Sermon for the First Sunday after Pentecost
May 22, 2016
Preacher: The Rev. Bret B. Hays
In one way, God is just like the Nixon Administration. After a period of obvious power and attention, with a clear-cut beginning and ending, new revelations kept dribbling out as new recordings were released, over a period of decades. Long after Nixon and all the president’s men left the White House in disgrace, historians continued to gain new insights, not only by studying and evaluating existing documents, but also because new information was being revealed, which they could then integrate into their understanding. Historians call Nixon “the gift that keeps on giving.”
Likewise, Jesus was present on Earth as a man with a physical body for a specific time, and he is the clearest revelation of God that ever was or shall ever be. Yet even after Jesus ascended into heaven, and after the last eyewitness to his incarnate ministry joined him there, God continued to reveal new sacred truths to the world. So the criticism that the Bible does not contain the word “trinity” is true, but it no more disproves the doctrine of the trinity than the fact that it does not contain the word “America” disproves the existence of the New World. Yet even in the Hebrew Bible, there are hints that point toward the truth of the trinity, like references to “the spirit of the Lord” and the Wisdom of God, which “was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” Then, later, the phrase, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” does appear in Scripture, but the profound mystery this phrase represents is not explained.
However, we now see, the omission of the word “trinity” and a systematic description of that doctrine from scripture are intentional. Just like Nixon, God didn’t want us to know everything, although for very different reasons. For Nixon, and his estate, the release of the tapes was a grudging capitulation to the rule of law, but for God, the timing of the revelation of the inner reality of divinity was an act of love and grace.
The quote from Jesus that is our Gospel reading today sheds some light on this. “I still have many things to say to you,” he says, “but you cannot bear them now.” And of course they couldn’t. He was saying this at the Last Supper, the night before he was arrested, tried, convicted, and executed, and he really was not a crook. They could barely bear his ministry. They could not bear his passion, and they showed it: they abandoned him. So clearly it was neither the time nor the place for a lecture on systematic theology. No earlier time would have been suitable, and even after his resurrection, there were more urgent matters, like what the mission of the church was to be, and who would carry it out.
But just as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit has stayed with the Church, not only guiding and encouraging us, but also revealing new truth to us. The revelation that God exists as three persons, each of whom is fully divine, yet not three gods, but one God, glorifies God. In part because it is more glorious for God to exist in a way that we can never fully understand — if we could know and understand everything there was to know about God, wouldn’t that be disappointing? In part because this revelation shows us that love and relationship are at the very heart of God’s being, and in part because as abstract as these concepts are, they offer a way for each of us to connect to God. Although we can’t fully understand God, we can love God, and that doesn’t just glorify God, but also gives God great joy. The Trinity is not an obscure academic concept, it is an invitation into the very heart of God. We rejoice at this understanding which allows us to have an even more intimate relationship with God.
We accept that invitation first and most profoundly when we are baptized. It is true that we are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but this is the means God established to begin our union with God. We call it “christening,” and think about that word. The ritual involves a physical moistening, the act of making moist. Likewise, Christening is the act of making Christ present in a way he wasn’t before. And so we too become mystically and mysteriously incorporated into the Church, which exists in both heaven and earth, transcending that great division. This is the work of God, who draws us out of the mundane and limited world, out of sin, sorrow, and isolation, and into the communion of love which is the very essence of God’s being.