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A Sermon preached at Immanuel Church-on-the-Hill in Alexandria, VA on May 31, 2015.

The Holy Trinity/1st Sunday after Pentecost: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

        Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and we shall be created, and you shall renew the face of the earth.

        O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by that same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise, and ever enjoy its consolations, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


I am a golfer and I love movies. So you probably understand that I love movies involving golf such as "Tin Cup," "The Greatest Game Ever Played," and "Seven Days in Utopia." But my most favorite movie that weaves a story around the great game of golf is "The Legend of Bagger Vance."

           "The Legend of Bagger Vance" is a movie about a mythical golf match, set in the 1930s in Savannah, Georgia, that involves golf legends Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen, and the hometown ace, Capt. Rannulph Junuh. As a teenager, Junuh (played by Matt Damon) had Tiger Woods-like promise. But after his World War I tour of duty, he is marred both psychologically and spiritually, and has lost interest in life, love, and golf. Content to gamble and drink his days away, Junuh is a recluse until his former girlfriend, Adele Invergordon, invites him to join Jones and Hagen in an exhibition match.

Junuh, encouraged by a community that recalls his pre-war glory, reluctantly agrees to compete. While hitting practice balls in his backyard, Junuh meets a mysterious journeyman by the name of Bagger Vance (played by Will Smith). Vance offers to caddy for Junuh in the upcoming match and is determined to help him rediscover his passion for the game. Throughout the movie, Junuh seeks to find purpose in his life, though he is fearful of what that purpose might be.

           At one point early in the festivities, as Adele and Rannulph begin to reconnect with one another, he asks her, "What was it, Adele? .. What did you like about us?" ... to which Adele replies, "I like the way we danced."

Today is Trinity Sunday. It is the one Sunday where we specifically remember the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The primary difference between this Sunday and others throughout the church year is that today we focus on the “being” of God rather than the “doings” of God: we pause to look at who God is rather than what God has done. Usually, our lectionary includes narratives that tell stories, maybe about history, myths, or parables. On Trinity Sunday, we move from the “sacred story” to the mystery of the Sacred and Holy itself. All the readings today talk about that being of God.


In our Old Testament reading, we have Isaiah’s vision of the Lord surrounded by angels. They sing “Holy, holy, holy,” a song that the church still sings at the beginning of the Great Thanksgiving. This liturgical text invites us and all creation to sing praises of God’s glory, the glory which is God’s mercy toward sinners.

           In the letter to the Romans, describing the new life of faith, Paul refers to all three persons of the Trinity: the Spirit which leads us to recognize that we are all children of God the Father, and sisters and brothers with Jesus Christ the Son of God.

           In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ miracles prompt Nicodemus to visit him in secrecy in the dark of night. Jesus tells this Jewish leader, a member of the Sanhedrin, about being born of the Spirit and about the Son who has been sent by God to save.

           Being “born from above” is a contemporary translation of what earlier English Bibles rendered as being “born again.” Ancient Christian tradition interpreted this birth imagery as applying to baptism. Only in recent centuries has another interpretation been introduced: that of a personal experience of conversion into active participation in the faith community. The fourth evangelist, John, uses this metaphor of birth to lead into perhaps the world’s most famous sentence about God’s actions through Christ to love and save the world ~ John 3:16. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

           I may have mentioned before that I meet weekly with other clergy for breakfast. But as my clergy breakfast peeps were discussing this past Thursday morning at Atlantis, maybe we should have signs, bumper stickers, magnets and T-shirts emblazoned with John 3:17, for it even more directly speaks to the core of the Gospel truth: "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him."

When we say God is the Triune God, we are saying something about who God is before, beyond, and after the universe: that there is community within God. Our experience of this is reflected in Paul’s words today. When we pray to God as Jesus prayed to his "Abba" (an everyday, intimate parental address), the Spirit prays within us, creating between us and God the same relationship that Jesus has with the One who sent him.

Have you ever felt alone? Felt like you’re not connecting in life with anyone? Felt the fear or anxiety that the future is without hope or promise? Have you convinced yourself there is no one there to help or walk with you in your dark and scary places?

           I think we all can readily accept and fully comprehend the Father as our Creator and the Son as our Redeemer, but laying claim also to the Holy Spirit as our Sustainer may require some more imagination. Just as Adele Invergordon liked the way that she and Rannulph Junuh danced, I think that God so loved the world that we have God the Holy Spirit who can and does dance with each of us.

The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruach, translated “the intimate breath of God,” and in the Greek it is pneuma, “the wind of God's Spirit.” The One by whose creative breath every person becomes a living soul also shares the life-changing Spirit with all who will receive it. Both definitions are things we can see or feel the effects of, but cannot control. So I suggest we DANCE with the Spirit in our lives. Here is that power from above, that being of God, that liberates us and makes all things new.

           This advocate, the Companion who moves along side with us, is also the Spirit of Truth, pointing to the truth about our life, sin in this world, and our need for a savior. Our Triune God bears witness to us bringing God’s light and love in us and through us. No one is given the Holy Spirit against their own will, but when we ask for and receive the Spirit, we are enabled to grow into the persons God has always envisioned us to be.

           Becoming the person we are meant to be involves the sometimes ironic and painful process of letting go of ego and its needs, dying to the self, so as to enter a deeper relationship with the world, with other people, and ultimately with God. When it comes to using our gifts, practice and let the Spirit lead.

           In a book of essays called Lux Mundi, Charles Gore, an influential 19th century Anglican theologian wrote about “The Holy Spirit and Inspiration.” He said there are four characteristics of the work of the Spirit: “it is 1) social rather than individualistic; 2) it nourishes the unique individuality of each person; 3) it consecrates every faculty of human nature, including the physical, spiritual, and intellectual; and 4) it works gradually rather than suddenly.”[1]

           So let me go back to the movie to explain.

An amazing moment of advocate imagery in 'Bagger Vance' happens when Junuh hits a ball deep into the woods during the tournament and he is given a chance to face his demons head on. Bagger tells him to lay his “burden down” and come “out of the shadows” of his pain and “play the game.” The game that was meant to be played since he came into the world, with his “unique and authentic swing.”

           It's dark in those woods. Junuh's shot looks impossible. We can see by the slump of his shoulders, he wants to quit. But Bagger says he is not alone, he is there right beside him, has been there all along. Bagger then just stands there, breathing. Junuh looks at him, and is given that confidence to start swinging and find the light once again. And, he does. And it’s Hollywood and a myth, so it’s no spoiler to say the movie ends in an inspirational swell of music and gorgeous golf vistas.

           I see "The Legend of Bagger Vance" as a portrayal of how the Holy Spirit comes out of our darkness, fear, doubt to bring the gift of shalom--wholeness, well being, peace. The Holy Spirit is a guide, a teacher, or, if you like, a dance instructor of the greatest golf caddy ever. In the movie Bagger doesn't force anything, he only speaks the truth about what is happening, and then reminds and encourages a young man to commit to living life to the fullest.

           That's a picture of how the Holy Spirit can work in someone’s life. And, we as Christ's ambassadors, are called to do the same. God as Spirit is right here to comfort us in pain, to guide us through the dark, and to empower us to play the game that we were meant to play. God is here to help us to regain our swings, to hear and respond to the music that God gives each of us, to use our personality, caring, and gifts to serve God's world.  

           Our true authentic swing. We have to be given eyes to see and minds to know. When God is leading you, you can move mountains. God is faithful and true and the Holy Spirit can guide and lead us in our moments of grace and trial as the Spirit moves us to claim our gifts.

           I hope for each of us and all of us, that some day, the Holy Spirit will look to us and say, "I like the way we dance."

In the name of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Glorious Companions: Five Centruies of Anglican Spirituality, Richard H. Schmidt, “Charles Gore: Liberal or Conservative?,” p. 209-210; Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, 2002.