"Getting God Out of the Box"

Isaiah 6;1-8
The Rev. Melanie McCarley

Imagine the ancient Temple of Jerusalem. It was a magnificent edifice, the center of worship and national identity in ancient Israel—the dwelling place of God. The Temple was constructed of walls of massive stone, containing not only the prayers and praises of God’s people, but also displays of their wealth. That temple—and all that was inside it, was designed to convey the glory, might and power of God. I imagine that for Isaiah (and more than likely a good portion of the populace of Jerusalem as well) nothing grander could be conceived.

And yet---in Isaiah’s vision, he says: “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.”

Picture that—only the hem of God’s robe filling the temple. Just the hem! In other words, God is large—vast and inconceivably greater than we can fathom—God’s glory is so majestic that it cannot be contained by something even as magnificent as the Temple of Jerusalem.

I love this image—that of the hem of God’s robe spilling out of the temple doors. Isaiah’s vision is telling us something important about God—that even the homes we build for God (containing the very best of what we can conceive, construct and offer) none of these, not even the very best, can contain the Almighty. Even the Temple is too small for God.

I believe this to be true. I also believe that none of this stops us from constructing various edifices and other containers in which to house our preferred concept of God. For some folks, God is housed in a church (preferably of their own denomination) and rarely does the Holy One venture out the doors and into the world. For these people God is interested only in those who manage to make it over the threshold—all others being consigned to unhappy places in the afterlife where there is weeping, wailing and the gnashing of teeth.

For others, God is relegated to a genie lamp or vending machine. These are the folks who see God primarily as a source designed to dispense the granting of wishes and heart-felt prayers. This is not a God with whom a relationship is dependent—this is a God whose purpose is to give us what we want—ideally in a timely manner. We plug in the right prayers, dispense the correct offerings, and ideally, out comes the request we want.

Then there are the people who like to place God in one particular geographic local—ideally one nation. This is what I like to refer to as “God as a national mascot”. In this scenario, God is employed as a being who is always on the side of the nation-state. God’s name is invoked at the end of speeches, in the announcement of various decisions and is generally claimed to be on the side of one or another political party. In this vision God wants one nation (or political party) to succeed—preferably at the expense of another with whom the ruling party or other political parties disagrees.

Then there are those who like to keep God neatly contained in the pages of a book—such as the Bible. For these people, God has spoken in the words of holy writ—and that is the place, the one place, the only place where God’s truth is to be found. Never mind, that the question of the interpretation as to what these words mean is up for grabs—but generally, those who like to find God solely in these pages are very clear that they know the precise intent of what each sentence contains.

Some folks see God in the mountains—and creation—kind-of a pantheistic entity—beautiful and serene (majestic, even) if you happen to be in Yosemite—but perhaps not so lovely if you are relegated to participating on a school board committee. Others confine God to the size of their mind—these are those heavily influenced by the Age of Reason—if God can’t be explained by any measure of human explanation, then God doesn’t exist. God’s existence only goes so far as our human concept or proof or understanding can take us. In my mind, this is a very small God, indeed.

All of which brings us to the Holy Trinity, which we honor this morning. Think of the Trinity: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, as a theological corrective to the human desire to place God in our own construct. This morning, Isaiah encounters a God whose glory “blows the mind” in a place filled with smoke and mysterious creatures flying about; in the Gospel, we find Jesus, patiently engaging one man, Nicodemus, bringing him to faith in the expansive love of God; and in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, we are reminded that God has given us the Holy Spirit so that we might be called children of God.

I consider the Holy Trinity to be something of a theological antidote to our human tendency to put God in a box. The Trinity, isn’t a container (even a triangular-shaped container)—it is instead, a mystery. Just as the hem of God’s robe cannot be contained in the temple, we must be continually aware that no single concept of God is sufficient. There is God on a grand scale, the Creator of the universe, God, who comes to us in the person of Jesus Christ, seeking out one lost sheep in the midst of the hundred; and God in the form of the Holy Spirit, who gathers together the community of the faithful and empowers us to bring grace, truth, justice and love to the world.

Each of these persons of God represent something of the truth of who God is, and if I had to guess, I would say that more than likely each one of us has our preference in relating to God—whether we pray to God our Father (or Mother) in Heaven, God, in the person of Jesus Christ and God the Holy Spirit.

Trinity Sunday offers us the opportunity to consider our preferred way of thinking and relating to God—and it challenges us to open not only our minds, but also our hearts, to consider a larger—more expansive—way to relate to the Triune God—because this is the other part of the Trinity. Ours is a God who doesn’t simply exist; ours is a God who calls—God calls Isaiah saying “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”, God calls Nicodemus to receive the love of God and God calls you and me to follow—to live lives empowered by the Spirit so that we can share God’s love with the world. The Triune God is one of community, relationship and love. So, let’s listen for that voice, and be willing to follow where it leads. In the name of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.