Sassafras leaves. Photo: TLClark, 6/28/13.
Trinity Sunday. Always the Sunday after Pentecost Sunday in Christian congregations that follow the Revised Common Lectionary (a series of scripture readings that repeats every three years). Focusing on the uniquely Christian, impossible to fully explain, doctrine that there is One God but the One God is three “persons.” It took hundreds of years to develop, going back to the early followers of Jesus, and is something of an answer to the question “Who is Jesus?”
As a substitute preacher last Sunday I avoided pointing out that 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 for many Christians (but not all!) when talking about God.
I also skipped using any illustrations of three-in-one. If I had, I might have used the sassafras tree with its curious characteristic of having three differently shaped leaves on the same branch: un-lobed (oval), bi-lobed (mitten-shaped), tri-lobed (three-pronged). Like everything else a preacher might use, it’s imperfect. But I think it’s kind of fun.
Though I was the youngest one in the building and there was no children’s message listed in the bulletin, I read the book In God’s Name by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso and showed the beautiful illustrations done by Phoebe Stone.
God is One. But God is known by many names. Many of us favor one or two particular names for God – name(s) that sometimes change depending on our current life circumstances. Sasso (a Jewish Rabbi) used these names for God in the book:
- Source of Life
- Creator of Light
- Maker of Peace
- My Rock
- Ancient One
In the coffee hour following worship, I thanked the congregants for humoring me and listening to a children’s book. Someone replied that that was the best part of the service!
The sermon was less memorable. But I hope the scripture lessons, the children’s book and/or the sermon caused one person to expand the way they think of God.
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and they know me.”
– John 10:14 Common English Bible
Good Shepherd Sunday. The Fourth Sunday of Easter. (Did you know that Easter Season in the church lasts 50 days?) Every year there is a reading from John 10.
“I have other sheep that don’t belong to this sheep pen. I must lead them too…there will be one flock, with one shepherd.”
– John 10:16 Common English Bible
Although it wasn’t part of the reading this year, I found myself thinking about the “other sheep” mentioned in verse 16. It may be my favorite line in John 10. Jesus has other sheep. I find that strangely comforting.
Jesus’ fold is ever so much larger than what I see in any of the communities in which I worship. People – Christian and non-Christian – who don’t believe as I believe. People whose faith experiences are unlike mine. People who worship God in ways foreign to my experience, who call God by other names, who follow entirely different religious paths. People who don’t look like me or dress like me or think like me or speak like me or (fill in the blank)________________. I cannot, must not count anyone out. Jesus counts them all in. One flock with more variety than most of us can imagine.
“The Lord is my shepherd. I lack nothing …
“You set a table for me right in front of my enemies.”
– Psalm 23:1, 5a Common English Bible
Here’s the thing about this table in front of our enemies: our enemies are at table, too. And they’re probably not at another table. There are no clear lines of separation; there is no segregation. The Good Shepherd is host; friend and foe alike are all seated at the same table.
“Yes, goodness and faithful love
will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will live in the Lord’s house
as long as I live.”
– Psalm 23:1, 5a, 6 Common English Bible
Good Shepherd Sunday and Mother’s Day coincided this year here in the U.S. It reminded me of Bobby McFerrin’s beautiful version of Psalm 23 – a tribute to his mother. Here’s one I found in cyberspace.
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God,
who is and who was and who is to come,
– Revelation 1:8 New Revised Standard Version
Sometimes, in the space where I’m drifting off to sleep,
texts I’ve heard recently,
words I’ve just read,
and songs I’ve sung in the past
meet up in my mind.
They’re a bit shy, a little nervous,
not sure they should be in the same place at the same time.
That summer was a new beginning, a new end.
When I look back, I remember my slippery
hands of paint and the sound of Papa’s feet
on Munich Street, and I know that small
piece of the summer of 1942 belonged to only
one man. Who else would do some painting for
the price of half a cigarette? That was Papa,
that was typical, and I loved him.
– Markus Zusak, in The Book Thief
Alpha and Omega.
First and Last.
Before the beginning and beyond the end.
Always there. Always here.
Past. Present. Future.
Yet we measure time in discrete bits, distinct seasons.
That was then.
A new beginning. A new end.
This is now.
Also a new beginning and a new end.
In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing, in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
– Natalie Sleeth, “In the Bulb There Is a Flower,” verse 3
Linear. One thing after another. Never to go back.
Circular. One thing after another. Back at the beginning again.
Timeless with God.