Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Scratching the surface of the relationship into which He calls us . . .

     We are to that day in the church year when every single assistant priest, and probably a fair number of lay preachers, are given the pulpit.  Yes, it is Trinity Sunday.  It is that day in the church year when clergy are tasked with the responsibility of explaining the mystery of the Trinity.  It is a challenging task, to be sure.  I’m not quite sure why we try and explain the Trinity when nearly all who come to church after Pentecost are of the sort not to take an “Episcopal vacation.”  By and large, those who attend this day, particularly as it falls on a three day weekend, are likely to be willing to live into the mystery, the inexplainable.  But I guess we feel it is time to show you that we paid attention in seminary or that we figured out a great way to say that which really cannot be said entirely.  That’s why we end up with sermons about apples or Flatland or even writhing masses of mating eel fish on the moonlit sandy banks of Lake Michigan.  To be fair, that last one was not given on Trinity Sunday, but it was a sermon that attempted to explain the Trinity in strange modern terms.

     I won’t try and bore you with another huge sermon analogy.  You now you are fathers, sons, and brothers or mothers, daughters and sisters and yet one. I learned by accident some nine years ago that most of you could care less about another description of the Trinity.  It’s not that people do not care to understand theology or how God relates to Himself in the Three Persons in One Substance that we proclaim is revealed by God.  If we are here on Trinity Sunday, or any other Sunday for that matter, what we want desperately to understand is how God applies to or informs our lives.  Trinity Sunday is no different.  All those baptized here accept the revelation that God is our heavenly Father, the Incarnate Son, and the Holy Spirit.  But how does acceptance of that mystery inform your life?  That is the question for today.

     Fortunately, to answer that question, our lectionary editors chose well today.  Although the Gospel lesson for this day is short, there is much to mine in its four verses.    The first important impact on our life is Jesus’ promise of the Paraclete.  Paraclete is an interesting word.  It is interesting for what it signifies and interesting for the hope it promises.  If you are of a sort to study your Bible when you are at home during the week, I encourage you to look up the last few chapters of John’s Gospel.  John introduces this term, Paraclete, as a way to describe the third person of the Blessed Trinity.  What is a paraclete?  If you are reading your Bibles at home, you will come across a number of translations for the word.  The fact is, it is challenging to render into English.  Literally, it means “to call beside” or “to call alongside.”  Some will render it counselor, others as advocate, still others as helper.  Those are good terms, at least the first two.

     Part of what informs how we interpret the word, of course, must come from John’s effort.  John, as most of you know, was writing to a people who struggled daily with the ever-present reality of seeming defeat.  Many disciples had expected Jesus to return rather quickly.  Certainly few expected to suffer persecution on the scale they were experiencing.  John faced the faithful pastor’s task of reminding his people that God had, indeed, conquered on the Cross and Easter Sunday, despite the fact that the world testified against the truth that John proclaimed.  So much of his writing embraces the idea of ambassador and envoy and courtroom.  Remember, the last lines of this Gospel, “these are written that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  John shares the stories so that those whom he pastors will believe that Jesus was the One sent by the Father, that the Paraclete was the One sent by the Father to glorify the Son, that John was one sent by the Son and empowered by the Spirit, and all of that for the purpose of reminding the faithful of the hope to which they were called.

     Some commentators compare John’s effort to a courtroom, and rightfully so.  The world says this.  The Lord says this.  Whom do you believe?  And it is light of that setting that we probably understand why the word paraclete causes so much difficulty.  As I mentioned earlier, the Greek word literally means called alongside or called beside.  In a courtroom setting, who does that?  That’s right, an advocate or . . . a lawyer.  Now you see the difficulty posed to translators.  The word and the setting dictates a lawyer, but we all know that lawyers are the furthest people from holy, right?  We can’t possibly think in those terms, can we?  Or maybe, just maybe, we should be further amazed.  God can redeem even lawyers?  Who knew?

     Before I go further, those of you who are new should know my dad is a lawyer.  I have heard, and probably told, all those lawyer jokes you are laughing at now in your heads.  But on a serious note, think of what John is testifying.  He is telling his audience and you and me that in our courtroom setting, our lawyer, our advocate, our representative will be none other than Himself!  Think of the implication for just a second.  Whenever you are in the courtroom settings of your life, God Himself is with you!  That why our Lord tells us not to fear.  He is always with us.  We don’t have to worry about what we are to say or do.  The Paraclete will empower us always to glorify the Son.

     Of course, that leaves us with at least a couple questions.  How can I know whether I am glorifying the Son in my words or actions?  The Paraclete does not speak on His own.  The Paraclete will speak whatever He hears and declare it to us!  What is He hearing?  The very voice of God.  The Paraclete participates in that eternal Three in One relationship that we celebrate this day.  The Paraclete hears the voice of the Father and the intercessions of the Son.  And then the Paraclete acts and empowers to bring about the will of God in the life of the believer.

     Why could the disciples not bear to hear this now?  Again, the story reminds us of the mindset of the disciples.  This is Jesus’ farewell speech to His disciples.  He is warning them of His suffering and death in the passages around this.  He also knows that the Cross and Resurrection will be the transforming event in their lives.  The disciples are soon to walk a dark path with their Lord.  He will be betrayed by one of their own.  He will be tortured by those who should have known Him best.  He will be put to death by the Romans, even though He claims to be the King of Kings.  Peter will deny Him three times.  One of them will run away naked.  None of them will fight for this man whom they believe to be the messiah.  Some of them, mostly women, will watch His agonizing death.  Think of what they are to experience!  And yet, Jesus knows that His death is not the end.  And once HIs disciples learn that for themselves, once they experience Him risen from the dead, then they will be able to understand better all that He has to say to them.  John can minister to those who are being chewed up by the world because he knows, because he has seen with his own eyes these stories about which he writes.  If God can redeem Jesus’ shameful death on a cross, He can redeem whatever they face now.

