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.”
All that the Father Has
Memorial Day weekend nearly always falls on Trinity Sunday. This always complicates my life. Memorial day is a secular holiday for Americans alone; Trinity Sunday is a Christian holiday throughout the world. And on the surface they are quite different. Memorial Day honors the sacrifice of men and women who died in service to their country. Trinity Sunday is about the nature of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And yet this year I made a connection I never saw before. Perhaps it was born of my reaction to hearing news reports
about the tragic tornado in Oklahoma City this past week. The news media spent a lot of time on the question of storm shelters. The school where those six children were killed had no storm shelter, though other schools did.
Of course, shelters are expensive. Schools and education are already expensive enough; adding shelters only adds cost. All of that cost is paid for by taxes. Should the law require storm shelters in schools and homes? The mayor said that Oklahoman’s are a pretty independent lot who do not like anyone, especially the government, telling them what to do.
Oklahomans and the Military
But Oklahomans are a patriotic lot; they are 6th in the nation in percentage of people who serve in the military, just ahead of 7th place Alabama. I’m sure Memorial Day is personal for them as it is for many of us.
Question: what is essential for a successful military? Certainly discipline ranks as one of the highest characteristics of a successful military
What does discipline mean? Strict obedience to the commands of a superior. Every salute reinforces discipline, and every “Yes sir” reaffirms the duty to obey commands. Regardless of their personal feelings, fears for safety, doubts about potential success, fatigue, hunger, sleeplessness or any other cause of resistance, when the command is given, disciplined soldiers obey.
Command and Response at Creation
Command and response is what we see in the biblical Creation story. In the perfect world, at the beginning, when God began to create the heavens and the earth, there was a perfect synchrony of command and fulfillment.
“God said, ‘Let there be…and there was.” “Let there be light; and there was light.” “Let the the dry land appear; and the dry land appeared.”
God gave the command, and in the perfect world, God’s command was perfectly obeyed.
Until people came along, that is. Then, things changed. God said
“Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.”
But they ate. It’s as if the human’s first response to God’s command was on the level of a four year old who says to his mother, “you can’t make me!” It takes a lot of hard work to make a disciplined soldier out of us humans, given the way our brains are initially wired.
Primitive “Lizard” brains in us
Neuroscientists tell us that our brains have evolved from a primitive state into the highly sophisticated organs they are today. We still have the primitive part of the brain that some call the “lizard brain.”
It’s not very smart. It’s job is to keep the animal alive. It knows it wants food, it knows it needs to reproduce, it knows how to run from danger, and it knows how to fight. This brain doesn’t reason, it just reacts. The
world is black or white, either/or, all or nothing, fight or die. No compromises, no logic, no rational reflection.
Lizard brains are all out for themselves. They do not cooperate. Even in higher primates cooperation is missing. One scientist said that the one thing you will never see two chimpanzees doing is carrying a log together.
Cooperation for the Common Good
But cooperation turns out to increase the chances of survival of a group (see E. O. Wilson’s The Social Conquest of Earth). Eventually we homo sapiens developed more sophisticated brains and a concept of the common good that requires cooperation. We developed the brain-capacity to tell our “me-only” lizard brains to be quiet. This is called discipline.
This is what the military reinforces. When someone yells a command at us in a harsh, demanding voice, we instinctively react negatively. We want to say “Nobody tells me what to do!” But we have reasons to resist that primitive response in favor of obedience, for the common good.
Even adults have a hard time controlling that primitive “nobody tells me what to do” lizard brain response. Even when the common good would clearly be served. Even among people who have a high respect for the military and understand chain of command. Even among Christians who know, at least in theory, about turning the other cheek and caring for others.
This primitive, or we could truthfully say, immature reaction to being told what to do is probably one reason why Jesus did not tell the disciples everything he wanted to. He knew that some things they would just find unbearable. Every time a person hears something that does not agree with their present beliefs and recent history, we say, “No way! That cannot be true! Prove it!” Our primitive brains resist new ideas.
Jesus told his disciples:
“12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
Perhaps he was thinking of unbearable truths like the fact that slavery had to end. Perhaps he meant that women were one day no longer going to be treated as second-class citizens, in the home, the work place, or even in the church. Maybe he was thinking about racial discrimination – or any form of discrimination against people who are different. There are many things those twelve men around that table in the upper room would have found unbearable, even though Jesus knew they were needed, for the common good.
The Spirit’s Teaching Continues
But thankfully, on Trinity Sunday we celebrate the fact that Jesus’ teaching ministry continues by his Spirit.
“13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth;”
We can still learn more of the “many” unbearable things that Jesus left unsaid as we pay attention to the Spirit. We pay attention by daily contemplative prayer, which also helps control that lizard brain of ours. We hear the Spirit as we, as a community, study Jesus who shows us God’s character and God’s perspective.
This is exactly what Jesus said would happen:
“he [the Spirit] 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.”
The Spirit keeps glorifying Jesus by taking what Jesus taught us and showed us by his lifestyle, and helping his future disciples to be able to “bear it.”
So we study Jesus – we learn about his compassion, his love, his concern for the weak and vulnerable, his resolute commitment to forgiving enemies, and his willingness to utterly sacrifice himself for the common good.
Father Son and Spirit
“15 All that the Father has is mine” Jesus said, to close the trinitarian loop. Jesus by his teaching and lifestyle was showing us the Father. Let’s be explicit on this Trinity Sunday: We know God the Father and God’s will because the Spirit continues to teach us the “many things” that Jesus had to leave off the table because, at the time, they were “unbearable.”
Why is it that the concept of the “common good” has been so unbearable for some of us? Why is it that after all of these years and all of the evidence, we still find it hard to limit our own personal interests for the sake of others?
Why is it that the very thought of someone telling us what to do still evokes that primitive response? How is it that this immature thinking that it’s “all or nothing, either/or, we’re totally free of obligation to anyone, or else we are somebody’s slave” is so alive in adults, even in Christian adults?
And how is it that a person can bring up the subject of coercive shelter laws and taxes, even before the bodies of those children are laid to rest? Don’t we all need bridges to drive on that are not “functionally obsolete” and safe aircraft to fly in? Is there no such a thing as the common good?
Military Lessons for Memorial Day
On this Memorial Day weekend, can we not learn the great lesson that the military teaches us: that there is enormous success that can be achieved when a group cooperates for the common good?
There is a huge benefit to all of us when we acknowledge that there are times when it is right and good to be told what to do. That is is not unbearable to learn the truth that I was not put on this earth simply to serve myself and my own private interests.
We can function on a higher level than chimpanzees. We can even listen to the teaching of the Spirit as he glorifies Jesus, and leads us to do the Father’s will; in the name of Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.