irst Sunday After Pentecost
Year C, RCL
North Fork Ministries
June 16, 2019
Jesus said to the disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."
Not long ago, I passed a very pleasant hour with a new parishioner, drinking coffee and talking about the nature of God. We each did our best to articulate for ourselves and convey to the other concepts that no words can really describe. But try we did, and in our feeble searching, occasionally stumbled across ways of thinking of the Divine that felt rather fresh and occasionally brought smiles of recognition to our faces.
You may remember a few years ago when the Presbyterian Church created a minor stir when they determined that the Father Son and Holy Spirit could officially now be addressed as : “Mother, Child and Womb” --"Rock, Redeemer, Friend” — “Lover, Beloved, Love” — “Creator, Savior, Sanctifier” or “King of Glory, Prince of Peace, Spirit of Love.”
Let me read to you again the comforting words of Paul’s letter to the Romans ”…but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Such sustaining language, so full of hope, but so reliant on strength of character, when all of us know that character frequently fails us and suffering sometimes… just makes us suffer. Sometimes I think the Apostle Paul expects a little too much from us. Hemingway once observed that “the world breaks everyone” and that “some grow strong in the broken places.” If you’ve lived long enough, you are broken. And some breaks just never seem to heal.
Now what does all this have to do with the Trinity? Just this: God promises to be with us, in our brokenness. Trinitarian language sometimes helps us understand just how it is that God is with us. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.
Ways of describing God, that don’t take away the suffering, but provide us with the assurance that we are not alone. It’s knowledge that can enable us to endure the brokenness.
Maybe the question isn’t why we think of God in three’s, the triune God, but why we think of God at all. The three’s, in no way exhaust the number of ways in which God can be conceived. God continues to reveal Godself in patterns and process and potentialities that we have yet to imagine.
I occasionally encounter people who, probably because of my collar, reluctantly tell me they don’t believe in God. My usual response is something lie, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in.” After their description of the omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient figure that they can’t accept, I usually assure them that I don’t believe in that God either. Maybe their language is placing limits on the God that might want to believe in them.
Listen again to the reading from Proverbs: “Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; …she cries out, “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.” The voice of Wisdom, Sophia as she is called in Greek, the Holy Spirit as we have learned to understand her in Christianity. The voice of Wisdom abides with us still. Maybe our cry isn’t for a God who reigns over us, but a God who is simply with us.
The variety of ways in which we conceive of God, if we allow them, will continue to unfold. God is not static. We worship a dynamic God, changing with us, continuing to love us, revealing herself to us, in new, interesting, and sometimes thrilling ways.
God has devised a multitude of ways to invite us home, and to allow the love with which we’re showered to spill over, to be given anew. During all of the years that we spend in the desert, God is inviting us into relationship, in 3 ways, in 3 thousand ways, in an infinite number of expressions of God’s love.
Not long ago I heard country music singer, Toby Keith, who grew up in the area around Moore, Oklahoma, talk about putting on a benefit concert for the townspeople and say that he didn’t want to downplay the disaster, but that the people of the area are ‘‘resilient’’ and will rebound. That is the sort of language we hear whenever there is a natural disaster. We heard it in the descriptions of people who live in New Orleans and along the Jersey Shore. And we heard it from folks who lived along the flooding Missouri river a couple of weeks ago. And it is true. People are resilient. They do come back. In the midst of disaster we always hear tales of courage and grief and shock, but underlying it all we learn of a people’s resilience.
Andrew Zolli talks about a field of psychological study called hardiness research. He says that people who are hardy believe certain things about the world. “ …, if you see yourself as having agency within that world, and if you see successes and failures as being placed in your path to teach you things, you are more likely to be psychologically hardy and therefore more resilient in the face of trauma.”
Suffering as we heard from St. Paul today is a part of life. Yet, even in our suffering we are surrounded by an outpouring of God’s love. But we often remain blind to that love. The pain, the loss, the disappointments we have all faced do not always evolve in the way that St. Paul describes the progression. We don’t always stumble from suffering to endurance, walk from endurance to character, or stride from character to hope. But Paul is right about this: God’s love has been poured into our hearts. Yet, often because the image we have of God has grown inadequate, we need to imagine new ways in which we can realize that God is with us. A single, narrow conception of the Trinitarian God may not be enough.
We may need another way of imagining God. Like the Trinitarian God described St. John Damascene as “Sun, Light and Ray” or maybe in terms of the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer; or “Mother, Beloved Child, and Life-Giving Womb” - language that points to a God that can be discovered in all manner of relationships.
Jesus said to the disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth…” The Spirit of truth unfolds slowly over time. Jesus’ disciples, living in first century Palestine, would not have understood that slavery was wrong, that women weren’t subservient to men, or that same sex relationships were as blessed by God as any other. As our understanding of the expansive nature of God’s love also expands, may we be guided by the Spirit of truth. In the name the Holy Trinity as described by St. Augustine, “The Lover, the Beloved, and the Love between them.” Amen.