Sermon for Trinity Sunday, May 30, 2010 John 16:12-15

Bearing Trinitarian Truth

John 16:12-15

Bearing Trinitarian Truth

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 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. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

This is one of the most intriguing texts in the whole New Testament.  Some texts in the bible say things that are hard to understand, leaving us with questions, scratching our heads.  This one goes even further.  Here Jesus says, “There are things I cannot say to you.

We want to stop right there and say, “Come on, tell us!  We have inquiring minds, we want to know!”

I knew someone who used to enjoy asking, “Can you keep a secret?”  And of course I would say, “Yes;” expecting him to tell me.  But  he would reply, “So can I,”  and then not tell me what he knew!

What did he know and not say?

What does Jesus know that he cannot say?  Is it any consolation that the reason he doesn’t say what he knows is that he knows us too well?  He knows that it would be unbearable for us to know it?  What could that be?

When we were little, our mothers and fathers used to comfort us saying “everything will be alright.”  Their understanding of “everything” and “alright” was adult and complex – there were many things they knew we would not be able to bear knowing yet, but would, in time.

Was it the future that Jesus knew they could not bear to know?  Was it the coming persecution and the suffering that lay ahead for them?  Was it the massive institutionalization of this small Christian movement into a powerful, hierarchically organized church that would follow the conversion of Emperor Constantine that would would have been unbearable to know about?   Was it the hundreds of years of dark ages ahead, or the bloody wars of religion that followed the Reformation?  Would that have been unbearable to know?

Or could it have been something more personal than merely difficult future events that Jesus knew they could not bear to know?  Could it be that they were simply unable to bear to know how wrapped up in their culture they were?  That it would simply be too much to know how much they had accepted and embraced uncritically the patriarchal values of the male-dominated world they had been born into?

Perhaps knowing how horrible it was to have assumed, as they did, the legitimacy of slavery, of owning persons as property, would simply have been unbearable to have understood.  Perhaps if we knew the full significance of the unjust, oppressive sinful conditions we take for granted,  and how complicitous we are in them, we would be unbearably overcome with guilt and frustration.

What remains unsaid?

But this leads us to ask the question: what has been left unsaid?  When Jesus said,

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now”

it was not just a statement of the facts of the present moment, it was also an assertion about the journey of discovery he expected his followers to be taking in the future.

The things that Jesus couldn’t say, out of deference to their infancy, were not things that could remain unsaid forever, they were things that the church would have to be open to learning in the future.  How would the church learn?  Jesus said,

13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth;

On this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the truth that God the Father sent God the Son, whose work continues today through God the Holy Spirit.  It is the Spirit who glorifies Jesus by continuing today,  the teaching ministry that Jesus began.

Slavery – then and now

We believe in the on-going ministry of guidance of the Holy Spirit.  The trajectory onto which Jesus launched the disciples is the one the Spirit continues the guide the church along.  We believe we have been guided to the truth that slavery is deeply morally wrong – that it is unacceptable that humans, made in the image of God, could be treated as property.  It was painfully hard, even for many in the church to finally learn this truth, but by God’s grace, through the Spirit, we finally did.

In our generation, we are becoming aware of new forms of slavery, including debt-slavery into which whole nations can be shackled by the combination of their own corrupt, unscrupulous leaders and a cooperative international banking system.  The Spirit has guided us to see how wrong that system is, and to work to change it as we follow that Jesus-trajectory.

We are also newly aware of the practice of human trafficking on a global scale; we recognize it as simply another form of slavery which must be stopped.

Women’s roles

We believe that the Spirit has guided us to see the truth that women and men have, as the Creation narrative says, been made equally in the image of God.  We have been led by the Spirit to follow the Jesus-trajectory into fully embracing the gifts of women in ministry in the church, and to work for the equality for women in the market place.  This is not finished yet; even in our country women still earn only seventy cents on the dollar compared to men, both on the factory floor and in the executive office.

The Earth

In a new and crucial way, in our generation we are being led by the Spirit to understand the earth as God’s good gift to us, and of our role as stewards of that gift.  We have learned to become suspicious of arguments based on economic necessity that imperil entire eco-systems for the sake of short term financial gain.  The disaster going on in the Gulf of Mexico right now is a bitter pill given to a patient that is still sick and in need of healing.  We have only just started to be guided by the Spirit along the Creator’s trajectory – and much more guidance is required.

