There are some things in this world that should remain a mystery. For instance, I’ve never quite figured out how fireflies know when the month of June rolls around. Did I mention that I saw my first firefly of the summer last evening? I literally “saved” him from being eaten by our cat, Frasier, by escorting the little fella outside to continue doing what all fireflys do best: dispelling the darkness…with their somewhat sporadic “light dance.” I’ve heard it said that there are places one can go where all of the fireflies “blink” in unison. How they know to do that…God only knows. It remains a mystery, and perhaps, that really is the best answer of all. When it comes to mysteries relating to God, however, there is none better than the one that is being presented to us today in the doctrine of the Trinity…or to be even more correct, The Holy Trinity, for sure.
To think of God as three persons…is a concept that we in the church have had a time getting our minds around. Until Jesus came on the scene, no one had even thought of God as being somehow divided among two individuals…much less three. And then, when Jesus started talking about returning to the Father…so that he could then send the Holy Spirit…is it any wonder that the disciples were clueless?
The Bible itself often muddied the waters by making it “sound” like all three operated independently of one another. “Now I am going to him who sent me,” Jesus says in the sixteenth chapter of John’s gospel (verse 5). And then in verse 7, Jesus insists: “Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” Finally, Jesus concludes with verse 15 of today’s gospel lesson: “All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine…and make it known to you.”
Who are all these people? How can God the Father…be his own son? And if Jesus is God, then whom is he talking to? And where does the Holy Spirit enter into this conversation? Is that the spirit of God…or the spirit of Jesus…or someone else altogether? If they are all one…why do they come and go at different times? And how can one of them, send another of them?
If we think that after all this time, the church in it’s collective wisdom has come up with the final answers to these really good questions…then we are the ones who remain clueless. There are orthodox answers to all of these questions, but I must admit…I haven’t entirely understood any of them. I have learned to accept them for what they are: honest human efforts at putting into words what can not fully be understood. It remains a mystery…this nature of God that seems to exist as three persons…and yet, remain wholly…one.
We’d probably be better off if we’d simply let this whole affair go. And yet, something deep down inside of us draws us in for a closer look…and stirs the imagination. And we begin to put into words what we can only experience with our hearts. In a way our experience with God is much the same as that of Moses, who wanted to see God’s face. God’s answer, if we can recall, was that I will hide my face from you as I pass by…and you shall see only my back…lest you gaze upon me and die. In other words, God is letting us all in on a little secret: it’s OK to live in the mystery of Gods’ presence.
I like what author Robert Capon says about human beings who try to describe God…we are like a bunch of oysters trying to describe a ballerina. We simply do not have the equipment to understand something so utterly beyond us. But…that has never stopped us from trying.
In today’s first lesson from the Book of Proverbs, we hear how The Lord (presumably God) created someone who was with him before the beginning of the earth. Could that someone be the same “wind” that in Genesis 1:1 moved over the face of the waters when God created the heavens and the earth? And then in verse twenty-six…appeared to be with God when God said: “Let us make human kind in our image…according to our likeness.”
Even the Apostle Paul…in today’s second lesson…was sure to be inclusive of all three persons (God…our Lord Jesus Christ…the Holy Spirit) when it came down to putting into words where we stand in relationship to God…because of Jesus’ saving act of grace. And it is to that relationship that I would now turn our attention.
First of all, it is a personal relationship that is dependant upon how we relate to God in our day to day lives. The problem being that God seldom relates to one person in the exact same way he relates to another. Some days…God comes as a judge…walking through our lives wearing white gloves and proving to us once again how ineffective we are when it comes to keeping our own house clean. On other days…God comes as a Shepherd, with staff in hand…ready to defend us from all harm…and to provide for our every need. Notice…I said “need”…not want.
Some days God comes as a whirlwind…blowing threw our lives with such power that we are forced to let go of our absolutes…leaving us wide open to the blowing of the Spirit. Other days…God comes to us as a brooding hen…hiding us in the down of her feathered wings, much like a mother would console her frightened child. If we were to name all of the ways God comes to us, the list would go on forever: God the teacher, God the servant, God the prodder, God the healer, God the friend, God the stranger…I think we get the point. The point being: God is many…which is at least one of the mysteries of the doctrine of the Trinity. The other mystery…is that God is still…one.
We tie ourselves up in knots just trying to explain what all of this means, even using props like a three leaf clover (that was St. Patrick’s idea), or pointing out that water can be seen in the form of ice, liquid , or steam. Peeling an apple and pointing out the fleshy part along with the core would be a popular one with Preschool teachers. But my favorite as of late…comes from a hymn adapted from a Shaker tune by Sydney Carter. This hymn brings to my mind an image that is so compelling, that it makes me “shiver” just thinking about it. The image being that of: God…the dancer.
Picture this: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all three engaged in a close, joyful, loving dance…arms woven together in perfect harmony. And as is true in any dance, one of them takes the lead. It is Jesus, who in turn seeks to bring us into this Trinitarian relationship by simply inviting us…to join in the divine dance. Whether we understand it or not, how can we refuse? Hear then…his invitation (from the Lord of the Dance):
Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he. Amen