A Reading from the Book of Proverbs (8:1-4, 22-31)
Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth— when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
1 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
2 Out of the mouths of infants and children *
your majesty is praised above the heavens.
3 You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *
to quell the enemy and the avenger.
4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
5 What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?
6 You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;
7 You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under his feet:
8 All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,
9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.
10 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Romans (5:1-5)
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (16:12-15)
Jesus said to his disciples, “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 the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Two weeks ago, I was out running some errands and listening on the car radio to NPR’s “Science Friday.” That particular show featured an interview with Saul Perlmutter, Professor of Physics at UC Berkeley and co-winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics. He was awarded that honor for his work on the expanding universe and, specifically, on dark energy.
What exactly is dark energy? Well, nobody really knows. It is apparently something that comprises about 68% of our universe, but we don’t have any idea what it is, only what it does. It is the force that is causing the universe to expand at an accelerating rate. The Hubble Space Telescope has enabled scientists to see its effects without giving us any real clues as to what it might be.
Scientists have also determined that 27% of our universe is comprised of something else that is little understood: dark matter. Quickly adding that 68% and 27% together gives us 95%. That means that all the matter and energy that we can measure or observe comprises only about 5% of our entire physical universe; and, even with that 5%, our understanding is far more limited than we care to admit. 5%! We know so little about the world in which we live, the world of which we are a part.
With that sobering and humbling thought in mind, I find it amazing that some people claim to have absolute, definitive and unchangeable views about who God is and is not, about how God works and how God does not. Making such claims, it seems to me, is arrogance taken to the nth degree. If we understand only such a tiny fraction of the physical universe in which we live, and have no idea at all what 95% of it even is, how can we possibly claim to have a clear and unchallengeable understanding of God, who, we claim, is far more unknown and mysterious that all that we can observe and measure and comprehend?
Trinity Sunday is as good an opportunity as any to recognize how limited our understanding of God and our understanding of the ways of God are and to recommit ourselves to living without a lot of clear-cut answers, to living in the mystery. But living in that mystery does not mean that we simply throw up our hands and abandon the quest. We engage in the journey anyway: the journey into the mystery who is God.
Jesus, in this morning’s gospel reading, tells his disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” Notice, Jesus doesn’t say that the Spirit is going to come and deliver to us all the truth, pre-packaged and complete for all time. Instead, he says that the Spirit is going to guide us into all the truth. The Greek verb translated “guide” is comprised of two other words that mean literally: “lead along the road.” The Spirit of God is given to us, not to present us with an unchangeable set of truths so that we can simply pull out a verse or two of scripture when we want, and they will instantly answer all our questions. Instead, the Spirit of God is given to us to lead us along the road: that longest of all roads, that road whose end is nothing less than the kingdom of God, come in all its fullness. At that time, we might have the final and definitive truth about God – maybe – but certainly not before that time.
Eugene Bay, the former President of Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, notes that, in this passage, John wants to “encourage within the community an openness to fresh encounters with the revelation of Jesus,” one that is “receptive to Spirit-guided growth… John imagines a community that is not locked into the past but understands what Jesus means for its own time. He anticipates that changing circumstances and the emergence of new questions… will require the community to think afresh” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 3, page 46).
Resisting the temptation to be locked into the past and being willing to think afresh are perennial challenges for the people of God. And the older I get, the more I recognize that people across the theological spectrum often have the same problems when it comes to moving further along the road where God is leading us.
Some folks seem stuck in the church of the 1940s and 1950s with its way of thinking and acting and being the church. They hold onto what they think of as the “tradition” of the church: but that word “tradition” usually refers, not to the genuine long-term tradition of our faith, one going back nearly 2000 years, but only to “what they grew up with,” “what is familiar and comfortable for them.” It often has little to do with the church’s genuine tradition.
At the same time, others — some who think of themselves as progressive — are just as stuck in the past as the so-called “traditionalists” are. Their “past” is just a little more recent. They seem stuck in the church of the 1960s and 1970s, sometimes getting even a little into the 1980s. They think of their ways of approaching the scriptures, social issues, and the direction of the church as being on the leading edge, as pointing the way to the future. But they are not. As the saying goes, “The future just isn’t what it used to be!” The world has passed them by as well. As philosopher and social anthropologist Ernest Gellner put it, “There is nothing more dated than the modernism of the previous generation.”
Our quest, the church’s quest, is not to find a clear set of answers and ways of thinking that we can hold onto and that will necessarily be valid for the rest of our lives. God will not be limited to a past from 60 or 70 or 100 years ago; nor will God be limited to a past from 20 or 30 or 40 years ago.
The road on which the Spirit is leading the church, the road toward the kingdom of God, goes on. We are perhaps a little father along that road than we were several decades ago, but only a little.
As we continue along that road, we need to remind ourselves of how little of God and of the ways of God we actually know, to allow God to lead us into new understandings and new perspectives. We need always to keep our sight focused and our ears attuned to the Spirit of God, so that we might know where the Spirit is leading us now. And, recognizing our own limitations and finitude, we need always to allow ourselves to live in the mystery.