Coming Together

June 16, 2019

Series: June 2019

Category: Trinity Sunday

Speaker: Rob McClellan

John 16:12-15

12 "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, the Spirit will guide you into all the truth; for the Spirit will not speak on his (or her own) own, but will speak whatever they hear(s), and the Spirit will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 The Spirit will glorify me, because the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD.

 Coming Together

          I recently attended, along with several members of the church, a meeting of the Strawberry Design Review Board.  I toyed with sharing highlights of that two…and…a half…hour…meeting with you, but I won’t put you through that.  God bless our public servants who volunteer for such roles. 

It was an important meeting for the church.  The plans for our renovation and expansion were unanimously approved.  You’ll get to hear more about progress on the project and engage in a discussion about funding and financing after the 10:00 service.  I hope you can stick around. 

          Today is Trinity Sunday, when we are to celebrate the doctrinal mystery of understanding God as both three and one.  If you prefer, I can share highlights from the Strawberry Design Review Board.  I don’t mean to be irreverent; it’s just I have come to recognize that even for many Christians, the Trinity is a tricky teaching, a curious concept, and not simply because of the particular names chosen for the three.  Whether it’s Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, I think people resist being asked to accept what feels a contrived, perhaps limiting definition of that which is infinite and beyond the reach of our words.  It’s true some of the words in Scripture are Holy Spirit, or simply Spirit.  Of course we see God introduced first as Creator, the one Jesus calls Father (Dad, really).  Then there is Jesus himself, who Christians call Christ, God in the flesh, a perfect union of spirit and matter as some have put it.

          Preachers make all kinds of attempts at explaining the mystery of the Trinity.  They try and offer helpful metaphors or images—which is all we have—but they almost always fall well short.  The Trinity is like water, people say; it can be solid, liquid, or a gas.  Okay…but so what? “It’s like an egg,” they’ll say, “yoke, white, and shell.”  Awful.  Each week I select an image for the worship focus, materials that are available in the narthex and online that preview what’s coming in next Sunday’s worship. When searching for this week’s image I had fun entering “Trinity” into stock image search engines.  Here’s what I found:

  • The first site I searched had zero images for the Trinity.
  • The first entry on another rather inexplicably was of two sea otters, with one on the other’s back. Work with that if you can.
  • One had three leaves.
  • Another was a rowing team, I’m guessing from Trinity College.
  • There were church buildings.
  • Strangely, I found more than one image of kangaroos.
  • There was person skateboarding over an explosion of pink smoke
  • And finally a Boston public school bus.
  • When I searched simply under “God,” the most common images were statues of Buddha, California search engines perhaps? Still strange since Buddhists don’t tend to talk about God, nor Buddha as God.

 At about that point I gave up.  And at about that point, I received a call from a parent whose child goes to high school at Branson.  One of the Branson students, Kwentyn Wiggins, had died tragically in a car accident early Monday morning.  Now, I didn’t know Kwentyn, but it was clear he was one of those kids who was special—well-liked, smart, athletic, kind.  He took others under his wings, whether younger teammates or younger classmates from Marin City.  We have a number of families with young people at Branson, and regardless of the school, this kind of thing can really shake a community.  Forgive me if the need to talk about the Trinity seems a little less pressing right now.  What difference does it make to talk about God as three and one in moments such as this one?

          What do you say to a young person who has lost a classmate, a parent a child, or one who can’t help but wonder, “That could have been me?  That could have been my child?  Any of us?  How do we talk about God in the face of that?  We know better than to offer the platitudes about somebody being in a better place, about their being a plan, that things working out in some larger way.  Those things may be true.  I certainly hope so, but they’re not true in ways we’ll likely understand in this life.  Mostly saying them just hurts people who are already hurting.  

          I think most of the time when bad things happen, whether it’s someone dying in a car accident, a grave and unexpected illness, loss of a job, divorce, you name it, what people need is pretty simple, and it’s not about God, at least not on the surface.  What people need is others who care about them.  In moments such as these we need to come together.  It’s simple, but not easy.  It’s not easy because learning how to be together can be hard.  It’s not easy because requires a lot of time nurturing relationships, laying the groundwork, so that a community can be built.  If you wait until the earth-shaking event happens, it’s too late to try and create something solid that can hold you.    

This is going to sound like non sequitur, but to me it follows.  All of this may be why we baptize people the way we do.  We don’t sprinkle some miraculous water on someone’s head so that God will now magically take care of that person.  We sprinkle water on their head and say they are the miracle, made in the image of God, and we promise to take care of them.  We promise to care about them, and not just when they are cute babies, but when they grow up to make us proud and when they grow up to let themselves down in front of us.

About a year ago, we spoke a lot in here about Mr. Rogers, that children’s television star and Presbyterian minister, because a couple of films were made about him.  Mr. Rogers used to talk about people in our lives who love us into being, who truly care for us, and who want only what is best for us.  He would regularly ask people to stop and call to mind who those people were fore people:  a coach, a teacher, a family member, a friend, someone at a church you attended, a mentor. 

          I wonder who those people are, or have been, for you.  Let’s just take a few moments, 20 seconds or so, and remember them.  I’ll watch the time.

          Would anyone like to share?

          (Allow time for sharing and discussion.)

          How proud they must be to know what they meant to you.  Everybody needs people who care about them.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that this is what Jesus was trying to show us, that everybody needed somebody, a community, so he sought out those that nobody wanted to be around.  He would put his body near theirs to signal that they were worthy of someone wanting the best for them.  And, Jesus was careful to say consistently that what he could do, we could do.  About where today’s passage comes in in the larger story, he’s telling them that he’s not going to be around forever, at least not in that form.  He’d send the Spirit of truth as a guide, and all that the Father’s was his and he’d give it to us through the Spirit and it’d be up to us to carry it out. 

          There it is, the Trinity.  While there may be problems with many of the images people have for the Trinity, there is one that may be helpful to us.  It’s an image of three persons dancing:  distinct yet connected, in motion, playing off one another, expressing individually and collectively, always involved in the movement of one another, and never apart, never leaving each other.  It’s actually quite an old way of talking about the Trinity, though has come back into fashion.  Why does it matter?  Because in this imagining, God models for us how to come together, how to be together.  The Trinity, like a good dance, shows us how to be connected, to not lose our identities, but complement one another, and be a part of something greater.  The Trinity shows us how to love and how to recognize that at the core there is only one.

          The church is nothing meaningful if it is not the place where we practice coming together, as Brian McLaren calls it, a school or laboratory of love, because when tragedy hits, or joy or cause for celebration, the only thing that is clear is that we need to come together.  We need to be ready, to lay the groundwork week after week. 

That, incidentally, is why we’re repairing and expanding this church.