Sermon of the Week
The Delight of Wisdom
Keywords: Trinity, Geese, Dad Jokes, Delight
My pastor friend Rocky apparently reads deep into the New York Times.
He finds articles that are buried so deep that I often miss them.
One example is an article he shared this week by Jason Zinoman
with the headline: A Dad Defends Dad Jokes[i]
There were two that stood out. Two Dad Jokes:
What rhymes with Orange? No, it doesn’t.
And then there was my favorite:
If at first you don’t succeed, don’t try skydiving.
Thank you, New York Times.
The article is, when you read it, a professional comic’s take on parental humor.
Now, the last thing we need is a professional dismantling
everything that makes parenting fun,
but I resonated with the whole thing,
mainly because my daughters think I tell bad jokes, too.
Like when the kid comes up to his dad and says,
Hey Dad, I’m hungry. Make me a sandwich.
and the Dad says:
Ok. Abracadabra. You are…a sandwich.
Or my favorite:
How many tickles does it take to make an octopus laugh?
Well, I wouldn’t put it past you
if you felt that the following analogy
fits into something of a similar category. Forgive me.
I was reading a reflection about the church the other day by
Barbara Bundick, who shared her joy
in rediscovering a favorite book called “High-Flying Geese.”[ii]
It was published some thirty years ago, now.
And in it, the author, Browne Barr, compares the church,
even an ordinary, run of the mill, Christian congregation
just like this one, to a flock of geese.
Now, there are many unflattering comparison
that we could draw, if we wanted.
Some might wonder if we’re a noisy bunch,
HONKING for all we’re worth.
Others might ask if all we do is WADDLE around.
Maybe during coffee hour…?
His book apparently is full of these corny analogies. Dad jokes, if you will.
But that’s not Barr’s point.
Barr is not trying to chide us into doing better.
Or have us groan our way, and move on.
When Barr speaks of geese,
he is not describing the flightless gaggle of the farmyard,
nor the flocks of nuisances that plague golf courses.
Instead, he wants to entice us with the vision of geese in flight, you know,
dancing and diving in delirious freedom. He’s not joking.
Geese in flight are beautiful, one of God’s most gracious creations.
And, according to Geese Experts (did you know there WERE “Geese Experts”):
According to Geese Experts, they are also an aerodynamic marvel.
Geese in their vee flight formation travel seventy percent faster
than any single goose can travel alone. Seventy percent.
The goose that holds the head position at the front of the vee
does not have a harder job than any other goose.
The aerodynamic drafting that helps the whole flock travel faster,
helps the head goose travel faster as well.
Moreover, the geese share leadership.
They take turns heading the vee.
They function as ONE body, a body in flight,
joyously honking their boasting hopes,
their share in the glory of God.
Here’s his point:
The church in flight is also beautiful,
a miraculous creation of the Holy Spirit.
Last week, Pentecost, we celebrated
the birthday of the church in the fires of the Holy Spirit.
Today, Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the love
that pours out from the community of one God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, mother of us all
the divine love that creates, redeems, and sustains,
the wind beneath our goosey wings.
So, like a flock of geese, we travel onward. It’s not a bad way to go.
So much better than staying stuck on the ground.
But before we start flying, lets talk about walking, or better yet,
let’s talk about WADDLING.
Because, let’s face it:
There’s something about Paul’s words from Romans today that waddles.
This is graduation season, a season for seniors
receiving diplomas and looking forward to a bright future.
It is a season of transition for others as well:
In the past few weeks, Alpha Montessori had their end-of-year celebrations
and I was delighted to be at Center Middle School
for their annual “rise-up” recognition ceremonies.
These were wonderful events.
But I’ve been to not-so-wonderful graduations, haven’t you?
And there are times that reading Paul can sound just like
a windy, sleep-inducing speaker at a commencement address
droning on and on, you know,
about how suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope, and so on and so forth.
We figure that by the time the windy speaker is done
we’ll have endured so much
that we’ll have all the character we ever need.
And Graduates don’t want to hear this sort of advice, do they?
Graduates cannot bear the thought that the future will be anything but rosy.
And sometimes, neither can we.
We’d all prefer to go through life with rose-colored glasses
assured that it will all be peaches and ice-cream.
But, and this is important: we know that life isn’t like that. We know.
