When God Shakes Our Assumptions: a Poetic Journey (sermon)

Photo credit: Chris Robertshaw on Visualhunt.com

What can poetry teach us about the Trinity? How can we find new treasures in ancient words from Scripture, treasures that may teach us something fresh about God’s character and intentions? This past Sunday, I preached a sermon for Trinity Sunday called “Shaking Assumptions,” where I explore three key words (in three different languages!) from this week’s lectionary Scripture passages: the Aramaic words Abwoon/Abba, the Hebrew word qol, and the Greek word pneuma.

To help in engaging these three words, I use poetry found in the Bible itself, as well as more modern poems that resonate with this week’s Scriptures. I’ve included a time index below, along with notes, in case you’d like to jump to any particular point in the sermon. This sermon was originally recorded on Zoom, so there are a few (very minor) digital hiccups. The original sermon is posted here.

2:24–Introduces the Aramaic word Abwoon, as well as a breath prayer, based on the book Prayers of the Cosmos by Dr. Neil Douglas-Klotz

6:18–Introduces the Hebrew word qol. Thank you to the Bible Project for their powerful teaching on qol and Psalm 29.

6:58–Psalm 29 and the Hebrew word qol. What sticks out in this reading of Psalm 29? What seems fresh, new, and different in this passage? What is Psalm 29 doing?  

Psalm 29

A Psalm of David.

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of God’s name;
    worship the Lord in holy splendor.

The qol of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord, over mighty waters.
The qol of the Lord is powerful;
    the qol of the Lord is full of majesty.

The qol of the Lord breaks the cedars;
    the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
God makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
    and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The qol of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The qol of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The qol of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
    and strips the forest bare;
    and in God’s temple all say, “Glory!”

10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the Lord give strength to God’s people!
    May the Lord bless God’s people with peace!

12:08Qol and Isaiah 6. The call story of Isaiah, Isaiah 6: 1-8, is a famous and familiar one. It has inspired well-loved hymns such as “Here I Am, Lord.” Yet what message does God actually give for Isaiah to take the people? How do we feel after we hear the entirety of Isaiah 6? What questions does it raise?

Isaiah 6: 8-13

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” And God said, “Go and say to this people:

‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’
10 Make the mind of this people dull,
    and stop their ears,
    and shut their eyes,
so that they may not look with their eyes,
    and listen with their ears,
and comprehend with their minds,
    and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And God said:
“Until cities lie waste
    without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
    and the land is utterly desolate;
12 until the Lord sends everyone far away,
    and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.
13 Even if a tenth part remain in it,
    it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak
    whose stump remains standing
    when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.

20:00–Poem read in response to Hebrew word qol, Psalm 29, and Isaiah 6: “God’s Majesty” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox. Thank you to Englewood Review of Books for introducing me to this poem.

“God’s Majesty”

by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

I look upon the budding tree;
I watch its leaves expand;
And through it all, O God, I see,
The marvel of Thy hand.
And all my soul in worship sings,
O praise the Lord, the King of Kings!

I look upon this mortal frame
So wonderfully made;
I note each perfect vein and nerve
And I am sore afraid;
I tremble, God, at thought of Thee
So awful in Thy Majesty.

I look upon the mighty sun,
Upon the humble flower;
In both, O great and heavenly One,
I read Thy wondrous power;
And in an ecstasy I raise
A song of thankfulness and praise.

I look upon the lightnings flash;
I see the rain drops fall;
I listen to the thunders crash,
And find Thee in it all;
In earth and sky, and sea and air,
Thou, O my God, art everywhere.

21:12–Greek word pneuma.

23:12Pneuma in John 3:8. What do we learn about the life of the Trinity in this one impactful verse?

 John 3:8

The pneuma blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the pneuma.

26:20– Poem read in response to pneuma and John 3:8: “Who has seen the wind?” by Christina Rossetti.

“Who has seen the wind?”

by Christina Rossetti

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you.
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.

27:04–Aramaic word Abba

27:41Abba in Romans 8:14-16. Reflection questions to consider in silence. 

Romans 8: 14-16

14 For those who are led by the pneuma of God are the children of God. 15 The pneuma you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the pneuma you received brought about your adoption. And by God we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The pneuma testifies with our pneuma that we are God’s children.

Reflection Questions for Romans 8: 14-16

1] In the cry to Abba, what do we notice about the relationship between intimacy and newness?

2] What relationships have been shaken in our lives this season? As God’s children, how are we called to respond to those relationships? 

3] What relationships do we have, and/or do we need, that can help us to recognize the pneuma of God in our lives?  Pray to Abba for those relationships.

36:10–Closing breath prayer, inhaling and exhaling Abwoon. Has anything changed or shifted since we prayed this prayer at the beginning of the sermon?

What new insights do you gleam about the Three Persons of the Trinity (Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer) from these Bible passages and poems? How does poetry help you to know God, as well as yourself? I’d love to hear what you think!

3 thoughts on “When God Shakes Our Assumptions: a Poetic Journey (sermon)

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