A sermon preached by Pastor Robert Schaefer
First and Spring Creek Lutheran Churches
Holy Trinity—June 15, 2003
Texts: Isaiah 6:1-4; Romans 8:14-17a
Friends in Christ, grace to you and peace in the name of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last weekend I picked up a new DVD while I was doing some shopping at Wal-Mart.
I’m something of a movie buff, although you could probably say I’m still in training. I try to watch as many good, important and classic films as I can, and I have a good number of Best Picture-winning titles in my collection already. Still, there’s a lot of material out there, and I’ve got some serious catching up to do. That’s why the new “special edition” of Kevin Costner’s epic Dances With Wolves, an Academy Award winner seven times over, caught my eye.
If you haven’t seen this love letter to the Dakotas, the American frontier and the native people of this land, consider this my recommendation—go rent it. And if you saw it back in 1990 when it won Best Picture, take a look at the new special edition—there are almost sixty more minutes of film here to be savored.
I mention it because the relationship between two of the movie’s characters can help us see our scripture this morning in a fresh light.
I’m thinking of the woman called Stands With A Fist and the Sioux medicine man Kicking Bird. When we first meet Stands With A Fist, she seems at once fully natural in her environment but also strangely out of place. It takes the audience a moment to realize the reason for this odd feeling—as the camera zooms in for her first close-up, we see that Stands With A Fist is not a Sioux woman at all; she is white.
Kicking Bird is clearly Indian, through and through, a well-respected and powerful member of his tribe. Not only is he their medicine man, but he is also a leader, thinker, diplomat and warrior. And, oddly enough, he appears to be Stands With A Fist’s father.
Eventually the woman’s story is revealed to us: When she was a very young child, Stands With A Fist moved with her family to the Dakota Territory to set up a homestead. One fateful afternoon a band of Pawnee brazenly rides up the family’s homestead and slaughters them all. Only the little girl Christine, who is too small and insignificant to be noticed, escapes the attack. But the sight of her family killed in cold blood will haunt her dreams many years later.
It seems that Kicking Bird’s tribe must have found the little girl, and the medicine man took her into his own lodge, raising her as his daughter. She learned the Sioux language and eventually became a regular member of the tribe.
We meet Stands With A Fist long after her assimilation into the Sioux community. But imagine those first weeks and months for her. Too young to know a Pawnee from a Ojibwe, Cherokee or Sioux, every attempt by Kicking Bird to help her must have been terrifying. He was, after all, a man who looked very much like the ones who killed her father, mother and brother. He was big and powerful, and his hand reached out toward her must have seemed more like a threat than an offer. To the little girl, Kicking Bird would have appeared the most powerful, terrifying person she could imagine, and she must have expected to die minute by minute. Only after long years of kindness and care could she have finally come to think of him as her adoptive father. What a change from Christine, the scared little white girl, to Stands With A Fist, the proud Sioux woman and daughter of the medicine man.
In a way, that’s not so different from the experience every Christian goes through in relating to God.
We begin in much the same boat as the prophet Isaiah. What a terrifying vision! Can you imagine, right now as you sit in the sanctuary, being swept away into another time and another space, seeing in your spirit’s eyes the one true God? Not all of God, mind you, but just the massive hem of his robe, filling our church while angels soared miles overhead singing and praising with voices that shook the very foundation of the church? Would you have the courage to look up, to risk seeing the face of God towering above you like the sun? Would you dare to speak to this God, or even to the angels encircling him? What words could you possibly utter that wouldn’t draw immediate peril—perhaps even death!—from a being so completely, so majestically, so terrifyingly powerful?
Invariably, the natural response—the only one we’re capable of, really—is to fall flat on our faces before him. We grovel, hoping in vain not to draw his attention. When he does speak, we cover our ears in horror, and beg him not to slay us for being so unworthy. Should he reach out to us, we would surely die with the sheer terror of his touch on our flesh.
We are not very different from young Christine, cowering in absolute despair before the very man who had rescued her and promised to care for her, if only she could know it. When we first meet God, he is so big and powerful that we can’t imagine what he could want with us. All we desire is for him to go away, to leave us alone and not to hurt us.
But Paul tells us that God has done for us exactly what Kicking Bird did for the little girl: He has adopted us. “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,” Paul says, “but you have received a spirit of adoption.” Every time fear wells up in our hearts and we try to fall back from God, he speaks gentle words to us by his adopting spirit, just as Kicking Bird must have done. We may not understand what God is saying to us at first, any more than Christine could make sense of the Dakota tongue. But gradually we come to realize that we are safe. Then we begin to sense that we are taken care of. After much time, we may start to believe that we are truly loved. And in God’s infinite patience we finally become part of his family, no longer “my adopted child” but simply, and beautifully, “my child.”
Getting this far doesn’t come easy. Kicking Bird must have tossed and turned many nights, wondering how on earth he could get through to this confused young thing. He probably went to great lengths to provide for her and to win her trust. Even so, God has gone to tremendous lengths for us, not only winning our trust but winning our very souls through the faithful ministry of Jesus Christ. And God has sent us his Spirit, who encourages us every day with kind words and true help. It is this Spirit that finally brings us to trust what has been true all along—God is our abba, our Father who has made us his own children at great cost to himself. He loves us so much that he chose to take us into his house while we were still hiding in the corner, crying for fear of him.
As we grow in the Spirit, we learn to cry out to God instead of crying at the sight of him; and our cries begin to sound like the very words God loves most to hear—Father! Papa! Daddy! Abba!
Even as we cherish our earthly fathers today, let us lift up our hearts in thankful prayer to our heavenly Father! In his infinite love and patience, he has made us his own children, and that is our identity forever. Amen.