“Never Alone” John 16:12-15, Donald W. Dotterer, June 16, 2019.
Ten days ago, on June 6, our nation observed the75th anniversary of D-Day, also known as The Normandy Invasion. D-Day was the victory by the United States and its allies that was a decisive step toward defeating Hitler’s Germany and winning the Second World War. It was the biggest and most complicated amphibious operation in military history. It has been called the greatest battle in American history.
What is most interesting to me about the D-Day operation is that it wasn’t bombs and artillery or tanks that overwhelmed the Germans. No, what overwhelmed the German were men, waves of men, many of the boys, really, slogging up the beaches to give the Allies a toehold at the western edge of Europe.
At the end of the day, the beaches had been secured and the fighting had moved inward at least a mile. [i] D-Day was the day that marked the beginning of the end of Nazi tyranny and the beginning of a new world. Douglas Brinkley writes that everything about D-Day was big and dramatic—from the overarching strategy, to the vast mobilization, to the sheer number of troops deployed. Brinkley says that everything about D-Day was epic in its scale.
However, he says that the best way to appreciate what happened is to hear the stories of one soldier at a time. For example, James Jones writes about a group of soldiers who,shortly after D-Day, took and held an obscure crossroads in France.
Most of the soldiers lost their lives in that effort. However, the unit held its ground until reinforcements arrived. James Jones writes that victory in World War II came not so much because of major battles fought and won, but rather because of the heroic skirmishes fought by a few people in thousands of obscure, out-of-the-way crossroads.
That friends, is the place that all of us find ourselves in the world. Most of us are never going to be major players on the world scene. You and I are not on the front lines of the major battles of the day. We are not in high places; we do not hold power over thousands of people’s lives.
But nevertheless, each and every one of us is fighting a war. This war is not against the Nazis or ISIS or the Taliban. But each of us in our own place and in our own way is fighting a battle against sin and evil in the world. We are not just fighting a war, but we are also working to help build a new kingdom, that is, the Kingdom of God on earth. Selfishness, greed and cruelty plague human life in every generation. People continue to worship false gods today. David Brooks wrote last week that we are living in the middle of a religious revival. But this is the polar opposite of revivals led by Methodists John and Charles Wesley in 18th century England.David Brooks writes that the first rising movement in American religion is astrology. More Americans say they believe in astrology than are members of mainline Protestant churches like ours. Another surging movement in religion is witchcraft. It is reported that Wicca, whose practitioners practice witchcraft, Wicca is the fastest-growing religion in America.[ii] And of course there is the widespread indifference to God and the church of Jesus Christ that we see everywhere today.
So heresy and paganism are still with us and growing, along with good old-fashioned greed, selfishness, cruelty and other immoral behaviors. So it is that you and I are involved on these two fronts, one, the battle against sin and evil, and two, working to help build God’s kingdom on earth.
We fight those skirmishes at work and at school. At the same time work to build the kingdom, as so many of you are doing in this church. We are called to build God’s kingdom in thousands of out-of-the way places. And as individuals working together for Christ, we can make a difference. And the differences we make are important. Do not kid yourself about that.
In the church calendar, today Trinity Sunday. It is a day to celebrate the fact that we worship and serve a God who is three in one, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Now I could go on all day trying to explain the meaning of all that, but I don’t think you want to do that.
But let me share briefly what I think the meaning of the Trinity is. It’s not that we have three Gods of course. That would be a heresy in itself. Christianity is monotheism, as we learned in our Bible class, belief in one God.To me, to say that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is
to say that God is complete. That is, God is everything we want and need him to be. God is Father, Creator, the Ruler of the universe. We see God creating new things every day. Life itself is a miracle, don’t you think? And God sustains us, God gives us what we need to live this life that is a gift to us. God provides every good thing for us. God the Father is that Creator, Sustainer and Provider.Then of course we have Jesus the only Son of God, the one who is Savior and Redeemer, the one who gave his life to take away our sin and the sin of the world. Jesus is the Word made flesh, the Incarnation, he is God who became man. He is our brother. Because Jesus came and lived among humans, we know who God is and what God is like. Jesus is the great teacher; he is the one who taught us how God expects us to live and love one another. And finally, there is the Holy Spirit, whose coming we celebrated last Sunday with Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit came to the disciples and others with tongues of fire and a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, the Spirit enabled people to do things that they never could have done on their own.
The Spirit enabled them to believe in Jesus and the Resurrection. The Spirit enabled them to communicate with people who were different from them. The Spirit enabled the disciples to create the church to carry on the work of Jesus Christ on earth. The Spirit enabled the disciples and others
to do great things for God, and the Spirit still does that for us today.
