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Trinity C 2004 John 16:5-15
Trinity Sunday presents us with a great challenge: how to understand that inside the enigma wrapped in a dilemma surrounding
a puzzle there is a deep and profound mystery. So deep and profound that, at least for the present, humankind cannot understand,
cannot know all there is to know about it, cannot do more than try to enter into the heart of that mystery.
From the beginning of time, humans have sought to understand God and their relationship with him. Even though the ancient
Hebrews progressed in their understanding, aided by the revelations given to them over several thousand years, they didnt
get it all at once. The many references to other gods and idol worship among the early chosen people at the time of the patriarchs
suggest that they, like many primitive peoples, began in idolatry. Idolatry was a temptation to which many of them succumbed
as late as King Solomon, who put the idols of his wives on the Temple Mount. And even later, idolatry remained a problem,
as the record of the later kings suggests.
Even by the time of the Exodus, the Chosen people had not developed a full-blown monotheism. Old Testament scholars are
generally agreed that they had reached a stage of monolatry that had its beginnings in the days of the Patriarchs, in which
they generally worshipped one god, although that god was not always the living God whom we know as the golden calf story
at the foot of Mount Sinai suggests.
But it is with the Sinai event -- the event of the first great divine revelation by God of himself in the powerful theophany
before the people of Israel that the monotheism we know the faith in, worship of, and obedience to the one true God has
its foundation. This was the moment when the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments were given.
And at the conclusion of this theophany, this divine revelation by God of himself, when all the people witnessed the thunder
and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance,
and said to Moses, "You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die." Moses
said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you.
Over the next millennium, the Judaism into which Jesus was born developed into a full blown monotheism as the Hebrew Scriptures
were gathered from the oral traditions of the tribes, written down, and edited through the centuries and generations into
the Hebrew Bible, what we Christians call the Old Testamentwhich was the first Bible used by the Early Church until the canon
was put together and accepted in its several variations.
This is an important point and has to do, I believe, with the power of the Holy Spirit, the Hebrew Ruach Yahweh, working,
stirring, leading, and guiding humanity across time and space. The other day I read something to the effect that what separates
humankind from animals is not just the prehensile thumb but also primarily the ability to communicate across the centuries
through a written language. It is the development of the Bible that illustrates this best, I think. It is not too much a
stretch of imagination and human understanding to think of the written word as God using this human ability to communicate
the salvation history of his people then and now across the millennia, from the very first divine self-revelation to the present
and on into the future, until the end of time.
Some Christians believe that the final Revelation was given to humankind in Jesus Christ. Others believe that revelation
is continuing to come to us as we become able to understand. And others believe that, while the Revelation may have been
given only once, it was too much for us to understand fully, and so the echoes of it are still in the world waiting for us.
I probably believe that the Revelation is continuing to be given to us as we are able to understand it.
One commentator has observed that Trinity Sunday celebrates the union for all time of God and God's people. It is the
day when the fullness of God's presence in all aspects of the life of God's people is recognized and lifted up. The Holy
Trinity pervades all humanity from first to last, from head to foot, binding them all together across time, space, and eternity.
For Christians, this is an important truth. The Trinity is not just or only a theological idea that is "out there"
someplace, too complex for most people to understand although it is that. The Trinity is intimately with us all as a fact
of our spiritual and physical existence. It is the great truth that, at its simplest, tells us how we relate to God and God
to us, to each other, and to the whole Creation.
Such an immense truth and deep profound mystery is probably never understood instantly and completely by humans. Some
of us may have some humanly limited idea about the relationship of Father and Son in the Triune God because we recognize that
kind of connection as a very human analogy. It has some immediate resonance in our human experience. We have had parents.
Some of us have had loving and nurturing parents some of us have not. But such a relational analogy is like stained glass.
For some of us the symbol on the glass is enough. For others it is not, it is only the beginning for the never-ending journey
to seek out the very heart of the mystery. It is the struggle, the wrestling to understand what we cannot yet understand
-- and may not ever be able to understand -- that shapes the purpose of our lives in ways we can only dimly glimpse, as through
a glass darkly.
It is probably the nature of the Holy Spirit, the role of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity, which has given Christians,
both theologians and everyday people, trouble over the ages. Some churches focus almost entirely on the Holy Spirit, and
leave out the Risen Christ and God the Father or, at best, diminish their importance. This is a dangerous thing. And sometimes
individually we focus almost entirely on Jesus in our faith and worship and this, too is a dangerous thing. At the very
least it means our pilgrimage into the heart of the Trinitarian mystery is flawed.
It is not easy for humankind to conceive of the width, the breadth, the depth, and the full majesty of the Holy Trinity.
It is probably easier for us to deal with the "relationships" or connections between the persons of the Trinity,
because on a superficial level they do indeed seem to bear some resemblance to relationships we know within the human family.
Jesus warned of this in our Gospel for today: I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. And
Our Lord promised the Holy Spirit would guide us into what God want us to know in the fullness of time.
Our Lords words reminds us of the things about God and the Holy Trinity we cannot hope to understand in our time. But
it would be a shame to be so dazzled by the mystery to lose track of what we can understand about what we can expect, now
that our Lord is physically absent from our world. But what we know, what we believe, is that the one true God, the Holy
Trinity, means that the eternal presence, the relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each Person explaining and binding
us to the other (and to each other), will be with us to the end of time.
Although the Holy Trinity perhaps can be, and should be, understandable to us on some simple levels, it will also remain
one of the profound mysteries of the faith. And it is a mystery so deep and so profound that we can, perhaps, only hope to
throw pebbles into the pool of belief and try to understand what the ripples might connote. Or swim faithfully in the rich
whirlpool waters of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason and drink deeply of the waters of the God who loves us and reveals more
of himself when we are ready. (1)
The prescient vision of First Isaiah sums it up well the mystery, the power, the glory, the mystery of God; Gods compassion
and mercy and Gods call to each one of us:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled
the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they
covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe
is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King,
the LORD of hosts!"
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph
touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here
am I; send me!"
O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us.
1. Adapted in part from Selected sermons, Trinity C 2004, by John Ratti