Holy Trinity, Year C, June 16, 2019
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Chinook and Naselle Lutheran Churches, WA
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a verse in scripture that is usually translated into English like this: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And I hate it when it’s translated that way, because when we think of fearing someone, it’s usually because they are bad or abusive, and God is most certainly not bad or abusive. The Hebrew word “יראת” means fear, but it can also mean reverence, respect, awe. Like the reverence and awe the Psalmist feels in Psalm 8, when they go out into and look up at the night sky and contemplate the incredible universe God has created. We put such an emphasis on God as our friend and father that sometimes we forget just how incredibly great God is compared to us, and how little we know of God. God is beyond human understanding, greater and larger and deeper than anything we can imagine, and we only know God because God has chosen to come among us and be with us and tell us about God’s own self, and it is incredible that we sometimes take that for granted.
We human beings are so small, compared to the universe. We think we have everything figured out, and yet there is so much we don’t know. No matter how much we study and research, there will always be things we don’t even know we don’t know. One of my favorite television shows is called Babylon 5, a sci-fi television show from the 90s. In one episode, the captain of an exploration ship gets a vague warning about danger at her next stop. She goes anyway, and when she gets there something happens. Something is there, something powerful and mysterious that her sensors just can’t figure out. It doesn’t even notice her, but the wake from its passing almost destroys her ship. After she gets rescued, the captain goes to the person who gave her the warning and asks him what it was. He shrugs, and tries to explain it this way: he picks up an ant crawling on some flowers in a display next to them. He shows it to her, and then puts it back on the flower. “If that ant were to point to the sky and ask another ant, “what was that?”” he asks, “what could it say? How could that ant explain what happened to it? I can’t explain what happened to you any more than that ant can explain what happened to it. There are some things out there greater than us that we just don’t understand.”
Compared to God, we aren’t even ants. We don’t understand God much more than ants can understand us. And yet God created us, God loves us, God made Godself one of us, God saves us from our own sinfulness and heals our wounds, and God inspires us and calls us with God’s own spirit. Everything we know about God, we know because God chose to show it to us. And there’s a lot we don’t understand, a lot we can’t understand. God is a mystery, but not in the way we think of mysteries today: puzzles that can be solved if we just have all the facts. No, God is a mystery in the older sense. Mystery comes from the same root as mystic. A mystic is someone who contemplates mysteries. Mysteries can’t be understood, and the more time you spend contemplating a mystery the more you realize you don’t understand. Contemplating a mystery, in the old sense, is like diving into a bottomless well. No matter how deep you go, no matter how much you explore, it is always deeper than you can go, and there is always more to explore. You never come to the end of it. In the same way, no matter how much we learn about God, there is always more to explore, more to learn.
One of the things that has puzzled Christians since the very beginning is the idea that we today call the Trinity. From the very beginning of Scripture, God was adamant that God’s people were to worship only one God. “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me.” And again, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is your God, the Lord is one.” And then along came Jesus. Jesus called God his father, and called himself God’s Son. Sometimes he talked about the Father as if the Father were a different person; and sometimes Jesus insisted that he and the Father were one. And then there was the Spirit of God that Jesus talked about, that was part of God and yet somehow distinct from both Jesus and the Father. And the earliest Christians took all of these pieces and studied Scripture, and found that while God had always been adamant that there was only one God, but sometimes God referred to God’s self in the plural: “we.” And God was usually referred to using masculine pronouns and imagery, but sometimes God used feminine or neuter pronouns and imagery. And even from the very beginning of Scripture, the Spirit, the breath of God, was present in creation. And there are places like our reading from Proverbs where that Spirit of God is personified and given a voice of its own as the Wise Woman. God is One and yet God is more than one. God is masculine and feminine and neither. God is creation and wind and fire and salvation. God is greater than we can imagine, and God is intimately present with us in Christ Jesus. And they tried to fit all the pieces together into a logical explanation, and every analogy or explanation they tried failed in one way or another. Finally they threw up their hands and realized that they couldn’t explain God; God is a mystery. God is one God, and God is three people. The Father, Son, and Spirit are all God together, and though there are three of them, there are not three Gods but one God together. And that understanding of God—one in three, and three in one—is what we call trinity.
We can’t explain God, but we can explore God. We can love God, and we can experience God’s love for us. God is a three-person dance, God is a family, God is a puzzle ring or a Celtic knot, made up of three parts and yet still one ineffable whole. That relationship is built on love and joy. When we say that God is love, that love is at the core of God’s very nature, that is what we mean: the Father, Son, and Spirit are one because they love one another, and that love overflows into all of creation. They love one another as a healthy family does, respecting and delighting in their differences, united in love and a common goal.
That common goal is the creation and redemption of the world. That common goal is for the love that they have for one another to overflow into all the universe so that every part of it is shaped and guided by God’s love. That love is what caused them to create the universe to begin with. God rejoices in the goodness of all that God has made, and God has from the very beginning. God rejoices in us. As tiny and miniscule and insignificant as we are, God loves us. And when the world was broken by sin and death—when we human beings broke creation with our rebellion—God still loved us. God was angry and hurt at what we had done, but that anger did not stop God from loving us. Even in the depths of our sin, even as we kept hurting ourselves and others and the good world that God made, God kept reaching out to us, through the Spirit and through Jesus Christ. We keep rebelling, and God keeps making peace with us through Jesus Christ. God keeps pouring God’s love into us through the Spirit. There is nothing—not our own sinful actions, not the actions of others, not powers nor principalities nor life nor death nor anything in the whole universe that can stop God from loving us and reaching out to us and trying to save us and all of creation. We know this not because we’re smart enough to understand everything about God, but because God has told us this.
God is not only greater than we are, God is greater than we can imagine. God is vast beyond human understanding, and we will never be able to comprehend all of who and what God is. But we know what God has told us: that God created the world, that God loves us, that God is our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit which calls and inspires us. God loves us, and is always with us, and will never forsake us. Thanks be to God.