God that fits closely with the kingly version that had developed in Israel’s consciousness following King David and the rise of the ancient state of Israel. Remember that Israel had gone to God to ask them for a king and God said that might not be the best idea but when they pushed God gave them a king to rule them. The people of Israel then turned this monarchical idea into a vision for God. 

Isaiah envisions God to be sitting on a throne, “high and lofty” the text says. God’s robe is filling the temple space and Isaiah can’t even see past that. Flying around God are these enigmatic seraphs with six wings singing about God’s holiness. Even the seraph’s are covering their faces because they dare not look upon the face of God. 

This image inspires fear and subservience in Isaiah. Isaiah proclaims that he is unworthy and unclean to even be in God’s presence. Ancient Israel had a similar reaction when God showed up at Mt. Sinai to chat with them. They were filled with fear and wanted an intermediary instead of dealing with God directly. As theologian Eréndira Jimenez says “The vastness, holiness, grandness of this God compels Isaiah into his vocation and into prophetic action.” (Eréndira Jimenez, Liturgy that Matters) If we experienced this God would we react the same way? Would we be propelled into prophetic action? Or would we be overwhelmed into fear and paralysis? 

Today is Trinity Sunday, a day where we remember the multiplicity of images for God, both the known and the mysterious. The beauty of scripture and our engagement with God is that we are not locked into any one image. Instead we are given many. Isaiah envisions God as an awe inspiring kingly figure who ruled from the heavens with earth as his kingly footstool. However, Isaiah also uses other images of God to inspire us, the readers, in different ways. Isaiah talks about God as a mother who would protect her children no matter what and bring about new life. Other places in scripture talk about God as a rock, as a whirlwind, as a wrestler, as a potter, as bread, as a shepherd, as light. There are many ways to picture God.  

The important thing to remember is that how we talk about God and how we envision God will directly influence how we live. If God is distant we might not care as much about living faithfully. If God is preparing a separate place for us to move to then we might not care as much about the earth. But if God is living and active and working with us and in us and through us then how might we live. If God is partnering with us to build a better world does it stir us to action?

I think the important thing on Trinity Sunday, is not to try and define with perfect english words the mystery that is the trinity, but rather to revel in the multiplicity of ways God can get our attention and call us to action. So in that spirit, what images stir you to action? What images hold you back from loving others? I believe that these images are useful if they are moving us toward love and grace and justice but are harmful when they begin to get in the way of those things. 

I want to end this sermon in a bit of a different way. I want us to go to our chat function on zoom or facebook and type in the different images we have for the divine. In particular, what are the images you have or want to have that will call you into prophetic action. Go ahead and put those in the chat now. 

I pray that as you go forward today you will think critically about the images in your mind of who God is and how God interacts with you. Are these images calling you into prophetic action like Isaiah or are they holding you back? What new images might you want to play with as you explore the cosmic divine who also revels in our world? I do not have a perfect answer for you today on Trinity Sunday, instead I challenge you to go and be creative trusting that God is with us throughout this process. Amen? Amen.

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