I Don’t Know

June 16, 2019

John 16:12-15

“I don’t know!”

This sentence alone can be interpreted in many ways. For a teacher asking a student the answer to a math or science question, it shows that the student does not comprehend or simply failed to do the homework or reading.

When it comes to hearing this answer in the setting of the church, how does it make you feel? Are you comfortable with living into not knowing, or are you more like the disciples that are constantly seeking concrete answers from Jesus? Are you comfortable with mystery, or are you stymied by it?

As a pastor, I hear plenty of questions where people want specific answers. Sometimes that is just not possible. At one point in my life, I have even had asked some of the same questions. I recall during CPE in seminary, where I was a chaplain in a hospital, the struggle and challenge of walking with families that encountered various diagnosis. One family I visited was in the ICU and they were sitting with their father, whose chance of recovery was very slim. As we prayed together, I could sense the love that filled the room. The next day I stopped by and he had awakened from the coma he was in and was beginning to communicate with his family. Another family had a sister that had had routine heart surgery and died a couple of days later due to complications. Where was God in these circumstances, I questioned at the time. It was safe to say I didn’t know and to just be present.

That is the mystery of God that we live into and it could not be made more apparent than today when we recognize Holy Trinity Sunday. The mystery that is God, lays in the very heart of the Trinity.

The disciples were uncomfortable with this mystery. They wanted answers before they were even ready to understand what those answers may be. They constantly sought answers to the mystery that was unfolding in front of them, yet they did not fully understand what was happening. They knew the God they followed in the Hebrew scripture, yet something was not computing when trying to equate God with Jesus. There was a disconnection with fully understanding that Jesus was both divine and human. There was a disconnection occurring when they tried to understand that Jesus was the Son of God. There was a disconnection when Jesus promised to send them the Holy Spirit.

So, where does this disconnection happen for us? It happens more times than we would like it to. To say that we fully understand God and the mystery that surrounds the Trinity means that you are fooling yourself. As David Lose writes in his blog,

“As I’ve said before, I don’t understand the Trinity and don’t trust those that report that they do. The Trinity is, at heart, our best if manifestly inadequate attempt to capture in words the mysterious nature of God.”

We fall short when we think that we have everything figured out and those that are different or have different thoughts than us are wrong. We stumble when we move forward in our own reasoning without listening to the Spirit’s guidance. We slip when we bow to the expectations of the world in preference to the teachings of Christ.

Jesus calls us to trust in the mystery. The mystery that we are not expected to fully comprehend. To be comfortable in the unknown requires faith. As Jesus tells us in today’s lesson, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” The disciples have already been overwhelmed with the journey thus far and Jesus knows that they are not quite ready to bear anything else. It will only be revealed when they are ready. It is the same for all of humanity.

As children of God, we are invited into this wonderful mystery. We are invited to join in community and walk with each other as the Trinity leads us. Richard Rohr, in his daily meditations, recently shared this about the Trinity,

I see mystery not as something you cannot understand; rather, it is something that you can endlessly understand! There is no point at which you can say, “I’ve got it.” Always and forever, mystery gets you! In the same way, you don’t hold God in your pocket; rather, God holds you and knows your deepest identity.

Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between Three—a circle dance of love. God is Absolute Friendship. God is not just a dancer; God is the dance itself. This pattern mirrors the perpetual orbit of electron, proton, and neutron that creates every atom, which is the substratum of the entire physical universe. Everything is indeed like “the image and likeness of God” (Genesis 1:26-27).

We have the opportunity to encounter each part of the Trinity in our own time and place. We are invited to join in the dance of the Trinity as Richard Rohr refers to and that we will sing about soon. To enter that relationship is mysterious and yet also overwhelming. God is much greater than we can ever imagine. God is the creator that calls us to care for God’s creation. Jesus is the part of the divine that has come to us in our own human form to show us the way. The Holy Spirit completes the three to companion us on this great journey of life.

The Holy Trinity is present with us at all times in our lives. When we are born. When we fall off the bicycle for the first time and scrape up our knees. When we enter the scary world of high school. When we must start providing for ourselves. When our own children are born and when we grow old and experience all new aches, pains, and terrible diseases. The Holy Trinity is with those that wake up from comas as well as those that breath their last breathes in this earthly world.

The Holy Trinity is at the heart of our Faith and is revealed to us in Jesus Christ as he died on the cross to reveals God’s unbounded love. The Holy Trinity is the Spirit that companions us throughout all of lives twists and turns. The Holy Trinity is the creator God that brings us all together in a relationship that is growing and is mystery.

It is okay to say, “I don’t know,” when you do not have an answer. For we are not expected to know it all. For as Jesus tells his disciples, you are not yet ready to bear it all.

Let us pray. Holy Trinity, your mysterious way leaves us dumbfounded. As we enter the dance of the Trinity, let us be open to those teachings that draw us ever closer to you. In the meantime, let us be at ease with those things we cannot understand and let our faith guide us in your ways. Amen.

