Somewhat regularly my 5-year-old grandson says, hey Gugga, “who is God anyway”? I usually start with saying that I don’t know, that I’m always learning about that; then I segue into something about I think God is your super powers of kindness and Love. Wes being Wes, is fine with this, I think he’s trusting.
On this Trinity Sunday, I’m wondering if the Holy Trinity can help us imagine who God is?
I found this online from: “Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: (are you ready!) “While the Trinity doctrine purports to solve a range of theological puzzles it poses a number of intriguing logical difficulties akin to those suggested by the identity of spatio-temporal objects through time and across worlds…”
I found a much better resource, this great children’s book written by the late Rachel Held Evans and beautifully illustrated by Ying Hui Tan. (I’ll put it in the children’s corner so you can see it up close.)
What is God Like, by Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Turner
Rachel begins by saying that this question of who God is, is a very big one, one that “people from places all around the world have wondered about since the beginning of time.” She says God is too big for anyone to fully see, but we can know what God is like. “God is like an eagle, sharp eyed and swift, with wings so wide you can play under their shadows. God is like a shepherd, brave and good, a protector who loves her sheep so much that she watches over all of them and knows each of their names by heart. God is like a fort, strong and secure with walls that are mighty and safe. Inside there are hidden places to hold you when you’re scared or need a quiet place to rest.” And here, where the kids are in the midst of a cooking project and there is food all over the kitchen: ” God is kind, God is forgiving, God is slow to get angry, God is quick to be glad, God is happy when you tell the truth and sad when things are unfair.” “Keep searching”, Rachel says, “keep wondering, keep learning about God.”
So how can we imagine what God is like? Imagination, that human ability to form ideas or concepts about something which is not obviously present. Imagination is one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Imagination is what leads to creativity, and creativity to everything else. God must have had to use the ultimate power of imagination before becoming the Great Maker we believe God to be.
God has given us a fine gift, this gift of imagination. God knew that we, like the disciples, would have difficulty bearing things, that we would need guides along the way. God’s truth, as we know can be difficult stuff; things like love your enemies and do not worry about tomorrow for example. We may not have the answers, but we do all have imagination. Imagination, and all the tools God gives for understanding; some God given, like sight and touch, and some human made. Can our imaginations help us search for ideas about those big questions: who is God? where is God? what is God like, and, as Paul writes, how can God’s love be poured into our hearts, and the Spirit of Truth guide us into all truth.
How can we imagine God in our lives? God in three forms could be a helpful guide.
Have you ever needed a God who is all knowing, all loving, Strong, and sure, like a Mother hen gathering her chicks? This God’s truth is not always easy, but it is always right. This God is the parent who will love you, no matter what? God the Father, God the Mother.
Have you ever known a God who walks beside you, teaching, and encouraging, chastising, and cheering you on? God who endured human pain and suffering and showed us by the resurrection that we don’t need to be afraid of anything. God the sister, God the brother.
Have you ever felt your heart break open and your voice crack when you see the most beautiful sky, or read a poem that speaks to your life or hear music that lifts you up? A friend told me that last Sunday, during the chanting of the creed set to Quentin Faulkners’ beautiful organ music, the hairs stand up on the back of her neck! I’m sure there is a physiological explanation for this, but I believe it’s God the Holy Spirit calling out to us, telling us to pay attention, this is important. Last week in John’s gospel we were reminded that this Holy Spirit, which Jesus called the Advocate, will be sent by God in Jesus name, the Holy Spirit will teach us what we need to know about God’s truth.
Imagine God in a million ways and then, I imagine, we might be better able to understand God’s love and God’s truth and help to spread it in this world.
There are many tools for the imagination and if we look around us here and listen carefully, we will know some of them. We can imagine God’s love and truth in this community of faithful people. We can imagine God in beauty, the flowers and the candlelight, the iconic images, the table and the bread and wine we share, the vessels, and the flowing robes, all ingredients for the imagination. The words we read and the songs we sing. All lovingly human made and all fuel for our imaginations.
