I think today is an interesting day, because this Sunday is important for two reasons that, at least on the surface, really don’t seem to have much in common. But you know, if you look a little deeper, I believe they share something that’s profound and powerful. You see, today, the first Sunday after Pentecost, is Trinity Sunday, a day set aside to focus on what it means to say that God is actually three in one. You see, that’s one reason why this day is special, and it explains all the songs we’ve been singing songs about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
And the other reason today is important, well, I think we all know that tomorrow is Memorial Day. And although, like so many other national holidays, this one now seems to have more to do with traveling and eating and shopping, this day was certainly intended to have a deeper meaning. I mean, just listen to what General John Logan, Commander-in-chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, wrote when he issued General Orders No.11: “The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. ...Let us at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.” Now that was the intention of this day, and I think it’s spirit was captured well by the American poet Archibald MacLeish who wrote a poem entitled “The Young Dead Soldiers Do Not Speak:”
The young dead soldiers do not speak.
Nevertheless they are heard in the still houses.
(Who has not heard them?)
They have a silence that speaks for them at night
And when the clock counts.
We were young.
We have died.
We have done what we could
But until it is finished it is not done.
Our deaths are not ours,
They are yours,
They will mean what you make them.
Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope
Or for nothing
We cannot say.
It is you who must say this.
We leave you our deaths.
Give them meaning,
Give them an end to the war and a true peace,
Give them a victory that ends the war and a peace afterwards,
Give them their meaning.
We were young, they say.
We have died.
Wow, powerful stuff. You see, in this poem, MacLeish focused on what these young people had done, how they’d given their country the most precious thing they had, their own lives. This was their gift to us. And all they wanted from us is to give their gift meaning. Now regardless of the number of flyers you got in the mail yesterday or the amount of food you’ll consumer tomorrow, this is really what Memorial Day is all about. It’s about gifts given.
And I’ll tell you, I believe that’s also the meaning of the Trinity Sunday. You see, although we could talk about what the trinity means and use a whole lot of fancy, theological words, when you get right down to it, the trinity is really about a gift too, and I’m talking about the gift that the Father and Son has given us all. As Jesus said in the passage we read just a little while ago, “Many things I myself have to say to you, but you are not able to bear them now. But when this one might come, the spirit of truth, he will lead you into all truth. For he will not speak concerning himself, but what he will hear, he will speak. And what is coming, he will announce to you. This one will glorify me, because from me, he will take and will announce it to you. Everything that the father has is mine. For this reason, I said that from me, he takes and will announce to you.” You see, this spirit, this spirit of truth is the gift given by the Father and the Son; the gift that they’ve given to us.
And you know, brothers and sisters, it’s a gift that we can receive the minute we open ourselves to the glory and listen to what the spirit is saying and then decide to follow where he’s leading. Let me explain. You see, to receive this incredible gift, first, I believe we really do need to open ourselves to God’s glory, because remember, according to Jesus, this spirit of truth “...will glorify me, because from me, he will take and will announce it to you.” In other words, he’s going to show us the glory of God.
But I’ll tell you, that’s something we just may miss if our eyes are either closed or focused only on what we want to see. I mean, even though we don’t have the power to turn off the light of the world, we sure can live as though it doesn’t exist. You see, we can choose to look only into the shadows. And isn’t that what we sometimes do, and I’m thinking about when we choose to see only the dark cloud and never the silver lining? And isn’t that what we do when we look into our world and only see the problems and the pain and completely ignore the possibilities and the potential all around us? And listen to me, isn’t that exactly what we do when we look at our community and our congregation and see only what we were instead of what can become or look at ourselves and see only the reasons why we can’t make a difference. “Oh, we’re too old or we’re too weak or we’re too small or we’re too busy.”
And so we miss the glory of the Father and the Son made up-close and personal by the Holy Spirit: a glory that we’re going to see the second we just consider, one, the enormous, and I’m talking about enormous blessings God has already given to our country and, two, the opportunities God has given us as a church to change in a fundamental sense, the future of our community and, three, the gifts and talents that God has placed right here, when he called us into this body. Man, if we want to receive the gift given by the Father and the Son, we need to be open.
And second, after we’ve done that, I’m telling you, then we need to listen, to listen to what the Spirit has to say, to listen to the voice of God speaking first and foremost through his word, but also through his people. Man, we’ve got to listen, because didn’t Jesus himself say, “...he will not speak concerning himself, but what he will hear, he will speak. And what is coming, he will announce to you.”
And you know, that’s the reason I think we need to listen: to listen so that we can hear, hear all the stuff that Christ shared with his disciples when he was here on earth; and to listen so that we can understand, understand that, when you get right down to it, he’s commanded us to do only one thing, to love one another as we’ve been loved; and brothers and sisters, simply to listen so that we can believe, believe that no matter where we go or what we do, we are in the merciful and gracious hands of God. You see, this is what we need to do, and if the voice of God is coming in words or forms that we don’t understand or appreciate, then it may be up to us to learn a new language so that we can hear how the “old, old story” can impact a new and changing world. You see, to receive God’s gift to us, we need to listen.
And finally, if the Spirit that was given to us by the Father and Son is going to mean anything to us, we have got to decide that we’re going to follow him; in other words, that we’re going to get up and start doing what God has called us to do, but not just inside these walls. Man, we’ve got to follow, because, I’ll tell you, all the openness and all the listening ain’t worth a bucket of spit, if we’re not going to do anything about it. In other words, Jesus was just wasting his time when he said, “But when this one might come, the spirit of truth, he will lead you into all truth,” I’m telling you, he was just whistling “Dixie,” if we’ve already decided that we’re happy inside the stained glass because we really don’t want to see what’s happening in our world and we’re delighted to listen only to sounds and words we’ve heard before, even if they mean nothing outside these walls.
You see, if the Spirit is going to lead us anywhere, than I think it’s a better than even chance that God expects us to follow. And although that may seem really uncomfortable and scary, we have every reason to be confident, even courageous. You see, when we follow the Spirit out in to the world, we’re not alone. Through that spirit the Father and the Son is always with us. But more than that, we’ll be going out there together, shoulder to shoulder, to face whatever we have to face. And then, open to the glory and listening for the word, we’ll be ready to receive the gift we’ve been given and to follow the Spirit of Truth into all truth.
You see, when you get right down to it, both Trinity Sunday and Memorial Day are about gifts: gifts given and gifts received. But you know, there’s something else these two days have in common and I’ll tell you, this has to do with gifts too. Now do you remember the poem I read a little while ago, you know, the one by Archibald MacLeish? In it, the dead young soldier on behalf of all who have died, he asks us to give their lives and their deaths meaning, in other words, to make sure their gift isn’t forgotten or ignored or abused.
And I think the same is true of the gift the Father and the Son has given us. Although we need to receive it by opening ourselves to the glory and by listening to the words and by following the Spirit into our world, I really think we need to do more, you know, to give that gift meaning. You see, for a gift given to have real meaning it needs to be not only received, it also needs to be used.