John 16:12-15

May 22, 2016

Trinity Sunday


Author Dennis Rainey tells about an exercise he leads each year with his sixth grade Sunday school class. He divides the class into three groups. These groups then compete in putting together a jigsaw puzzle. As these 12-year-olds scatter into three circles on the floor, he explains that there is only one rule in the competition: to put together the puzzle without talking.

The contents of puzzle number one are deposited on the floor and Group 1 immediately goes to work. The group promptly sets up the box top that depicts the picture of the puzzle it is completing.

Then Dennis Rainey moves to the second group, dumps the pieces of a second puzzle on the floor and quickly gives the group a box top. What the group doesn’t know is that the box top is for another puzzle!

The third group is given the same puzzle pieces, but it doesn’t receive a box top. Usually the kids in the group start to protest, but Rainey quickly reminds them there is to be no talking!

What follows is fascinating.

Group 1 is somewhat frustrated by not being allowed to talk, but it still makes steady progress. Group 2 keeps trying to use the picture, but nothing seems to work. And since the kids in the group can’t say anything, their frustration level soars. The group members look at their teacher with pleading eyes. Soon, he sees that misleading box top go flying out of the group across the room!

Group 3 is interesting. Because the kids have nothing to guide them, they do their own thing. The kids give up and just lie on the floor.

Dennis Rainey asks, “Am I a cruel teacher? No, there is a point that I make that day. Life, marriages, and families are like the pieces of the puzzle. The pieces are all there for us, but something is needed to help us bring order out of chaos.”

Guidance for a time of chaos.

Some of you will remember when a passenger jet, Korean Airlines Flight 007, was shot down after wandering mistakingly into the airspace of the Soviet Union. This was, of course, during the last days of the Cold War. Fans of super-spy James Bond could not help but note the irony of the flight being numbered 007. Maybe that had something to do with the Russians’ reaction.

It was September 1, 1983. 269 innocent people lost their lives on this flight because of a navigational error. Reportedly, the pilots of this airliner accidentally punched in the wrong set of navigational coordinates after a refueling stop in Alaska. From that point on, every new set of coordinates they entered sent them further off track. As a result they unknowingly penetrated Soviet airspace, were shot down by a Soviet pilot, and plunged into the icy ocean below.

Improper guidance cost 269 innocent people their lives. In a time of chaos you need trustworthy guidance.

An interesting report came across the wires of the Associated Press sometime back. It seems that, along with hard-core pornography and hate magazines, officials of the Texas state prison system have banned The Texas Almanac from prison libraries. Now, if you are familiar at all with almanacs, you would think these would be the last thing prison officials would consider banning. But here’s the reason. The Texas Almanac contains maps that are so detailed and so accurate that prison officials fear they could help prisoners escape. “A map would be of great assistance if you were planning to go over the wall,” said Larry Fitzgerald, spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

“Once they’re outside the walls, they go, ‘Ooh, I’m out here. What do I do now?’ A lot of times they won’t have any idea really where they are, what road leads to where,” Fitzgerald said. Would-be escapees would be well-served with the almanac, officials said. Take its map for Polk County, the densely forested East Texas home of the Terrell prison unit. The map is so thorough it includes the tiny towns of Pluck and Ace, Piney and Minard Creeks, an Indian reservation and several railroad lines.

The publisher of the almanac, The Dallas Morning News, isn’t upset about the ban. The newspaper sees it as a marketing opportunity. The Morning News recently ran an advertisement for the almanac that bragged: “The powers-that-be feared that inmates might use the detailed county maps to plot escape routes. We’re not making this up. If the maps are so good prisoners aren’t allowed to read them–imagine what they can do for you.” If you are escaping from prison, you need all the guidance you can get.

In our lesson from John’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching his disciples. He says to them, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

Last week in our celebration of Pentecost, we dealt with the Holy Spirit as the source of our power. Today, Trinity Sunday, we want to deal with the Holy Spirit as the source of guidance in this chaotic world. Think of a car. It will not go far without a motor. But also try driving it without a steering wheel. When the Holy Spirit comes upon us, we are given both power and guidance.

Writer Gordon MacDonald tells about driving with his wife, Gail, to a small community to attend a dinner. They had never been in that area before, and they were quickly lost. Seeing a policeman parking his car, they pulled over and asked him for directions.

The policeman said, “You go down two more lights; turn right and go to a fork in the road where you bear left. Go two stop signs … or is it three … No, no! Here’s an easier way. Make a U-turn and go back to that little shopping mall back there; you know the one with the gas station on the corner. You hear what I am saying? Turn left there and just follow the road down to the ocean. It makes several turns, okay? And you have to be careful not to … No! Go back to the first way I said. Go down … Oh, what the heck. Look, I’ll take you there. Just follow me, and stick close!”

Gordon MacDonald writes, “I followed him and stuck close. And it occurred to me along the way that this is the invitation of Christ to someone who wants to know God, figure out the inner self, and understand how to live in the real world. Follow Him and stick close. Christ doesn’t miss a turn.”

