John 3:8 “The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it.”

Exodus 3:4 “When the Lord saw that Moses had gone over to look, God called to him.”

As a boy, I had an uncle who lived in a small town in Ohio. Whenever we visited him, the big event each day, come six o’clock in the evening, was watching the New York Central Twentieth Century Limited hurtle across Main Street at eighty to ninety miles an hour. It was there that I learned one of life’s great lessons: If I was to survive life’s dangerous intersections, I must take the time to stop, look and listen.

On this Trinity Sunday, both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons are about stopping, looking and listening. The late writer/poet John Ciardi when asked the question, “What are human beings?” replied, “We are what we do with our attention!”

Moses is doing what he has been doing for years, looking after the cranky goats and grungy sheep belonging to his father-in-law Jethro. For Moses it is just another boring day on the desert called Horeb, a name that literally means wasteland. At breakfast Moses is a non-name, a vagabond escapee from Egyptian justice. By dinner Moses is headlines in the making. What happened? Moses paid attention: he stopped, he looked, he listened.

Relive the story with me. Moses is poking about under the hot sun looking for water and grass and wild animals when a bush begins to simmer in the heat. The bush has been there for as long as Moses can remember, but today he notices it…pays attention to it. Suddenly something ordinary becomes something quite extraordinary: God in a bush, just waiting for Moses to pay attention. So, our text reads, “When the Lord saw that Moses turned aside to look…to pay attention…God called to him.”

This is one of those stories in the Bible we should not try to explain. How do you explain burning bushes without denuding the story? You don’t! Then again, how do you explain God…particularly a God with a penchant for being sly and baffling? You don’t!

This story is more than a story about Moses; this is a story about God. In this story, God takes the initiative because Moses’ attention is something God needs to get. Ah, but Moses’ attention is something only Moses can give! So, God does not speak in this story until God has Moses’ attention. The key to the story is Moses paying attention to something he has not seen before. God in a bush waiting for Moses to pay attention.

Sometimes we ask where in the world God is. God is all around us, lurking in the seams of the everyday. To find God we have to pay attention to what is happening in our world. “When the Lord saw that Moses turned aside to look, God called to him.” God proceeds to remind Moses of a past Moses has been trying to forget. God catches Moses in a web of connections bridging generations and genes and autobiography. Moses is a descendent of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Moses, the abandoned child of a couple living in captivity, is adopted by a member of the Pharaoh’s family and accorded a royal upbringing while his blood kin sweat and starve amid servile conditions. Moses has connections. So, God engages Moses in conversation. God needs Moses if God is to do something about his people. But first God needs Moses’ attention.

Suddenly, the old story becomes our story. When you and I begin to pay attention to what is happening around us, something happens to us. We, too, are people with connections: senators, congress people, judges, lobbyists. We own businesses, work in institutions of influence, and we all have friends. We are tempted simply to go about a doing whatever it is we do as if it were just a job. But, when we stop, look and listen to what is happening around us, we see the shadow of another presence looming in the background of our lives. We see patterns and linkages. We become sensitive to issues and concerns we have missed in our busyness. In short, like Moses we find ourselves in conversation with God.

Last year a member of my congregation, a former TV anchorman, was gripped by the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. He began to pay attention to what was happening in his media world. He discovered that every year the average child spends 900 hours in school and 1,500 hours watching TV. He learned that by the time our children finish elementary school they will have seen 8,000 murders on television and by the time they are graduated from high school, they will have watched 200,000 acts of violence. He put together a television documentary called “The Virus of Violence.” One man, simply paying attention to what was happening in his world.

“The more attentive you are to a landscape,” writes the Irish theologian John O’Donahue, “the more you will be embraced by its presence.” The Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin agrees, noting that “by means of all created things…the divine assails us, penetrates us and moulds us.” The trick is paying attention, taking the time to stop and look and listen.

