Trinity Sunday, Year A

Trinity Sunday, Year A

Psalm 8

Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson


James Aggrey tells the following story, which speaks of our place and purpose in God’s creation.


A certain man went through a forest seeking any bird of interest he might find. He caught a young eagle, brought it home, and put it among the fowls and ducks and turkeys, and gave it chicken food to eat even though it was an eagle, the king of birds.


Five years later, a naturalist came to see him and, after passing through his garden, said: “That bird is an eagle, not a chicken.”


“Yes,” said the owner, “but I have trained it to be a chicken. It is no longer an eagle, it is a chicken, even though it measures fifteen feet from tip to tip of its wings.”


“No,” said the naturalist, “it is an eagle still; it has the heart of an eagle, and I will make it soar high up to the heavens.”


“No,” said the owner, “it is a chicken and it will never fly.”


They agreed to test it. The naturalist picked up the eagle, held it up and said with great intensity: “Eagle, thou art an eagle; thou dost belong to the sky and not to this earth; stretch forth thy wings and fly.”


The eagle turned this way and that, and then looking down, saw the chickens eating their food, and down he jumped.


The owner said: “I told you it was a chicken.”


“No,” said the naturalist, “it is an eagle. Give it another chance tomorrow.”


So the next day he took it to the top of the house and said:

“Eagle, thou art an eagle; stretch forth thy wings and fly.” But again the eagle, seeing the chickens feeding, jumped down and fed with them.


Then the owner said: “I told you it was a chicken.”


“No,” asserted the naturalist, “it is an eagle, and it has the heart of an eagle; only give it one more chance, and I will make it fly tomorrow.”


The next morning he rose early and took the eagle outside the city and away from the houses, to the foot of a high mountain. The sun was just rising, gilding the top to the mountain with gold, and every crag was glistening in the joy of the beautiful morning.


He picked up the eagle and said to it: “Eagle, thou art an eagle; thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth; stretch forth thy wings and fly.”


The eagle looked around and trembled as if new life were coming to it. Yet it did not fly. The naturalist then made it look straight at the sun. Suddenly it stretched out its wings and, with the screech of an eagle, it mounted higher and higher and never returned. It was an eagle, though it had been kept and tamed as a chicken.


We have been created in the image of God, but people have made us think that we are chickens, and so we think we are; but we are eagles. Stretch forth your wings and fly! Don’t be content with the food of chickens! 1


In Psalm 8, as David ponders the immense vastness of the universe—perhaps while gazing up at the stars on a clear summer’s night—he is first overcome with how small we humans are, mere specks of breath and dust in the grand scheme of all creation. Overwhelmed by the grandiose nature of all God’s creation, he asks: “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” Is this not a question that we, like David also ponder from time-to-time, as we learn from contemporary scientists just how vast, how grandiose God’s creation really is and how small we feel by comparison? If we look at the universe and ourselves only from the standpoint of a closed philosophical and/or scientific system; if we seek answers to our place and purpose in life from only a human perspective; then, chances are that we’ll feel rather insignificant in the grand scheme of all things. Left to ourselves, are we not like that eagle among the chickens? Left to ourselves, how can we reasonable justify our existence as being any more significant than say, a fly or a stone or an alligator?


However, David does not stop there. He moves on to say that we are not left to ourselves. God reveals to David and us another perspective of our place and purpose in God’s vast universe. God, speaking through these beautiful words of David, reveals humankind’s true dignity as human beings created in the image of God. “Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.”


This affirmation that we are created in God’s image gives us a deep sense of dignity as human beings. Isaiah Berlin once said: “Only barbarians are not curious about where they come from, how they came to be where they are, where they appear to be going, whether they wish to go there, and if so, why, and if not, why not.” What Isaiah Berlin is speaking of here I believe is the human sense of dignity; of being created in God’s image; of having a sense of consciousness unique from all other created beings; of utilizing our consciousness, our creativity, imagination and curiosity to develop extremely sophisticated societies with profound works of art, literature, music, scientific and technological advances, and so on.


For example, our place and purpose in the grand scheme of all things is revealed in the following words of Mother Teresa, speaking of her work: “It’s only a drop in the ocean—but the ocean wouldn’t be the same without that drop.” The psalm reflects our human dignity of what we are capable of when we act as people created in God’s image, just as the eagle acted when given the chance to be an eagle. The following story of hymn writer Isaac Watts underscores the capabilities of exercising our human dignity.


A young boy complained to his father that most of the church hymns were boring and old-fashioned, with tiresome words that meant little to his generation. His father challenged him with these words: “If you think you can write better hymns, why don’t you?”


The boy accepted the challenge, went to his room, and wrote his first hymn. The year was 1690, and the young man was Isaac Watts. Among his 350 hymns are “Joy to the World,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “I Sing the Almighty Power of God,” and many other classics. 2


Maybe some of our young people today who complain about the old hymns in our church can draw some inspiration from the Isaac Watts story and contribute a host of exciting, new hymns to the proposed new hymnal that will eventually replace Lutheran Book Of Worship. Psalm 8 calls us all to respect our dignity as human being and be the people whom God created us to be. So maybe we can compose our contemporary versions of Psalm 8 and Praise our God of this vast universe and express our dignity as humans in our time and place. As we celebrate the profound mystery of our Triune God today, may our imagination, curiosity and creativity lead us ever deeper into our faith, hope and love as they take shape in our lives. 



1 Cited from: James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton, ILL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), pp. 160-61.

2 Ibid., James S. Hewett, p. 154.


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