Trinity Sunday, May 22nd, 2016
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Psalm 8, Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15
Preached by Pastor Anna C. Haugen, Augustana and Birka Lutheran Churches, Underwood, ND
May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in your sight, my rock and my redeemer.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We worship one God, who is three people. One-in-three and three-in-one. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—each distinct, each different, with their own characteristics, with their own role to play. Definitely not the same person—they are definitely three. Yet none of them are God by themselves; they are all three God together. And if you’re confused, you’re not alone; this concept has been confusing people since the days of Jesus.
The disciple Philip once asked Jesus to show them the Father. Jesus was a bit frustrated because he’d spent a lot of time trying to teach them that when they saw him, they saw the Father; the Father was there with him in a very tangible way. Jesus and the Father were one—and yet, at the same time, Jesus prayed to the Father, speaking to him. All that the Father had was Jesus’, and all that Jesus had was the Father’s—but the Father was not the one dying on the cross. And then there is the Holy Spirit, who was present with God in creation, through whom all things were made, who was sent by Christ to guide us into truth and call us into right action and stir us up, who breaks down the walls dividing us from God and one another, comforts us in our griefs, pours God’s love into our hearts, and lives among us. They are one God, who is three people. And every time in the last two thousand years someone has sat down to figure out logically how it all works, they’ve either failed or fallen into heresy.
I actually find that kind of reassuring, personally. Don’t get me wrong, I like knowing how and why things work. But at the same time, God is greater than any mortal can understand. If we could figure out all the whys and the wherefores and truly understand the depths of who God is … well, that would mean God wasn’t any bigger than we are. We can’t understand all of God any more than an ant could understand all of a human being, because compared to God, we are smaller than an ant is to us. All that we know about God, we know because God, in God’s infinite love, has chosen to reveal himself to us. Think about that for a second: God is greater than we could possibly imagine. But we know him. We know him because he loves us. Us, small, frail, limited as we are. As the Psalmist says, “O Lord our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, what are mere mortals that you should be mindful of them? What are human beings that you should care for them?” Yet God does care for us. God loves us, and so he comes to us and shows himself to us. And God does that as three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit, who are nevertheless one God together. It’s not something for us to be able to logically analyze. It’s a mystery to be lived, not a question to be answered.
But most of us find that kind of ambiguity uncomfortable. We like things to be tied up into nice, neat, easily understandable packages. This has always been true, but it is even more true in the modern age. Everything is designed to be concrete, easily understandable, one right answer that you memorize and move on. Take school, for example. For twelve years—longer, if one counts preschool—we sit our children down for hours a day and teach them the things that will be on the test. 2+2=4, water is made up of two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule combined, because is spelled b-e-c-a-u-s-e, and the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. The whole system is designed in this way: you memorize the facts and regurgitate them for the test. There is one right answer to each question, and anything else is wrong. Then you take the percentage of right answers and use that to determine if the student knows enough to pass the class and move on to learning the next bit of information. It’s very efficient, and teaches us a lot of things that are very important—but it’s not good at teaching us to deal with situations that can’t easily be boiled down to one right or wrong answer.
This is the season of graduation, when our students who have spent twelve years learning all the things we think everyone should know prepare to move on to the next phase of their lives. And I know that when I graduated high school, brain full of information and a college scholarship waiting for me, I thought that I knew just about everything I needed to know about how the world worked. Oh, sure, there were things to learn in college, things to prepare me for my adult career (whatever that would turn out to be), but I thought I knew about people and about life and about myself. I thought that life was like school: you figure out the right answer—and of course there was always a right answer, and only one right answer at a time—and then you do it. And that would lead to success and happiness, as if life were a test that I was being graded on. I thought faith was kind of like that too: you memorized the right answers about God and the Bible and that was all you needed to know. And since I’d been a good kid and gone to church and Sunday School and Bible School and Camp Lutherwood and Confirmation and youth group, I thought that I knew all the answers I would need.
Boy was I wrong. There were all kinds of situations where I found that there wasn’t a right answer, only answers that were varying degrees of wrong. There were all kinds of situations where there were many possible “right” answers. There were times I found that what would have been the right answer for me was a wrong answer for a friend, and if I tried to insist that I knew the answers, all I did was hurt myself and my friend. There were a lot of times where, forget having the right answers, I didn’t even know what the right questions were. Life was a whole lot more complex and less defined than I thought it was, when I graduated from high school. And the worst part of it was, those answers about God and the Bible and faith that I’d learned in church and Sunday School and Bible School and church camp and confirmation and youth group? A lot of the time they just didn’t fit. They weren’t enough. They had answered the questions I had when I was five, and ten, and fifteen; but by the time I was twenty, twenty-five, and thirty, I had different questions.
Thank God that God is bigger than I thought he was. The older I got, the more complicated I realized the world was—and each time I realized the world was bigger than I thought, or more complicated than I realized, God was still greater. And God was still with me. And those answers I learned as a child and teen weren’t enough to answer all the questions I had, but they provided a foundation for asking the new questions and guiding me to new answers. The things I learned as a child and teen weren’t the be-all of faith development, but they provided a framework on which to grow, like the trellises my mom uses to support vegetables in her garden.
But what I learned most of all, is that the most important thing in life isn’t having all the answers. Being right and having the right facts ready to hand is not what life is about. Life is not about having a nice, neat, logical answer to every question—and neither is faith. They’re about relationship. Relationships with God, with family, with friends, with the whole community. Life and faith are both about participating together, about forming bonds together. The important thing about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit isn’t figuring out a logical explanation for how it all works, but realizing that it’s all about relationship. The Father, Son, and Spirit, all different, with their own person and work, and yet participating together in a common life, filled with love and joy. And that’s the life that we are called to participate in as Christians—by the Father’s creation, Christ’s death and resurrection, and the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, we are called into a life-giving and love-overflowing relationship with God and one another. We’re given a model of what love looks like, we experience it, and we are called to live in response to that love. Instead of focusing on giving us the right answers to deal with life’s questions, God gave us the right guiding principle: love. As God has loved us, so we are called to love God. As the Father, Son, and Spirit love each other, so we are called to love one another. That love—God’s love—is what God has given to guide us through life, through all the questions, through times when there is no simple answer, through good times and bad.
We don’t understand all that God is and does; how could we? God is greater than we could imagine. But we don’t have to, because God comes to us, God shows himself to us, God shows us what true relationships and true love look like, and God invites us to live out that love and relationship in everything that we see and do. May God keep us in that love and relationship all the days of our lives.