When Churches Downplay Reverence


Text: Isaiah 6:1-7

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

As a much younger pastor, I led a Bible Study through the Athanasian Creed many years ago.  Yes, the Athanasian Creed, the one that we just confessed here in this Divine Service.  After we got done reading the Athanasian Creed, though, a lady in her late 50s exclaimed, 

“Well, that was a legalistic and crazy creed.  I am sure glad we don’t have to say that every Sunday.” 

Despite this lady being rude in her exclamation, she also revealed something profound about herself.  You see, by her immediate reaction, her following comments, and her combative demeanor, she revealed that she was very agitated with the idea of having a God bigger than her, more complex than her understanding, and more powerful than her.  It was annoying, inconvenient, and uncomfortable for her.  You see, she liked to have her God small, manageable, and predictable.  

This leads me to ask the following question: what if Isaiah responded to God in the same way this woman responded to the Athanasian Creed?  Let’s reread our Old Testament lesson while I adjust Isaiah’s response to mimic this lady's response:  

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And [Isaiah] said: “"Ugh, like seriously? What is this whole dramatic scene, O Lord? I mean, there you are, sitting on your throne, all high and mighty, with your robe filling up the whole temple like it's some kind of fashion show. And those winged creatures? Please, talk about over-the-top! And the chanting? Holy, holy, holy? Can we not – please! It's like, we get it, you're all glorious and stuff, but do you have to make such a spectacle? And then, like, the whole place starts shaking and filling with smoke? So Rude! I'm just trying to chill here, and suddenly I'm in the middle of this divine rave. And then you expect me to be all, 'Woe is me'? Like, hello, I'm just a regular guy with regular problems, and now I have to deal with this existential crisis because I happened to see you all majestic and powerful? Talk about unneeded!” 

Now, dear friends, the point that I am trying to make is that the Old Testament Lesson from Isaiah and the Athanasian Creed should lead us to confess not with the disgruntled lady but with the Apostle Paul in our Epistle Reading for today.  We should, with Paul, say, 

“Who can measure the wealth and wisdom and knowledge of God? Who can understand his decisions or explain what he does? Has anyone known the thoughts of the Lord or given him advice? Has anyone loaned something to the Lord that must be repaid?"

In other words, we Christians are not all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-present, which means that we are not God and that God is above us.  Indeed, God’s ways are beyond our comprehension.  His judgments are beyond the investigation of mankind.  His knowledge is so rich that no man can possibly grasp or measure.  His wisdom is so deep that no human reason can uncover its depths.  In other words, you and I are not God.  Therefore, because we are not God, there is only one adequate response, and it isn’t, “God, you are too legalistic, too big, and  an existential crisis to me!”  Instead, when humanity comes before God almighty, whether it is Isaiah before the majesty of God, or whether it is that woman complaining about the Athanasian Creed, or whether it is you and me here in this church service on Trinity Sunday, the response is the same: 

“Woe is me! I’m doomed.  I’m as good as dead.  Every word I’ve ever spoken, every deed I’ve ever done, every thought that I’ve ever thought – all of it, the whole ball of wax is tainted by sin.  And the people that I live with, talk with, and interact with – they too are corrupt.  I am nothing before the King.  I’m nothing before God almighty.  Lord God, have mercy on me!”

Now, perhaps this may sound too extreme. However, consider the Gospel of Luke, the 6th Chapter. In Luke 6, the disciples had been fishing all night and caught no fish. However, Jesus tells them to cast their nets in the water one more time. When they had cast their nets, so many fish were caught in them that their nets began to break.  

Furthermore, once the fish were in the boats, the boats began to sink from the weight of the fish.  And so, right there, the Apostle Peter realized what happened.  Jesus – the God-Man – had authority over creation.  Friends, Jesus not only could cast out demons, chase away disease, and bring people back from the dead, but also had authority over fish, as well as the wind and the waves.  And so, Peter fell down on his knees and said the only thing he could say, 

“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” 

So, what is the point that is being made?  Well, it is quite simple.  If Christians do not have this kind of reverential fear before God but instead, are constantly telling God to chill out and calm His holiness down, I would question if they are worshipping the same God as the scriptures – the same God that we just confessed in the Athanasian Creed.  

If this sounds a bit harsh, though, please know that it is not. Dear friends, when we dismiss the character and holiness of God, we are sinning by breaking the first and second commandments – we are believing and teaching false doctrine and creating an idol for ourselves.  You and I cannot strip God of His holiness while snapping our fingers and chewing gum and saying that we are following the God of the Bible.  Churches that downplay reverence; churches that deny the holiness and magnificent power of God; churches that neuter God of his reverential power are fools at best and blasphemous at worse.  

So, if this is all true about God’s holiness – which it is – where shall we go from here?  Dear friends, we go nowhere.  We stay put while beating our chest, saying, 

“God have mercy on me, the sinner.”  

You see, when Isaiah said, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips,” he wasn’t trying to reason with God, run away, or downplay the situation.  He did nothing.  However, as we read, an angel flew to Isaiah and held a live coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar, and then He touched Isaiah’s mouth with the coal and said, 

“Look. This coal has touched your lips. Gone your guilt, your sins wiped out.” 

Likewise, when Peter was on his knees seized with astonishment, Jesus came to Peter and said, “Do not be afraid.”

Baptized Saints, listen up!  When you and I confess that we are poor, miserable sinners in thought, word, and deed, this is all that we do.  We confess and own it before almighty God.  But then the Lord sends you a pastor to speak in His stead and by His command, 

“I forgive you of all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” 

And so, the point being, we never stop fearing God; we never try to diminish God’s holiness or dismiss His ways, wisdom, power, and character – only fools try to do that.  Instead, our fear of God is met by the goodness of the Gospel that comes to us and for us – the Gospel that says, 

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16).  

This Trinity Sunday, we learn that our God is not tame, which means that we will never try to be a foolish church that tries to diminish His holiness.  However, this Trinity Sunday, we also hear in our reading from the Gospel of John that our God is good to you and me through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  

And so, here at St. Paul’s, we revere God’s Holiness.  We have a reverential fear of God – knowing He is God and we are not.  And yet, today, we also rejoice that God has come to us with forgiveness, life, and salvation so that we might also love and trust Him.  

Is the Athansian Creed profound, complex, and above us?  You bet it is for we do not have a tame God.  

Is the Athanasian Creed legalistic and something that we must toss out?  Not at all, for it confesses who our Triune God is and what the scriptures say about Jesus – the second person of the Trinity: 

“[Jesus] suffered for our salvation, descended into hell, rose again the third day from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, God Almighty, from whence He will come to judge the living and the dead.” (Athanasian Creed: 36-37)

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: Amen.