The beautiful poem in Proverbs 8 tells us that wisdom and understanding, which God made first, is out there, calling us, raising her voice, in the heights, in the depths of the sea, in front of the town, everywhere, if only we can imagine it.
Here’s a challenge for us this week; let’s try to imagine God every day in a different way. Imagine God and God’s love in glimpses of beauty, birdsong, the flowering tree, and garden, in relationships; the neighbor you don’t know, in the person you lose patience with, in the movement of your very own breath and heartbeat.
God has given us unlimited powers of imagination. We, like the disciples, will always have difficulty bearing and understanding the truth, but the Spirit of Truth will come, if only we can imagine it. Amen
My grandsons have each had their imaginations sparked by all manner of superheroes over the years, the world encourages this too, super power puppies, superman, spiderman, wonder woman, 4 leaf clovers, spirit animals…the list goes on. Jeremiah reminds us that God’s power is in us, we are not in need of the world’s superpowers.
I wonder if Jesus gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit when he left this earth as a way for to tune in to that super power Jeremiah was talking about. Jesus knew we would need further teaching, slow to learn we humans are! You might feel the HS’s presence in a beautiful sunset, or in the deer that stops in the field, and turns it’s gaze to you.
Do you ever (like me) hear the voice of the Holy Spirit whispering in your ear? Things like “it might be hurtful to say that”, or “keep going you’re getting stronger every day”, or “take more time to think that thru maybe it’s time to take a different path”? In these last Pandemic Years, the HS has helped us to imagine how to continue to walk the way of love safely, in spite of danger, conflict and fear. Perhaps, for you, God, in the Holy Spirit is less subtle, sometimes she grabs me by the shoulders and shakes, hard!
In today’s Gospel story from Luke we are given part 2 of Jesus’ return to his hometown of Nazareth. I’m thinking that the gospel editors thought this visit was important, since they made it a 2- part series, Netflix style.
Last Sunday we tuned in to Episode 1: (Luke 4; 14-21), Jesus attends his usual hometown synagogue worship and stands up to read….as was his custom. He reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah wrote that a prophet had been anointed to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free. Then Jesus rolls up the scroll, hands it to the attendant and, like a usual lector, sits down. The congregation stares at him, amazed, and then he adds, (I imagine him standing up again in the Synagogue), “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” In other words…here I am.
And now for episode 2, today we hear first that they were indeed amazed and appreciative of his gracious words, but it takes only a moment for their thoughts to turn to a challenge, “if you are this expected prophet, they say, why don’t you prove yourself, here in your hometown, where you belong. His community wanted him to perform healing miracles for them. Jesus responds by explaining that prophets of the past were also faced with many human tragedies, much as we are today. Many suffered from the debilitating disease of leprosy (what is now called Hansen’s Disease), and yet the prophet Elisha healed only Naaman with a simple act, sending him to wash in the Jordan River. Naaman was angry that Elisha didn’t give him special treatment, but his servants begged him to repent and obey the prophet. Naaman set aside his pride, washed and was healed.
When a poor widow offers the prophet Elijah hospitality and her last piece of bread, he blesses her with the assurance that she will never be hungry again. God’s mercy had been extended far beyond Elijah’s hometown, to an unlikely woman (a woman of great faith), in a foreign place.
Of course Jesus was famous for many miracles also, a few were grand and huge, (all those people fed on the beach with a few crusts of bread and some fish), but most were quiet personal acts of healing and mercy: washing the disciples feet, the healing miracles: a man with leprosy, Peter’s mother in law sick with fever, and the woman who had hemorrhaged for 12 years. Jesus restored sight and speech and movement to individuals of great faith, and maybe my favorite (although I can never choose), the Samaritan woman at the well who was desperate for a satisfying life and the assurance of God’s endless grace and forgiveness. Jews did not associate with Samaritans, and as a female, she was demeaned by society. Drawing water alone, she was a social outcast in her own community. When Jesus offered her living water (the assurance of God’s endless grace) she believed, and she ran off to tell others. These individuals, (in some way or other unlikely people, considered unclean, foreign, undesirable), these individuals are forever changed by Jesus’ love for them.
