“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” Psalm 8:4
As many of you know, my sister Claire is a high school math teacher. She wrapped up her school year a couple of weeks ago, so this is the time of the year when she usually attends a few professional conferences to help her start the preparations for next year. (No rest for the weary, right?) This week I received a text from her while she was attending one of these conferences. Imagine my surprise when it contained a picture of a man – a fully adult man – dressed as a giant squirrel. That’s right. The person who was at that moment addressing this group of educators was dressed as a giant squirrel.
I had some questions. I was tempted to make fun of the whole situation. But as it turns out, Claire reported that his talk was really useful. He spoke about Creativity, Courage, and Change – all important topics – and, believe it or not, he connected those topics to squirrels. Some people will truly go to any lengths to make sure we get the message.
Today is Holy Trinity Sunday. It’s the only Sunday of the church year that somehow got named after a doctrine, but before you go running for the doors, let’s see what we can do with today’s focus on the Trinity.
There are all kinds of ways to do this badly. Countless symbols and analogies, from three-leaf clovers to water/ice/vapor. Putting together an understanding of the Trinity can sometimes feel like assembling a table from Ikea. You take a little bit of one thing that you don’t fully understand with a few other things you don’t fully understand, and you hope you end up with something that can stand on its own three legs without too many parts left over.
What the Trinity is actually about is God’s persistent, creative, loving desire to be in relationship with each of us, to communicate with us what is most important for us to know. God can do much better than a giant squirrel costume. God finds all kinds of ways to get our attention – by creating beauty and diversity, by taking on flesh and blood in the person of Jesus, by stirring up things with the Holy Spirit’s fire or wind. The word “trinity” does not appear in the Bible, but the Bible is filled with the stories that help us see how God grabs us by the shoulders and says: “Look! Don’t miss this! I’m right here!”
Traditionally the Trinity takes on the names of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But there are many other names for the presence and activity of God. We hear one of them in today’s reading from Proverbs, a passage in which Wisdom is personified as a woman. We hear that this Wisdom has been there from the beginning. “Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth,” Wisdom says. “When God established the heavens, I was there.” I think of this Wisdom as one form of the Holy Spirit.
We hear that this Wisdom Spirit is “on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads…[and] beside the gates in front of the town.” That means that wherever people are doing their best to live in community, the Spirit is there – gathering and teaching and guiding.
God finds us in our daily comings and goings – on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads. On our commute, at our workplaces, in the carpool line.
Psalm 8 celebrates the wonder of the natural world. Speaking to God the Creator, the psalmist says: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them?” The psalm goes on to celebrate the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea.
God finds us in the beauty all around us. The hydrangeas exploding in lavender and blue. The full moon on a summer night. The way your dog or cat or bunny rabbit or guinea pig loves you completely.
Romans 5 reminds us of the grace that we have in Jesus, the grace that we receive not because we deserve it, but because Jesus freely gives it. And more than that, this grace holds us in the midst of suffering; it is a grace that brings us from suffering to endurance to hope.
God finds us in times of pain and grief and fear. And then we often discover that places of heartbreak can also be holy.
Jesus says many things in his long farewell address that he offers the disciples on the night that he dies. We’ve heard several pieces of these parting words in recent weeks. Today we hear him say to his friends: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” There will be other times and other ways of speaking, he suggests. Many of them won’t make sense now, but they will later.
I believe the same is true for us. God has so many things to say to us. Many ways of searching us out and talking to us and connecting with us. They don’t always make sense immediately. Sometimes we don’t realize they’ve happened until we look back later.
So ask yourself: Where have you experienced God? How has God tried to get your attention recently?
I thought about these questions after an experience on the subway Wednesday night. Fairly often when I’m riding the subway, there will be a person who will stand up and address the entire car to ask for money. Most of the passengers ignore the person; a few will give a dollar or two. Several folks look away, clearly uncomfortable. Sometimes, I confess, I am among them. I’m not proud of it.
On Wednesday night a woman stood up, announced that she was homeless, and started to give what at first sounded like a plea for money. But then she asked for something much more specific. She asked if any of us had sanitary napkins that we could give her.
I cringed at first, embarrassed that she was shouting out such a personal request, even that she used a rather old-fashioned term to ask for it. Maybe you feel a little uneasy hearing me mention it this morning.
But then I thought about what it would be like to live on the streets without knowing how you were going to take care of those most personal needs. And then I thought about the courage that it took for her to announce that need to a whole subway car full of strangers. And then I thought about Jesus’ words in Matthew 25: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” When the people are confused about what he means, he adds: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
So I dug around in my purse and I gave her what I could. A couple of others did the same. I could refill those supplies as soon as I got home. She could not.
God spoke to me through that woman on the subway and reminded me that my embarrassment or discomfort does not negate the call to care for people in need. I needed that push.