So I hope we don’t tune out what Paul is trying to say here.
For all of us, a measure of trouble, toil, suffering is part of the picture.
It’s part of life, particularly a faithful life, a full life, a whole life.
The faithful life isn’t meant to be free from suffering or difficulty.
That comes with what it means to be human,
to love another person, or to be loved in return.
–It comes with standing up for things we believe in,
for justice, for peace, for compassion.
–It comes with working hard to make enough to feed our kids
–It comes with having fragile bodies, beautifully wrought, certainly
but limited, finite…
And while we know that God doesn’t wish any suffering on us,
with the right frame of mind, we can see God walking along side with us
through all things,
and we can grow in faith and hope for the future.
In a few different places I read the following crazy little tale
you might have heard before: about a farmer who owned an old mule.[iii]
Well, the story goes, one day that mule fell into a dry farm well,
a well that had been out of commission for ages.
And the farmer heard the mule braying loudly, you know, needing help.
So the farmer carefully assessed the situation,
and there was no way for him to get that mule out of that well.
The farmer was sad: the mule was a goner.
The farmer called some friends together to help him,
and after explaining the situation, he shared his plan.
Help me haul some dirt, you know,
to bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery.
At first the old mule was hysterical
as the dirt fell on his back
and he realized what the farmer was doing.
But suddenly a thought struck him.
Every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back
he should shake it off and step up.
This he did, blow after blow.
“Shake it off and step up …
shake it off and step up!” he repeated to encourage himself.
No matter how distressing the situation seemed, the old mule fought panic
and just kept shaking it off and stepping up.
It wasn’t long before the old mule, battered and exhausted,
climbed triumphantly over the wall of that well.
To the surprise, tears, and actual JOY of the farmer…
and lived a long and good life
the rest of his days…
“Shake it off and step up … shake it off and step up.”
It’s a parable of sorts about perseverance:
If we do it long enough we might surprise ourselves
by one day discovering that somewhere in the process
we not only climbed out of our difficulties.
Somewhere in the process we somehow might learn how to fly.
This is something, I think, of what Paul is trying to say
in this word to us from Romans.
It’s all tied in with hope, Paul says, Hope which does not disappoint us.
Hope poured into us, hope given to us.
Hope that comes in and through all of life’s ups and downs,
if we have the ability to look and see and recognize it,
That sort of hope sounds nice, I think. But it’s not just any hope.
The hope that Paul speaks of is not a lazy hope of our modern affluence.
Paul is not hoping for a rain-free family picnic or a snazzy graduation gift.
Instead, Paul’s hope is a sure thing, born of trust in God
a trust that comes from years of difficult experience.
Paul’s hope was for God’s constant presence, God’s constant love.
Maybe Paul was thinking about those famous words of the Psalmist:
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me.”[iv]
God walks with us in our trouble,
through ALL things, helping us to shake it off and step up.
To step forward.
Soon enough we learn that God’s COMPANIONSHIP
is the one thing in life that is absolutely certain. Absolutely solid.
And with God’s companionship, we can endure EVERYTHING.
Today is Trinity Sunday,
the day we celebrate the God who is three in one and one in three.
The Trinity is one of those theological doctrines that is impossible to preach.
It reminds me of a comment by Mozart.
Someone once asked Mozart what he was trying to SAY with his music.
He responded, “If I could say it in words I wouldn’t need music.”
The Trinity is easier to sing about than it is to define.
That’s because the Trinity DID NOT BEGIN as a theological doctrine.
It wasn’t something thought up, but something FELT.
It was the early Christians’ EXPERIENCE of faith,
the myriad ways
God helped them to shake it off and step up,
as the varied ways God taught them to how to fly.
First there’s God the Creator,
God the Parent, whom Jesus called, “Abba,” or Daddy.
What a marvel that the God who created the sun and moon,
the mountains and the sea and the endless galaxies
should yearn for the intimacy of our company.
James Weldon Johnson wrote a poem, entitled “Creation,”
where this intimacy is so beautifully drawn out.[v]
In the poem,
God “looked on [the] world with all its living things,
and God said: I’m lonely still.”
Then God sat down —
On the side of a hill where [God] could think;
By a deep, wide river [God] sat down;
With [God’s]head in [God’s] hands,
God thought and thought,
Till [God] thought: I’ll make me a person!