     But I’m never in court, so when will I ever need the Paraclete?  Ah, but we are always in a courtroom of sorts.  Every day of our lives you and I are testifying to our belief.  And this leads me to the second important part of John’s teaching about Jesus.  John often uses words like witnessing and testifying in his Gospel to teach us of our purpose.  And this is where the theology of the Trinity “hits the road,” as they they say.  When we are baptized or confirmed, among other things we take on the role of a witness.  Our baptismal liturgy reminds us of this truth.  Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?  Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?  Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?  Our answer at every question is I will, with God’s help.  When we are baptized or confirmed, we expect to be helped by God to accomplish His will for us.

     How do you know whom to serve?  He places them on your heart.  How do you know how best to serve them?  Again, He places it on your heart.  How do we know that He wants everyone to come to that saving embrace on the cross?  Because He reminds us of our need for His grace and gives us His heart during this transformational process.

     Do we always “get it” right?  Of course not.  Our hearts are still fleshy, our necks are still stiff, we see only dimly the glories to which He calls us.  But is the relationship of the Trinity which reminds us Whom we serve.  You see, God does not leave us in these stiff-necked fragile bodies.  In the end, as we looked during Easter, He calls us home and raises us in re-created bodies to worship Him in a re-created earth and re-created heaven.  No doubt you have your favorite “heaven” story, the image which sings to you of the glory and majesty of God that you expect to experience when you are finally called home.  I am here today to remind you, brothers and sisters, that whatever you envision heaven to be, however good you think it will be, you have not even begun to scratch at the surface of the life to come!

     Those of us who ponder the Holy Mystery of the Trinity often focus on the relationship between and among The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Certainly, there is enough there to ponder for a long time.  But where we often err is that we forget that we are intended to be included in that wonderful, mysterious relationship.  I have preached in years past on John Damascus’ “Holy Dance,” the perichoresis, so those of you here for years will not be too surprised or shocked.  We do well to study and consider the Trinity, but we might do ourselves better were we to remind ourselves from time to time that all of this was for the purpose of drawing us into that intimate relationship we call the Trinity.  You and I are not meant to be observers only; we are called to be participants.  You and I are called into that intimate, personal relationship with God.  Like Adam and Eve before the Fall, you and I will one day be able to see God with our own eyes face to face.  We will be able to hear His voice without fear and trembling but with the joy of love and adoration.  We won’t have to have some idiot in a collar try and explain the inexplainable.  We will know it, all of it.  As the author of our Gospel hymn put it this morning, our hearts will be tuned to sing, not just speak, His grace.  What He wants us to know, we will know.  What He wants us to do, we will want to do.  We will know the delight He has for each one of us.  We will be participants in that relationship that we can only barely grasp and must accept on faith because it is the instruction of our Lord and the Paraclete whom He promised.  Our hearts, our minds, everything about us will be remade so that we are unable to fail Him.  And the Trinity not only makes this all possible but desires it for everyone.  The Father wants this for us.  The Son has opened the path for that kind of restoration in us.  And the Paraclete reminds us how we are called to witness His saving grace to those in our lives.

     So often, brothers and sisters, when we explain the Trinity, we focus on the Three Persons in One Unity as we try our best to apprehend.  Like so many of His promises, though, we miss out on so much of the hope, of the glory, and of the joy.  You and I, brothers and sisters, are called into that kind of intimate relationship not just with Jesus, but with the Paraclete and with the Father.  And it is a relationship that He desires, not because He has to, but because He loves each one of us.  As our writer of Proverbs put it this morning, He delights in us, every single one of us who will come to Him through faith in His Son. It is a joyful relationship like we have never known.  It is a purposeful relationship like we have never known.  It is, quite simply, the relationship that He has desired for each one of us since He formed us in the womb.

     But, brothers and sisters, it is a relationship that He desires for everyone one of those whom we meet.  Each one of us, by virtue of our adoption into that relationship which we now see and feel only dimly, no matter how well we perceive it, is now an emissary of God, to use the language of John.  You and I are now a sent people, and empowered people, a people trusted with sharing the Good News of God in Christ, and participating in His efforts to draw all to Himself in love.  Everyone we meet, whether we acknowledge it or not, judges Him by how we act, how we speak, how we serve, and how we love.  And in that sense, you and I are always in a courtroom setting.  Whether we are at work, in our homes, around our grills, at a sporting event, experiencing life’s joys, or suffering life’s sufferings, you and I are always witnessing His grace in our lives.  Maybe now you better understand why we need that holy lawyer John calls the Paraclete; maybe now, the Trinity is not just something up there to be studied, but something to which you are drawn and called to share with those in your life whom you profess to know or love.  Perhaps, if I have done a fair job, you understand a bit better, even if still incredibly dimly, the power, the love, and the purity to which He has called each of us.  Perhaps, if this makes sense in our eyes of faith, we will all be able to raise our voices, this day and always, in hymns of praise from land and sea.


No comments: