For a long time I’ve been fascinated by the night sky. I’m currently undertaking learning the major constellations to complement the ones I already know — like Orion the Hunter with his familiar belt, or Cassiopeia the queen who looks like a “W” or an “M” depending on the time of year. I bet all of you could point out the Big Dipper, which isn’t quite a constellation on its own, but rather a saddle on the constellation of the Great Bear or Ursa Major. I’m using H.A. Rey’s books Find the Constellations and The Stars because he draws the constellations in ways that actually look like what they are trying to symbolize, and I highly recommend them if astronomy fills you with wonder. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because it is: he wrote the Curious George books.
A sermon based on Psalm 8.
In the introduction to Find the Constellations, Rey writes, “Few people can tell one star from another. Most of us can tell an oak from a maple or a jay from a woodpecker even though we don’t see woodpeckers often, but the stars, which we see any clear night, remain a mystery to us.” For some of us the starry sky evokes wonder amidst the mystery of it. Can we really fathom that the bright star at the point of Orion’s shoulder, named “Betelgeuse,” is 640 light years away? For context, the light we see this year from that star originated in 1376, 10 years or so before Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales. Is it any wonder that the Psalmist writes, “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, What is man that you should be mindful of him? the son of man that you should seek him out?”
Any preacher worth her salt this morning is standing in a pulpit proclaiming that the Trinity is a mystery. Some will try to make it understandable using poor analogies that ultimately lead to heretical teaching (Check out “St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies” on Youtube). However, I can assert with authority after having taken two theology classes in seminary on the Trinity that this concept is pushing the outer limits of our human understanding. As the Athanasian Creed, from the late 5th century, puts it: “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.” I can read that and stand in awe of it, but ask me to distill it down further or explain it beyond what’s there, and I’m speechless. It’s a mystery.
But perhaps we’re not completely meant to understand it. Can any of us really fathom how gravity keeps stars suspended in space? Or how big the universe is with its 200 billion galaxies? Even when we try to do comparisons, it’s unfathomable. 200 billion $1 bills stacked on top of each other would go back and forth to the International Space Station over 25 times—some 13,000 miles all told. And that’s just galaxies, we haven’t even begun to explore the number of stars in the universe. “When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses, What is man that you should be mindful of him? the son of man that you should seek him out?”
The only thing I’m confident about is this: The Trinity can only be understood in relationship. Father, Son and Spirit of one being and essence, yet distinct and in community with one another bound by love. We get glimpses of that on earth from time to time—from married couples who deeply love and care for one another, to groups of people coming together for a common purpose to alleviate pain in our world, to a baseball team focused on good sportsmanship that gels at the right time. The Trinity is like that except 200 billion times more and without the individuals ever becoming disconnected from the whole.
The relationship piece astounds our Psalmist this morning. “When I look at the stars in wonder, I have to ask, God, why are you even remotely interested in human beings? Who are we that you should seek us out?” God, the one who placed the stars in the sky, wants to be in relationship with us. God looks for us high and low in order to be connected with us. God cares deeply about us and loves us. Why does God do this when the Holy One has the power to create the cosmos?
In the powerful Belgian drama “The Kid with a Bike,” we meet 11 year old Cyril whose father has left him at a local shelter when he could no longer provide for him, telling him it’ll only be a month. After that time, Cyril desperately wants to reconnect with his dad, and when he realizes that his father’s moved out of the apartment they shared, he urgently searches for his bike. A woman who accidentally meets him, hears his story and soon finds the bike for him—his dad had sold it to someone else, and she saw it in the nearby area and then buys it back.
The woman, Samantha, soon begins having Cyril over on weekends as a foster mom. But rather than being grateful, Cyril is in anguish trying to locate his father and acts out. He treats Samantha horribly, but astonishingly she keeps on loving him. Her kindness and devotion to him remains steadfast even as he gets mixed up with the wrong crowd. Time and time again when any one of us might have thrown in the towel and sent Cyril packing, Samantha inexplicably loves him as the mother he desperately needs.
I couldn’t help but think that God loves us in the same way. God seeks us out not wanting to leave us in the nightmares of our own lives. God finds us, dusts us off and opens up before us the dream of God’s own intending, as our Presiding Bishop likes to put it. God intimately cares about relationships, and specifically in our relationship with God. The very Architect of the universe wants to be connected with us.
I don’t know why, frankly. I do not understand why God cares so much about us even though we often screw it all up like Cyril. There are times when I want my own way, or go off the rails pursuing my own agenda for my life. I get angry and lash out at times. I do not notice God’s persistent love and care. Or, more honestly, I cannot grasp why it is that God continues to love me without fail no matter what happens in my life.
For too many our understanding of God relies entirely on our actions and behaviors. We believe the lie that God’s deep and abiding faithfulness to us is fickle. That God gives up on us when things go bad. And yet that’s when God loves us most of all. God doesn’t stop loving us no matter what happens in our lives. For far too long we have believed in that image of God getting angry at the drop of a hat and keeping a ledger of all the bad stuff we have done. Friends, that is not the way it is. God loves us. Period. God never gives up on us no matter where life takes us or what we have encountered. The love of the undivided Trinity abides.
Because at the core of the Trinity—the relationship of the three-in-one—is love. A mutual indwelling of affection and joy and goodness. I cannot describe it any more than that, just like I can’t explain the stunning view of an open star cluster like the Pleiades, those seven sisters (the ones we easily see) and their 1000 friends when we look at them more closely. I can only join the Psalmist: “O Lord our Governor, how exalted is your Name in all the world! Out of the mouths of infants and children your majesty is praised above the heavens.” O Lord our God, most holy Trinity, your love amazes and mystifies us for the beauty that it brings to our world and to our lives. May we live more fully into that mysterious love that will always confound us, knowing that just as God brings life to the uttermost parts of the universe, the Holy One brings life to the uttermost parts of our souls.