Too much to bear – a sermon

My Trinity Sunday sermon can be heard on the Saint Paul’s website, or read it here.

“Jesus said to the disciples, ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now…” If you listened carefully on Monday morning, you might have been able to hear preachers across the globe letting out a huge sigh of relief as they read the opening line to today’s Gospel lesson and realized that Jesus himself was giving them a pass on preaching the doctrine of the Trinity. You see, today is the most dreaded preaching day of the year.  The First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday is one of those days when we preachers put way too much pressure on ourselves to explain the unexplainable.  Over the course of some two thousand years, the Church has yet to find a suitable way to explain the Trinity that is a) easy to understand and b) not filled with heresy, and yet, every year, thousands of preachers try to take it upon themselves to come up with a twelve minute sermon that accomplishes the task.  I’ll admit it, I struggled with it too this week.  I really wish there was a simple, biblical way to fully explain the doctrine of the Trinity, but the reality is God is bigger than our wisdom can fathom and there is more to say about God than any of us can bear.  As I read through the lessons and realized that even Jesus held back at times, I breathed a little easier, knowing that maybe having a full understanding of the Trinity isn’t what’s important. Without the self-inflicted pressure to adequately describe and suitably amaze you with my knowledge of the difference between homoousious and homoiousious, I, and preachers all around the globe, have been set free to instead tell you about the equally mind boggling love of God as revealed in three persons of one substance: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

For the fifth consecutive week, our Gospel lesson takes place during Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples.  Jesus has laid some pretty difficult teaching on their shoulders.  He’s predicted that one of the twelve will betray him.  He’s told Peter that he will deny Jesus three times before the night is over.  He’s promised that the world will hate them just as the world has hated Jesus.  On top of all that, he says to them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now…”  What an unfair thing to say to someone.  What more can their possibly be, Jesus?  We can’t bear what you’ve already told us, why hold back now?  Just tell us plainly.

From past experience with these eleven guys, Jesus knows that the events of the next 24 hours will be more than his disciples can bear.  Each time he’s predicted his death and resurrection to them, they’ve freaked out.  The first time, Peter flat out told him he was wrong.  The second time, the whole group broke out into an argument about which one of them was the greatest.  The last time, James and John took it as a chance to angle for better positions in his will.  Jesus knows that the disciples are going to fail him spectacularly over the coming days, and yet he loves them so deeply that he chooses to hold back, to let them deal with the impending grief, and to allow the Spirit of truth come in behind and rebuild them as apostles of the risen Jesus.  “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…”  Jesus had already promised his disciples the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Just a few moments earlier, he told them that when he leaves, the Father will send another Helper, a Comforter and Advocate, to come alongside them.  There too, he calls this Helper “the Spirit of truth.”  This Spirit will come, Jesus says, to lead the disciples into all the  truth that right now is too much for them to bear.

Last Sunday, we celebrated the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit arrived in power and might like wind and flame and a cacophony of sound, and while that Pentecostal experience gets most of the publicity, it certainly wasn’t the first time the Spirit was at work in the world.  If Jesus’ promise to his disciples is true, then the Spirit of truth was with them at the moment of his death.  The Spirit of truth was there to comfort the disciples in their grief, even if they couldn’t realize it.  The Spirit of truth was there to help the disciples come to grips with the amazing story that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead, even if the news was too much for them to handle.  The Spirit of truth was there as they watched Jesus ascend into heaven and wondered what on earth was going to happen next.  And the Spirit of truth continued to be present to them every moment of every day as they went about their work of sharing the Good News of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection with a world that was hungry and angry and confused all at once.

The Spirit of truth is still present in the lives of the disciples of Jesus today, revealing the truth of God’s unfailing love slowly, over the course of a lifetime, at a pace that is manageable for us to handle because if we’re really honest with ourselves, many of us have a list of questions that we want to ask God when we get to heaven.  I know I do.  I want to know if all dogs go to heaven.  I want to know why the doctrine of the Trinity is so dog gone hard to understand.  [I want to know why that high g just before the third stanza of Canticle 13 gives me goose bumps every time I hear it.]  I want to know why bad things happen to good people.  I especially want to know why good things happen to bad people.  There are a lot of things that I want to know about the overwhelming fullness of God’s love for me and for people I wish God didn’t love so much, but I can’t bear it yet, which is why I’m thankful that God loves me enough to send the Spirit of truth to guide me into all truth… slowly… not all at once… but in due time.

In two weeks, I’ll head off to Sewanee, Tennessee for my fifth and final year of doctoral studies at the School of Theology.  It’ll be my eighth year of seminary studies.  In the course of those eight years, I’ve learned just enough about the love of God to know that there is still a whole lot more to know.  I could spend the rest of my life digging through books, reading what the greatest minds to ever think have to say about God.  I could sit in dozens of seminar classes, arguing deep theological truths until I was blue in the face.  I could write thousands of pages on the love of God, but nothing will be a better teacher than the Spirit of truth who Jesus promised and the Father sent.  Knowing everything there is to know about God pales in comparison to knowing God as revealed in the creating, loving, and sustaining Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  As we celebrate Trinity Sunday, thankfully, we can do so without getting all caught up in how  the whole three in one and one in three thing works. Instead, let’s invite the Spirit of truth to lead us into the fullness of the truth of God’s love for us and for all that the Father has created and the Son came to redeem.  Let’s let the Spirit reveal that love to us in God’s time.  Let’s be patient, and trust that knowing God is far superior to knowing about God.  There really is way more to say this Trinity Sunday, way more than any of us can bear, but sometimes, a simple word of love is more than enough.  May God bless you with a profound experience of the truth of his deep and abiding love today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life.  Amen.


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