Sermon by Eric Hollas, OSB
Delivered at The Church of Mary of the Immaculate Conception
15 June 2014
Some of you may recall that powerful scene from the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. At the end of a huge chase scene, the Nazis have at last captured the long-lost Ark of the Covenant, which they believe contains the two stone tablets that Moses toted down from Mount Sinai. With eager anticipation they gather round, pry the lid from the box, and peer inside. But inside there’s nothing but sand. And you can read the disappointment on the faces of some, while on others there is only derision. But then, slowly, surely, something stirs among the grains of sand, until a spectacular column of fire shoots up and swallows everyone who dares to look at the face of God. It consumes everyone, except for Indiana Jones and his friend Marian, who desperately cover their eyes.
As the movie concludes, the scene shifts to a gigantic warehouse, where somebody files the box away in an ocean of identical boxes. There it will rest, forgotten, until some other fools dare to open it.
Movies don’t always leave a lot to think about, but this one set me to wondering, and three points have stuck in my mind ever since. First, the movie-makers seem to suggest that the experience of God is real and powerful, despite what others may say. Second, they hint that religion can be a dangerous thing, and perhaps it’s best to leave it sealed in a box and hidden from the reach of those who would exploit it. And lastly, they seem to reinforce the stereotype that when God does appear, God always shows up dramatically and turns our lives upside-down and inside-out.
Raiders of the Lost Ark assumes that everyone knows the Book of Exodus, and it’s from Exodus that our first reading today comes. Exodus recounts the story of Moses, who began life in Egypt, grew up in pharoah’s household, and eventually ends up tending sheep in the shadow of Mount Sinai. He’s heard of a bush that was said to burn brightly but never burns up, and he’s determined to see this wonder for himself. Out of curiosity he climbs Mount Sinai, and there he meets a God he did not expect to meet. As God says to Moses, Yahweh” is a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.”
For those of us who prefer our god to be vengeful and demanding, these are disappointing words. And for those of us who’d rather have a god who barges dramatically into our lives, these words simply don’t satisfy. But despite those hopes, God is someone entirely different, says Exodus. So if we’re looking for the divine presence in our lives, don’t look for it in blaring trumpets or thunder or in Hollywood blockbusters. For most of us, God prefers a different approach, and generally a much more modest approach.
Today we celebrate the feast of the Trinity, and this is as good a time as any to consider how God enters into our lives. And it’s safe to say that except for a very few people, God usually doesn’t come stomping into our lives. Generally God doesn’t deliver invitations on a silver tray either, demanding that we turn our lives upside-down and inside-out. Rather, we’d all be better advised to look for God in the tell-tale traces from when God tip-toed into our lives. We should look for the footprints that God has left behind, and the finger-prints showing just how God has touched us, sometimes long ago.
There are many ways in which God speaks to us, and prayer is only the most obvious. When we pray alone, and when we pray together, we hear the voice of God, more often than not speaking quietly and gently nudging us. That’s especially true when we celebrate the Eucharist together. Here we celebrate “Jesus Christ among us,” and gathered before this altar we feast on the Supper of the Lamb. But God’s Spirit works within us in other ways as well, as the reading from Saint Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians tells us.
“Brothers and sisters,” Paul writes, “rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” When we hear these words we begin to see God’s recipe for touching our lives. God’s Spirit flows through us and through our neighbors, and when we understand that, then we suddenly appreciate how the Spirit of God becomes visible and tangible.
All of us have been fortunate to know people who’ve made some difference in our lives. Our first and best teachers have been our parents, and if we’ve not thought of them as the hands of God, then we need to start. And if we’ve been lucky enough to have a teacher who’s offered a word of encouragement or pointed out our talents, then we’ve seen God touching our lives. Or perhaps we’ve had a co-worker or a friend or a classmate who’s pushed us to achieve our potential. There too is the hand of God. Or maybe it’s been as simple as someone who offered us a word of welcome when we felt out of place. In those people too we see the shadow of God moving through our lives.
I have a good friend who volunteers regularly in a soup kitchen, and before he hands out a meal, he always offers a word of welcome and a smile. Why does he go to that soup kitchen week after week? It’s not because those people might go hungry without him, because someone will always step up to serve if he’s not there. Instead, he goes because his smile may be the first and only smile those people might see all day long. It’s the least he can do, but through him God smiles on each and every person who walks through that line.
You and I are the people through whom God smiles. Your hands and my hands are the hands of God reaching out to all we meet. Your feet and my feet are God’s feet that hurry us to do the work of the Lord in the lives of our friends and neighbors. And whether we do that work in church, in our home, in our community or at work, God uses us to be instruments of peace and love.
And so it is that Saint Paul reminds us all of how really important we are when it comes to doing God’s work, in season and out, whether we feel like it or not. “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” In such a blessing Saint Paul reminds us that each day and every day, you and I do the work of God, Father, Son and Spirit. Amen.