By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
June 7, 2009 (Trinity Sunday)
Read: John 3:1-17
Several years ago in San Diego, a ship strayed off course and became stuck in a reef at low tide. Twelve tugboats were brought in. They attached cables from the tugs to the ship and tried to pull it, but that did not work. Then the tugs moved to one side and tried to push the ship off the reef. Black smoke was belching everywhere. The water around the big vessel had turned to a white foam with the twelve tugs pushing with all their mighty power against the ship, but they could not budge it! Finally, the captain instructed the tugs to back off. He sighed, “I’ll just be patient and wait.” He waited until high tide. Eventually, the ocean began to rise, and what human power could not do, the rising tide of the Pacific Ocean did by lifting the ship and putting it back into the channel. The water was the visible instrument, but the invisible tide provided the power.
It seems that the Holy Spirit is like that tide–not so much seen of itself, but nevertheless a power at work in the world. Today is Trinity Sunday. And the Trinity is description we came up with to attempt to explain the concept of how God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are, at the same time, three in one. It is God in relationship, a mysterious relationship. St. Augustine has written of the Trinity as “The Lover, the Beloved, and the Love who binds all together in One.”
The encounter with God will always remain deeply mysterious: “The wind blows where it chooses.” It cannot be caught securely in the nets of dogma or liturgy or spiritual practice. Human language is inadequate to describe our understanding and relationship with the mystery that is God, and sometimes the more analytical we are, the less we allow ourselves to enter into relationship.
So I’m not going to try to be analytical about God relationships. Let me share some stories about the one who meets God. The transformation of our life, the “new birth,” relationship: Relationship that is given life-new life- through the power of the Holy Spirit. The relationship that is born of God, through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit:
A mature, well-dressed Wall Street banker had car trouble on his way to work one morning in the Bronx, and he ended up taking the subway. Naturally, the subway crowd showed no more respect for him than anyone else, so he got pushed and shoved in normal style. He was annoyed and very irritated. Finally, he couldn’t stand being quiet about it any longer. He turned to a guy in overalls, carrying a lunch box and hanging on to the strap next to his, and said, “You know, I hate this subway. I hate being jammed in here with all these people. As a matter of fact, this is the first time I have been compelled to ride it in over ten years.” At which the guy in overalls replied loudly, “Mister, you couldn’t possibly have the slightest idea of just how much we’ve missed you.” When we are self-absorbed we think that what is happening to us is all that matters.
On the other hand, the person whose nature is being moderated by the Holy Spirit, is moving from concern for self to consideration of others. A higher nature begins to show. In his book, On Being a Real Person, Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote: “A great day comes when a man begins to get himself off his hands. He has lived, let us say, in a mind like a room surrounded by mirrors. Every way he turned he saw himself. Now, however, some of the mirrors change to windows. He begins to get out of himself–no longer the prisoner of self-reflections but a free man in a world where persons, causes, truths, and values exist, worthful for their own sakes. Thus to pass from a mirror-mind to a mind with windows is an essential element in the development of real personality. Without that experience no one ever achieves a meaningful life.” God’s Spirit moves us beyond ourselves. Those who are responding to the Spirit of God are discovering that their attitudes are changing from self-absorption to concern for others.
Another way that God’s Spirit becomes evident is in changed actions. People who are not open to God’s Spirit are afraid to open themselves to love because love can be costly. After reading Ernest Hemingway’s first book of stories, D. H. Lawrence said that the moral of the stories could be characterized like this: “Avoid one thing only: getting connected up (to anyone).” Scott Donaldson, in a study of Hemingway, says that that really was his philosophy. Hemingway once fired a babysitter because his sons were starting to care for her too much. Hemingway said that you could only love a person so much, but then you had to stop or you’d get hurt.
Doestoevsky, in his novel, The Brothers Karamazov, counters that idea when he writes: “Love all of God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand in it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery of things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.” Love is evidence of the presence of God’s Spirit.
Those who are being led by the Spirit of God, are learning to act in the interest of others. It is that kind of action that makes us useful. I heard a basketball coach give a speech a few years ago in which he was describing the characteristics of his players. Of one of them, he said, “This person is not a great player, but he is a good player. He is the kind of person who can give other people the ball. He makes others look good. Such people are necessary for team spirit. They make us a good team.” As the Spirit gains ascendancy in our lives, we can give up being hotshots who need all the glory and put our efforts forth for the common good.
Not only do we become useful when we act in behalf of others, our own lives are enriched. How cramped our lives are when all we can rejoice in are our own achievements or good fortune. How numerous, on the other hand, are our opportunities for rejoicing, if we will allow ourselves to enter into the good fortune of others. Those of us who are parents know how enlarged our lives become when we enter into the victories of our children and grandchildren. If we could also learn to identify with the good fortune of our neighbors, or with the hometown boy who made good, or with the Californian who has made a discovery, or with the American who has landed on the moon, or with the human being who has won the Nobel Peace Prize–how filled with good will our world would be and how much happier our own lives.
Of course, our natural attitudes and actions do not change quickly. Indeed, they only change at all because God’s Spirit fills our lives with something beside ourselves.
In the movie “Rain Man,” a selfish, hustling salesman discovers that his wealthy father has died and left him only a 1948 Buick. He discovers further that he has an institutionalized, autistic, older brother who has been left three million dollars. He takes his brother away from the place where he is cared for in an effort to make himself guardian, and thereby gain control over his brother’s inheritance. Daily he learns how much care his brother needs and how ill-prepared he is to provide it. Little by little he becomes more concerned for his brother’s well-being and less concerned with himself. The self-concern which has dominated his life is replaced by genuine love and affection for another. And he becomes a decent human being in the process.
In such a way God’s Holy Spirit fills our lives, changes our attitudes, changes our actions, and helps us to discover a new affiliation–that we are children of God. As Paul says, “…all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” (Romans 8:14) The Holy Spirit may not be something we can see, but like the rising tide, we can tell where it is active. All we have to do is to look for the rising tide of love in our midst. Amen.
(Note: stories taken from a sermon by Dr. David Rogne)
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