A couple of years ago, I was an intern pastor in Minneapolis. During the week, when school let out, I would hang out at the local park and rec center, playing basketball or just sitting outside with the youth from the neighborhood. One day, I was with a group of kids who were Muslim. They were talking about the classes they had to attend for three hours each Saturday morning at their Mosque, which sounded a lot like what we know as Confirmation. In the middle of the conversation, one youth turned to me and say, “You’re pastor, right? From that church over there?” “Yes,” I said. Then he asked, “How can you say that you believe in one God, when really you believe in three?”
It’s a good question, isn’t it? How is that we say God is one but confess our faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? I would like to tell you that I simply paused for a moment, look up at the sky thoughtfully, and then poetically answered in such a way that left us all speechless. But that’s not what happened. I was not prepared for this question. In fact, I was so unprepared that I had nothing to say. After two years of seminary training, all I could really do was sit there and just shrug my shoulders.
Today is the day in the church year when we are supposed to talk about the Holy Trinity. As your pastor, I am supposed to find some good analogy to try and explain how God can be both three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) while also remaining just one God.
Over the years, some have referred to the Trinity as being like an egg – together the whites, the yoke and the shell make up an egg. Three things in one. Others have described the Trinity like water. If you go back to your elementary school science class, you’ll recall that water can be in three states – liquid, solid, or gas.
Truth be told, these examples might not be the best examples for talking about the Trinity. With the egg analogy, it talks about three parts. An egg is made up of three basic parts, like how the human body is made up of basic parts – the skeletal system, the muscular system, and the nervous system. With the water analogy, it talks about three states of being. Like how as a human being, you can be in a state of anger, a state of joy, or a state of grief.
But the Holy Trinity is not about three parts of God, or three states of God…it is about God as three persons and, yet, one being.
But how do we make sense of that? How can God be three and yet one. It just doesn’t make any sense. But maybe if we can say anything at all, the best we can say is that if God is three persons and yet one being, then God is community. And what is a community but a group of people mingling together, interacting with one another, giving and receiving from one another, loving one another. Within God’s own self, God’s own being, God is communal. And if we look at Scripture, I think we can see that God is so communal that God is continually calling us, inviting us, ushering, and nudging us into this community with God.
You can hear this in our reading from Isaiah, in which the prophet describes his incredible encounter with God. Standing in the temple, Isaiah comes face to face with God. These were troubled times that Isaiah was living in. Israel was a divided group, split into two kingdoms. And not only that, but they were at war with one another. Now, God needs someone to go and speak to the king of one of the kingdoms to help bring an end to the war. The voice of the Lord speaks, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Notice that God does not say, “Who will go for me?” But, “Who will go for us?” This phrase echoes all the way back to the beginning of creation, when God says, “Let us make humankind in our image.” Let us make humankind in our image.
From the beginning of creation and here in the story of Isaiah, God is not some big ruler in the sky watching over us, making sure we behave. And God is not some distant creator who formed the earth and then simply says, “Good luck” and leave it to it’s own devices. No, from the beginning of creation and here in the story of Isaiah, God is inviting others into participation in the divine work. God says to Isaiah, “I need someone. We need someone to send. Who will go speak to the king for us?” And Isaiah has the courage to respond, “Here I am. Send me.”
This best part of this Trinitarian God – this God as three person but one being thing- because if God is communal within God’s own self, if God’s very nature is to be communal, then God makes room for us within it. God as a community, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit invites us, the people of God, into that same community. And by offering us a place and purpose within God’s own self, God brings us into God’s activity in the world.
God invites us into God’s very own work.. God needs us out there talking, sharing and serving the world. What if what God is doing in the world is directly related to what you are doing in the world?
What an incredible word for us this day, graduation Sunday. Like Julia, Kelsey, and Same, many students in our community and across the country are graduating from high school and are being sent out into the work of the world, which is also the work of God. You are going out to find the passion and work that suits you and calls out your name. But, whenever it comes to graduations, David Brooks, a writer from the New York Times, say graduates ought to be cautious.
The common phrases that graduates hear this time of year are all about them. “Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself.” But, Brooks says, it’s not all about you. Because that’s not how callings happen. He says, your calling in life does not come from looking within yourself, but from looking outside yourself.
A friend of mine, Patty Allen, was diagnosed with breast cancer about 8 years ago. It was through her experience that she discovered a great need of support for those in the community who were also struggling through breast cancer. It began as a basket of scarves and hats for those newly diagnosed. Now it is a non-profit organization called Join the Journey that promotes breast cancer awareness and hosts a 10-mile Cancer walk each year. Patty was called into the activity of God of supporting people with breast cancer not through looking inside herself, but through looking outside herself. The community outside her called out, like God called out to Isaiah, and Patti had the courage to say, “Here am I. Send me.”
I am not saying that you should deny your own passions, but maybe it is not only your work, or your passion. Maybe it is God’s passion and God is the one calling you into such work.
All of us are called to something, I believe. Sometimes, it is many things and it is not just our jobs. We all are called to something everyday. So to our graduates, and to all of us, whatever you feel called to in this world, chances are it’s because it has come from outside you. From a voice in your community – from your family, friends, people you’ve met at work, or a news article you once read. Somewhere you’ve discovered and heard the call from outside yourself – the need to care for others in the world, the need to be concerned about people’s health and well being, or the need to look after this good earth. And it is that very call, the call to be the hands and feet of God in this world, that invites you into the communal nature of God, or what we might call the Trinity.
How do I believe a God that is three persons? Because God is by nature a community. And it is into community that God calls us to be. It is where we find our calling in life. It is where we courageously say, “Here I am. Send me.” AMEN