Jesus knew that his disciples were going out into a hostile world. They would need both power and guidance. Jesus himself would no longer be with them in the flesh. But he would be with them through the power of the Holy Spirit. When we speak of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are in essence saying that we believe in the Creator God, we believe in Jesus, God’s unique presence in the world in human flesh, and we believe in Christ’s Spirit at work today in the world and in our individual lives.

The Holy Spirit gives us power. The Holy Spirit gives us guidance.

This is a confusing world. In some ways it is a crazy world. Sometime back they arrested a man in Washington, D.C., who had been robbing liquor stores all over the city. The odd thing was he only robbed the stores during the day. When the police asked him why he did this, he said, “Are you kidding? It isn’t safe to be on the streets at night with that much money.”

It’s a crazy world. It’s a confusing world. In his book, The Pursuit of Happiness, David Meyers writes that “From 1957 to 1990, per capita income in the US more than doubled, but the number of Americans who reported being very happy remained the same. All the advances in medical sciences, all the achievements in technology, all the increase in material wealth and prosperity has not supplied us with an answer to our deepest yearnings. It has not fulfilled our deepest needs. Never have we been so self-reliant, or so lonely. Never have we seemed so free, or our prisons so overstuffed. Never have we had so much education, or such high rates of teen delinquency, despair and suicide. Never have we been so sophisticated about pleasure, or so likely to suffer broken or miserable marriages.”

This is a confusing world. We need a guide we can depend on. Christ, working through the power of the Holy Spirit, is that guide.

Pastor Michael Walther tells of listening to a radio program about a famous test pilot. This pilot was flying a fighter jet in bad weather and about to make his instrument approach to an airport. The air traffic controller called and asked how much fuel he had. “Plenty,” he said. “Well,” the controller said, “we’ve got a little problem. There’s a young pilot who is not instrument rated. He’s lost in the clouds, and we were wondering if you could intercept him and lead him back to the airport.” “Sure,” the pilot responded. He found the lost plane and pulled up beside it. He called on the radio and told the pilot to look out to his left. There the pilot of this small plane saw the powerful fighter jet, and the man burst into tears. As far as he was concerned, at this point, his life was about over. He would soon run out of fuel and crash. “Don’t worry,” the test pilot said. “Everything’s going to be okay. I’m going to pull in front of you several hundred yards. Do everything I do. When I turn, I’ll turn gently. All you have to do is do exactly what I do.” So carefully the leader and the follower turned on the course to the airport and slowly descended. When they finally broke through the clouds at 500 feet, the frightened pilot saw the most beautiful sight. There in front of him was the runway, and he was perfectly set up to land.

There are times when we need a guide we can depend on. Where would we be without mentors, coaches, counselors, consultants, when we are engaged in tasks that are beyond our expertise?

You may not recognize the name Max Perkins. Perkins died in 1947 after exercising enormous influence over the reading habits of millions of people. No, Perkins wasn’t an author. He was the top editor at Charles Scribner’s Publishing Company for some years. He served as personal editor for F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, as well as for less famous authors such as those who wrote The Yearling, From Here to Eternity, etc. Max Perkins could take a manuscript of 1000 pages and tell a given author what to cut out of it, what to retain, and what to change. All the famous American authors who worked with Perkins ultimately agreed that his way was consistently the best for their books.

There are times we need a guide we can depend on. So it is with our daily lives. These were great writers, but that little bit of extra help made them greater still. So may it be with us. Christ can take our best and make it better. The secret is to yield our lives to his leadership. Trust him and let him lead you daily. When you make it a habit to trust his guidance, it is amazing how life comes together.

A lady named Peggy Piland, writing in Guideposts, tells about an interesting event in her life. She had been planning to make brown-sugar pound cake, her specialty, for her Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Howell, who had been in her thoughts. But suddenly the idea to bake her a cheesecake popped into mind–a lemon cheesecake.

The recipe called for fresh lemons. Peggy checked her supplies. No lemons, but plenty of brown sugar. A pound cake would be much easier, she thought. But again came the nudge. Bake a lemon cheesecake. After a trip to the grocery store to buy lemons, she began to make the batter. She cut a lemon in half, removed the seeds, squeezed the juice into the creamy mixture and stirred.

When she arrived at Mrs. Howell’s, Mrs. Howell’s husband let Peggy in. “She’ll be happy to see you,” he said. Then he explained Mrs. Howell had broken her leg and was bedridden. “The doctor says she’ll be fine. But she’s frustrated because she can’t get around like she used to.”

Peggy walked in the bedroom carrying her surprise. “I’m so sorry about your leg, Mrs. Howell,” she said. “Maybe this will make you feel better.” As she placed the cake on the table, the  scent of fresh lemons wafted through the air. She looked at Mrs. Howell. Mrs. Howell was crying.

“How did you know?” she asked

“Know?” asked Peggy.

“Today is our wedding anniversary,” she said. “For the past 55 years I’ve baked my husband his favorite thing.” She pointed at the cake. “How did you know it was lemon cheesecake?”

A simple little story. And a little mysterious. Coincidence? Perhaps. But it’s interesting how many happy little coincidences happen to those who yield themselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In our lesson from John’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching his disciples. He says to them, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” We need that Spirit today.