Sermon for The Holy Trinity Sunday Yr C, 6/06/2004
Based on Jn 16:12-15
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
It has been said that: Arguing whether or not a God exists is like fleas arguing whether or not the dog exists. Arguing over the correct name of God is like fleas arguing over the name of the dog. And arguing over whose notion of God is correct is like fleas arguing over who owns the dog. 1
Today is Trinity Sunday—a Sunday during which the central focus is actually a doctrine, the doctrine of God the Holy Trinity. One of the prevailing temptations I think we preachers struggle with on this day is to go too far in one direction or another. After all, this day is the only day of the church year that we confess the Athanasian Creed—hence, it may be very tempting for some preachers to engage in theological gymnastics by unpacking the complex intricacies of the Athanasian Creed.
I think of the theologian who does not wait for God, because (s)he possesses Him, enclosed within a doctrine. I think of the Biblical student who does not wait for God, because (s)he possesses Him, enclosed in a book. I think of the church (person) who does not wait for God, because (s)he possesses Him, enclosed in an institution. I think of the believer who does not wait for God, because (s)he possesses Him, enclosed within (her)his own experiences. It is not easy to endure this not having God, this waiting for God. I am convinced that much rebellion against Christianity is due to the overt or veiled claim of the Christians to possess God, and therefore, also, to the loss of this element of waiting, so decisive for the prophets and apostles. Therefore, since God is infinitely hidden, free, and incalculable, we must wait for Him in the most absolute and radical way. He is God for us just in so far as we do not possess Him. 2
Over against the temptation to believe that we can know all there is to know about God; there is the temptation for others to go too far in the opposite direction—reducing God to Not Knowing or Nothingness. Feeling completely overwhelmed by the deep mystery of God the Holy Trinity; some may be tempted to go too far the other way; maybe feeling too much like those fleas on the dog and, in all of their extreme smallness, believe they have precious little, or nothing to say about God the Holy Trinity. We mortals are mere specks of dust compared with the God who created such a huge universe. Who are we to say much about this God anyways? Such people underestimate the power of words to communicate meaning or they say we have no words to communicate meaning.
Over against both of these two extremes, is “a middle way,” which our Gospel passage reveals to us today. The gospel today, of course, is part of the larger whole of Jesus’ farewell discourse with his disciples—preparing them for what was coming in the future.
By now, the disciples must have been thoroughly bemused. Not only had Jesus reworked the words of the Passover meal, not only had he washed their feet, but he was now giving them such strange teaching. He was saying that it was God’s will for him to go away, and then send the Spirit to them, so that they could continue, without his visible presence, the work that he had been doing.
To reassure them (vv. 12 and 13) he explains that, even though they cannot understand everything that he wants to say to them, the Spirit of truth will come and guide them into all the truth. This is one of the great promises by which the church stands or falls. The church can only continue to exist if it believes that the Spirit is present, leading us into the truth while we struggle to hold onto the love of Jesus and his revelation of God’s glory. As verse 13 makes clear, it is the Spirit’s task to elucidate what he hears from God, not to bring a fresh revelation himself. We glimpse a picture here of the inner council of God—Father, Son and Spirit—joined together in true harmony of will and love, and the Spirit emerging from that harmony to convey to us the truth of God. All that the Father has belongs to Jesus, and all that is to do with Jesus is now given to the Spirit. Those in whose hearts the Spirit takes up residence have the awesome responsibility of learning from him the truth of God. This should never make us arrogant, although sometimes theologians and others seem to have become so because we do not have to invent or discover these ideas for ourselves. The process takes place as we learn to love one another, to live the life of Christ in and for the world, with the Spirit indwelling us, all the while surprising us with fresh vistas of God’s truth. 3
What is, I think, most encouraging from this gospel passage is that the Holy Spirit works to reveal the truth to us in stages, when we are ready for it. The complete truth is not given to us all at once; hence it is a life-long process of growing and learning. Just as we as parents or grandparents do not read a doctoral dissertation on the laws of thermodynamics to a young child and expect them to comprehend it; so the Spirit of truth does not teach us what we are not yet ready to learn. Rather, the Holy Spirit gives us the truth of God now, for today and as we journey on more of God’s constant, reliable truth will be revealed. That is what makes the journey so adventurous and worthwhile! Amen.
1 Cited from: Robert Fulghum, Uh-Oh: Some Observations From Both Sides of The Refrigerator Door (New York: Villard Books & Random House, Inc., 1991), p. 137.
2 Cited from: Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948), pp. 150-151.
3 Cited from: N.T. Wright, Reflecting The Glory: Meditations for Living Christ’s Life in the World (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1998), pp. 131-132.