May 30, 2010 – Trinity Sunday

And so the church year rolls on. Again we have arrived at Trinity Sunday, which, to me, is a very important day for a host of reasons. I am pretty sure that most of you don’t remember that – exactly one year ago, according to the church calendar, I preached here for the very first time. Trinity Sunday is another of those movable days, and last year it was on June 7th. Easter was late last year, so this year Trinity Sunday arrived 8 days sooner than last year. I remember arriving here last June, and wondering what I was getting myself into. Even though I had spent three years preparing myself for this, I really wasn’t sure if it was the right thing for me or for you. As you know, in the Presbyterian Church, we believe strongly in the call process, but that doesn’t mean that mistakes can’t happen. As I said in the children’s story, we need to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If we do this, we cannot be misled by other guides, but that happens. We do listen to other voices – the voices of our friends, of our families, or society in general. Then we go in the wrong direction.
But listening to the Spirit – that is different. It is through the Spirit that the Presbyterian Church is constantly reforming; it is through the Spirit that we make the right decisions on our journey of faith. It is the Spirit who moves parents to seek Baptism for their children; it is the Spirit who moves adults to affirm their faith in a very public manner. And it is the Spirit who brought us together as a congregation, and who will accompany us on our faith journeys together.
Each person has a different faith journey, and each journey tells its own story. When people want to talk to me, they usually want to tell me their stories. They don’t want me to talk; they want me to listen. Each one of us has a story to tell, and it is through telling these stories that we discover who we are. I suspect that the adolescent fondness for texting is connected with telling stories. No longer do people sit around a campfire sharing stories. Rather, they text each other. And the fact that it is done this way does not make it any less valid than it was in the old way. Teenagers are still finding out who they are, still on a journey of discovery. And the only way that they will know for sure who they are is by telling their story, over and over again. Hence, the text message. They text friends with good news and bad news. When they see a new movie, they share it with their friends, through texting. I have seen two young people sitting beside each other, texting rather than talking. While I have to confess that I don’t understand the appeal of this, it works for them. They learn about each other, and about themselves at the same time. They are sharing their stories, and through telling their own stories, they learn who they are. If you don’t tell your story to someone, then your story dies.
Newfoundlanders and Quebecers have a long oral tradition, with stories passed down from generation to generation. In the days before television, long winter evenings were often spent telling the old stories over and over. During the time when quilting bees were common, stories were shared around the quilt frame. This is how many young people learned what they needed to know in order to survive in the adult world. Old men would talk about the best time to plant, or the best places to catch fish. Old women would tell young women which natural remedies worked for which ailments. There was no universal health care then, and often no doctors, so these folk remedies were often the only thing that people had. Many of these stories are no longer relevant. Most of us don’t depend on nature for our livelihood, and even those who do have found ways to circumvent what nature can do to us. We build greenhouses so that we can grow things year round. We have drugs which can bring down a fever. So we don’t need to listen to the old stories, and sometimes I think that we are poorer for it.
But there is still a story that is told over and over again. This is the Christian story, the one which we all share. And why is it so important? Because it is through the re-telling of our shared story, the story of Jesus, that we learn who we are, as Christians. And in telling the story of Jesus through the Gospels, we are also telling our own story, because the Gospels are stories about us. As we tell God’s story, we learn more about ourselves. We see ourselves in the characters in the Gospels, and in the characters in the Old Testament. At times we have been the prodigal son, while at other times we have been the good Samaritan. At times, we have been Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, while at other times we have been Martha, bustling around, getting things done. Our story is, first and foremost, a story about relationship – about our relationship with God, about how we are made in God’s image. And the most important thing about this story is that it is always changing, as we go further along the road of our faith journeys.
There is a story about a woman who went to a farmer’s market. She saw a stand called: God’s Fruit Stand. Well, she thought, it’s about time. At last I’ll be able to get perfect fruit, fruit with no blemishes, which will last me until I eat it. So she walked over to God, who was working there that day, and said, “I would like a perfect banana, a perfect pineapple, and a perfect cantaloupe.” “Sorry,” said God, “but I only sell seeds. You have to grow the perfect fruit yourself.”
While we are on our faith journeys, how many times have you been looking for perfection? And how many times have you been disappointed? That is because God only gives us the seeds, and it is up to us to grow to perfection. We do this by listening to the word God has given us, by listening to the Spirit, and by doing as we are directed.
Listen again to some of what we read today from Proverbs. “To you, O men, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind.” There is another section which we did not read, but I want you to listen to it now: Listen, for I have worthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.
Now, Wisdom, in the Old Testament, is the personification of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom, called hokmah in Hebrew, Sophia in Greek, and sapientia in Latin, is consistently referred to as “she”. The nouns themselves are feminine, but most of us know very little about her, and that is too bad, because there is much we can learn from her. She is known as the female representation of God, and she is the one who is with us now, the one who was sent on the first Pentecost, to interact with us, to give us directions along the right path.