I don’t know where you will experience God. Maybe in the wisdom of a close friend or family member. Maybe in a surprise encounter with a stranger. Maybe in the way your kid notices the world. Maybe in the summer breeze against your face or the ocean tugging at your feet. Maybe in complete silence. Or a dream. Or a song.
We don’t know when or how God might speak to us, and so we pray that we might be open to noticing it when it happens.
In a piece of her poem “Sometimes,” the poet Mary Oliver has four lines that seem to me summarize how we live and share our understanding of a God who has so many ways of reaching us.[i] The lines go like this:
Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it.
Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
“And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” Acts 2:6
As has become our tradition, today’s sermon on this Day of Pentecost is addressed to our confirmands. But I hope everyone else will eavesdrop and heard a word for your life too.
Brian, Ellie, Tayla, Samantha, John, and Jared:
Every year I say that I can’t believe this day has come. Two years goes fast. But this time it feels like the past two years have gone extra fast. I’m not sure why, but here we are.
You have worked hard. You’ve worked hard to study the commandments and creeds, to learn stories from the New Testament and the Old Testament. You’ve drawn those stories and sculpted them and acted them out and discussed them together. You’ve tried different ways of praying and different ways of reading the Bible and different ways of understanding God’s gifts to you. You’ve learned more about what makes us Lutheran.
Among the many things that I appreciate about all of you, I love that you have amazing questions. Questions like:
- Will Jesus come back, or will someone else represent God in the way that Jesus did?
- How does the Bible help us make sense of science – and vice versa?
- Why does God allow so much suffering in this world?
- How does God forgive even the worst people?
I’ve loved wrestling with these questions along with you. I think you know by now that the most important questions, like these, don’t have easy answers. What’s most important is that God has given each of us a brain with which to grapple with questions – and to think of new questions – throughout our lives. Confirmation class might be over, but I hope the learning and growing you do in faith will never be over.
You also have some important wisdom. I love how clearly you have grasped some of the most profound truths of our faith. In your own words:
- God’s presence is everywhere. And even though God is sometimes not so very pleased with us, God still loves us.
- God can help us make difficult decisions.
- Even in dark times, God is there and is always gracious to us.
You understand – as well as any of us can understand – that God’s grace and love are bigger than the limits we try to place on it.
As one of you told me this week, “God has a space for everyone. There’s always a door for everyone, even if they’ve done something bad. God forgives that.”
It’s a weird and wonderful story, this story of Pentecost that we hear today. Remember that when this story begins, Jesus’ disciples are waiting, just as he had told them to do before he ascended into heaven. He’s given them a job to tell others about his love for all people, not just in their neighborhood but in the whole world. I’m pretty sure that when this story begins, the disciples are sitting around freaking out about how they’re going to do that.
And then, before they can figure out what’s happening, the Holy Spirit comes rushing through with fire and with a crazy wind. The disciples begin to speak, probably unsure at first of what they were saying, but amazed to discover that they are speaking in languages that they have never known before. All of those people gathered together from all of these places can understand what the disciples are saying. Everybody hears in their own language.[i]
This is one of my favorite stories in the entire Bible, and this time I kept thinking about how the Holy Spirit didn’t expect everybody to be the same. The people gathered together in Jerusalem from all of those different cities and countries do not have to give up what makes them unique in order to be part of this church that the Spirit is bringing together. What gives them their identities – the places they call home, the languages they speak – those identities are honored in this special way.
If you hear nothing else today, I want you to hear this. And I want to be as clear as I can be. You are exactly who God has created you to be. God honors what makes you uniquely you. There will be a lot of people who will try to convince you that you should try to be someone else, that you should be a little more this way or a little less that way. Do not listen to them. You are beautifully and wonderfully made, and while there will be plenty to learn along the way, you do not have to be anyone other than who you are.
Please remember that God’s love for you is entirely unrelated to what you are able to do. You have so many talents, and I love watching and hearing about how you use them – in classrooms, on the soccer field, on the basketball court, on the piano bench, in the jazz band, on stage, on a track, here at church, in leadership roles, in Scouts, in service to others, in friendships, in your families.
But God does not wait for what you will accomplish or what you will achieve to decide whether or not you are worth loving. You just are. Already. You have been from the moment you were born. God loves you just as you are right now. Your story, which some days can feel small and unimportant, is a part of God’s larger story, which means that your story always matters– even on those days when you’re not sure what you believe or what you should do.
In a few minutes you will step up here and make some promises about how you will try to live out what Jesus has taught us. As we’ve discussed, several of those promises aren’t easy – serving all people, sharing the good news of Jesus is word anddeed, working for justice and peace. As you seek to live out those promises, remember that all of the people in this room – and many more – surround you and support you and love you. They are another gift that God has given you.
But most of all remember that God loves you, that God is with you always. The same God you loved you and claimed you as God’s own on the day of your baptism loves you and claims you now. That love will never leave you – no matter what. Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