Up from the bed of the river
God scooped the clay;
And by the bank of the river
[God] kneeled [Godself] down;
And there the great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of [God’s] hand;
This great God,
Like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till [God] shaped it in [God’s] own image;
Then into it [God] blew the breath of life,
And [the person] became a living soul.
THIS great God, THAT glorious creator,
THIS mammy bending over her baby,
THAT was the God the earliest Christians MET in Jesus.
Jesus’ justice was the justice of God;
Jesus’ wisdom was the wisdom of God;
Jesus’ companionship, was the companionship of God.
Jesus’ tenderness was the tenderness of God;
Jesus’ truth was the truth of God.
No wonder the early church proclaimed that IN Jesus,
“all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”
The fullness of God was pleased to dwell in a mere human being,
a muddy creation of clay and bone.
The fullness of God was born with us, dwelt with us,
suffered and died with us,
rose from the grave for us,
so we could all soar free-of-death forever.
So there was an experience of God the creator,
and there was an experience of God through this person, Jesus.
And just as the earliest believers experienced God fully in Jesus,
the early church experienced Jesus fully in the holy spirit.
That’s what we celebrated last week, on Pentecost.
And from this EXPERIENCE of God, the notion of the trinity took flight.
The love that gives and renews life through the work of the Holy Spirit
is the SAME love that gives and renews life
through the power of creation and the creator
is the SAME love that gives and renews life
through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
It’s always the SAME giving, the SAME renewing, the SAME love.
One God. Three Persons.
And the fullness of God the Holy Spirit is present with us, right now,
doing what Jesus said it would do,
teaching us everything
and reminding us of everything that Jesus said and lived.
Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that the early church
also saw in the holy spirit the basis of all human wisdom,
that same wisdom we read about today in the Proverbs
a wisdom that was present when all things were made
so that we could see in the world a loving creator
determined that all could experience God’s love and care.
God created the world with wisdom,
God created US with wisdom:
And we are created for community by our God who relishes community.
By our God who IS, in God’s-very-self: community.
God is three-in-one, and one-in-three.
God’s very BEING is community, unity in diversity.
Those high-flying geese, remember them,
who travel seventy percent faster as part of a community
than a lone goose can travel solo,
maybe they really do have something to teach us after all.
So the God who creates and delights in us,
who teaches and redeems us in Jesus
and who calls us all together and sustains us as the Spirit
THAT God is an amazing, awesome, life giving God.
One in Three. Three in One.
It’s a bit hard to wrap our head around,
but it’s such a beautiful thing to behold
a wonderful notion to contemplate.
But it’s not meant just to be contemplated.
Its meant to be experienced. It is meant to be lived.
But when we do, it can be like HOPE poured into us.
It can enable us to endure everything life throws at us
you name it.
It allows us to carry on, to move forward,
to take REAL problems and REAL hurts and REAL struggles
and to KNOW that God is there too
with a love that will not let us go.
That’s our God. Triune. Beautiful.
That God is such a gift to us, even if we can’t fully understand
how one thing can be three, or three things can be one.
It doesn’t matter. It’s a bit of a mystery, and that’s ok.
God’s ways sometimes are mysterious to us.
But on this day we try to wrap our head around it….
Let us take a cue from the Wise One, the spirit in our midst.
Let us look around and just take in the wonder of this beautiful world
and celebrate God’s handiwork.
Let us listen to the music that sings to us about God,
hear and receive the notes
as drops of grace into our ears.
Let us celebrate God’s gifts of wisdom and understanding
so far as we are able in our finite minds to develop them
and let us use them for God’s glory.
Let us come together and rejoice in this community of the humble faithful
who seek out truth wherever it might be found
knowing that that truth is God’s truth
sealed in the life God lived in Jesus the Christ.
It is a mystery, but a beautiful and true one.
One that helps us come together and not just waddle along
but to soar to new heights.
On this Trinity Sunday, may we see where we can fly together. Amen.
[ii] From a sermon posted on Sermonshop by the Rev. Barbara Bundick. I’ve lost the original attribution from which this sermon was adapted and re-worked, but much of this sermon should be credited to her work, for which I am grateful.
[iii] See, for instance, http://www.rogerknapp.com/inspire/mulewell.htm
[iv] Psalm 23