Saturday, June 03, 2023

Our Mysterious, Complex, Relational, Knowable God

I have a question for you. As we contemplate and celebrate the Feast of the Trinity, and as we enter into the “everyday,” “workaday,” and, yes, the “summer vacation” part of the Church’s year, I have a question for you. It’s simple. And not so simple. You ready? Here it is:

What is your way in to God? What opens the door to the divine for you? What introduces you to Jesus and readies your heart for the Holy Spirit?

Is it the vastness and wonder of God’s creation? Is it the sense of meaning and redemption that you have found in your relationship with God in Christ? Maybe you were a person who has suffered addictions, or abuse, or stuck in a cycle of really bad choices and have found healing and wholeness when you came to faith. Perhaps there was a time when you sought meaning, hope, or direction, and it came to you in an encounter with God. Maybe the door opened for you when you came to sobriety, to health.... or just to your senses!

Some people don’t really know… I get that!... but they know… something is drawing them in. I have found a surprisingly useful tool that can help all of us explore and go deeper into our spiritual journey and discover how wonderfully close the fullness, vastness, wonder, and love of the One God is to every single one of us.

It’s music. I love the visual arts, too, especially painting and iconography, but on this Trinity Sunday, I want to invite you to go deeper into this wonderful theological textbook and book of poetry that is our Hymnal. In doing that, I’d like you think about how it is that you meet God… because however that happens, I’ll bet that there is hymn for you!

The Trinity, the Christian doctrine that we contemplate and celebrate today, says that the oneness of God is expressed in a trinity of persons and a unity of being. The One God is manifested in a Trinity of persons. This is much more than metaphor, and we must avoid the temptation to reducing our language of God to mere "base three" thinking.

The Trinity tells us several things about the very nature of God. Not only do we know the One God as a unity of persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but the Trinity also tells us that: 

  1. God is complex to the point unknowing;
  2. God is relational; and,
  3. Because of that, through God's grace and action, God is knowable.

So, among other things, the Trinity also tells us that God offers us a variety of ways “in” to our relationship with God:

  •        We can contemplate the majesty and wonder of the God of All Creation in God the Father.
  •        We can enter in to intimate, healing relationship in Jesus, God the Son.
  •        We can enter in to the mystic power and mysterious movement of God in God the Holy Spirit.

These "ways in" should not be confused with the "roles" or "functions" of each person of the Trinity. While God want us to know Him, and know we have to take small spiritual bites on the way to knowing God, we have to be careful not to slice and dice the One God!

Of course, God is bigger than the universe, and our brains can only fit into a baseball cap; so yeah, the best we can do is use analogies to describe the fullness of God. This is a start, but it can get us into trouble.

Remember that each person of the Trinity all contain the entire fullness of the One God! And before you reach for the aspirin, remember that the Trinity shows us that God is complex, mysterious, and knowable all at the same time! What we need is holy imagination, grounded in prayer, scripture, the creeds, tradition, and in the worship of the church.

Think of the ways that God has led you into a deeper knowledge of God, I think that you will find that it depends on your learning style and way of looking at the world.

One of my favorite films is the 1997 movie “Cosmos,” where Jodie Foster plays a scientist…and religious skeptic…who is sent on a mission into an artificial wormhole built on the basis of instructions received via a radio transmission from the star Vega. As she travels she witnesses a magnificent celestial event, the birth of a star or and on seeing the light show she sobs and exclaims that she “... no words, no words... to describe it. Poetry! They should've sent a poet. So beautiful! I had no idea.”

Back in 2012, famed atheist Richard Dawkins debated the Rt. Honorable Rowan Williams, who had just wrapped his term at Archbishop of Canterbury, and described in nearly poetic terms the vastness and complexity of the cosmos asking why one would want to “clutter” up the beauty of science with religion. But as he spoke, Archbishop Williams just nodded, closing his eyes as if he was imagining the scene for himself. In response, Williams pointed Williams did not see God as mental clutter. “Let’s call him a combination of love and mathematics,” he said.

“The writers of the Bible,” Williams noted, “were not inspired to do 21st century physics. They were inspired to pass on to their readers what God wanted them to know.”

And that’s why we find ourselves expressing our encounter with God in poetry, art, and music, and why we often turn to the language of mystics and spiritual directors like St. Julian of Norwich, and even writers like Tolkien, Charles Williams, or Dorothy Sayers or Jan Karon, who in various ways explore their encounters with God in poetry and fiction.

And that brings us to the job that we’ve been given. Go and tell. Make disciples. Baptize and teach.

God speaks to us in the way that meets us exactly at the point of our greatest need. In Matthew’s last chapter we see people who go and tell about the risen Christ. Some people see the Risen Christ and don’t know what they’ve seen, like the soldiers who observed the risen Christ from afar, but since they have not met him, there is no relationship. It is at best only an interesting phenomenon, or a story but nothing more. Without that connection, there is no belief and there is no change.

But for those who enter into a relationship with God in Christ, who dare to go deeper, everything changes. The two Marys who met the risen Jesus in the garden. The eleven and the rest of the imperfect church who met the Risen Christ on the mountain. We meet him here in Christian community and in the sacramental life. The fullness of God being made known in Jesus tells us that Godself is best known in relationship. And from there, we meet God in the people God gives us.

So here is both Good News and a challenge: We who worship, and we who are still trying to understand are also all sent! The challenge is not to be distracted by what we don’t know but to dare to enter into relationship with God in the everyday. The fullness of God is made known in the Holy Spirit in the person of Jesus, who give us the power to change so that every day we can become more and more God’s people.

And every day, we go and tell. We can choose to be intentional about our message or we can just leave it up to the first impression. What will we say? How will we live. There is a saying out there, sometimes attributed (without evidence) to St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel. When necessary use words.”

We have seen the fullness of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit made known to us where we live and work and play. In Christ we know our savior and friend, our companion and teacher, our sovereign and our rest. We will tell that we have met the risen Jesus in our daily living and that God is changing us.

So, fellow friends and apprentices of Jesus, we are blessed, truly blessed, when we live Good News, and we tell what we have seen and heard. And remember, we are never, ever alone. 

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Here are the Scripture Lessons for Trinity Sunday, June 4, 2023.

Here is a video of the Sermon at St. John's, Clearwater, Florida on June 4, 2023.

Here is a video of the Liturgy at St. John's, Clearwater, Florida on June 4, 2023.

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