Anthony de Mello in The Song of the Bird tells of a bishop whose ship anchored at a remote island. Since he only had one day there, the bishop was determined to use the time profitably.
He strolled along the seashore and came across three fishermen, mending their nets. In broken English, they explained to him that missionaries converted their village to Christianity. “We Christians!” they proudly proclaimed. The bishop was impressed. In talking some more, he discovered that they had never heard of the Lord’s Prayer. The bishop was shocked. “What, then, do you SAY when you pray?”
“We lift eyes to heaven and say, ‘We are three, you are three, have mercy on us.’”
The bishop was appalled. This would never do. In fact, it sounded almost heretical. So, the bishop spent the whole day teaching them the Lord’s Prayer. Even though the fishermen were slow learners, they were finally able to struggle through it before the bishop sailed away the next day.
Months later, the bishop’s ship happened to pass by that same island. The bishop paced the deck, recalling with pleasure the three men who were now able to pray, thanks to his patient efforts. While he was lost in his thoughts, he happened to look up, and notice a spot of light to the east. The light kept approaching the ship and, as the bishop gazed in wonder, he saw three figures walking on the water. The captain, too, was amazed and he stopped the boat so everyone could see. When they got within speaking distance, the bishop recognized the three fishermen.
They exclaimed, “Bishop! We see your boat go by the island, so we come to see you.” Awestruck, the bishop asked, “What do you want?” “Bishop, we are very sorry. We forget lovely prayer. We say, ‘Our Father, in heaven, holy be your name….’ Then we forget. Please tell us prayer again.”
With a quiet voice, the bishop answered, “Go back to your homes, my friends. And each time you pray, say, ‘We are three, you are three, have mercy on us.”
Trinity Sunday – most preachers like to skip today because people expect them to explain the Trinity in layman’s terms. So, in addition to the story of our three amigos, let me outline it for you in three P’s. From John, Persons; from Acts, Pentecost; and from Proverbs, proverbs.
First, from John. We often use symbols to explain the Trinity – from Patrick’s clover to geometric designs. We find symbols of the Trinity in our churches – equilateral triangles and overlapping circles. Mathematicians and engineers may prefer triangles and circles, but they are static. If you want to understand the dynamics of the Trinity, you really have to observe and live the family experience.
Families are dynamic. Think of any family – the First Family or the Royal Family, your in-laws or your neighbors. Based on your observations of the outer dynamics of any family, you determine the breadwinner and the spender, the problem solver and the troublemaker. You surmise their mission in life and predict where the children will be in 20 years. You rely on them for assistance or aggravation. We base our assumptions solely on what we know as outsiders.
Hollywood tries to give us an experience of the inner dynamics of family life – be it the Robertson Family, aka, Duck Dynasty or Dog the Bounty Hunter. Nevertheless, reality TV cannot provide the experience of living in that family. The only way you experience a family’s inner dynamics is by living in it.
So it is for Jesus – as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. He knows the Father. The Father knows him. Together, they dwell with the Spirit. John tells us that Jesus revealed himself to believers. Over the past few weeks, we heard Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit. In today’s passage, he disputes unbelievers who claim him a Samaritan or possessed, and states, “Before Abraham was born, I Am.” Jesus claims that the Father reveals Himself through the Son, but even an infusion from the Holy Spirit could not have enlightened these unbelievers.
As believers, we accept the truth from Scripture that there are three Persons of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit. We observe their outer dynamics – creation, redemption and sanctification – all performed with loving-kindness. We surmise that the inner dynamics of the three Divine Persons is stronger than any F-5 tornado – strong enough to overcome Satan, sin and death. Moreover, we can rely on their love.
From Persons to Pentecost, my 2nd point. Today’s passage picks up where we left last week – Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Pentecost was an agricultural feast where Jews celebrated not only the harvest but also the giving of the Torah. It was known as the Shav – u’ – oth or the Feast of Weeks. This festival, celebrated 7 weeks or 50 days after Passover, brought farmers from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Asia, Egypt, Libya and Rome to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot. They came to thank God for the harvest and for the Law. To them Peter makes a fundamental presentation of the Gospel. … CFW Walther would have been proud of how Peter incorporated both Law and Gospel into his sermon. … And while Jesus could not convince his hearers, by preaching Christ crucified Peter stirred the hearts of some 3,000 that day. Scripture tells us that he converted and baptized 3,000 people. Through baptism, Peter brought them into the inner family. They observed the community of believers from the outside, and then experienced it from the inside. People who hear the Gospel are baptized as members of the Church, a dynamic, believing community of people who reflect the loving relationships of the Trinity in their inner and outer activities.
Believers are members of a believing community, a Pentecost community. … Are we members of a Pentecost community? Are we a Pentecost people? … We are. … Turn to Roman numeral x in your Lutheran Service Book and read the lower right hand corner: “The Time of the Church – The Season of Pentecost.” From now until Advent, our corporate worship reminds us that the Holy Spirit is active in our lives. Hence, we celebrate the Sundays of Pentecost.
Like the first converts, we too were baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We received forgiveness of our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Because we are attuned to the Holy Spirit active in our lives as a faith community and individual believers, we are a Pentecost people.