Whatever we do here that is inspiring, good and true is the work of the Holy Spirit among us. Because the Holy Spirit is God living and working among us—inspiring us, comforting us, advising us, leading us in the ways that we should go. The Holy Spirit is strength and a power that we can draw on for the strength we need for living in a difficult world. Pentecost was D-Day for the church because it created a brand new world.
So what does it all mean? For me, again, it all adds up to one God who is complete, one God of eternal love who is everything we need in life.
God is indeed, a mystery. But the three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, help us to understand
something about that mystery. The doctrine of the Trinity helps us to understand more about who God is, what God does, and how God expects us to live. And so you see we are never alone. God is always with us as the creating Father, the loving Son,and the guiding Spirit.
Our reading from the gospel of John today, the traditional reading for this Trinity Sunday, begins with Jesus saying something that is a little hard to understand. Jesus says to his disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” But what is that about?
If you will, let me go back to D-Day again.
During World War II—
--the best known reporter on the war was a journalist
by the name of Ernie Pyle.
Some of you may have heard that name.
Ernie Pyle was the Walter Cronkite of his day.
For many Americans—
--Ernie Pyle’s writing was the main source of information
about what was happening in the war in Europe.
David Chrisinger writes that in his reporting
on the D-Day operation—
Ernie Pyle described the gritty details of the battle—
--and how the troops were suffering.
He wrote about how daunting the challenge was.
He wrote about the food and the weather—
--he described what it was like for the soldiers in the trenches.
But at that time he didn’t share the startling numbers of men who were dying.
Ernie Pyle believed that the American public
could not bear to hear that.
There was a need for hope and optimism at home
to sustain the war effort.
Later Ernie Pyle would tell the whole truth
about how great the casualties were—
--He told them about the price that was paid for freedom
and the salvation of Europe.
He told that truth honestly and in detail.
But he knew that people at the time
were not ready to hear all that.
Is that what was going on here with Jesus?
I think that maybe it is.
Again, Jesus tells the disciples that they cannot bear the many things he has to say to them right now.
They had left their homes to follow Jesus.
They loved him.
They would not be able bear to hear
that he would be arrested and tried for treason—
--that he would be mocked, beaten and executed
on a Roman cross.
They were not ready to believe that he would rise
from the dead and live again.
They could not bear to hear that.
But later on the Holy Spirit would be there
to help them understand the truth—
--understand the meaning of the cross and the Resurrection.
Again, this passage helps us to understand
the completeness of God.
There are things that happen in this world
that we just cannot understand.
We can see the wonderful changes
that Jesus brings into our world—
--the love, the reconciliation, the new life.
But we do not understand.
That is the role of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit can lead us to an understanding and appreciation of when and why things happen to us—
--both the good and the bad.
God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit
are whole and complete.
God is all we need.
And God never leaves us alone
in our need for understanding and love.
In the church calendar--
--today is not only Trinity Sunday
but Peace with Justice Sunday.
And so it is good for us to consider how it is
that we can help build God’s Kingdom on earth.
One aspect of that is to help make this world a place where human beings can live together in peace and with justice for all.
--in the passage from Romans that we heard read for us—
--Paul writes words that explain where we can find the strength we need to keep working for peace and justice in this world.
It is in the fact that God through his grace has forgiven our sins that we find the strength and hope we need to apply ourselves to the work of peace and justice—
--and to help build God’s kingdom on earth.
Paul tells us that tough times build character—
--and that it is character that gives us hope.
And as he says—
--hope never disappoints us.
That is because hope comes from God’s love.
A love that has been pour into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
--because of the Spirit—
--we are never alone.
A number of years ago a fellow by the name of Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called The Tipping Point.
Those words have worked their way into our vocabulary.
A “tipping point” is the point at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger,
more important change.
Malcolm Gladwell asks us to think back to our high school science classes when we filled a glass full of water.
Then you take an eye dropper and add drop after drop
after drop of water.
--the water didn’t overflow—
--and you could actually see the water
stand above the rim of the glass.
You’ve done that, right?
Finally though, you reach a point where a drop of water causes the water to overflow.
The drop that causes the water to overflow
is called “the tipping point.”
It is a small thing—
--but it makes a big difference.
So it is also with our lives.
We all have opportunities to make a difference here and there.
We offer a kind word to someone who is struggling—
--call someone on the phone to see how they are--
--maybe send a note of encouragement—
--make a gift to a mission project—
--offer or serve on a church committee
or help with Vacation Bible School.
It’s not D-Day.
It’s not Pentecost.
But it is a small thing that makes a difference
in building the Kingdom of God on earth.
And it might just be the tipping point in somebody’s life—
--Maybe even your own.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
[i] New York Times, 6/7/19, p. A12.
[ii] New York Times, 6/11/19/A23.