Have You Ever Looked at the Stars?
Have you ever looked at the stars? I mean really looked at the stars, from somewhere totally dark, with no city lights. A place where you can see the heavens in all their splendour. I remember once I was on a boat in the Mediterranean, anchored far from shore. It was a clear night, so I slept in the open on the deck of the boat. And when I woke in the middle of the night, I looked up and I was amazed by the array of stars overhead, filling the sky, all around me, too many to count, breathtaking in their beauty. It was an awesome sight. And my words could easily have been the words of the poet that we read in Psalm 8 this morning:
“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you have set in their courses, O Lord, how exalted is your name in all the world.”
This is one of the ways that we as humans experience God. We experience God as the Creator, in the beauty and grandeur of creation, and we are filled with awe and wonder. The knowledge that we’ve gained in recent centuries through modern science only serves to heighten these emotions. We know that our galaxy the Milky Way is so big that it takes light over 100,000 years to cross it, and yet the Milky Way is only one of billions of galaxies in our universe. The God that we experience through creation is the Big God, the God beyond heaven and earth, the one that transcends us, the one that fills us with awe, and maybe even a bit of trembling.
And out of this experience of God come images of the divine that are perhaps most familiar. We picture God, as does the poet, as a big, powerful figure, as an exalted governor, as a designer in the sky drawing circles on the face of the deep, or maybe even as some sort of superhero gazing down on earth from above.
But our experience of the vastness of the universe also raises questions for us doesn’t it? The immensity of the heavens and the picture of the Big God who created them can make us feel rather small and insignificant. Do we matter in the grand scheme of things? Why would such a God care for us? Or in the words of the psalmist, “What are mortals that you should be mindful of them? What is the human that you should seek them out?”
But for some strange reason, we do experience God as caring for us. Despite the vastness of creation, we do experience ourselves as significant within it. We seem to be the only creatures in whom consciousness and a quest for meaning have emerged. Out of the immensity of the universe it is in humanity that the universe becomes aware of itself and seeks a relationship with its creator. And out of our yearning for relationship with God, which some might call our spirituality, we do, at least from time to time, get the sense that we are in relationship with the divine, that we are loved by a force and are immersed in a flow which transcends us, yes, and yet is near to us and all around us and within us.
And this sense of the nearness of God, and the love of God for us moves us to imagine God in new ways, because the image of God as the Big God, as the superhero in the sky just doesn’t cut it, it’s not enough for people who have moved into this closer relationship with the divine.
In the scriptures of the Old Testament, we see how this process of re-imagining God worked for the Hebrew people. They had their image of God as Creator, as the Almighty God who ruled over the heavens and the earth, God as the exalted governor that the psalmist refers to in today’s psalm.
But new images also emerged out of the Hebrew people’s experience of the divine in their midst, surrounding them and upholding them. One of these new images is captured by the Hebrew word “Shekinah”. Shekinah refers to the presence of God. It is the spirit of God which hovered over the waters in the beginning when the world was created. It is the divine presence which dwells among and within God’s people, a presence which surrounds us and at times overwhelms us. When Moses goes up the mountain to receive the ten commandments and is covered by a cloud, it is the Shekinah of God that surrounds him. When Isaiah enters the temple and has a vision of God, it is the Shekinah that overwhelms him and he cries out “holy, holy, holy”. When Paul in his letter to the Romans speaks of our hope of sharing the glory of God, he is speaking of our hope of God’s presence, God’s Shekinah with us.
But that’s not all. Another image of God that emerges for the Hebrew people, another way of picturing the intimate relationship the Creator has with creation and with humanity is the image of God as Wisdom that we heard about in our first reading this morning. In our reading from the book of Proverbs, God is pictured not merely as the sovereign who gazes from above, but as the feminine figure of Wisdom who comes to us, seeking us out along the road, waiting for us at the crossroads and the city gates, calling out to all of us, seeking to enter into relationship with us. In Wisdom, God doesn’t wait for us to come to her, she comes to us. She is Yahweh’s agent in creation, the master worker, Yahweh’s delight. What a wonderful image this is of a God who comes to be with us, who rejoices with us, who dances with us, who takes delight in us. What a wonderful contrast this is to some of the images that we have grown up with, images of God as a judge looking at us sternly, waggling his finger at us, saying tsk-tsk-tsk. In Wisdom, we have a God who not only loves us but loves to be with us.
Like us, the Hebrew people experienced God in different ways. They experienced the awesome God, the big God, in the immensity of creation and in the transcendence of worship. They experienced God as the one who comes calling, who seeks us out, who dances with us and delights in her relationship with us. And they experienced the divine as a presence who cares for them, who draws near and surrounds them, who dwells within them.
God as Creator, God as Wisdom, God as Shekinah.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Unlike most Sundays, when we remember and celebrate events, things which have happened, events like Christmas and Easter and Pentecost, on Trinity Sunday, sometimes it feels like we’re celebrating an idea. An idea about God. The idea that God is one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And to tell you the truth, when that idea is presented as the doctrine of the Trinity, there are many of us, myself included, who find that it is a bit complicated and perhaps a little obscure.
But I encourage you this morning to think of the Trinity in terms of your own experience of God. Think of the times you have beheld the beauty of a sunset, or the peacefulness of a forest or the glory of worship, the times you have experienced the transcendence and wonder of a divine energy which is so much bigger than we are, beyond our grasp and comprehension. This is your image of God as Mother or Father.
Remember the stories you’ve been told of the love and compassion and wisdom of Jesus of Nazareth, how he came to seek us out, how he reached out to those who were rejected and marginalized by society, how he delighted in their presence, laughing and celebrating with them at table, bringing love and healing and forgiveness. And then think about how his work and ministry live on in people who continue his mission today. This is your image of God the Son.
Notice the times that you’ve experienced the divine as a subtle presence, as comfort and inspiration and power from within, as an invisible energy which surrounds you and upholds and strengthens you, as love which is poured into your heart and you in turn get to offer to others. This is your image of God the Holy Spirit.
And become aware of the relationship between all three of these images, of a lively relationship of love among equals which values and supports and upholds the other, a relationship that invites us into the dance, into the flow, a relationship of delight. This is the essence of God the Trinity.
And if you’re sitting there saying to yourself that you have yet to experience or name or imagine God in these different ways, think of this as a wonderful opportunity that you have to take the relationship you do have with God and move and deepen it in new and exciting directions.
In the name of God, Creator, Wisdom and Shekinah; Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Homily: Yr C Trinity, June 16 2019, St. Albans
Readings: Prov 8:1-4, 22-31; Ps 8; Rom 5:1-5; Jn 16:12-15
Image by er Guiri, Creative Commons