Holy, Holy, Holy

Isaiah 6.1–8
1 Corinthians 15.1–11
Luke 5.1–11


If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. — 1 Corinthians 15.17–19

Christians, for instance, are not, properly speaking, believers in religion; rather, they believe that Jesus of Nazareth, crucified under Pontius Pilate, rose from the dead and is now, by the power of the Holy Spirit, present to his church as its Lord. This is a claim that is at once historical and spiritual… — David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions


Our three readings today have one thing in common: the Lord is present in each one in a way that changes everything. We live in a world confronted by the Word.

Let’s start with the big one. This world is confronted by something that for many is literally unbelievable: that is, the Risen Crucified Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul says,

I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day…

‘He was raised on the third day…’ We might be used to the story of Easter, but really that is quite shocking. And just a bit after today’s reading, Paul says something even more shocking than that:

If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 1.17–19)

‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile…’ 

The risen Christ is present with us in a way that changes everything. It’s a way that is not easily described, though we can and do experience it. 

The risen Christ brings life where there was death and decay. In the presence of the risen crucified One, we find ourselves confronted by life when we are confronted by death. Let me tell you about my dad. 

Dad died of cancer in 1991, just over 28 years ago. 

When he was young, he was part of the Methodist Church. But he’d left church life before I was born. So I was brought up in a non-churchgoing family, with a backstory that dad had felt he may be called to the Methodist ministry, but he had been discouraged by his minister.

It was hard to know whether dad was supportive of my decision to follow Jesus or not. He had certain issues with the church.

Yet when dad was dying, the faith he had had as a boy was rekindled. Or perhaps it was even resurrected. As his body wasted away, his eyes burned brightly. In fact, he was more alive than he had been for years.

He got me to get him a copy of William Barclay’s The Plain Man’s Book of Prayers. I hadn’t been aware that he’d even hear of William Barclay. He also got me to buy a Bible for mum. He asked me why there was only one Uniting Church in the whole of Inala. ‘There should be four Uniting Churches in Inala!’ he said. (I bit my tongue rather than say that there would be more churches if people like him had actually gone to church…) 

A cynic may say that he was bargaining with God for an extension of life. And who can say that played no part in my dad’s last weeks? Yet what I clearly saw was a man shining with new life, even as death approached. 

It’s this kind of experience that shows me the reality of the Resurrection of Jesus. Life was welling up within my dad’s very being. 

You know, we can only ever see the Resurrection indirectly, through its effects on people’s lives. So no, dad didn’t see the risen Jesus. He wasn’t one of the ‘five hundred brothers and sisters’ Paul mentions who saw him. It was the Spirit of the risen Jesus who transformed dad right at the end. None of this ‘proves’ the resurrection to someone who doesn’t want to believe; but as for me, it clearly supports my bedrock belief in the resurrection that we shall all share in. 

Let’s turn to the Gospel.

Luke tells us a story of Jesus walking by the Sea of Galilee and calling Simon Peter, James and John to follow him: ‘From now on you will be catching people’. Once more, the Lord is present in a way  that changes everything.

In these stories of the call of the disciples, they all follow him pretty well straightaway. I’ve heard preachers wrestle with this. Oh, they suggest, they must have met Jesus before, and so it’s more understandable that they just drop everything a follow him.

No. Read the text: Jesus comes, calls them, and they follow. Immediately. They didn’t know him before this in Luke’s story of Jesus. 

How does that make sense?

Remember this: like all Gospel stories, this story is set before the death and resurrection of Jesus, but it was written after the resurrection. So it’s not just a story about how Jesus called the disciples then. It is also about how Jesus comes to us today. When the risen crucified One calls us, we are meant to follow.

When the risen crucified One comes into our lives, we—eventually, if not immediately—follow him. One great piece of wisdom is that the only people who should become ministers are those who can’t shake off the conviction that Jesus is calling them into this life of ministry. I know, I tried to shake it off for years. But I couldn’t, and I (eventually!) followed the call I heard. 

Perhaps God is calling you to something today. It may even be to the ministry. Whether that’s the case or not, listen with an open heart. 

Finally, God interrupts Isaiah’s life. Isaiah is in the mighty Temple of Jerusalem, and he sees a vision of

the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the skirt of his robe filled the temple.

Odd angelic beings, seraphs, sing God’s praises:

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts:
the whole earth is full of his glory.’

Isaiah doesn’t know what to do, or where to put his eyes. He cries out:

Woe is me! I am doomed,
for my own eyes have seen the King,
   the Lord of Hosts,
I, a man of unclean lips,
I, who dwell among a people of unclean lips.

(Remember Peter said something similar? ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’)

There may be a real feeling of sinfulness when God comes close; in Isaiah’s case, an angelic being touches his mouth with a live coal. Perhaps fortunately for us, Jesus simply says ‘Do not be afraid’. Good advice. 

Did you notice the words being sung in the Temple?

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts:
the whole earth is full of his glory.’

Remind you of anything?

In the Communion meal we sing these words:

Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.

And we continue:

Blessed is the One who comes
  in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

That first part is the song of the seraphs, those strange angelic beings, in Isaiah’s vision. Holy, holy, holy—just as we began today’s service singing that wonderful hymn

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty,
early in the morning to you our praise shall be…

When we sing these words in the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, we are proclaiming that this is a holy time, this is a holy meal, this is a holy place. More than that: the risen crucified One is here among us. We are receiving Jesus together as we share in bread and wine; Jesus is present to us in a way that changes everything.

This may be a holy place, time and meal, but anywhere, anytime can be holy. Being with my dying father was a holy thing. A day of fishing for Simon Peter and the others became a holy event. Any meal may be holy if the eyes and hearts of our spirits are opened. The streets of West End are holy. 

So come. Let us move into the next part of this holy space:
Let us share bread and wine,
let us receive the holy sacrament of the body and blood of Jesus Christ the risen crucified One,
and let us feed on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving. 


West End, 10 February 2019

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Filed under Eucharist, RCL, sermon, the risen crucified One

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