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Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service; click on the video camera icon.
May 30, 2021
The Holy Trinity
Grace and peace to you from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Holy Trinity Sunday is kind of a conundrum for a lot of pastors, myself included. We often find ourselves trying to explain the relationship within and among the three persons of the trinity by using examples like the three states of h2O, the three parts of an apple, a three-leafed clover, and my personal favorite – the banana.
Because if you take a section of banana and compress it top to bottom, it breaks into three equal parts. And the plant itself is always in three different stages of growth coming out of the same root. It’s as good an image as any.
But the truth is, there is no way to fully explain the Trinity. And that’s good, because we don’t want a God we can fully comprehend. Day-to-day, it’s enough to know that God is someone we can rely on and trust in, and that God loves us.
We can hold onto that, even while reading Bible stories that remind us of God’s power and that God is way bigger than we can comprehend, like the story in today’s reading from Isaiah.
Isaiah’s call story, which is what this story tells us about, didn’t just come from nowhere. God didn’t just say, “Hey – I think I’ll call a prophet for the people.”
At this point in their history, the Judeans had basically walked away from God, they were going through the motions of worship, their leadership was corrupt, political greed had led to social injustice. And then King Uzziah died – he was actually one of the better kings that had brought some stability to the people.
But now even that was gone, and things were about to get a whole lot worse for the Judeans. And it was going to stay that way for a long time. That’s the situation Isaiah was called into. And like most of the prophets in the Bible, Isaiah got a glimpse of the power of God when he was called.
And he described it as best he could; all of his senses were active. But it’s still an incomplete picture. What Isaiah knew, though, was that God loved the people. So when God asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah responded, “Here am I; send me!”
And that’s where our reading ends for today, but it isn’t where Isaiah’s call story ends. In the verses right after this there’s an “oh by the way” – and it’s God telling Isaiah that his prophesying won’t work. That the people won’t listen to him and won’t buy into what he’s saying. They’re not going to stop on a dime and change their ways because of what Isaiah tells them. But go and prophesy anyway.
Way to sell it, right? Not the best pep talk for a newly-minted prophet. But what Isaiah’s experience and vision of God teaches us here is that God is powerful enough to confront the evil in the world. That God loves the people enough to stay with them through what is to come. And God calls Isaiah to speak that truth to them even when it seems fruitless.
And as Isaiah’s story continues, we know that he warned the people about consequences – and that there were consequences. But we also know that he assured the people of God’s promise of love and mercy and redemption and renewal.
What we learn from all of this is that Isaiah listened to God, and he didn’t walk away from his ministry when the people didn’t listen and the consequences of their actions came to fruition. He kept speaking the truth about God and honored God’s call.
Because U.S. culture is the way it is, it’s sometimes our default to read these stories and only apply them to ourselves as individuals. And it’s important to think about how these stories shape our faith and the way we interact with the world. But they’re as much for faith communities and how we do ministry as a congregation as they are for any one person.
And, really, what Isaiah’s vision and story do is challenge us as a congregation to do ministry with integrity. Specifically, to be true to who God is as we do ministry. And on the surface, we say, “Yeah, of course that’s what we do.”
But it shifts a little when we remember that God told Isaiah not to expect great results. At least not “great” in terms of being popular or people immediately saying, “Yeah! Sign me up!”
We don’t like to think about the fact that doing authentic ministry is the long game because we want the results now-now-now. We want it to result in more people in worship and higher numbers on the membership rolls.
But what God teaches us through Isaiah’s story is that honoring God’s call in our ministry means listening to what God is calling us to do. And then doing it without an agenda or expectation of what may come of it. It means simply knowing that by doing it, we speak and live the truth about God and who God is.
At Bible Study on Tuesday morning, we spent time talking about this – what it means to do ministry with integrity and how hard it is because the prevailing message of Christianity in our society is about living in fear of God’s judgment. And we talked about what it means to present a different message when the other voices are so loud. Like, do we become an equally loud voice and compete with them?
And as our conversation continued, we talked about who we are as Lutheran Christians and what we believe – that we’re saved by grace and that we’re children of God, and that nothing and no one can ever take those away from us. And that when we’re doing ministry and encountering people who are only familiar with the judgement side of Christianity, it’s our opportunity to say, “There’s a different way. Here’s what we’ve experienced about God.”
Because, and I’ve said this before, when people want to know about God – who God is, who Jesus is – why you do what you do, why you approach life the way you do, they don’t want complicated theology or doctrine or textbook explanations. They want to know why God’s love matters to you – the difference it has made for you.
And they don’t learn that from a textbook. They learn it by you sharing your experiences of God.
That’s ministry with integrity. When we do that as a congregation, it’s a powerful thing. It helps us remember that we are a community that gathers around worship, discipleship, outreach, and relationship. Doing ministry through these means is authentic to who we are. More importantly, it allows us to authentically share who God is with the world.
Is that an important message to share? You bet it is! But getting caught up with wanting to outdo others in it is a distraction. It’s fluff, like the cottonwood seeds that are blowing around right now.
That isn’t to say we don’t strive to do better in the ministry that we do. But it is to say that remembering who we are as children of God, and the core values God has put in our hearts as a congregation are enough.
It may not lead to increased membership or more people in worship on a Sunday morning. But it’s true to who God is. It reminds us that God is someone we can rely on and trust in, and that God loves us. Thanks be to God! Amen.