The signs most of us are accustomed to are the ones that are printed. Examples of some original signs:
- Along a windy mountain road: “Speed Limit Enforced by Sniper.”
- Wood County West Virginia: “Our citizens have concealed weapons. If you kill someone, we will kill you back. We have ‘0’ jails and 513 cemeteries. Enjoy your stay.”
- At a pub: “We have beers as cold as your ex’s heart.”
- A library parking lot: “Library parking only: Violators will be held in low esteem.”
- “Beware of Dog” and in smaller print, “The cat is also shady.”
- “There are two rules for success: 1) Never reveal all you know. 2) …….
- And one of my favorites: “Whatever you do, always give 100%. Unless you’re giving blood.”
There are other kinds of signs and perhaps one of the most popular is a sign from God. For example, there is the fella that was trying to lose some weight, so vowed to God not to stop at the donut shop unless there was a free parking spot directly in front. Some days that worked out really well, but most days he had to drive around the block at least five times. And still, there are others that look for more significant signs from God.
During the summer of 1944 the crematoriums were working a record pace at the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz. The air was constantly filled with smoke and ash of the thousands that were being murdered. In May of that year, Elaine Seidenfeld arrived at the camp and immediately learned of the realities and hardness of life there.
Stepping upon the platform from the train, she and her husband were separated, she was stripped and her hair was shaved, all the normal treatment of the Nazis was efficiently administered. She was then sent to a barrack where she found room to sleep on the third tier of a bunk squeezed in with twelve other women. One of those women, pointing in the direction of the crematoriums said, “Today it is them, tomorrow it will be us.” However, Elaine protested, “Not I. I will survive. I want to live and find my husband.” The old timers scoffed and said she didn’t know what she was talking about. They told her that one day, she also would be selected to die.
During May through August of that summer, many were selected, but she was not, however, in late August she heard her name called and knew it was her time. So along with 3,000 other women, she was marched to the showers, told to undress, and enter. They did, but instead of gas coming out of the showers, it was water. They were showered and then told to dress again and then ushered to the train station once more.
Upon arrival, they were forced into the cattle cars—150 women per car. Elaine had hoped to get close to the wall so she could possibly look out, but there was no way, there were no windows, and even if there had been, they were packed so closely that they were all like vertical boards, unable to move. Throughout the entire ordeal Elaine never stopped repeating to herself, “I want to live.. I want to live.”
Finally, stuck in the middle of that dark cattle car, she prayed, “My God, I want to live. If only I could find some promising sign. Something I could believe in. Something. Anything. Something that will indicate that I will live.”
As the train began to move, it jolted, and a small crack appeared between two wall boards of the cars. Elaine was amazed, and as they traveled, she began to see the blue sky, and suddenly, in the middle of the blue sky was a straight pure-white line. She was overjoyed. In her heart, she knew this was her sign. It was God. She declared, “O God, you have given Noah a rainbow and me this white line in heaven. I too will survive this deluge of blood, for this is a sign from heaven that you have inscribed my name in your Book of Life.” And she did. She survived many other trials before she was liberated, but with each trial, in her mind, she saw that pure white line, and she knew that God was with her and that she would survive. Following the war, unlike millions of others, she was reunited with her husband and her family.
An interviewer would later ask what she thought that white line was. Elaine’s response, “Does it really matter? It could have been nothing more than fumes from a passing airplane, but whatever it was it was my sign from heaven.”
For Elaine Seidenfeld, a little white line in the sky on a blue day was not only a sign, it was God. God in all of his fullness, glory, faithfulness, and power.
A shorter story: Little Johnny and a group of his friends go on their first camping trip. They find a spot deep in the woods to set up camp, they eat the sandwiches their mom’s have prepared and as it gets dark, they spend their time telling ghost stories trying to scare one another. As their campfire dims, one by one they begin to fall asleep. Johnny is the last boy awake and is still a bit too nervous to close his eyes, so in the now pitch black night, he stares up at the sky and the millions of stars. While taking in the vastness of it all, he has a rather philosophical moment, which is quite rare for most young boys, but in that instant, he understands that he is not the center of the world. In the stars and the in the spaces between the stars and even beyond the stars, in all that there is, for the first time, Johnny sees God
Along with his buddies, he had always understood that he had to behave because God was watching his every move, but now, just as Elaine Seidenfeld saw God in all of his fullness, glory, faithfulness and power in that little white line in a blue sky, Johnny also sees God in all of his fullness, glory, faithfulness, and power in the vastness of creation itself.
Of these two experiences, which best expresses that fullness, glory, faithfulness, and power of God? The answer is both. Throughout history, the Lord has always made himself known in the way that he knows we can see him.
We are told that during the Exodus, the Lord went before the Israelites by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day and night.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego—also known as My-shack, Yo-shack, and Abungalow—were thrown into the furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar. The canticle we read today in place of the Psalm, was their song while in the furnace. However, as King Nebuchadnezzar watched them—not burning—he was astonished, rose in haste, and called out to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” “Then Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” The three walked around in the burning furnace and with them was God.
Which of these experiences expresses the fullness, glory, faithfulness and power of God? Was it the pillar of fire or the fourth figure in the burning furnace? Again, it is both.
From a white line in a blue sky to a pillar of fire to the stars at night to a fourth figure dancing in the fire, God makes himself known in them all.
Today is Trinity Sunday. That day when we celebrate oneness of the Triune God. Mother Janie and I were discussing this and I’m pretty sure she has had to preach this sermon every year that I’ve been here—perhaps my subconscious way of not committing heresy. However, as I was thinking on this, we really cannot explain the Trinity of God with words—at least I can’t. We can only understand the Trinity in our experience of God. In the encounter.
My prayer for you is that you will encounter God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and like so many others before us, know the same fullness, glory, faithfulness, and power of of the Triune God. When you do, may it bring you to your knees in worship and praise.
Let us pray:
Glory be to the Father,
Who by His almighty power and love created us,
making us in the image and likeness of God.
Glory be to the Son,
Who by His Precious Blood delivered us from hell,
and opened for us the gates of heaven.
Glory be to the Holy Spirit,
Who has sanctified us in the sacrament of Baptism,
and continues to sanctify us
by the graces we receive daily from His bounty.
Glory be to the Three adorable Persons of the Holy Trinity, now and forever.