Happy Father’s Day! Happy Trinity Sunday! It is a day to be grateful for our male relatives and friends, for our fathers and grandfathers, the living and those who have gone to the nearer presence of God.
Life seems like a mystery sometimes, and there are lots of things we may never be able to fully understand. Someone has made a list of some rules kids have learned about life such as:
“Wear a hat when feeding seagulls”
“Sleep in your clothes so you’ll be dressed in the morning”
“Don’t flush the toilet whey your dad is in the shower.”
“Don’t ask your parents to buy you anything when they’re doing their taxes.”
“Don’t pick on your sister when she’s holding a baseball bat.”
“Never try to baptize a cat.” (Source unknown)
We all need someone to help us understand what life is about, and if we’re lucky we have had a dad or someone like a dad to help us out.
The most common image that Jesus used in describing God was that of “Father.” It makes me think that Joseph must have been a very special kind of dad, an influential role model for Jesus. Why else would Jesus have chosen the imagery of “Father” to portray God? Some might say, well, Joseph was not his real father, but as far as I can see, there are many dads who are not biological dads who function more as a real dad, and today we honor all the men in our lives who put in the time, love, and instruction on how to live regardless of whether they have a blood relationship with us or not. The same is true of our women. Some of the greatest moms in the world are not biologically related to the children they love and influence. So Jesus’ use of parental imagery for God is very appropriate to recognize today. But there is more to God than just parenthood.
In today’s gospel of John passage continues to tell us about the time when Jesus is giving farewell instructions to his disciples.
Jesus is trying to leave his disciples with some good advice, but they are not ready to hear it yet. Like the disciples, we too often can’t always get our heads around theological concepts like the Trinity. When I was teaching confirmation class, one of my Jeopardy questions was, “Who are the three persons of the Trinity?”
One of my junior high students said, “God, Jesus, and that Ghost Guy.” I tried really hard not to burst out laughing. However, it helped me realize how truly difficult the concept the Trinity is. In seminary, we were challenged by our theology professor to get in groups of three and come up with a metaphor for the trinity. No group was totally successful, and I realized that we don’t really have a perfect metaphor for the Trinity.
Now you might ask what’s a metaphor and my confirmation kids might say, it is a place for cows to eat grass. Of course, that’s utterly ridiculous.
But a metaphor is a concrete object or objects that represents an intangible concept. When my theology professor, Dr. Cha, challenged our class to come up with a metaphor for the trinity, but despite our attempts, an egg, the three states of matter, triplets, the leaves on poison ivy, Neapolitan ice cream, a turducken, … but none of our attempts totally captured the concept of the trinity.
It’s like when General Douglas MacArthur was a cadet at West Point. MacArthur was struggling in a class he was taking on the time-space relationship later formulated by Einstein as his Theory of Relativity. The text was dense and being unable to comprehend it, MacArthur memorized it word for word. When he was asked a question about this time-space relationship he just reeled off word for word what the book said.
When MacArthur finished, his instructor asked, “Do you understand this theory?”
McArthur sheepishly said, “No, sir” and prepared himself to be disgraced. And then came the slow, measured words of the professor. “Neither do I, Mr. MacArthur, class dismissed.” (Gen. Douglass MacArthur, Reminiscences).
Jeffrey Winters, author of Death of a Star, is a writer for Discover magazine who writes about the mysteries of outer space. He says that there are a lot of images from the Hubble Space Telescope that are breathtaking, but there is still a lot we need to learn before we can fully appreciate them. Then he adds this analogy, “It’s like you have horrible eyesight and own a book with all the answers in the universe, and it isn’t until you finally get glasses that you realize the book is written in Albanian.” (Discover, July 1996, p. 16)
There’s a lot of concepts that we don’t fully understand. The trinity is likely one of them. How can something be three and yet one? How could the baby in Bethlehem also be the triune God? Who is this “Ghost Guy?” Fortunately, we are not saved by our theology. We are saved by our relationship with the risen Christ.
And so I hope that you did not come to church today expecting me to explain the deep theological meaning of the Trinity, because the trinity is a mystery which cannot be comprehended by human reason, but is understood only through faith with the help of the Holy Spirit. We can rest easy because we are saved by grace not information. Like General MacArthur’s instructor, God does not expect us to understand everything, but we can know everything we need to know. We are like the disciples, clueless sometimes, but called. We can identify with this time described in the gospel when Jesus spoke to his disciples before he was crucified, dead, buried, resurrected and ascended.
Jesus, in this farewell speech, says to his disciples, “I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12) But it is his last night with them, and he is running out of time to teach them, they will not understand until later.
The gospel writer, John, uses the Greek word for “to bear” for more than just mental comprehension. They will have to bear the burden of taking that understanding of Jesus’ purpose into their everyday lives. The truth that Jesus wants them to learn will come later on the other side of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. They will understand more on the other side of Easter.
After discovering the empty tomb and encountering the risen Christ, Peter and the other disciples will begin to believe more fully in him. And they will be led to understand with the help of the Holy Spirit. Jesus reassures the disciples that the Spirit will guide them into the truth. So, in verse 13, the writer of John uses the Greek words for teach or guide. The Holy Spirit plays a large role in teaching and guiding the disciples and us too. Plus, the Holy Spirit prays for us with “sighs too deep for words.”
My favorite way to understand the trinity is to use the words, Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer to refer to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. God created the world, Jesus redeemed us from the burden of our sins, and the Holy Spirit sustains us through our growth as Christians. Through the Holy Spirit, God still speaks to us and guides us.
There is still so much that Jesus wants to say to us too, but we cannot bear it until we too are led and guided and formed by a life lived in the Holy Spirit.
In this passage, the gospel writer, John, is writing in the year about 100 AD, exiled in a place far from Jewish tradition. John’s audience probably felt orphaned and needed to remember Jesus’ words and seek out the Holy Spirit for comfort, guidance, and encouragement.
Perhaps you find yourself feeling at a distance from God today. Perhaps you don’t understand all the theological concepts completely. You don’t have to. But here’s the good news, the Holy Spirit will help you. It’s a process. We don’t have to know everything all at once. John’s gospel invites us to live into God’s future in tune with a relationship with all three parts of the trinity, God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It does not explain all there is to say about the mystery of the Holy Spirit. Other New Testament passages tell us even more. However, today’s gospel invites us to the mystery of the deep relational love of God which is represented by the relationship of the three parts of the Trinity.
Today let us praise the Creator who made us, let us give our hearts to the Redeemer who saved us, and let us invite the Holy Spirit to come in our hearts to sustain and guide us until we are united with them in heaven. Amen.