s112o00 Trinity Sunday Somerton Park 18/6/2000
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." Isaiah 6:3
Holiness is not a quality to which many people aspire - for most of us mere mortals, the simple need to survive another day, another week or another year is, quite understandably, as much as we can cope with. Most of my own life is like that. On the other hand for those with more time and enthusiasm, a desire for holiness is somewhat presumptuous. In this mind set, only God is holy, and reflecting the same world view as Isaiah, humanity is composed entirely of those "with unclean lips".
I wonder what the seraphs saw, when they proclaimed "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts"? And why did they continue to proclaim this? I hardly think that the Almighty needs constant reassurance of this fact? I am sure that God would get as bored in heaven as we would, if this is what it's all about, for the rest of eternity.
These sort of considerations are quite justified, for the root meaning of the word "holy" is "separate". And of course some people do aspire to a life of piety and devotion, as indeed the Pharisees did - they were the "separate" ones - those against whom Matthew records Jesus' particular invective. (Matt 23).
So Trinity Sunday poses for us questions like: "Where is heaven?" "Do I really want to go to heaven if it's eternal boredom - perhaps it might be more exciting in hell? "Is God unattainable and if so why?" And none of these questions can be answered by academic speculation - all must be answered in the light of the words of the Bible and in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Actually, if heaven is axiomatically to be separated from others in the human race, a place where I might go as a reward for the things I have done in my life, separated from others who have, for whatever reason, not "passed" like I had, I think I would actually prefer to be with the ordinary "run of the mill" humanity, rather than separated from them.
So firstly "Where is heaven?" We can assume heaven is not "up there" in the sky somewhere - or if it is, it is both invisible and without any mass. Astronauts and astronomers have failed to find heaven "up there". Curiously the first mention of the word "holy" in the Bible, refers to "holy ground", and it is the encounter Moses had at the burning bush where God said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." (Exodus 3:5). So we will find the holy, heaven, around us - somewhere. This might lead us in a quest to search for the site of the particular bush, like the crusaders of old searched for the holy Grail, or others have searched for the remains of Noah's ark and other biblical antiquities. But a search for the burning bush is doomed to failure, for the bush had no distinguishing marks, we are told it was not even charred. The ground which is holy and the unburned bush from which God spoke are essentially unrecognisable from their surroundings.
Indeed we are apt to forget that the seraphs say, not just "Holy!" but also "the whole earth is full of God's glory". So we find heaven not dotted here and there, in special "sacred" places, be they Cathedrals sacred to Christians or natural locations sacred to the aboriginal people. Heaven, the sacred, is all around us - in both the Cathedral, the aboriginal sacred site, as well as ...
I still remember my first Rector saying that if the ground was holy, we should have thought Moses would have been told to keep his shoes on. If God wanted to be holy and separate, the least distance would be the sole of a sandal, but even this distance is unwanted. God wants the divine to permeate our souls. God wants intimate contact with us. Gods sacredness is ever to be shared. God shares it with us, and we share it with others.
And the fact that heaven, the sacred, is all around us, is a clue to the simultaneous attainability and unattainability of heaven. Molly Wolf said in her last Sabbath Blessing, entitled "Thin Place" (4/6/2000) "The thin-place places and the thin - place people don't judge us; they call us, fetch us, offer us the startling gift of grace ..." We are called out of ourselves, as Isaiah immediately responds to the invitation and offers to be sent. And I find it curious that Isaiah is simply sent. He is not (here) sent with a message, and it begs the question, is the divine vision given to see that he (and we) might see the divine elsewhere?
Just as Peter cannot stay on the high mountain, to keep the vision all to himself safe in his booth, our visions of the divine are given that we might see the same sights elsewhere. Christians look to Jesus on the Cross and see there God most active, God victorious, victorious over the "religious" authorities, who maintained God could only be seen in the religious devotions of people like themselves - and never in the lives of ordinary people living ordinary lives. But again this was not just for selected individuals to see, but for all. Indeed it is for us to see the crucified and risen Christ in others - ordinary others!
Because "the whole earth is full of God's glory", recognising God's glory only in the Cathedral, scripture or sacrament (as Christians have been wont to do) is to fail to see God's glory elsewhere, indeed in the sacred places of the aboriginal people.
I suspect that if we look at heaven, the sacred, as separate and restricted, we will indeed be bored in heaven. This would be a heaven I would neither want nor to which I would encourage others to aspire. If we see God in those around us, heaven has at least become potentially exciting.
So with Isaiah being sent, Jesus was also sent, to see heaven, the sacred in ordinary people, in ordinary things, and in seeing himself, to show us where we too will find heaven and the sacred - outside of ourselves and our own personal destiny, in the lives of those around us. If heaven and the sacred is really only concerned with my own personal salvation - we deny that "the whole earth is full of God's glory".
Heaven is attainable in the sense that we attain some measure of it when we look beyond ourselves; heaven is unattainable in it's fullness, because there is ever more "beyond ourselves" to discover.
For the proof is of course that it works. Happiness comes when we allow others to live, when we allow God's glory to be seen in others than we ourselves, in others, other than we as Anglicans, Christians, or whatever ...
Finally I do need to return to the concept of holiness as separateness, because it may be considered that this has been thrown out in rather cavalier fashion. There is a place for separateness, as Jesus was quite clearly different from the ordinary "run of the mill" individual. But that separateness was visible precisely because he lived seeing the good in the lives of other ordinary people and mixing with them. This is a defensible separateness, separateness from those who see the good in nothing but themselves, their own race, their own denomination, their own faith tradition ... and why, in the end, Jesus was crucified. Christian "holiness" is not a personal possession elevating us above the rest of humanity, but made plain as we see in the rest of humanity God at work. Holiness is not an abstract theological virtue, but a way of life, one that many, many of whom do not count as Christians, readily embrace, even some devoted atheist Occers* :-)
* = Australians
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