Today is the festival of the Holy Trinity, when we try to understand that identifying God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is a way of describing the many ways that God is in relationship with us. Of course none of the readings for today actually name the Trinity because there was no such formal concept of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit until the third century of early Christian history. Certainly the idea of Jesus as the Son of God does not exist in Hebrew scripture, yet there are plenty of references to God as creator, prophecies about the coming Messiah, the savior, and the Holy Spirit, present from the beginning of time who serves as the advocate, who empowers us, and takes delight in all human beings. In the New Testament Jesus makes it clear that he is one with the Father and when he would no longer be present on earth, he would be present with us for all time in the Spirit.
Our readings for today include a well-known description of Wisdom, the Spirit of God, from the Book of Proverbs. Having wisdom means that we understand we need to find joy in others, not through control of them or expecting them to be like us. Wisdom is present when we delight in the other just as they are. We reflect the wisdom of the Spirit when we work in some small way to bring peace and calm in the midst of chaos. Although Paul had no intention of invoking the Trinity in his letter to the Romans, he very clearly conveys that the love of God is poured out into our hearts and souls through the Holy Spirit who has existed for all time but whose relationship with us was renewed in the person of Jesus. Finally, in our reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus promises that his Spirit will bring the new way of truth to his followers. Even though Jesus will no longer be physically present, we can trust that Jesus and God are one, and we are assured that the Spirit provides the same revelation of God’s intentions and truth for the world. All of our readings subconsciously invoke the Trinity
Although we have these references which can help us to understand the concept of Trinity, there is a really fine way of understanding how God works in the world in our psalm for today. Psalm 8 is the first official hymn of praise in the psalter. It is unusual because it is entirely addressed to God, without the any words directed towards or from the people. The psalm is carefully constructed – a doxology, or words of praise to God, the work of God, the question of who we are, more of God’s work, and closing in another doxology.
There is no better way to begin the day or to begin time together than to praise God for all the good things God has done, does now and will continue to do for us and all of humankind. Then the psalmist recalls all that God has created and accomplished, which is so immense and beyond our comprehension that we can easily feel unimportant and inconsequential. This week’s commentator on the psalm, Shauna Hannon, Associate Professor of Homiletics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary at Berkeley, CA, describes her experience when she was driving through the Canadian Rockies alone, in a blizzard, in a white car, with no cell phone reception. She felt tiny and close to helpless, knowing she could very easily become overwhelmed even while admiring the awesome strength and power that surrounded her.
Yet even as she acknowledged her insignificance, she moved into the powerful experience of understanding that in God’s eyes and has a creature of God’s creation she is extremely significant. God has given her responsibility and the ability to influence the world in a good way. As creatures created in the divine image we are invited to affirm God at the same time that God affirms us as stand-ins for the divine on earth.
The question for us is – what has God done in our lives and in our congregation that illustrates this affirmation of God. I had an opportunity to ask some of our members where they see God working through us here at Saint John. One person said that she sees the Spirit working through the teachers, choir director and Pastor lifting up and involving the children and youth. She enjoys the joyful noises of babies and toddlers in church. Another person spoke about how we always remember to thank God and place others in God’s care, both during worship and in private prayer. Picking up on that, someone else affirmed how important our prayer list is, and the way we pause to lift up names to God. Finally, another person sees God acting through our nation, where our Judeo-Christian foundation has always inspired us to commit to others, to help people all over the world and set the example of what it means to be faithful people.
The focus of the Synod Assembly this year was on anti-racism. I want to share with you just one powerful story from the assembly, even though there are many more that I hope to share in the future. Maria Del Toro is Vice President of the Metropolitan New York Synod. She is a few years older than I am so her story really resonated with me and my remembrances of the racism that existed when we were growing up in New York City.
Maria was born in Puerto Rico and when her family, her parents and older brother, immigrated to the United States they ended up in the section of Manhattan known as Hell’s Kitchen. That is the setting of the musical West Side Story. Growing up in New York in the fifties and sixties Puerto Ricans were often called by a nasty name, which I don’t want to repeat but which those of a certain age will know. She and her brother have observed that being called by racist names, as awful as it was, was not as hurtful as the institutional racism that usually went unchallenged, and which I remember well, not as a victim but as a witness.
Maria went to a high school in Chelsea, and by her senior year had attained the highest average in the class. A classmate of Asian descent had achieved the second highest average. One day they were both called to the principal’s office. It was very exciting to them because they knew it was to be told that they would be the valedictorian and salutatorian of their graduating class. They arrived and the principal and a panel of teachers had gathered. They were complimented on their achievement, but instead of being told to prepare their speeches for graduation, the principal informed them that this was such a prestigious school it would not be fitting for two students with accents to give the speeches. So she had decided that the top ten students in the graduating class would be invited to prepare speeches, and she and the panel would judge the best and second best, and those would be the speeches at graduation.
Maria was incensed. She said she would refuse to participate in a contest which she had already won by having the highest average, and she walked out of the office. The social studies teacher, who had acted as a mentor to her, followed her. He told her she must fight for what was hers. He said prejudice and racism would win if she did not continue to fight. She was still angry but she agreed to prepare a speech. And here is where the work of the Holy Spirit came in. The panel of teachers and the principal judged the ten speeches, and hers was judged number one, and that of the Asian student was judged to be number two! – in spite of the fact that the principal voted against them both.
Maria Del Toro completed her Bachelor’s Degree summa cum laude at SUNY Binghamton and she was accepted to every Ivy League school she applied to for her Master’s Degree, which she earned with high honors. She was the first Hispanic accepted into the Doctor of Philosophy program at Princeton University and earned her doctorate. She is a life-long Lutheran, and married a ‘lovely’ Jewish man, who has always been supportive of her faith and her career – he was at synod assembly. She has dedicated her time, talent and treasure for many years, together she and her husband have traveled to our companion Diocese of Western Tanzania. She has achieved this in spite of the blatant and unchallenged discrimination she and her brother faced. That is the Holy Spirit at work!
Although we are often quick to blame God when things don’t go well, or we even try to make deals with God in the hopes that things will go our way, we should always remember to imitate Psalm 8, and begin and end our days and our gatherings with a doxology. We thank God from whom all blessings flow, we thank God for the world and all its creatures, we thank God for entrusting us with responsibilities and for blessing us with joy and delight. As our Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton, said in her speech to all the synod assemblies, “We don’t have to save the world; Jesus has already done that. We are invited into the reconciling work of God in the world. We are the body of Christ, church for the sake of the world.’ Amen.