Trinity Sunday, May 22, 2016
A sermon preached by Rev. Beth Orling (Lutheran) at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Port Townsend, WA.
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. Magnificent!
After hours of hard work, a little child was born. Magnificent! Her mother was ecstatic. Her father thrilled. Her big brother delighted. They held their little baby and joy filled their lives. They named her Sophie.
As the years passed, they seemed to love their little girl more and more. Her first steps, her ballet lessons, her creative play, her school days, her first dates, proms and jobs. She was the light of their lives.
But a deep sadness fell. Sophie slipped into a terrible sickness that kept her from enjoying life. She found herself in bondage to illegal drugs. She ran with what her parents thought of as the wrong kind of people. She rarely came home. After months of degradation, she found herself pregnant. After a few weeks, that baby was lost.
What could she do? She had no more hope.
Her family never gave up on her. They prayed for her, but didn’t know how to reach her. They had searched and given up.
Then her brother Josh decided to give the search one more try.
He combed the streets of their town and nearby cities, he asked and asked, he went into dark places that scared him practically to death.
Finally one day Josh found his sister curled up on a filthy blanket in an abandoned building. He went to her, placed his hand on her forehead and asked her to come home.
Miraculously she got up and took his hand and followed him out to his car. They drove to their parents’ house.
Sophie wondered how angry her parents would be; wondered if she could hope to find a clean place to
sleep in what used to be her home.
Her parents hugged her with hugs so strong that it seemed they would not stop. No patting on the back to distance her. Sophie looked up and said, “I’m so sorry.”She would never forget her mother’s words, “That’s what forgiveness is for.” She would never forget her father smiling through his tears as he said, “We named you, we called you by name, and there is always a place for you at this table.”
Over supper there was somber but deep rejoicing. There would be much work of healing to be done. The pains of drug withdrawal began to set in. Rehab counselors were consulted; recommendations were followed and then broken, followed again and broken again.
Mother kept repeating, “That’s what forgiveness is for.” Father kept saying, “There’s always a place for you at this table.” Josh said, “We all make mistakes.” Sounds a lot like Jesus’ famous saying, “Let the one without sin throw the first stone.”
Slowly these words took meaning for Sophie. She remembered the Jesus stories she had learned so long ago. Once again her life began to take some kind of meaning. Was she recovering?
Her face looked like it had years ago, albeit with more worry lines. She had begun to gain a little weight back from her mother’s nutritious meals. The Holy Spirit began to bind up her wounds and give her the ability to pray.
She looked for work.
And she found work as a teacher’s aide in a special ed classroom. There she encountered marvelous children who needed a steady hand, a patient smile, and a faithfulness to task at hand.
As Sophie discovered that she possessed the God-given gifts of patience, steadiness, and persistence, her work became vocation, her calling.
If Sophie had been a teacher in Fort MacMurray, Alberta, a couple weeks ago, she would have been the last one to leave the school, gathering the remaining children into the school bus waiting to carry them from the fires.
The story goes on and on and now Sophie is – as her grandchildren call it – “very, very old.” She tells them stories to encourage them to develop their own patience, steadiness, and persistence – and their wonder and curiosity at God’s creation, the specialness of creatures great and small, animals, plants, storm, and mountain.
After many long years, Sophie has gained what some might call “wisdom” – a confidence that all will be well, that all manner of things will be well, that God holds us in hands of welcome, faithfulness and love.
This “wisdom” is what the author of our first lesson from Proverbs talks about. It’s a wonder, a faith, a conviction that lived before all earthly creation. It’s a connection with the cosmic Lord, call it what you will, it’s a deep, deep love for life.
“The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago,” says Wisdom.
When you look at Sophie, do you see a baby, a little girl, a drug addict, a person struggling with rehab, a special ed teacher, a mother, a grandmother, a sinner, a saint? Yes, she is all of them and they are all part of her one singular, special person.
Do you see God working in her life as a Creator, a Savior, a Holying Spirit? Yes. All of the above, each in a particular way.
Perhaps this is how the early church understood God. The people in those early gatherings experienced God, whom Jesus called Father, as source of life, creator, protector, doer of mighty deeds. They knew God in Jesus, the one who forgave enemies, taught us forgiveness, and who forgives us still today. They knew Jesus as the Shepherd brother who searched for every last and lost lamb. They knew God as the power that flowed from the love between Father and Son, the power that gave them faith, the power that encouraged them to “keep on keeping on” when things were desperate. That’s the Holy Spirit.
In Sophie’s story, and perhaps in the story of each of our lives, we see God’s creating power in our births, in our growth, in the creative ways we are blessed to live. We see God’s forgiving and saving power in the way that the brother sought out his missing sister, in the way the parents expressed their forgiveness and joy at her return. We see God’s Spirit in the young woman’s persistence in her rehabilitation, in her work with special children, in her teaching of values and habits to her grandchildren.
[And, just in case you happen to be named Sophie or Josh, be happy that someone chose that name for you. Sophie, or Sophia, is the ancient word for Wisdom, the wisdom we heard about in our first lesson, the wisdom that holds the universe together, the wisdom we call God. And Josh, short for Joshua, is the Hebrew word for Salvation or Savior.]
Together, the Creator God, the God we call Jesus, and the Holy Spirit all work in our lives to knit us into the people God calls us to become.
No longer in bondage to sin, but forgiven and blessed to be a blessing to all.
We don’t have to understand; we are only called to be faithful to the calling God the Creator has given, Jesus has modeled, and the Spirit makes possible.
Sophie’s story – and our story – are age-old stories. But they are not about us — although we are part of them. The age-old story began long before we were born and will continue long after our death. But for this moment in time, this moment of eternity, we rejoice to be part of the creative love of God the Father for the Son which binds us together in the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31