“You wish to see? Listen,” advised St. Bernard. And that brings us to our second text from John’s Gospel. Nicodemus is stuck! It is in the middle of the night with the moon riding high and clouds scudding its face. Two strangers, Nicodemus and Jesus, sit in the darkness engaged in a riveting conversation. Nicodemus is intrigued with Jesus. He senses that God is up to something special in this eccentric teacher from Nazareth. Yet, Jesus does not fit the conventional religious mold of Nicodemus’s world. Jesus describes what God is about in the soul to make us humans vibrant and alive with God. Nicodemus is blind to the obvious. As a gentle breeze wafts up from the valley, Jesus says: “Listen to the wind, Nicodemus! Listen to the wind! You can hear it whistling through the trees: you can see it in the clouds racing the night sky. The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it. Nicodemus, the Spirit of God is just like that—invisible yet unmistakable, impalpable yet present and real—breathing life into everything around us. Listen to the wind, Nicodemus! Listen to the wind!” But Nicodemus doesn’t know how to listen. Nicodemus is stuck in the one-dimensional world of science and logic and tradition and religious protocol.

In the Hebrew tongue, the word for spirit is the word ruach. As one of my former Edinburgh mentors, James S. Stewart, put it, the word ruach stands for three things: breath as in the breath of life; wind as the desert wind tearing violently across the land with primal energy and elemental force; and spirit as the supernatural presence of God sweeping across history and taking possession of the lives of men and women.

What Nicodemus doesn’t get is this; it is the Spirit of God that holds human life together. As the sages of Israel put it in their telling the story of creation, it was “the Spirit of God moving across the face of the waters” that made things happen (Gen 1:2). It was the Spirit lurking in the nooks and crannies of ordinary life that left the ancient psalmist gasping, “Where shall I go from thy Spirit? If I ascend to heaven, thou art there. If I make my bed in hell, thou art there” (Ps. 139:7–8). The wind blows. Humans breathe. The Spirit of God works everywhere. The trick is taking the time to stop, look, listen! Listen to the wind, Nicodemus! Listen to the wind!

As Saul Bellow tells the story, Clara Velde was an honest-to-God Hoosier girl from southern Indiana. Big-boned, blue-eyed with short blond hair, Clara was brought up on old-time religion, “prayers at breakfast, grace at every meal, psalms learned by heart” and blessed with a good education. She studied Greek at Bloomington, Elizabethan literature at Wellesley and pursued graduate school at Columbia. As Bellow writes: “She feared hellfire, but she did it just the same,” which is why her “family decided not bring her back home to Indiana.” Clara lived life fast. By the age of forty, she had her own company specializing in women’s high fashion where she made a name for herself as “the czarina of fashion writing.” By forty she had also birthed three girls, been through four husbands and a failed suicide. Successful in life, at heart she was a small town Hoosier waif lost in the maze of the big city. One day her world fell apart; an emerald ring, symbolizing her one passionate love in life, was stolen. Later, the ring was mysteriously returned. Clara’s Austrian au pair girl, Gina, is somehow involved. Clara and Gina meet at a bar to talk. At a bar, busy, fast-moving, agenda-driven Clara takes the time to stop, sit down and listen. At a bar, Gina begins to tell the truth: “You’re a generous woman—exceptionally so… You have meant a lot to me… You’re not an American lady of the house. You have a manner, Mrs. Velde… I decided that you were a complete person.” “Oh, wait a minute,” Clara protests, “I’m not sure complete persons exist.” “I see it in you,” said Gina.

Minutes later, Clara is scurrying down Madison Avenue like a “homeless street person who has just been turned loose, dabbing her tears and covering her face with a handkerchief. “You are a complete person, Mrs. Velde.” No one had ever before called Clara complete, whole, as in having it all together. Suddenly, Clara sees herself for what she is. A person made in God’s image: a complete person, a person with “unsuspected capacities of wisdom and love.”

In her book Traveling Mercies, Anne Lamott, a writer who is also a single mom, tells this story. One day, her son Sam became ill and doctors feared the worst—cancer. Sam began a round of blood work. Day after day Anne took Sam to the lab for a blood draw. One day following the blood draw, Anne took Sam with her to the restroom because she had to use the toilet. That is when it happened. As she sat on the toilet, she began to pay attention to Sam instead of focusing only on her fears. Sam, content and unperturbed by what was happening around him and to him, began to play with the paper cups, filling them with water. Pouring water from cup to cup with the brims touching, with one cup far away form the other. Anne writes: “Some people believe that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom.” “Patience,” she concludes, “is when God makes the now a little roomier.”

God in a bush! God in the gentle blowing breeze! God in a bar! God in the bathroom! I wonder, where in your world might God be waiting for you to stop, look and listen: There is a big theological word that sums up what we have talked about this morning; it is the word revelation. Revelation, you see, is what happens when God tries to get our attention and we, “reluctantly or enthusiastically, or even inadvertently, give it.”