Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
Good morning! Every year, on or around St. Patrick’s Day, I post a video to my Facebook page. It’s a funny bit of satire in which St. Patrick attempts to explain the Holy Trinity to some Irish peasants. The peasants remind Patrick that they’re poor and uneducated, so Patrick needs to explain the Trinity in terms that those peasants can understand. I mention this, because today is Trinity Sunday.
In the video, St. Patrick proceeds to offer a series of analogies to explain the Trinity. After each analogy, the two peasants tell Patrick that his analogy is terrible, because Patrick has just recycled some old heresy in his explanation of the Trinity. I’ve posted it to this church’s Facebook page because it cracks me up every time I watch it. Please take a look when you get a chance.
That video is funny because the Trinity is difficult to explain. If you don’t believe me, try explaining the Trinity to someone who isn’t a Christian. Try explaining how we worship one God in three persons. Then try to explain how that’s different from worshiping three different gods. Even if you know the academic theology behind the doctrine of the Trinity, and even if you can explain it without committing heresy, it’s still pretty unlikely that you can explain the Trinity in a satisfactory way to someone who wasn’t raised in the Christian tradition.
Sometimes, when we’re faced with a really difficult challenge—in church or anywhere in life—we try to overexplain things. I know I’m guilty of this all the time. There’s always one more interesting thing I want to cram into a sermon. Or someone asks me a simple question and I respond with a five-minute lecture, er, um, answer. A five-minute answer. You can laugh at me for this; it’s okay. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about, give it time. Ask me a question about covenant faithfulness and I’ll give you a five-minute answer. Or a ten-minute answer. Whatever you prefer.
But I know I’m not the only one who does this. Even though I’m not a parent, I know that many parents over answer their children’s questions. They try to pour in as much information as they possibly can, especially this time of year, as children graduate from high school and head off to college.
Every graduation speaker tries to give one more piece of advice.
Every teacher tries to cram in one more bit of information, so that her students will be that much more successful in their classes.
Parents want to make sure that their sons and daughters will remain safe, get enough rest, go to class, eat well, study hard, do well in the classroom, and succeed socially. And remember everything we tell them.
The mistake that we all make is that we think it’s just about information. That there’s some little secret we can unlock if we just pour one more kernel of knowledge into their heads. Whether it’s a sermon on the Trinity or a bit of advice about how to get along with a roommate, we hope, foolishly, that some little bit of knowledge will lead to a better future, after our young people go out on their own. We want to believe that there are some magic words we can offer our children to spare them all the problems that might come their way when they leave the nest.
We hear some of this urgency in our reading from the Gospel of John. But there’s a twist. Jesus is going away, not the disciples. Scholars call this section of John’s Gospel the Farewell Discourse. This takes place right after the Last Supper. Jesus is giving the disciples their final set of instructions, their last lecture.
Jesus knows that he doesn’t have that much time left on Earth. You’d think he’d be really anxious about this! You’d think that he’d be trying to pour all of his knowledge into the disciples before he was arrested. You and I might think that because we’re all full of anxieties about things we can’t control. But Jesus isn’t like that; Jesus isn’t like us.
My hunch is that if Jesus had simply given the disciples more knowledge, he would have given them anxiety. Jesus says to them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” The weight of that knowledge is too great for the disciples. Jesus understands what the disciples do not; Jesus understands what we do not.
We try really hard to understand God and Jesus. We even try to understand the Holy Spirit, though we seem to have a bit more difficulty defining the Spirit. The problem is with us. Ultimately, God is too big to define. All of our words fall short. But we’re only human, so we keep trying to understand. So, we invent words and doctrines, like the Trinity. The Trinity explains who God is, and also what God does. The Trinity is not just information; it’s also a model that shows relationships and action.
I think we can all agree that humanity is broken and sinful. It always has been. God saw this, so God sent prophets to call for people to repent. God did this by sending the Holy Spirit to those prophets. When this didn’t work, God sent Jesus. But Jesus could only be in the created world for a little while. So, Jesus trained the disciples to carry on God’s work in the world. And to do that, God sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples so that they could carry out that work.
Instead of giving the disciples more knowledge and more anxiety, Jesus gives them the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth:
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (16:13-14)
Even though the human Jesus can’t be with the disciples forever, they will be equipped with the Spirit as they continue to do God’s work in the world.
All of these actions—of God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit—demonstrate God’s love for humanity. All of these actions show the movement and work of the Trinity. The Trinity represents the totality of God’s interactions with humanity. It’s not some abstract bit of theology, it’s a tool for understanding how God loves us and how God expresses that love:
· In an act of creative love, God the Father called the universe into being.
· In the same way, God the Father called humanity into being.
· In an act of love and mercy, God sent Jesus Christ into the world, so that all of humanity might be reconciled to God.
· In an act of steadfast love, God sent the Holy Spirit to the disciples, so that they could continue God’s work of reconciliation.
That love and that Holy Spirit are still poured out upon us, too. We are called to love as God loves, even if we can never love as well as God loves.
This isn’t one of my grand sermons on reconciliation. I’m not calling on you to go out fix a broken world. Not today. On this Sunday, we’re recognizing some of our graduates. So, I’m encouraging all of you parents, grandparents, surrogate parents, and friends, that our graduates have already been bombarded with advice. They’ve also been told to go out and change the world.
Surely, they will—whether or not you give them more advice. And if you have been practicing love all this time, then you don’t need to fill them with more knowledge. If you’ve been practicing love, you have shown them what they need to know; you don’t need to tell them anything else. As the Apostle Paul said, love is more important than knowledge. So, for all of you, I say, trust in the Trinity: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Trust that you have loved your children enough and taught them enough. Trust that your children’s teachers have taught them enough, too. Most of all, trust that the Holy Spirit will go with your children and equip them for what is to come. Then continue to practice love while they are still with you. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Now, beloved, as you depart from this place, remember that love is more important than knowledge, so practice love! Go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Share the love and peace and joy of our Lord with your children and with the world! In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!