The Church

The church too is sensing a new leading of the Spirit in our times.  We have been led to realize how comfortable we have become with our own institutional structures, our programs, our buildings, our liturgies – and how irrelevant many of them are to the new post-modern, post-Christian secular world that our children have grown up in.   The Spirit is leading us, even in these days, to re-examine our mission as a church, and to re-align our practices with our core values.  For our part here in Gulf Shores, we believe the Spirit has led us to define our mission this way: we are here to “Love God, Grow in Faith, and Share Christ’s Love.”

This mission is deep, not trivial.  The Spirit is leading us to being open to new ministries to new groups of people that formerly felt alienated from us.  We are committed to being a missional church – one engaged in participating in God’s mission to the people of this world and of this community, wherever the pain is.

Personal lifestyle

The Spirit is also guiding us to follow the Jesus-trajectory in our own personal, spiritual lives in a new way.   There has recently been an explosion of books and resources about the spiritual life; about the classical personal disciplines of prayer and meditation.  We are starting to learn in a new way that we cannot do the work of the people of God, works of justice, compassion, and mercy, without first being the people of God, fully, personally, daily engaged in a living relationship with God the Father, through Jesus, his Son, by means of the the Holy Spirit.  This is why we are now beginning every Ministry Team meeting with prayer in pairs, so that we can grow to become more comfortable with being the people of God as we set out to do the work of the people of God.

More Questions remain

What else?  What else is the Spirit trying to guide us to learn that Jesus had to leave unsaid because we couldn’t bear it?  What is it that we are simply unable to face about ourselves?  Where are the ares of blindly following our culture that we are guilty of, which need to be exposed and changed?

I want to ask the question to each of  us, “Where is the Spirit guiding you to make changes today?” – what is that sill, small voice telling you?  Let him speak; don’t ignore that voice.  Recognize that as a Trinitarian Christian, God is at work in your heart right now, through his guiding Holy Spirit, to lead you further along the Jesus-trajectory.  Keep asking, keep listening, and keep following, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


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Sermon From Trinity Sunday 2007

2007 06 03 Trinity Sun Sermon
John 16:12-15

She Can Be Taught

Today we celebrate ignorance.  Not intentional ignorance, but literal not knowing.  This is where we have to begin in order to get to where we need to be.  We begin with the knowledge that there is a lot we do not know.
But we can learn, if we want to learn; if we are open to instruction and diligent to do our homework, we can be taught.
There is an adult education curriculum which has a name I love: Living the Questions.  As long as we live, we never get to the point of having all the answers – in fact, if we are paying attention, we seem to accumulate questions.

There are groups of Christians that have put their accent on having all the answers, on complete certainty, I grew up in such a tradition, but I found it inadequate.
We were certain that we understood the book of Revelation.  We were certain that we knew approximately when Jesus was coming back; (probably next Thursday).  We were certain that Henry Kissinger was the anti-Christ, the man of peace.  We were certain that the 10 member European Union was the beast with ten horns.
We were also certain about our politics, certain about global Communism and the domino theory.  We were certain about the family, about the place of women (or lack of place of women outside the home).  We were certain about science, about the age of the earth, and about who was and who was not a true Christian.

Perhaps we failed to adequately appreciate what a long line of ignorance preceded us to this point.  It took our ancestors in the faith, the people of Israel from the time of Abraham to the time of Daniel to finally come to believe in the resurrection of the dead – that took about 2,000 years.

This Sunday is called Trinity Sunday.  It took the church until AD 325 to finally reach consensus on the Trinity, which she did at the council of Nicea in 325.
To get even deeper, it took the church another 100 years after Nicea to come to consensus about the 2 natures of Christ: that he is full human and fully divine – the council of Chalcedon in 451 AD.

It took the Church 100 years after Galileo died (1642) to finally and fully rehabilitate him as a faithful Christian (1741). It turns out that both were wrong – neither the earth, as the church taught, nor the sun as Galileo argued, is the center of the universe we live in.  But Galileo was closer to the truth than Rome had been.
Probably there were things that the church started out being correct about, but which became distorted along the way and had to be re-learned.

Latin was the street language of the Roman empire, everyone from slaves to the emperor spoke it – but when Christian missionaries failed to translate the liturgy into the language of the people they were converting, we ended up with the Latin mass which no one understood.
It took the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century to get back to the concept of using the vernacular for worship. (Apologies for ignoring Jan Hus in Czech, but that was a local Reformation – albeit an earlier one).