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Unity in Christ

Group of human hands showing unity

May 28, 2017

John 17:1-11

I am going to let you in on a little secret! I get a little uncomfortable when people do not get along with one another. At times, I can just walk away from the situation and perhaps pray for the relationship. At other times, I try to think of ways in which the people that are living in disagreement can come together and live into a unity. An example of unity which is with us from the very beginning.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:1-5

These verses are familiar. Of course, they come from the beginning of John’s Gospel. These verses point us toward a unity of the Trinity, and a call for unity among all of God’s people. In Jesus is life, and in this life, is a light which shines for who? For all people! In Jesus, many hope for a perfect life.

In reality, we have come to learn that not everything is going to be perfect. We have learned that not everyone gets along with each other. Unfortunately, we have also learned that there is evil in the world that appears at times to overtake us.

In the midst of this, we hear the prayer of Jesus. He has been teaching the disciples for the past few chapters in the Gospel of John and he now concludes this time with a prayer. Jesus has come to the point where he has instilled enough for now with his disciples and his last hour is approaching. The prayer is full of love and compassion for those that he has walked with for the past few years. However, the prayer is not just for the remaining eleven disciples, but all that have picked up their crosses to follow Jesus in his footsteps and those yet to follow.

Our lesson concludes in the midst of Jesus’ prayer, and it leaves us with questions. “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (vs. 11).

If we look at the world around us, it appears that Jesus’ prayer has not yet been answered. We are not living as one. Not in the sense that we think of oneness. There is still plenty of division that happens and it can be overwhelming. You name it, humans can and will find a way to divide. The church is no exception. Can you believe that out of the teachings of Jesus Christ, and The Way as St. Paul refers to it, the Christian church has grown to 2.2 billion members. The more surprising fact is that out of those 2.2 billion members, they belong to 41,000 different denominations. Whenever the church has had a disagreement through the years, we decide that we will just start our own denomination. Lutherans are just as much responsible for this. Did you know that in North America alone, there are close to 40 different Lutheran denominations?

How do our actions as followers of Christ lead us to such a split? We have left out the room for the mystery. The mystery that comes to us in the Word, that is with us from the beginning and is in unity with creation. It is an organic unity and oneness. A unity that has been fostered and nurtured from the very beginning of time.

We cannot expect to have the same unity and oneness in our time if we do not foster and nurture it from the ground up. Let’s look at it from the very beginning of a relationship. Two people fall in love and decide that they want their lives to become one. They may perhaps decide to have children and in this the family unit lives together and is one. As a family, they may decide to attend a church or find a place that supports and loves them as they are. From our birth, we continue to grow into our environments. It is here that we seek out love and acceptance. It is here that we look for the unity and oneness that Jesus prays for.

The problem is, we are on this side of the Kingdom of Heaven. We are in a place where the Kingdom of Heaven has not fully come into being. There are struggles along the way. We feel at times that our prayers are not being answered. We cry out to God, asking why we have been confronted with various challenges.  Where is this unity that Jesus speaks of, we wonder?

This is where the mystery gets good! “Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them” (vs. 7). When Jesus prays that his followers may be one as he and the Father are one, he is praying all of us into this mystery too!

It is in this prayer that we can begin to imagine what a oneness in Christ feels and looks like. What if the church could be this place? It is at the cross and in Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension that we are able to behold the great mystery that has been present since the very beginning of creation in the Word. It is here that we come to know and experience the love of God.

The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr: A Review

divinedance

The Trinity is quite often an overlooked aspect of the spiritual life. We tend to think of God and Jesus Christ, yet tend to leave the notion of the Holy Spirit out of the equation. When we include all three into the equation, we are able to truly dig deeper into our own spiritual well-being.

Richard Rohr, along with Mike Morrell explore the Trinity in The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation. Bringing in the image of Andrei Rublev’s The Trinity painting, allows the reader to get an image in their mind, as well as the possibility of us being the fourth person sitting at the table with the Trinity.

God wants us to be in relationship with all three and it is here that Rohr is hoping to lead us into that great encounter.  Beginning with the vast view of the Trinity throughout time leads us to the present and the need to engage with the Trinity here and now. Until we come to the realization that everything in creation works together and is required to bring us into the kingdom of God, there will be brokenness and sin. I believe his theory on growth of Western atheism is right-on:

Do you ever wonder why Western atheism is on the rise? Why does the Christian West, by far, produce the highest number of atheists? What I believe, and have dedicated my life to reversing, is that we have not moved doctrine and dogma to the level of inner experience. As long as “received teaching” doesn’t become experiential knowledge, we’re going to continue creating a high quality of disillusioned ex-believers. Or on the flip-side, we’ll manufacture very rigid believers who simply hold on to doctrines in very dry, dead ways with nothing going on inside.

