May 26th, 2013
By Thomas L. Truby
The Heart of Things to Come!
This is Trinity Sunday. Ask any preacher which Sunday is the hardest to preach on and they 9 chances out of 10 will say Trinity Sunday. I noticed that we Methodist have given ourselves a way to avoid the difficulty by also making this Peace with Justice Sunday. Why do we find trinity so difficult? We think we are trapped into talking, as the Church has done for centuries, about metaphysical speculation; about how there can be three things and those three things still be one in a way that makes sense. We have used the way water comes in three forms, solid, liquid and gas; yet all is water. I have seen an apple used as an illustration but can’t remember how that works. I suppose the Irish would use a three leaf clover and then say all three leaves are really but one since they reside on the same stem. It quickly gets so conceptual and abstract that my eyes cross.
But what if Trinity has more to do with relationships like we talked about in the Time with the Young Disciples? How do three people get along without it turning into two against one? Two against one is the way of the world. It is how the world keeps peace. We gang up on someone in order to diminish the tensions between us. This is the real origin of war.
Is this one of those things Jesus was talking about in our gospel when he said “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now?” We can’t bear to face the way we sacrifice the weak in order to make it possible for the strong to continue to get along without killing each other. Hard stuff and in no way philosophical or abstract! This is real and lived out in the suffering of flesh and bone. It is just that we have a hard time seeing it.
But maybe it becomes possible for us to see when the Spirit comes, when the third member to the Trinity arrives, when we have the Spirit of the union between Jesus and God pulsing in our veins. Could this be what Jesus meant when he said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” We don’t have all the truth prior to the Spirit’s coming; there is something missing; a mystery that appears irresolvable. But with the Spirit’s coming, the Spirit that points to the unity of the Father and the Son, all that changes. The Spirit guides us into all the truth for the Spirit does not speak on his own but says whatever he hears as he participates in the relation between the Father and the Son.
Ah, do you see the unity at work here? We have three beings relating and they are all in perfect harmony. There is no two against one but three and they are all together and for each other and in this sense, they are one. How do they do that? What is their secret?
Whatever their secret, it points toward things that are to come. This is the way the world was meant to work and there will come a time when it works that way again. That’s what Jesus is saying in this passage from John’s gospel. This is the thing the Spirit declares to us that is to come. Jesus entered the world to begin a process that will culminate in the arrival of this new kingdom. It is just a matter of time and we have the opportunity to get in on it before it arrives in fullness. That is Jesus’ message in all four gospels.
Jesus is speaking in our gospel text and refers to the Spirit that completes the Trinity by saying, “He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” The third member to the Trinity enhances the reputation of Jesus by taking what Jesus has said and declaring it to us. The Spirit doesn’t twist things even slightly to make him self look better. There is no distortion in the translation he presents us out of envy or jealousy. The reporting of the news is absolutely unbiased by rivalry since there is none between them. The Spirit glorifies Jesus and is not in competition with Jesus in any way. There is no politics involved. So far we have two friends and they are tight with each other. That is an achievement but what happens when we add a third?
This is precisely what Jesus does next. He expands the relationship between The Spirit and himself into a triangle when he declares, “All that the Father has is mine.” The Spirit talks up the Son and the Son is in absolute unity with the Father. What the Father has is mine, and what I have is his. We are alike. We share in everything. Our unity is complete and unbroken. If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. We share the same character, the same attributes, and the same desires. Our love is alike and the Father’s love toward all humanity is shown in me. In showing us his life, death and resurrection Jesus is showing us the character of God. This is what Paul meant when he said, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” The Holy Spirit points toward God’s love seen in Jesus and makes it possible for us to see it too.
The old question “is Jesus like God?” poses the wrong question. In contrast, all four gospels pose the question “Is God like Jesus?” And each answers with a resounding “Yes!” This is such an important theme because we can’t enter into Christ’s new life until it is resolved. I didn’t say we couldn’t get into heaven. That’s a different issue. I said we couldn’t grasp and participate in Christ’s new life.
Michael Hardin, in his Preaching Peace website became articulate and passionate when he wrote on our text from John. In the last year and a half I have very seldom quoted someone else’s writing but I am going to now, though I have added a few words toward the end to make clear the work of the Spirit in the Trinity. Michael writes:
Either God is the God shown forth in Jesus, or we have a god like every other god. And if we have a god like every other god, then we’re dead.
But we’re not. Trinity Sunday is the day to shout from the rooftops, “Hey, everybody! The God you always wished was God, well that’s the God you have! The God who looks like Jesus IS God the Father. We don’t have to wish any more!”
When parishioners, newly moved to begin reading the Bible seriously, come and ask for guidance, I always, always, always ask them to begin with the Gospels. Jesus is the lens through which we read all the rest of the Bible.
For too long, we’ve gotten ourselves tangled up in speculation because we started with the images of God that often turn up in the Hebrew Scriptures, and try then to figure out how in the world Jesus and this “god” could be the same. Read the New Testament. That’s where you’ll find God. Then read the rest of the Bible. What doesn’t fit, isn’t God.
Now, some of you will say, “But, isn’t it all inspired?”
To that I will say yes. But not all of it is accurate. That is to say, I believe that God has chosen to reveal not only himself in Scripture, but to reveal us as well. The writing and inclusion of those texts that mistake human violence for divine are there for a purpose, to help us see ourselves more clearly, to see our own propensity for blaming God for our own reliance on victimage (two against one). Inspired, yes. Accurate? Only if we can see ourselves in the text.
Perhaps, for some of us, this isn’t such Good News after all. After all, if we really do believe in the Trinity, we lose all our divine sanction for our love of retribution! But, truth be told, none of us wants that as much as we want the God displayed to us in Jesus.
This, this is real, orthodox Christianity. The Father and the Son are One. And the Spirit points to that unity. God is fully revealed in Jesus, and the Spirit in glorifying Jesus glorifies God.
Do you see how this isn’t an abstract concept at all? It’s the answer to the puzzle of how three can get along without throwing one out. It is at the center of what causes war and how to find peace. It responds to the issue of inclusion and exclusion. It shows us how our God of love loves in the real world of flesh and blood. We can’t know love unless we see it working in real relationships and everything is about relationships. In the Trinity, we see it working and the Spirit invites us to join in. If we don’t get this soon it may be too late. We must learn to love as though we believed God is love! God is love, period. Maybe this is what the Spirit wants to declare to us. Maybe this is at the heart of the things to come. Amen.