Are we a Trinitarian community? Well, if you turn to Roman numeral xxi, you will find that these Sundays are also Trinity Sundays. They remind us to focus on the dynamic power of all three Divine Persons of the Trinity active in our lives. Therefore, according to our worship, we are members of a Pentecostal and Trinitarian community.
However, there is another way to know if we reflect the loving relationships of the Holy Trinity in our inner and outer activities – by asking outsiders what they observe. This week, ask some outsiders how they see us. Do they see us as Spirit-filled people? Do they see us as a dynamic community? Would they say that we reflect the loving relationships of the Persons of the Holy Trinity? Does our living proclamation of the Gospel stir their hearts to the degree that they are kicking in the doors to get in? I want you to think about that this week, and really ask someone. Ask anyone. If we are a Pentecost people, a Trinitarian community, it should be easily observable.
That brings me to my third point – Proverbs. The Book of Proverbs is a collection of sayings and instructions composed between the 11th and 6th centuries. Its primary purpose was to teach wisdom not only to young men, but also to the advanced. (I consider myself advanced.) Wisdom in the ancient Near East was not theoretical knowledge but practical expertise. Jewelers who cut precious stones were wise; kings who made their dominion peaceful and prosperous were wise. One could be wise in daily life by knowing how to live successfully (having a prosperous household and living a long and healthy life) and without trouble in God’s universe. Ultimately wisdom or “sound guidance” forms character.
Proverbs helped form our New Testament. … The New Testament saw Jesus as wisdom personified (today’s reading from chapter 8). The Letter of James is an instruction that resembles Proverbs. It also influenced the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which derive their father-son language from the parental language of the book. The Gospel of John regards Jesus as incarnate wisdom descended from on high to offer human beings life and truth and make disciples of them.
Wise people follow God’s commands revealed through God’s Word. Allow me to complete the verses of chapter 8.
Now, children, listen to me; happy are they who keep my ways. Listen to instruction and grow wise, do not reject it! Happy the one who listens to me, attending daily at my gates, keeping watch at my doorposts; For whoever finds me finds life, and wins favor from the LORD; But those who pass me by do violence to themselves; all who hate me love death.
Wise people follow God’s commands revealed through God’s Word. That is basic Lutheranism. “Since the Holy Spirit speaks only through the Scripture, the intent of the Holy Spirit is not to be separated from the words of Scripture.”
Wise people who follow God’s commands revealed through God’s Word do not hesitate when tragedy strikes. When I lived in Oklahoma, people across the nation responded generously with donations for Moore after a tornado destroyed blocks of the city. People are generous when tragedy strikes friends, neighbors and even strangers. Believers and unbelievers alike respond to tragedies.
When one’s cry for help is as loud as the winds of an F-5 tornado, our human nature reacts. In one of his Daily Devotions, Pastor Ken Klaus addressed the response of Charles Ramsey, the Cleveland man who heard the shouts of Amanda Berry, broke down the door and allowed her to call 911. Pastor Klaus says, “I’d like to think you and I would have done the same thing. I’d like to think that, but I’m not sure. You see it’s not always easy to do the right thing. It’s much more comfortable to come up with excuses on how it’s not my business and how somebody else ought to get involved, even in those situations when there is little or no danger. You doubt me? Then let me ask: What is the percentage of eligible voters who attend annual or quarterly congregational meetings? How many times do you read about your church’s need for officers or VBS teachers? How many really good voices come forward to sing in the choir?”
We react when the cry is deafening, but are we attuned to every cry? Imagine how difficult it must have been for Ramsey to free those women from bondage, especially when he knew and picnicked with their captor, Ariel Castro.
If we want to claim our congregation, district or synod reflects the dynamic loving relationships of the Trinity, should we make it our business to get involved and make some feel uncomfortable, or should we settle for the status quo? We should respond not only to the loud cries for help following a tornado, but also the whimpers of unborn children.
Hemingway is a courageous, thoughtful, spiritual, wise woman who heeds and practices God’s revealed teaching, and she provides an example for all of us. Whether we practice medicine or law, manage a restaurant or a sales force, crunch numbers or raise children, Mollie Hemingway gives us an example of how a baptized believer understands her vocation and serves God by serving her neighbors, whether they are victims of a deadly tornado or a cruel abortionist. … Like Charles Ramsey and Mollie Hemingway, we too must attune our ears and respond to not only the loud cries for help, but also the cries and whimpers of little ones.
To do so means we set aside social media and the remote and practice the art of listening to God’s Word and His loving creatures. When we listen and respond lovingly we are on our way to loving like the Trinity loves. To be a dynamic community like the Trinity, we will love as the Trinity loves. And for those times, we do not, may we pray: We are three, you are three. Have mercy on us. And may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 John 8:58.
 Proverbs 8:32-36.
 The Abiding Word, Vol. 2, p. 39.
 Molly Ziegler Hemingway, “Time to ask Obama about Gosnell, “ USA Today, May 13, 2013. http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/05/13/mollie-ziegler-hemingway-gosnell-column/2156421/