May I speak in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Last Sunday, our church had a wonderful celebration. Between our 9 o’clock and 11:15 services we had over 65 individuals presented in faith to the congregation and to our God. Among the children, the teenagers, and the adults, Bishop Susan Goff prayed for each individual that they may receive a gift from God’s Spirit.
It was a sight to behold. Music and energy resonated throughout the congregation and there was a sense of hope in the eyes of some as they looked upon the future generations of our church. What a great way to celebrate Pentecost, a day that commemorates the birth of our church through God’s gift of the Holy Spirit. I am thankful for being able to witness this event for a second time here at St. James’s and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
Today, however, we must move in a different direction. Our gospel reading in John highlights a topic that is hard to understand and even harder to discuss with others at length. What I am referring to is how we understand the full nature of God, what tradition has defined as the Trinity.
If we pretend for a bit that we are like Jesus’s first disciples, I believe we will have a greater appreciation for this difficult task. The disciples have basically run the gauntlet. Not too long ago, they saw their leader killed, only then to return, walking among them with abundant life. They wrestled with Jesus’ words about God as his Father and him as God’s Son. Now they had to wrestle with this mysterious thing called the Holy Spirit that descended upon them like tongues of fire.
What do you do with it all? I can imagine them asking all sorts of questions regarding who God is, what God does, and how we are to put it all together. In fact, I know these are some of the questions they were asking, because all Christians have been asking this in some shape or form for the past 2000 years. We are still asking these questions. And, after church, if you would like to look at a great piece of theological work that tries to take on this gargantuan task, I ask you to look at The Creed of Saint Athanasius found on page 864 in the Book of Common Prayer. No joke, it’s a wonderfully done piece of work, but it also has a wonderful tendency to cause severe bouts of brain freeze to anyone who reads it. You don’t even need a drink.
I say don’t look at it until after church for one reason. I don’t want to go there today. One sermon hardly presents the opportunity to answer all the world’s problems, let alone all the questions we might have about God. It can’t be done in a sermon, a creed, or with a clever one sentence answer.
What I do want today is to share a story with you that is very much like my journey with God, one that created a deeper desire to know and experience more. This story is about the strongest relationship I have encountered with another human being, which exists between me and my lifelong partner, my wife, Yinghao. My hope in sharing is that you too will find a way to deepen that desire to know and experience more in your own relationships and with God. (My apologies in advance to my wife who most likely hear this sermon online Tuesday morning).
Many of you know that Yinghao and I met in high school. We started dating the summer before our senior year. What first drew me to her were our conversations together. We were friends first, but, in time, infatuation set in. I found myself wanting to know everything about her. What music did she like? What did she find funny? Would she think I was cool because I was in the marching band?
As we began a relationship together, I grew to know more of who she was as a person. I could see where her priorities lie. I could see how she loved me. I could see her sacrifice and love for others in her actions. By being a part of her experiences and wanting to learn more of her story, I began to know Yinghao. When I liken this to my relationship with God, I see and begin to know Jesus, the Son of God.
Over the years, my relationship with Yinghao grew. When we moved beyond simple infatuation, we learned that being in relationship involves taking part in or appreciating the interests of the other. It wasn’t until college that I learned Yinghao had a very artistic eye. I remember one time stumbling across a small painting she had been working on. She created a beautiful flowering limb from a cherry blossom tree with nothing more than canvas, paint, and a brush. She has so many abilities that sit outside of my understanding and skill that I am often baffled by her in heart, body, and mind. When I liken this to my relationship with God, I see and begin to know God as creator, God the Father.
Lastly, as a married couple now living under the same roof, I have seen our relationship change quite drastically. Now, living more intentionally for the other, I see Yinghao working through me and with me to realize a multitude of possibilities in her life and in my own. I am often pushed and encouraged to go after something I am passionate about. She helps me to realize the possible. Yinghao also pulls me back, changes things up, helping me to restrain some of my negative tendencies. She helps me contemplate on things before I take any action. Now whether or not it is always noticed or welcomed, Yinghao has changed me and will continue to change me simply by taking part in my life. When I liken this to my relationship with God, I see and begin to know God as the unpredictable sustainer of life, God the Holy Spirit.
The beautiful revelation that this 10 year journey together has brought me so far is that I have only scratched the surface. It would take more than one lifetime to know, fully experience, and appreciate everything that makes up the person that is my wife. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we would find this to be true of all the relationships we have with people we love. It is hard enough to fully know ourselves let alone another person. The same, if not more so, goes for our knowledge of God.
When I say in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit at the beginning of a sermon or at the end of a prayer, I don’t call upon the Trinity out of simple allegiance to doctrine or tradition, though the work and the voices of those doctrines are extremely important. I call upon God as someone who seeks relationship. As human beings, knowledge starts and stops with it. Yet, relationship with another brings with it the possibility to experience things that go beyond it.
I know that I will never fully understand God, just as I will never fully understand my wife, but I do know God in many ways that are similar to the ways that I know my wife or to the ways I know you. Personal experience, stories, thoughts, prayers, time are just a few things that help me point to knowledge of God.
The beauty of knowing God as Trinity expresses our ability to point to something or many things without ever claiming to fully understand it as a whole. God is this, but not that. God is this, but so much more. As human beings we are able to encounter the totality of God without ever exhausting the mystery of God. And that is what I want us to leave here remembering.
The Trinity was not defined as a means to limit or compartmentalize our knowledge of God, like we tend to do with our worship of God on Sundays or at prayer time. Rather, the Trinity was defined to expand our limited view of what God is and can be in the world we encounter. We cannot go anywhere in this life without experiencing an aspect of God. All the matter that exists, all the best and worst things we encounter, and the reality that change is the only true constant in this universe points to the Trinity.
God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer…God as the one in whom we encounter through relationship.
My hope for all of us this day is that we may live more intentionally in our lives to see God in all aspects of our personal experience and narrative. If we seek to build relationship with God in a multitude of ways, like we do with the people we love, we will gain knowledge and experience of God that everlasting, even if we only have time to barely scratch the surface. Amen.