Sermon for Holy Trinity/Graduate Recognition Sunday
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Isaiah 6:1-8
Sermon Theme: “Teach Me, Lead Me, and Send Me, Lord”
(Sources: Brokhoff’s Series B Preaching Workbook; Anderson’s Cycle B Preaching Workbook; Emphasis Online Commentaries; Emphasis Online Illustrations; my ideas from Images, May 28, 2015; other original ideas; Famous Online Graduation Quotes; Funny Online Graduation Quotes; Harper’s Bible Dictionary)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
College Commencement speeches are usually much longer than high school graduation speeches, probably because colleges pay big money to hire famous speakers who feel they earn their money by making long speeches. High school graduation speeches are usually given by students and are much shorter. And sometimes better.
Some people dread attending graduation ceremonies, because many commencement addresses over the years have been very boring. In past years, when I would start my sermon on Graduate Sunday, some members probably mumbled under their breath, “Oh dear, not another Commencement speech!”
Because of that attitude, there has been in recent years an attempt by many speakers to be funny, or at least to have a few funny one-liners. Melanie White told a group of high school grads, “Now that you’ve graduated, just remember: Bosses don’t usually accept notes from your mother.”
An auditorium full of college graduates listened to Arnold Schwarzenegger tell them: “Just remember, you can’t climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets.”
My favorite one has probably been around so long it is considered anonymous: “Go to it. Be bold. Be true. Be kind. Rotate your tires. Don’t drink so much. There aren’t going to be enough liver transplants to go around.”
On a slightly more serious note, President George W. Bush said at a college graduation, “To those of you who received honors, awards, and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you too may one day be President of the United States.” As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”
On this Holy Trinity Sunday, during the season of Pentecost, the Church could not agree more. For Christians, what lies within us is the Holy Spirit. As I said in my sermon on Pentecost, God the Father is God with us; God the Son is God for us; and God the Holy Spirit is God in us. Today, along with our graduates, we celebrate all three!
The story in our sermon text of Isaiah’s call by God is set in the Temple, in 742 B.C. , Solomon having built the Temple about 200 years before this, and King Uzziah having just died, with people awaiting a new King. Isaiah has a spectacular vision that may seem strange to us.
Our text says, “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 the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of Him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.”
Isaiah’s vision doesn’t seem quite as strange in light of the fact the Altar of Incense stood in front of the Holy of Holies, wherein was kept the Ark of the Covenant. The incense was lighted before an authorized person entered the Holy of Holies, filling that part of the Temple with smoke. On top of the Ark of the Covenant resting inside the Holy of Holies was carved two seraphim who bent over the center of the ark which contained the Ten Commandments. It was believed God’s presence dwelt under the wings of the carved seraphim. Angelic creatures like the seraphim were described in the Bible by Ezekiel.
Isaiah’s vision is gigantic and awesome, with God’s robe filling the entire Temple, the entire Temple also being filled with smoke. Holy smoke represents the mystery of God. You recall that the Israelites were led by a cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night. In the vision, these heavenly creatures with wings call out to each other, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts,” giving special emphasis to the Holiness of God.
Isaiah cringes in dread as he realizes that as a sinful man, he does not deserve to be in the presence of the Almighty. He cries out, “Woe is me! For I am lost!” The Lord sends one of the seraphim with a coal from the altar to touch and purify his lips. His sin is taken away. Then the Lord asks for a messenger, and Isaiah volunteers, “Here am I, send me!”
Isaiah’s vision of God in the Temple enabled him to see that the whole earth is full of God’s glory. In response, he also senses that not only he, but also his people, are sinners in the eyes of God. The purification with the burning coal takes away his guilt and forgives his sins.
When you read the text, Isaiah’s sense of unworthiness is so great it seems painful to us. I want all of you to think for a minute, and especially our graduates, about how great people in the Bible felt unworthy when God called them to service. I wonder how many graduates feel a sense of unworthiness and inadequacy at graduation. I know I did, both when I graduated from high school and when I graduated from college. I remember feeling, “Now what? God help me!”
It was Moses who said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?,” and Jeremiah, who complained, “Oh, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” And now, here’s Isaiah saying, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips!”
For the sake of our graduates, I’m going to take one last look at my collection of Commencement quotes. Roger Babson told some grads, “Keep in mind that neither success nor failure is ever final.” Bette Reese told another group, “If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.” And I don’t want to leave out this one by Vidal Sassoon: “The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.”
Martin Luther, whose work during the Reformation gave our denomination its name, taught that all vocations, all positions, all jobs, are divine, because they are a result of a Divine Call. Our vocation cannot be separated from God; if it must be, then we must find another vocation. Remember that, Graduates. All work is the work of the Lord.
What happens when we fail in the work of the Lord, when we put out a great effort, and there is no return to our effort? We continue, — that’s what happens. There is no giving up, because the work of the Lord, — which is found in every career, every job, prestigious or lowly, — is the proclaiming of the Gospel, by our actions and by our words. Because there is no alternative to Christ, we continue to proclaim Jesus though the world may reject that proclamation a million times a million!
Martin Luther, in his blunt, outspoken manner, once said, “We have a mission, the only purpose that there is in life: ‘We have no other reason for living on earth than to be of help to others. If this were not the case, it would be best for God to kill us and let us die as soon as we are baptized and have begun to believe. But He permits us to live here in order that we may bring others to faith, just as He brought us.’”
On this special Graduate Recognition Sunday, on this special day to celebrate the Triune God, let us leave here with the triune resolve in our hearts to “Look up,” “Look in,” and “Look forward.” Look up and praise our most Holy God. Look inside ourselves to improve and repent. And look forward to declare, “Send me, send me.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.