The neighbors in Jesus’ hometown didn’t want to hear this message, they were so angry that they tried to hurl him off a cliff! They do not feel like sharing him. They want this miracle-maker to stay here where he belongs. They are not interested in the message that God’s healing superpower is for everyone, everywhere.
And isn’t this perhaps what Jesus was trying to teach in the synagogue that day, that God had sent him with a different plan, I think to teach that we have this superpower, the power to cleanse and heal the world ourselves, with love, sent on by the Holy Spirit whispering to us, one small, loving, ordinary gesture at a time.
There will always be the poor, the sick, the lonely. What small acts of love-power can we muster up, in places familiar and unfamiliar, to promote healing in the world? God knows us, loves us, empowers us and is with us, always.
We have been waiting too, we waited for the miracle of science and a Covid Vaccine, we waited for a time when we could be close to those we love, and now it seems we are waiting to learn how to deal with emerging viral strains and how to live a good, full life, with life just as it is now.
After all the many years of waiting, along comes Jesus. He has something new to say about waiting. In the Gospel story Jesus foretold a time of signs: changes in the sun and moon and the stars, roaring of the sea and the waves, great distress and confusion among nations. These words speak so clearly to us now, as they have throughout history to all God’s people. Jesus gives some sound advice: “Stand up, raise your heads, be on guard. Don’t let the worries of this life weigh you down so you miss “it”.
What is this “it” that he refers to as “the coming of man”? This second coming theology is something I can’t understand. I’m interested in the here and now and as a practical person I can surely relate to the presence of God in my life right now, the idea that Jesus is always walking by my side. The collect says, “put on the armor of light and rise to the life immortal. Now, not later, not at some apocalyptic end days’ time, but now, every day. Don’t miss the presence of God in your life.
I wonder if Jesus might be telling me that I need to practice a special kind of waiting. Can I wait with an open, active mind, one in which I am present in the moment and all my senses are tuned in, expectantly listening…not for some discrete answer to my present prayer, but to the still small voice of God leading me on, sometimes down pathways I can’t even imagine?
Is it the difference between waiting for God and waiting with God?
In health care we have an approach to some medical problems which we call “watchful waiting”. Time is allowed to pass before medical intervention or therapy is used. During this time testing and evaluation may continue, symptoms are monitored, and changes noted. In a way, we pay attention to how the body speaks. We are alert and ready to follow whatever path is indicated. I do believe that God speaks to us in many ways. God speaks through the body; pain and fatigue are messages, so is joy and contentment, that rush of endorphins one feels after a good exercise session. We can hear and see God in nature, art, in music and in children. There is much to learn if we are watchful.
Watchful waiting is an active thing. If I am weighed down with the thoughts of gift giving this Christmas, or the parallel thought that most of us don’t need more “things” in our homes, can I listen to advice from the holy spirit? If my to-do list is overwhelmingly long, what can I do to change that. I think if we wait watchfully and invite God to come into our lives, we will always find the answers to our prayers.
One of the joys of Advent for me is rediscovering this Mary Oliver poem. She is a writer who knew a thing or two about paying attention. For me it’s about watchful waiting and listening for God. And so I’ll leave you with this:
Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but
still nothing is as shining as it should be
for you. Under the sink, for example, is an
uproar of mice it is the season of their
many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves
and through the walls the squirrels
have gnawed their ragged entrances but it is the season
when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And
the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard
while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;
what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling
in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly
up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will
come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,
the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know
that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,
as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.
I hope that your Advent is filled with God’s presence, and that you receive answers to your prayers, every day. Amen.
So what do I notice in this miracle story? The crowd, as usual was pressing in on Jesus. He could have done some grand-stand preaching event, but instead, he stops, and takes time to notice and attend to 3 unlikely characters, two of these were considered the world’s weakest and least powerful, a child and a woman, and the child’s father, Jarius, a synagogue leader; how unusual it was that he would recognize Jesus’ authority.
We rarely get to hear the Aramaic that was the common language at the time (the bible, of course was written in Greek for Greek readers), but in this story we hear “Talitha Cum”, the spoken language of Jesus which the writers must have considered important to include. Talitha is a word of endearment related to another Aramaic word that means lamb, or little dear one. “Talitha cum: Little one, get up!”
