John 16: 12-15
Glebe Road United Church, Trinity Sunday 2022
When I was young, I loved mystery novels – it is still my favourite genre. I, like many younger siblings, would receive my elder sibling hand me downs. This included her books and one year I received my sister’s well-read Nancy Drew Mystery series. I voraciously followed teenage amateur detective Nancy Drew with her cousin Bess and best friend George as they solved local mysteries in their town of River Heights. I liked the challenge of trying to see if I could figure out the mystery before Nancy but also enjoyed being surprised, that moment when I would groan “of course” that’s who did it!
Mysteries novels are appealing because you can enjoy not knowing, because you know in the end all will be revealed, you will know “who-dun-it” and justice will be served. Within the bound pages of a mystery novel things are simple, and resolutions always happen. Mysteries, whether in a fictional book or a tv series, are something to be solved, something we expect to be solved. One of the classic theological descriptions of the Trinity, that the God we worship is somehow three distinct persons yet still one God, is holy mystery. For example, The Song of Faith – one of the faith statements of The United Church of Canada- refers to God as; “holy mystery, beyond complete knowledge, above perfect description.” We can never know God completely, at least in this life as St. Paul remarks to the Corinthians, “we see through a mirror dimly and know only in part.”
There is a legend told about St. Augustine which illustrates this very point. St. Augustine was coincidentally taking a break from writing his great theological work “On the Trinity” in which he tries to come up with the best analogy for the trinity. The story goes that Augustine was walking along the sea shore while contemplating the Holy Trinity when he saw a little child running back and forth from the water to a spot on the seashore. The boy was using a shell to carry water from the large ocean and pour it into a small pit that he had made in the sand. Augustine came up to him and asked him what he was doing.
“I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole,” the boy replied.
“What?” said Augustine. “That is impossible, my dear child, the sea is so great and the shell and the hole are so little.”
“That is true,” the boy said. “It would be easier and quicker to draw all the water out of the sea and fit it into this hole than for you to fit the mystery of the Trinity and his divinity into your little intellect; for the mystery of the Trinity is greater and larger in comparison with your intelligence than is this vast ocean in comparison with this little hole.”
And then the child vanished.
Augustine himself would later write that all material analogies for the Trinity are ultimately insufficient. This is where the mystery and frustration come in. Simply saying it is a mystery and leaving it there feels inadequate yet we know not even Nancy Drew could solve this mystery.
Then what do we do with this mystery? Well, it might help to realize that the Trinity is not a mystery to be solved (sorry Nancy!) but rather something we profess and move from there. We profess that God is Trinity, and therefore is inherently or ontologically (a fancy theological word that means deep within God’s very being) – relational. We move from there to say if we are – as the creation story in Genesis tells us – made in the image and likeness of God (this God we profess as Trinity) then we too must be made for relationship. Then we ask questions like who are we to be in relationship with and how are we to be in relationship? We do not solve the mystery but confess it.
The Trinity is not a doctrine to necessarily understand but a profession that God is not a concept that is interchangeable with other concepts – God is relationship. This does not mean it is wrong to say that God is a concept like love. 1 John tells us God is love, but if God is only a concept it becomes easy to dismiss any demands that God might make on us – concepts do not make demands. Demands like to love our neighbours and the one we really like to forget – love our enemies. A trinitarian relational God makes demands on us, makes a covenant with us, loves us, rejoices and grieves with us. Now this demand is not a “do this or else” type of demand, but rather by the very fact we are in relationship it creates give and take. Just like the relationships we have with loved ones, friends, classmates or co-workers there is mutuality and exchange of responsibilities. To be clear, with God, the give and take is very one side; God gives all of themselves, even to death on the cross so that we have life, a grace beyond our comprehension and measure. Even though the relationship is lopsided on God’s end it is still that – a relationship. God is not a concept but the one in whom we move and have our being.
Our scripture for this day from John 16 presents us with the mystery of the Trinity (not a systematic doctrine or even neat explanation) and invites to be embraced by the manifestation of love that follows between and around the three persons. It invites us into relationship with: the son Jesus (the one who is sent); with the father (the one who sends Jesus); and the Spirit who dwells in us in abiding love and then sends us out to bear witness to the love we have known and received. It is this beautiful dance of love that flows between Father, Son and Spirit that draws us in and moves us out to the world.
Bear witness. I am preaching about being a witness, yes, again. This is no coincidence, this text from John includes words for “say”, “speak” and “declare” SEVEN times in these four verses. God’s speech along with God’s love also moves in this passage between the Father and Jesus (verse 15 tells us all that the Father has is Jesus’). This speech, this word, then moves through the Spirit of Truth to us. The word is embedded in us so that we can bear witness in speech and works just as Jesus has done. In John 14:12 Jesus says, “I tell you the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” We become a witness to the world through our words and actions to the love of God that is active, alive, that is Trinitarian and relational.
If that feels a little overwhelming, perhaps a huge responsibility to be love bearers sent out into the world, remember Jesus reminds us in this passage that the Holy Spirt will guide us. The Spirit holds all the truth of God in us, she walks with us wherever we are in our faith journeys. She creates space for you and in you, to be part of the Trinitarian dance of God, the love that flows in, out and around. This is part of the package to be followers of Christ to be made in the image of a Trinitarian God: the gift and responsibility to bear and manifest that relational love to the world. It is in our love of neighbour, in our love of enemy, in our prayers and actions for a just world where the last becomes first, that God’s love is tangible. Through us, by the power of the Spirit, God’s love becomes more than a concept, it is made flesh as we live in the hope of Christ of resurrection.
If you have come to find out the answer to the Mystery of the Trinity you will not find the answer here. What you will find is a profession and a belief that the God who created you is not satisfied with a paternalistic distant relationship. You will find a God that is “all up in your business,” a God who prods, pokes and provokes. You will find a God who invites you into a dance and then sends you out to teach others to dance. It is a joyful dance, a dance of life and rejoicing and don’t worry you have a dance coach who is always with you, giving you what you need to teach others.
May you find your place in the dance, may you profess today in the Threeness and Oneness of the Creator of Creation, the almighty Trinity.