A sermon by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
May 22, 2016: Trinity Sunday
Romans 5:1-5 & John 16:12-15
Many of us, if not most of us, love a good mystery. A little over half of the books I have in my library at home are mysteries. It is no accident that the BBC and most other prime-time television networks churn out series after series of delightfully entertaining mystery programs—they know what the audience wants. Characters like Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Miss. Marple, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, Inspector Clouseau, and Sam Spade have reached immortal status in our minds; they have entertained us since we were children. And who among us today doesn’t love when, in the end, the mystery is solved, the crime is punished, the culprit is locked away?
Today we are being asked to meditate on a mystery: the Trinity. Today is the only Sunday during the Christian year that is devoted to a doctrine. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity states that the one God of our faith exists in three persons as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Today is not devoted to a saint or a special event in the early church or a holy celebration; today is devoted to an idea, a belief that is as old as the church itself, a deep mystery.
Many preachers today will stand in front of their congregations and do their best to explain the Trinity in five minutes or less, to solve the mystery, to wrap up the eternal story in a nice, neat package. In my experience, these attempts at explaining the Trinity are rarely successful. You see, the Trinity is a rich mystery, deeply imbedded in the life and history of the church, and it does not lend itself well to bumper-sticker summaries. More than that, to reduce deep mystery into a size that we can rationally comprehend misses an opportunity. If we try to condense the Trinity down into a size that we can easily handle, we miss the opportunity to be fully open to the mystery and majesty of God.
So instead of trying to shrink a vast mystery down into a short explanation, I want us to consider a few questions: How does the Trinity connect to our day-to-day lives? Where do we see the Trinity coming to life in our faith? How can we open ourselves even more to God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and be drawn more deeply into this unfathomable mystery?
Last Sunday, on the Day of Pentecost, we focused on the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Like a mighty wind, like flames of fire, like a dove or petals falling from a rose, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven on the early followers of Jesus. When the Spirit came, their hearts and minds were opened, and they got it. In that moment, they understood what it meant to be a disciples of Christ. In that moment, they understood how their lives had been changed by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. In that moment, they understood that faith was about works and actions, about loving God and loving neighbor equally. Jesus promised that the Spirit would come, and when it did, they understood everything Jesus had spoken and taught to them. With the Holy Spirit, the early disciples were poised and ready to go into the world with the good news of God.
This theme continues in our reading today from John’s gospel. Jesus was speaking with his disciples just before his final meal, arrest, trial, and crucifixion. In addition to promising that he would rise again and take them with him, Jesus wanted his followers to know that God would never abandon them. Jesus was going to be put to death, rise again from the dead, and then ascend into heaven; in a little while he was not going to be with them anymore. This was scary for the disciples. It was scary that their friend and teacher would be gone; it was scary that the one who stood up for their faith against all odds would be leaving. Jesus knew that they were afraid, so he promised that the Holy Spirit would come to be their companion and guide forever. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth,” Jesus said. He was reassuring the disciples that though he was about to leave them, and though they were about to face seemingly impossible challenges, God would be with them.
We humans are programmed to look for answers, within ourselves and in the world around us. We are trained from our earliest days to rationally define our reality: who we are, where we live, what we know, what we are good at, and how to spend our lives. We are sold the lie that if we find the answers to these questions, we have become masters of our own destinies. We are encouraged to be leaders, to push forward into new frontiers, to never take anything off of anybody. If we do this—another lie we’ve been sold—we’re told, and indeed promised, that life will be better, more profitable, less painful. But in all of this we fail to seek a deeper reality, a deeper understanding and knowledge of ourselves and the world, a deeper understanding and knowledge of God. We certainly and easily forget that our faith teaches us not to lead, but to follow. And we become afraid when none of it works out as we had planned.
When Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will come and guide the disciples into all truth, Jesus is saying that we don’t need any of this. We don’t need the limitations of rational thinking. We don’t need the endless search for the bigger and better. We don’t need to cling to the idea that it is all up to us. We don’t need to bow down to the god of materialism or wealth or manifest destiny. We don't need these things because we have been set free, in a way that knowledge or things or good careers or big pay checks can every achieve. We have been set free by receiving the Holy Spirit. The Spirit frees us from our limitations. It frees us from our failures. It fills us with the presence and power of God, so there is no longer any pressure to act as if we have it all figured out. As free people, we can follow…we can follow Jesus Christ. And we do not have to be afraid.
Imagine, if you will, a different way of approaching the challenges of our lives, one that includes Jesus Christ, who was so familiar with the challenges of life. Imagine listening to God, rather than informing God of how we’d like things to work out. Imagine coming to terms with the fact that there is much more to life than food and drink and the clothes we wear. Imagine that we can turn to God for guidance when we face difficulty. Imagine that you and I are not protectors of the faith or of God, but rather farmers who take the seeds of faith and spread them on every type of soil we encounter. Imagine being a merchant who spends all day searching for fine pearls, and on finding one pearl of great value, sells everything to buy it. Imagine living as one who stops to help someone in need, spends large amounts of money to make them well, and does so not because they live like you, act like you, speak like you, or believe like you, but simply because they, like you, are a child of God. Imagine taking up your cross daily to follow Jesus.
Friends, we don’t have to imagine any of these things. This is our reality if we are willing to accept it—if we are willing to live in the mystery of the Trinity. In the Trinity, we see a God who is with us always, who shows us perfect and sacrificial love, and who never abandons us. This God comes to us in the Holy Spirit, confirming what Jesus said: we are children of God, we are sinners, we are redeemed, we are merchants and farmers and Good Samaritans, we are disciples, we are broken, we are beautiful. We don’t have to imagine anything of these things. This is our reality!
In the Trinity we see a God who has, from the beginning of time, been about the work of creation, of making something out of nothing, of taking something as meaningless as dust from the ground and forming from it something as sacred as you and me.
In the Trinity we see a God who came among us, walked the ground we walk on, breathed the air we breath. His name was Jesus and he taught us how to live gently, how to serve one another in love, and how to face opposition and suffering with peace and hope. He took up his cross and died a death that we were not able to die for the sins we had committed. He rose again, taking away from death any power it thought it had over us. Then he called us to go into all the world with the good news of God, baptizing and making disciples in his name.
In the Trinity we see a God who is still with us today. The Holy Spirit—the wind, the flames, the dove, the rose petals—it is with us right here, right now. Each moment it is pushing us into a deeper and more meaningful understanding of God, of the world, of ourselves and one another. Each moment it is moving us to live life in a fuller way, not secluded in our homes or in our minds, but open to the love and beauty and holiness that is all around. Each moment the Holy Spirit is calling us to creativity, to humility, to a radical exhibition of peace that is so profound, so strange, so noticeable that the world just has to get on board.
This is good news in our time. This is good news because we live in a time where we are shown examples of how to tear apart the fabric of society and put others down, and then told that these examples are good. This is good news because we live in a time where separation has become the goal, where it is OK to build walls or fences or whatever just to keep ‘them’ out. This is good news because we live in times where you and I are reduced to hashtags, demographics to be exploited by the mass market, nameless and faceless drones who are always glued to a screen or a device. This is good news because we live in a time, now more than ever, where being for something means you're against everything else, where enlightenment really means limitation, and where unity has been replaced with a push for uniformity.
This is good news because in the Trinity we know that God unites and glorifies. This is good news because in the Trinity we know that God is eternally steadfast, the same yesterday, today, and forever. This is good news because in the Trinity we know that God promises to lead us into all truth, into deeper mystery, into places where we had never imagined or dreamed of going. This is good news because in the Trinity we know that God values and champions the dignity of every human life. This is good news because in the Trinity we know that God broke down the diving walls of hostility that stood between us. This is good news because in the Trinity we know that God knows us, claimed us and named us even before we took our first breath. This is good news because in the Trinity we know that if God is for us, nothing can be against us. This is good news because in the Trinity we know that God didn't create us all to be same, to think the same, to look the same, to speak and believe the same; God created us to bring glory to him, in whatever language, in whatever style, in whatever manifestation of faith is fitting to the unique personality of each of God's people.
Today, let’s not try to explain away something that is beyond our minds to comprehend. Let’s not try to solve the mystery of the Trinity. Instead, let’s join together in looking around for the Trinity’s activity in our lives, in the way we exercise our faith, in how we go about living the good news of God, in how we work to build community that embraces our diversity. Let’s give thanks that God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is with us forever, grateful too that we didn’t do anything to deserve it or that we can do anything to have it taken away. Let’s enjoy these moments when we don’t know, when we don’t quite understand, and then invite God to fill in those moments with awe and inspiration. Let’s share with everyone we meet the mystery of God, in what we say and in what we do, inviting them to explore with us the immense height and depth and breadth of God. Let’s continue in prayer, song, and worship, inviting God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit to guide and protect us each day we are alive.
And let’s savor this God. Let's savor this God who offers us the very best mystery of all: a love that is beyond anything we can ask for or imagine. Amen.