Isaiah has a vision in our Old Testament lesson for today, in which he sees the Lord sitting on a throne, and the hem of God’s robe fills the entire temple. In other words, our highest ability to express God’s divinity, our temple, doesn’t even get beyond God’s ankles. God is bigger than we are.
Isaiah sees these strange fire angels. That’s what the word seraph means, fire. Fire angels with six wings, one set of wings covers their faces because if you look into the face of God, you will poof out of existence. This is not because you’ve done anything wrong in particular. It’s just that God is so much bigger, so much more real than we are, we can’t stand up to God’s presence.
So, with two wings the seraphs cover their faces, with two wings they cover their bodies, like clothes, and with two wings they fly, these fire angels. And they sing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.” This is the basis of a song we sing every Sunday at church, right before communion: “Holy, holy, holy Lord, Lord God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory.”
We sing the songs of fire angels.
The song of the fire angels echoes so loudly and resonates so deeply that the pivots on the thresholds shake. So, like the hinges on the giant gold-plated doors that you can see shining in the sun from miles and miles away, or maybe the great brass fittings in which the doorposts are set, shake with the sound of the fire angels singing.
We are dealing with something here that is bigger than we are. Bigger than anything we can imagine. This is what God is like.
In Psalm 29, it says the voice of the Lord bursts forth in lightning flashes. The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe. Have you ever tried to bend a tree, a big one? These trees that are as big around as you are, you can’t bend them with your hands, or with a rope. But a violent wind?
When I was seven years old back in 1969, hurricane Camille slammed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My family spent the night at the church; we sat on the front porch of the church. Perhaps not the wisest thing to do, but certainly the most interesting. We did have a brick wall on either side of us, and cinder block behind and a roof above. But you could look out at the 200 mile an hour wind, beating these trees against the ground, eighteen inches, two feet thick whappa whappa whapp against the ground as if they were reeds of grass.
That’s the voice of the Lord. We are dealing with something which is bigger than we are.
And yet, at the same time, Paul says that God’s Holy Spirit brings us to call out “Abba, Father” to God. Did you ever notice how little kid names for Mother and Father are very simple? No matter what language you speak: Mamma, Dadda, Omma, Oppa, Abba, Imma.
“Abba” does not just mean “Father.” It means the one who sweeps you up on his shoulders and carries you high above the world, and who swings you in circles by your arms till you shriek with laughter, or who holds you close while you weep for your first dog or cat who has died, and who grieves with you. “Abba” means “Daddy.” God is “Daddy.” That’s what God is like, too.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus says, “No one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.”
So here we are, being knit together in the holy darkness of God’s womb. Even if we have come out of our mother’s womb, God is still knitting our souls together, weaving our existence into the tapestry of space and time. We are still being born. Is there any image more intimate than that of God giving birth to us?
This is the way God is. God is grand, beyond our ability to conceive. God is close, more near to us than life itself.
This is Memorial Day Weekend, so here is an example of what God is like. The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial is located on the National Mall in Washington D.C. The national mall is a place of grandeur and lofty ideals. You can see the capitol building with its noble dome, the Washington Monument, stretching upward into the sky, an Egyptian obelisk so tall it has to have lights on it to warn off planes. Near to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial is the Lincoln Memorial with its vast Greek columns and its cavernous spaces. The statue of Lincoln sits in his chair as if on a throne. But Lincoln’s face is not arrogant, as a king’s might be. He does not look up to lofty ideals as if he were above the rest of us. No. He looks downward, as if he was thinking hard, reflecting, even hurting for his nation.
Near there is the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. But when people go to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, what do they do? Do they look upward at vast structures and great aspirations? No, they do not. Instead, the find a name. They lay a rose down underneath that name. They take a piece of paper, put it over the stone where the name is carved and rub that name into the paper with a pencil. They reach out their fingers and they touch the name.
This is what God is like. God is vast, bigger than we are. But God knows our names. God knows every one of those soldier’s names on the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. God knows every name of every soldier or civilian, man, woman and child who has been killed in every war and every conflict on whatever side throughout all of human history. And God loves them. God loves you to.
War is not fun. It is not pretty. It is destructive and sometimes senseless and can take on a life of its own bigger than ours. But God is bigger still. God is bigger than war, bigger than death itself. And God loves you.
This is one of the reasons why soldiers will provide medical treatment to wounded fighters from the other side. It is part of why soldiers will engage in operations to bring food to disrupted populations, and why they build tent cities for people who have lost their homes. Because in a difficult and sometimes senseless situation, we are still people.
So, when we think about war. When we think about anything human, actually, think about the honor, the integrity, the freedom God calls us to, because that’s what God is like. Also, think about the people. All the people, on all the sides. Because God loves them, just as God loves you. This is what God is like, too.