Bodysurfing, by Pastor Kinsey
“Who am I?” is one of the questions we ask ourselves, in good times, and in bad.
Some years ago, Kim and I took a series of Mother’s Day whitewater rafting excursions, with my sister’s family. She, her husband and two children, were really into outdoor activities. They had lived on a houseboat in Los Angeles, and on the shores of Lake Tahoe, and they continue to go fishing on the Great Lakes and the Baja Peninsula. And it was when we lived in Michigan, that they’d come north, and we’d go south, and we’d meet on the Pine River on Mother’s Day after church. The 2nd week of May was usually some of the best rafting – that is, the highest and fastest running water of the springtime. The water was still really cold, so the rafting company provided wet suits. And most of the time you were paddling so hard, trying not to hit a rock or be swept away by a new current, that you kept yourself warmed up. In between paddles, you saw breathless views of the pristine river and great northwoods.
And mid-way through this afternoon trip, the whole group of 40-50 people, got out of their rafts on one side of the river for a little rest, and fun. There was a really cool rapids that you could shoot – without your raft! You just body surfed it! One by one, everyone who wanted to, could take a turn. The guides instructed you to hold your arms over your chest, lie on your back, and take a deep breath, because for the next 20-30 seconds there’d be limited opportunity for surfacing long enough to grab any air. It was exhilarating! And all coaught on videotape to watch later. But, it was not without its dangers! In fact, my niece, Cheyenne, when she bodysurfed the rapids – she was only like 16 years old – bounced her head off a rock hard enough to get a mild concussion, even though, like everyone, she was wearing a helmet.
“What are human beings … that you care for them?” asks the Psalmist in Psalm 8. “Who are we?” so marvelously made, yet so vulnerable?
On this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate more than just a church doctrine, we celebrate the magnificent God who loves us unconditionally in creating the universe, who has reached out to us personally in the saving good news of Jesus, and who continues to uphold and support us by the Holy Spirit. “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 8 begins and also concludes. Knowing God, means praising the Triune One, falling down in worship, acknowledging the mystery of Creator, Savior, and Holy Spirit.
The gospel of John suggests that Jesus knew there were things he hadn’t yet taught the disciples before he died, rose again and ascended. And that he couldn’t do it because he realized they were not yet ready – “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now,” he said. How true is that, even today! Have you ever had that experience of not being ready to hear the truth, avoiding or ignoring it, till you could? The remedy, of course, for Jesus, was in sending of the Holy Spirit. “When the Spirit of truth comes, s/he will guide you into all the truth.”
“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,” says the Psalmist, “the moon and the stars that you have established; 4what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? 5Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” Who are we, to God?
“Or, as the Hebrew suggests, ‘who are we’ that you remember and visit us?” as Professor Shauna Hannan translates it, “‘who are we’ that you would give us a job? trust us with such a responsibility?”
The people of faith are in awe of God. But they also know that God entrusts them with the responsibility of caring for the earth, and that God has created a covenant of stewardship, with each of us as God’s creatures, given us a job, and a task, of protecting this land, water and air.
Certainly, this was already the plan for God’s chosen people, for the Jews, even before Jesus came. But now, afterwards, we too, all the other nations, the Gentiles, have been grafted on to God’s tree of life. The same Spirit that “was set up, at the first, before the creation of the earth, …or the sea [given] its limit, …” as Proverbs says, is the same Spirit that Jesus (and the Father) sent at Pentecost – amazingly creative, and guiding us in our decisions and common life we share with our neighbors, each new morning. Sophia, the Holy Spirit, is the spirit of wisdom and bringer of the kingdom of God down to us, just as the Hebrews experienced her throughout their history.
For the Jews, the Temple and Torah, were symbols and tangible signs they could use to experience the presence of God through the Spirit. For Gentile Christian believers, we settled on water, bread and wine. These are infused with the Holy Spirit, and are traveling symbols, not tied to place or land.
In his Letter to the Romans, Paul says, “…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand.” The word “access” Paul uses, is the root word for worshipers bringing their offerings to the Temple. Only now, we obtain access to God’s grace, by the peace Jesus offers us. So, “just like the Temple symbolized and actualized Israel’s meeting with the gracious God,” as N. T. Wright says, “so now Jesus has effected such a meeting between this God and all who approach by faith.”
“Th[is] metaphor envisages grace as a room into which Jesus has ushered all who believe, a room where they now ‘stand,’ a place characterized by the (Spirit’s) presence and sustaining love of God,” as Wright describes it.
And so, our faith and worship and witness is not restricted by location, but is a vehicle that is as fast as time travel, as versatile as your I-phone, as real as whitewater rafting. Jesus stands with us wherever we are, and just as powerfully as we feel it in this, or any other sanctuary of worship. The beauty of our stained glass windows, the depth suggested by this rich solid oak wood, the majesty we feel in the vaulted ceiling, aid us in this experience. But God the 3 in 1 does limit God’s love and mercy within these walls alone, and we know how our faith is affected and made alive by an encounter with God wherever we stand in our lives, and wherever God stands with us.
In fact, most people, most Chicagoans today, I would venture to say, experience the great 1 in 3in other humans, made little lower than God, and in the world around us. Who are we, is not just a question in the Bible, but a lived experience for believers, followers, and questioners, every day.
The Spirit blows where it wills, we know not from whence it comes. “Who we are,” and who we were created to be, that is a gift of love we are continually discovering by faith. “What are human beings?” is the question we can only answer in community, with other fellow human beings, continually reflected on by the people of faith.
We are bodysurfing through life, you might say, risking a bump on the head, yet also awed at the creation and environment God has placed us in, and being tasked with, such a seemingly ultimate responsibility. Only by our baptism and in conversation with the world, can we make sense of this gift, and find the courage to take the plunge. And when we do, we can rest assured that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are there, by our side, supporting and cheering us on.