The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evening Prayer Online      7th June 2020
Room at the Table
Ayla Lepine

READINGS:
Psalms 93, 150
Isaiah 6.1-8
John 16.5-15
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is Trinity Sunday. Today we worship God in God’s Unity and we give thanks for God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
The Ghanaian poet Efua Kuma experiences Jesus this way, inspired by the Spirit, sustained by the Creator-Father: ‘Yesu who has received the poor and makes us honourable our exceedingly wise friend, we depend on you as the tongue depends on the jaw…You are the rock. We hide under you, the great bush with cooling shades, the giant tree who enables the climbers to see the heavens.’
Abraham, in the shade of a tree, the oak of Mamre, received three strangers, and in this hospitality encountered the Divine.Rublev’s icon of the Holy Spirit, also known as the Hospitality of Abraham, relating to the story of Abraham welcoming three mysterious divine guests, is a powerful image that sustains much thinking and praying about the Trinity. It’s inspired many artists, too. Meg Wroe’s new versions of the Trinity image were inspired by Rublev alongside a comment from Elizabeth Henry, the Church of England’s National Adviser on Minority Ethnic Anglican Concerns. Henry was reflecting on the art often seen in churches and cathedrals worldwide, noting that so many figures are white. Too many images are white – angels, saints, Jesus, and indeed the Trinity itself. Henry said, ‘Art should be better than that.’ Why are there so few representations of God as black? If you imagine Jesus, or God the Father, or indeed God the Holy Spirit, do we imagine whiteness?
Meg Wroe’s Trinity images offer a different kind of diversity, and suggest the fullness of God’s love moving in the true diversity of humanity and the particular encounters between people. There is always room at the table. There is room, God says, for every person of every background at this table. Sometimes we think there is no room. Sometimes barriers are placed around a space so that black people cannot access the space that is set for them at the table. They are invited. But the door is barred. Time to open the door.
A door opens for Isaiah. When Isaiah is given a precious gift – a vision of God – his response is love, wonder, praise…..and sadness. He sees angels, he hears their voices singing out their Sanctus prayer: ‘Holy, holy, holy’. And Isaiah responds with sadness. He does this because he recognises his frailty. He is a fragile, limited, ordinary human being. He has been given an extraordinary gift and he responds in a way that confronts him, and us, with being ‘only human.’ This is a good thing, really. He doesn’t deserve to see God, and he knows it. His humility and his wisdom as a prophet are bound up together in his reaction. He is not treated as unworthy, though. He is not rejected. The opposite is true. A glorious angel, no less than a seraph, brings Isaiah closer into this vision, and his mouth is touched with the fiery glory of heaven. God’s angel reaches out to touch Isaiah’s mouth – the presence of God in our mouths is a sign of trust in the Lord with all our hearts. As Efua Kuma puts it, ‘We depend on you like the tongue depends on the jaw.’
In that touch, having repented and acknowledged that his lips are ‘unclean’, that he is lost, and that his whole community needs God’s forgiveness as much as he does, this is precisely what he receives. Isaiah’s ‘guilt has departed’. God liberates him. And then, even more wonderously, God speaks to him. God doesn’t berate, judge, punish, or reject. Isaiah has not become superhuman or any less fragile than he was before. Still just a human being, receiving and giving love, Isaiah is offered a choice. God asks ‘Whom shall I send?’ Isaiah can keep silent. Isaiah can suggest someone else – maybe someone stronger, better, purer, less frail, less afraid. But Isaiah, not out of arrogance but out of his liberation, responds to God’s call.
Note the emphasis and what damage can be done in our reading of this powerful and well-known response. This is one way to read it:
‘Here am I. Send ME.’
Here is another way:
‘Here am I. SEND me.’
The latter is a moment of aligning ourselves with God’s vision by making room for God’s mission. God is asking who will speak in God’s name, straight into the hearts, minds and souls of a community torn apart by injustice, inequality, arrogance, and the list goes on. Sound familiar? There have been many communities with these painful systemic injuries. There will be many more. Isaiah dares to say that he will try. He accepts God’s invitation to be sent into the world, no matter what happens. He doesn’t do this because he thinks he’ll be great at it. He does this because God’s invitation is one of love, mercy, truth, and justice. We always have a choice. We can say no to God. But what might happen if, out of love and not fear, out of the search for justice and not the desire to hide our shame, we actually said yes? That’s what the Blessed Virgin Mary did at the Annunciation. That’s what Isaiah did. That’s what people do when we dare to love God and overcome our fear. 
Our world is gripped by dark chaos. Our world is a place of hope and potential, too. Right now, building across many days and across the world, we hear the cries of ‘Black Lives Matter’, ‘I can’t breathe’ and ‘No justice, no peace.’ People are using their voices. People are also tired. Tired of racism. Tired of a terrifying and destructive virus that keeps us apart and rips through our communities. Tired of waiting for change. It is in this exhaustion that God can be heard asking, always, ‘Who will go for us?’ It takes courage to keep saying ‘I’m here. SEND me.’ In the love of the Father, the mission of the Son takes us towards that vision of heaven and offers us the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is by that Spirit, in union with Christ, in prayer to the Father, that we can join our voices together and dare accept God’s call.

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