“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