It also took until the Protestant Reformation to get back to the fundamental concept that we are saved by God’s grace alone and not by our own good works.
We will come to the Lord’s Supper in just a few minutes.  Now, there is no one here – with no exceptions – who can claim to understand what happens at this holy feast, or how it happens.  Christ is present here – how?  Is he in the bread and cup, or is he around and through them, or is he simply present at the table with us?  Certainly he is here in ways far more powerful than in memory alone, but how is he more present?

Today as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we are going to be spiritually fed; this is vital for us.  How does it happen?  How is this meal a means of grace for us?  These also were questions which the Reformers of the 16th century wrestled with. We no longer pretend to know – but it is a means of grace in spite of our ignorance.
And our lack of pretense of knowledge has consequently opened the door to the participation of people from other Christian denominations who conceptualize this mystery in a bit different manner, as well as to children whose participation, like our own, is not contingent upon knowledge, but rather on faith.

Our communion bread and cup will be served today by women and men who we have ordained as elders in the church.  It took us nearly 2,000 years to finally shed this bit of our ignorance, but thank God, we have.

We exist as a church, not to serve ourselves but to be salt and light to the world – this is also something we had to re-learn in the Reformation.  We are not here to build great cathedrals but to be vehicles of God’s grace and goodness to people who are hurting.

It is abundantly clear that we, the Church have had a long and noble history of being ignorant.  But this dark cloud does contain a silver lining which is that we have repeatedly demonstrated that we can be taught.  We can and we do eventually admit our ignorance and learn or re-learn new things.

We should never be embarrassed to admit that we have been wrong about what we used to believe in the past.  We should never be shy about admitting that we have changed our minds on the basis of learning something we did not know before, because this is exactly what Jesus said would happen.

Listen again to Jesus, speaking to his disciples in the upper room, just before his arrest:

12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth

We celebrate the Trinity no better than when we trust the words of the Son to be truth from the Father, that the Spirit will continue to teach the church things that it did not know.

Jesus went so far as to call the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of Truth” precisely to highlight the ministry of teaching that the Spirit has.  This would be a useless ministry if we already knew and understood everything, but it is a crucial ministry if we do not.

Here is where this gets exciting to me: how do we know we are on the right track in the process of learning something new?  How do we keep from abandoning Christian orthodoxy in favor of the latest fad of culture or philosophy?  Can the church have any confidence that what she thinks she is learning is actually faithful?
Yes!  There is a test that we always apply to determine if what we think we are learning is actually coming from the Sprit of Truth or some other source.

Listen again to what Jesus told his disciples that night:

14He (the Spirit of Truth) will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

Jesus is the key.  Jesus is the test.  Jesus – his words, his ministry, his ethics and values, his whole life is the lens by which we see examine the things we call true.

Put another way, the Spirit’s ministry is to help us to see whether or not something is true, by comparing it to Jesus.
This is where we get really Trinitarian: we do not believe that Jesus was like God.  We believe that God is like Jesus.
We get to know God the Father by knowing Jesus; is Jesus vindictive or cruel?  Then God cannot be vindictive or cruel.  Is Jesus unjust or apathetic?  Then the Father cannot be unjust or apathetic.
Did Jesus despise the weak or women or children?  Did he shun lepers or impure people?  No! Just the  opposite.  We understand God through the lens of Jesus.

And every time we re-examine the world through the Jesus-lens, we are experiencing the teaching ministry of the Spirit of Truth, still actively educating the Church today.  This is what it means to believe in the Trinity.

What will we take away from this Trinity Sunday?  First, a reaffirmation of our ignorance: we do not have all the answers, and some of the answers we think we have are probably mistaken – as is in keeping with our entire history as a church.  We will be humble, uncertain, but open-hearted people of faith.

And second, we will be open to the Spirit of Truth teaching us things we did not previously know.  We will be teachable.  We will allow the Spirit to hold up the Jesus-lens to our eyes to get a better view of the world – to better see it as God the Father does.

We will expect to need to make adjustments, corrections, and sometimes, about-faces as we are led by the Spirit into truth.
So, here we are, ready for the mystery of the Lord’s Supper.  It is a great comfort that the blessing we will receive at this table is not contingent on our depth of understanding: here at the table – of all places – we come ignorantly.

But in spite of our ignorance, we will be fed and strengthened by this meal.  We will be renewed in our desire to be taught by the Spirit.  We will be fortified in our journey to become more like Jesus in our personal lives.

What was Jesus like?  In other words, what is God like?  Loving – giving – self-sacrificing – pouring out himself on behalf of sinners – on our behalf.  What an image of God to see.  What a great Truth to believe.  What a powerful challenge to emulate.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the blessed Trinity.