A QUESTION OF FAITH
June 7, 2020
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Let us pray: Almighty God, open our eyes anew to your greatness and remind us again that your ways are not our ways or your thoughts our thoughts. May we glimpse once more your glory, and, though we do not always understand, may we walk in faith, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A story is told of an elderly Jewish man crossing the street in front of a Roman Catholic Church who was knocked down by a hit-and-run driver. Half-conscious and lying in the street, a priest ran out of the church to administer last rites. 'Do you believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?' the priest asked. The old man cried, 'I'm dying, and this guy is asking me riddles!'”
On this Trinity Sunday the church celebrates the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We recognize God as power (the Father, the Creator of all things), God as person (the Son), and God as presence (the Holy Spirit). Paul’s final benediction to the Corinthians switches this order a bit to better express each person’s unique experience of the divine. For Paul, Jesus Christ comes first, for it is through the grace of his life, death and resurrection that humans may be reconciled to God. Only grace enables us to experience “the love of God.” As we stand renewed and redeemed before this loving God, yet another gift is made available, “the communion of the Holy Spirit.” The person, the power, and the presence of God come to us in a threefold design-package.
The church year began last Advent with the world God the Father created, yearning for light and peace and joy. Then came the birth of God the Son, followed by his ministry, his passion and death, his resurrection and ascension. Finally came the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Today the church puts it all together in its affirmation of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as One God, after all. The celebration of the Holy Trinity summarizes our encounter with God and positions us for witness and service in all the world.
The Sunday after Pentecost each year is designated in the church calendar as Trinity Sunday. It is a Sunday that strikes fear into the hearts of many preachers because there is a sort of an assumption that they are supposed to preach a sermon that is both inspirational and explains the doctrine of the trinity, and as anyone who has ever tried it knows, it is not possible to adequately explain the doctrine of the trinity, let alone make the explanation inspirational. You might as well ask someone to explain the evolution of barbed wire and make it sexy.
It is not that the Trinity is not inspirational. It’s attempts to explain the Trinity that almost inevitably fall well short of being inspirational. Not only do they fall well short of being inspirational, they usually fall well short of succeeding as explanations as well.
I’ll give you a tip. When the church has traditionally described something as a mystery, don’t expend too much energy trying to exhaustively explain it. They probably called it a mystery because nobody else had ever managed to explain it completely either.
The good news is that this doesn’t matter. Christian faith is not about explanations, it is about experience. It is about a relationship with the living God. Have you ever attempted to come up with an exhaustive explanation of the experience of falling in love? You can’t do it, can you? You can say things about it that are true, but you can never explain it in such a way that a person who hadn’t experienced it would understand what you were talking about. In the end it is still a mystery.
In fact, to push that analogy a bit further, imagine trying to write down a set of instructions for falling in love. An explanation for someone who didn’t previously know the experience, so that if they followed your description they would actually fall in love. Could you do it??? It’s a ridiculous idea isn’t it?
And yet the fact that you can’t explain the experience or write a manual for it doesn’t stop you from falling in love. The experience comes whether you can comprehend it or not.
Now exactly the same is true of the Trinity. You see before there was ever a doctrine of the Trinity, there was an experience of the Trinity. The early church experienced God in certain ways, and as they attempted to describe their experience the idea of the Trinity emerged. They began with their experience of the living God. The theology came second. I hope the same is still true, although I fear that sometimes we attempt to create experience on the basis of our theology and it never works.
A pastor once asked a skeptic: "Do you mean to say that you don’t believe the Trinity as revealed in the Bible?"
The skeptic answered: "I don’t know about that, but I know that I can’t get it into my head. And therefore I don’t believe it."
"What size hat do you wear?" asked the pastor.
"Six and seven-eighths," the skeptic said. "Why do you ask?"
"Oh, I was just wondering," replied the pastor, "how you expect to get the full understanding of the Almighty into six and seven-eighths." This reply may seem simple, but it states our intellectual dilemma with the Trinity quite simply and honestly.
Although the smallest minnow doesn’t understand the vastness of the oceans or the chemical composition of the water, he is at home in the water. A single sparrow has little comprehension of space and aerodynamics but is at home in the air. Our minds, too, simply cannot fathom the magnitude of God although we keep trying, unsuccessfully.
Imagine this scene with me:
Jesus said to His disciples, “Who do men say that I am?”
And his disciples answered and said, “Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead; others say Elijah, or another of the old prophets.”
And Jesus answered and said, “But who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Logos, existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and inter-penetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination within God, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple."
And Jesus answering, said, "Huh?"
I can’t help but wonder if that’s Jesus’ response when we try and explain in grand theological terms all aspects of our faith. “Huh?”
So many times we try and explain our faith in theological terms and all we do is get our feet tangled up in our underwear and fall flat on our...faith.
Much of our Christian belief is not a theological question, but a question of faith. Jesus said it and I believe it! Jesus said, “I and the Father are One.” That’s two-thirds of the equation. On Pentecost Jesus breathed on his disciples and promised them His Holy Spirit. That’s the other third of the equation. Jesus said it and I believe it!
One of the great errors that people make in Christianity is to say, “If I can’t understand it, it obviously doesn’t make any sense.”
God is not like anything we can explain. We will never understand God. God is far beyond our understanding – far greater than our peewee brains.
We live by faith. Not knowledge. God does not expect us to understand everything. But God will show us everything that is necessary.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. Amen.
Fr. Jim is providing his sermons online during the Corona virus pandemic. Enjoy!