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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.