I notice that Jesus was not put off by the wagging fingers, the jeering laughter, or even the weeping mourners. he took the little girl’s hand, and gently raised her. I notice that the woman felt healing in her whole body, and that she spoke her whole truth to Jesus; maybe it was about more than her illness.
And finally, I notice here and in most all of the healing miracle stories that Jesus heals by invitation: the woman touches the hem of his cloak, and Jarius cries out to Jesus in desperation.
The Pandemic has increased my affinity for checking for invitation in my personal interactions. Now that we are in a kind of grey zone regarding mask wearing, I am careful to check to see what makes the people around me comfortable, even if I am ok with being mask-less.
I also have a new feeling about personal space. I don’t like the term social distancing; I much prefer one I recently heard: social spaciousness. Intimacy is very important in life, but it should be by invitation only. I’ve come to see the space around a person as more sacred than it used to be. I will try to always practice social spaciousness.
The word Parable comes from a Greek word meaning “something cast alongside something else”. They are short stories that convey a truth or religious principle, usually by comparison or analogy. For Jesus these were teaching aids, an earthly story with a heavenly message.
A miracle, of course, is an event that is said to have actually happened that we cannot explain, and we know that miracles do happen; the medical kind, in which a person makes an unexpected recovery in spite of a poor prognosis, or the miracle that happens when an earthquake victim is rescued after many days buried under rubble.
Kate Braestrup, an author and a Unitarian Universalist chaplain to Game Wardens in the forests of Maine, ministers to families and law enforcement officials in the wild. She is often called in on search and rescue missions responding to danger and disaster, a lost child, a snowmobile accident.
She says that she doesn’t look for God’s work in either the miracle or the horrible bad things that happen. These are both mostly unexplainable events in which so many things line up a certain way. Instead, she looks for God in how people love each other through it all; it’s not the disaster or the rescue that’s the work of God, it’s the love and care of the helpers involved.
When I sit with a friend who is dying and I wonder where God is in this, I see God in the gentle manner and the shining eyes of the nursing assistant who came in to give morning care. There was a special light in her eyes and face, even above the mask. I see God in the cooks and servers working up a sweat making soup and supper for our Sunday and Monday Community meals, and I saw God in the gentle touch and manner of the veterinarian who ministered to our beloved dog Rosie on her final earthly day.
Where is God in Mark’s miracle story? God is reaching out to the vulnerable, the ceremoniously unclean and the most exalted alike. Jesus is working up a sweat and remaining calm in the midst of chaos and pandemonium. God is in the confession that tells the “whole truth”; much like our prayers for understanding and healing regarding racism, violence and injustice. And God is in the power of resurrection; Get up, God says,
As we consider what I call the “summer questions” which Heather and Molly have asked us to ponder: we ask ourselves how we might recognize the many ways we’ve grown and changed over the last 16 months, as a parish and as individuals. I am challenging myself to look closely for God in the events of the last year; I grieve the tragedies and marvel at the miracles, but my focus will be on the details of the everyday: the special friendship that blossoms when you get to spend every day with a special 3 year old boy, the heroes who helped along the way, the discovery of new ways to stay connected, and the opportunities to spread God’s love way beyond 8 Church St.
I will conclude by quoting the ending of former presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori‘s sermon on this passage from Mark’s Gospel. She delivered this sermon to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2015. She gives good advice, and it is especially relevant today as we discern what it will mean to be a vibrant member of the Jesus Movement in the future.
She says: “Pay no attention to the finger-wagging. Turn around and look for the hem of Jesus’ robe. Go searching in new territory. Reach out and touch what is clothing the image of God. Give your heart to that search and you will not only find healing but become healing. Share what you find and you will discover the abundant life for which all God’s children have been created. And indeed the Lord will turn weeping into dancing. “Talitha Cum”, get up girl and boy and woman and man, get up! Amen.
Meet our Preachers
Rev. Heather Blais,
Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm, Associate Rector