Promises, Possibilities, and Redwood Trees

Preached on 11 June 2017 at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Snohomish, Washington
Trinity Sunday, Year A

Anne Lamott writes, “I didn’t need to understand the hypostatic unity of the Trinity, I just needed to turn my life over to whoever came up with the redwood trees.”

What makes you feel that way?  Maybe for you it’s not redwood trees, but Mt. Rainier or the ocean or the Grand Canyon or even the incredible power unleashed when Mt. St. Helens erupted.  Or maybe it’s whales or bees or the unconditional love of a dog.
Or the birth of a baby.

I think that for many of us, when we see the majesty, the grandeur of the world around us, we have an innate desire to connect with whatever or whoever it was that brought it into being; we have a sense of something greater than ourselves, outside ourselves, a creative power that is worthy of our attention and even our devotion – to be our God.

It is that same God who creates us in God’s own image, as we hear in the story from Genesis.  The one who instills in us a sense of right and wrong, the ability to recognize injustice and to forgive when we are wronged.  Who gives us the capacity for empathy, compassion, love, awe, and outrage.

Did you notice that in today’s gospel reading, it ends with a promise?

This is what David Lose has to say about promises.  “Promises bind us together, offer hope, and create courage to live with each other, support each other, forgive each other, and encourage each other.  Promises create relationships and possibilities.”

When I read those words, my mind immediately went to the promises of marriage.  When we make those promises, the relationship changes.  That’s not to say there wasn’t a relationship or even promises before, but it changes.  A new relationship is formed and out of that a world of possibilities is created.

And then I thought about the whispered promises of first best friends or of a parent to their newborn baby.  And I couldn’t help but think of the promises we make and the promises God makes to us, in baptism.  Promises we renewed just last week.

“Promises create relationships and possibilities.”  “Promises bind us together, offer hope, and create courage so that we can live with each other, forgive each other, support and encourage each other.”

The very last thing that Matthew writes in his gospel is Jesus’ promise, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Now I remember someone telling me about what councilors call “doorknob” comments or questions.  Those are the things that the client says just as they’re about to leave; they’re on their feet and their hand is already on the doorknob. It’s often the most important thing they say the whole session.  The same thing can be said when someone starts with an off-hand “oh, by the way.”  When you hear that, pay close attention to what comes next – it’s probably from the heart.

Well, the very last thing that Matthew writes may very well be the most important; in fact it sums up the Good News of Jesus Christ quite well.

Jesus is with us.  Always.  Everywhere.
Emmanuel – God with us.

That promise creates relationship and possibilities.  Think of the possibilities!

What if we truly believed the promise?

Jesus makes this promise in the context of the Great Commission, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you.”

It’s helpful to remember that God has a mission and the church participates in that mission.  Making disciples and baptizing and living the gospel is how the kingdom of God, the commonwealth of God comes into being.

God is inherently communal and loving.
To quote David Lose again, “the heart of the Trinity is the belief that God is inherently and irreducibly both communal and loving. One God in three persons whose shared, mutual, and sacrificial love spills out into the world and all its inhabitants. And, ultimately, we are called to be church in a similar way. Loving, respecting, and caring for each other in a way that spills out – into our neighborhoods and communities in tangible, beneficial, and attractive ways.”

That’s the God who promises, “I am with you.  Always.  To the end of the age.”

What if we truly believe the promise?  Indeed, if we are willing to stake our life on it?

What will we do and say?
How will we treat one another, our neighbor, our adversary?
How will we care for the earth, our island home, as the Eucharistic prayer puts it?
What might we dare to undertake – to participate in the Mission of God – knowing God is already there, Jesus is with us, the Spirit empowers us?

What if we were to truly turn our lives over to whoever came up with redwood trees?