The book of Proverbs is not often used as a reading in the Christian church, but when it is, we need to listen. Lady Wisdom is like one of those street preachers we have heard about, one who cries out with messages of reproach, warnings of punishment, and promises of redemption. She tells us that nothing can compare with what she can give us, and, to move it to the 21st century, she says that she is worth more than anything you can win on the lottery. In a book which we recently read in St. Andrew’s Book Club, we saw a depiction of the Holy Spirit as a kind of New Age, rather vague woman, and I think that this did a grave injustice to the third person of the Trinity. To me, the Holy Spirit is vital, and full of energy. If we look at Genesis, we can read: The earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. The Spirit is also referred to as the wind which brought life to the earth, and now the Spirit is moving to bring new life, as the church is seeking ever more reform.
And how do we experience God’s Wisdom? How do we experience the Holy Spirit in our lives? There are so many ways, and they can be different for each one of us. Maybe you have seen the Rockies, with the sun shining on the snow-capped peaks, and you have felt awe and wonder. Then you have experienced God’s presence. Maybe you have watched a flower open, absolute perfection for one brief moment. This, too, is experiencing God’s presence. But it is not only in the joys and beauty of life that we experience God. Paul wrote: And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. WE REJOICE IN SUFFERING. How’s that for a concept? But Paul knew what many of us don’t. He knew that the difficulties and defeats which he would face would eventually bring him closer to God, that through his suffering, he would be more like Christ.
Maybe you have experienced God’s Wisdom at a dark time in your life. Maybe you have been sitting by the bedside of a loved one who is dying. Through your own suffering, you may have felt a closeness to God, in knowing that you are not alone, that God is with you. For many people, it is through this that they find God, as it is at times like this that they realize just how much they depend on God.
So, there is God in nature, and God in our suffering. But God is also there in our joys. For you, it may have been the birth of a baby. Holding a new baby in your arms for the first time brings such overwhelming joy that the parent can barely contain her or himself. Maybe this joy came to you at a graduation ceremony, whether your own or someone else’s. It is events like this – a birth, a graduation – which help us to feel God’s presence in our lives.
In the Gospel reading for today, which we did not read, Jesus said: When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will tell you what is to come. These words of Jesus are also spoken to us. It doesn’t mean that the Spirit will let us know the future. That is not for us. What it means is that we need to ask God for help, and for insight before we make decisions. If we listen to what God is saying to us, if we really listen, and not blot out what we do not want to hear, then we will understand the consequences of our actions, and we will make the right decisions.
Most of us have times when we wonder about our decisions. For me, Trinity Sunday last year was one of those times. I had not yet been called to this church, but I felt strongly that this was where God wanted me to be. The last time I felt such a strong sense of God speaking to me was also on a Trinity Sunday, in 2005. That was the day when I knew that God was calling me to ordained ministry. On both of those Sunday, I prayed. I prayed that what I was feeling was what God meant me to feel. I prayed that I was making the right decisions. I prayed for those who would be affected by my decisions, that they would understand why I felt I had to do this. But I knew that I was making the right decision, and I felt such a sense of peace, such a feeling this was the thing I needed to do, if I were going to do what God wanted me to do. For most of us, when we make the right decision, this is how we feel. Maybe we have been thinking about it for weeks or months or even years, but once the decision is made, there is a huge feeling of relief. And this is the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives; this is what helps us not only to make the right decision, but to KNOW that we have made the right decision.
In 1968, the Steve Miller Band had a hit song called: You’ve Got the Power. This title became the slogan for all kinds of things. Motivational speakers are still using it, saying things like: You’ve got the power to transform yourself. We have heard about woman power; we have heard about the power of youth; and there is also the power of one, a novel by Bryce Courtney, which has also been made into a movie. And I am telling you today, that you have the power. You have the power of the Holy Spirit, which was given to us through Jesus Christ. Now, it is up to you to use it. Unused power is like unharnessed hydroelectricity. Nobody benefits. The power that we have been given is not power as the world knows it. We are not able to rule nations, or to control businesses. The power we have been given is power as God knows it. It is not the power to destroy, or to put people down, or to hurt people or the environment. It is the power to know what is right, and to do what is right. The prayer of St. Francis of Assisi sums it up pretty well. He wrote, in part: Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Through the power of the Spirit, indwelling in us, this is what we will do when we bring Christ’s gift of salvation into the world.
No matter what we do, no matter how old we are, we can do this. Today, we have the opportunity to leave behind those things which encumber us, those feelings which hold us hostage. Today, we can strike out on a new path of love, a love aided by the presence of the Holy Spirit, by the presence of Lady Wisdom. Let us not be like the woman looking for the perfect piece of fruit, but let us acknowledge that we are like the seeds – perfection waiting to happen. We are far from perfect, but with God’s help, we will stay on the road to perfection, and with God’s help, we will eventually get there. Thanks be to God.

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