And so we have two big groups on the landscape today: those who throw out the baby with the bathwater (many liberals and academics) – and those who seem to have drowned in the bathwater (many conservatives and fundamentalists).

How about allowing the bath water to keep flowing over you and through you?

It is anyway, but we can considerably help the process by gradually opening up the water faucets–both the cold and the hot.

Rohr’s writing, as usual, is easy to read and very engaging. He brings a truth to his writing that I wish more people would pick up on. Until we start to experience the Holy Spirit within us and listen to where it is calling, then we will not fully live into the life that God is calling us to. Our interaction with the Trinity is truly a dance that is beautiful and as robust as we make it.

We Have Much to Learn

afremov.studying

John 16:12-15

Grace and Peace to you from the Triune God. Amen

Can you remember that first time you were in a class and just felt so overwhelmed that you thought you would never get through it? Maybe it was when the teacher or professor handed you the course syllabus and you were left wondering why did I decide to take this course. Perhaps it was while you were in the midst of the course and things for some reason were just not sticking and were slipping out of your mind as quickly as you heard them or read them.

For me that course was not until my senior year of my undergrad when I needed to get some credits to fulfill my basic requirements. My wife was majoring in psychology at the time and I thought this would be an easy class to pass. Since all I needed to do was pas the class I decided to take the class pass/fail. In this case I needed to get a C in the class to receive the credit. It was by far the class I struggled with most throughout my entire education and my wife was loving every single moment of it, since I usually did not have to put any extra effort into my studies.

It is a wonderful thing that God has created us all with our own gifts and talents and that we can usually find one thing that we are drawn to and utilizes those gifts and talents. For me, at the time, psychology was not one of my gifts or talents. Psychology at that time for me was a bit of a mystery.

We are surrounded by mystery every step along the way. We do not have the answers for everything, and if we think that we do, we are only kidding ourselves. We are surrounded by mystery this morning as we approach the doctrine of the Trinity. Part of the issue may be that we try to compartmentalize everything when it comes to trying to understand it and we think that if we can do so than it will make much more sense to ourselves and hopefully to others that we are trying to communicate. However, God is found in the mystery and it is here that we live. It is through our faith that we come to trust and rely in the Trinity in relationship.

Yet, we still struggle for more answers to the most profound questions of humanity. Jesus states in John this morning that “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them” (16:12). If you are familiar with John in any matter than it may seem contradictory to what Jesus says in 15:15, “I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” So, what is it? Has Jesus made everything known to us, or does he still have many things to say that we cannot quite bear?

Yes! Jesus has made everything known to us. However, do we always pick up what he is laying down? The disciples are proof that not everything is understood that comes out of Jesus’ mouth. They were often left wondering what he was saying as well as at times appearing dense. Like myself in psychology, there are times when we are just not ready to bear those things that are being said or taught to us.

Our parents always had more to say, and they may still, but are we ready to bear some of those things that they are wanting to tell us? Teachers always have more to say, no matter what subject you are in, and it can get to a point when we are just ready to say enough is enough, I can only handle so much in one day. Children are not the only ones that have trouble bearing certain topics. Parents, are you ready to bear some of those things that your teenagers would like to say? Are we ready to bear suffering, severe illness, or even death?

We have much to learn, and we cannot do it on our own. Even though many of us will try. Jesus is well aware of this and knows that we cannot bear it all on our own. It is in the third part of the Trinity that Jesus sends his promise that the Spirit of truth will come and guide us all into the truth. Jesus’ teaching is not yet complete and it is in the Spirit that we will continue to be instructed.

The Holy Spirit is in relationship with God and Jesus so that we too may be able to reflect that relationship that is shared amongst them. We must be receptive to not just God and Jesus, for the Spirit comes bearing the truth that guides us in our ways. By being receptive to the Spirit we are led to a much better and deeper understanding of our faith. As the Trinity is in relationship, we are in community and reflect the love that the three in one have for each other.

We must be patient as we study and wait for the Spirit to come guide us in the way and share the truth. I fell in love with this painting when I found it earlier this week. It is titled, Studying the Bible, and it is by Leonid Afremov. For one thing, it reflects the importance of being in relationship with one another. The three gentleman in the painting appear to be of the three Abrahamic faiths and seem to be having a great conversation around the Bible. It speaks to relationship. It speaks to mystery.

The mystery that surrounds our faith should be embraced as we welcome the Spirit of truth to guide us. Get it out of your mind right now that we are expected to know everything and understand everything. Instead, let us wait and listen. We are called to be patient in this waiting and listening. We are called to listen to the past. We are called to listen to the present. We are called to listen to the future. We still have much to learn as children of God. May you be receptive to the Spirit of truth that Jesus has sent to guide us throughout the rest of our days.

*Studying the Bible, painting by Leonid Afremov