Wednesday, 27 May 2015

The mystery of 3 in 1

Readings for May 31, 2015. Isaiah 6:1-13, Psalm 29, John 3:1-17, Romans 8:12-25

I have no trouble figuring out 3 in 1 oil (penetrates, lubricates, cleans), a "triple threat" in the arts (someone who can sing, dance, and act), a 3 part speech (aren't we all taught to have 3 points when we speak or write?)

There are many things that are multi-purpose and conveniently combined into one handy package.

So, I am baffled sometimes that Christianity has so much confusion around the idea of Trinity. What's the problem? 3 in 1, three descriptors for God, (Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer), and three ways to understand wholeness (Spiritual, Physical, Mental).

Of course, I am being overly simplistic, but I guess I've never felt the need to fully pull this apart and try to cram it into some logical system. Historically, however, the church has seemed to need to do this, to make a doctrinal statement of belief that becomes "fact" and everyone has to agree to it.

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. a day where the 3 in 1 is traditionally celebrated and preached in the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist denominations-according to Wikipedia. (Notice that Mennonite is missing. I guess that explains my "huh?" reaction when I encountered the idea of a Trinity Sunday!) In our Mennonite confession of faith, we do not have a separate article for any explanation of Trinity doctrine. In article 1, "God", there is a sentence; "We worship the one holy and loving God who is Father, Son, and Holy spirit eternally." The articles on Jesus and the Holy Spirit, likewise, express similar unifying statements, but also do not try to tease the triad apart. David Lose, in his May 28, 2012 article for 'Working Preacher" says; "...I think, that trying to explain the Trinity in a sermon is a really, really, bad idea."  I tend to agree. Going all doctrinal on this idea of Trinity assumes that God can be explained somehow, put into neat understandable categories that all of us simply must agree to in order that our belief is somehow correct. For me, the Trinity is just a helpful tool towards, but not encompassing, understanding.

It's laughable that we think God can be partitioned and explained, and yet, of course we need some handles for understanding.

At first, Isaiah 6 seems irrelevant, but it's actually a neat 3 in 1 itself. Emotions (v5), thinking through a problem (v7), and doing something (v8) are all part of this passage. These three ways of reacting to issues interest me as a student of the Enneagram, a personality theory system. In the Enneagram, there are 3 basic types of personality centers, the heart (feelings first), the head (thinking first), and the gut (reactionary). Isaiah addresses all the aspects of the complete human!

Psalm 29 reminds us that God is unfathomable, powerful beyond our imagining. How can words describe God?

Romans makes an amazing claim, that because we share in God's spirit, we are joint heirs with Christ. We get to be a part of the great 3 in 1, and not as an awkward fourth, but joined to the whole in spirit.

The John passage, containing what is arguably the most famous Bible verse, makes me think again about the futility of trying to understand the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus struggles to understand the idea of faith and rebirth, In verses 6-8, Jesus compares the spirit to the wind that blows where it chooses. We can't see it, control it, or predict it. God's spirit too, is not something we can fully understand or control, but it happens. I love this because, as a practical "gut" person, I am a doer and here I cannot be one. Here I am challenged to be something else. Here I can't do anything, control anything, predict anything. I have to give up trying to handle the Spirit and give myself over to letting it handle me. It is more than doing, more than saying, it is being open to receive God. And that being "in the spirit" is remarkably rejuvenating! I will still strive to understand, but be okay with knowing it is impossible. I will still feel, but feel that God is with me in it. I will still react and do things, but can (hopefully) give control over to God for the results.  Three in one, thinking, feeling, and doing, and all three finding oneness in the mystery of God.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Revolting and Utterly Compelling

Passages for May 24. Ezekiel 37:1-14, Ps 104:24-35, Rom. 8:22-27, Acts 2:1-21, John 15:26-27, 16:4-15

Ezekiel is a dreamy guy. At least he has a lot of dreams. One of the most famous, (and famously disturbing for those of us with active imaginations), is the vision of a valley full of dry bones rattling back together, growing sinews and muscle, being clothed with skin, and finally breathing and walking around. Both ick and wow. The concept is both revolting and utterly compelling.

Of course, this is an impossible thing, it is not reality, it is a dream. But it is a dream theme that recurs often in the story of God's people. Death to life is the story of the exodus, of Joseph and his brothers, It is the story of Lazarus, (and other NT miracles). Most importantly, it is the story of Jesus, the story that we are invited to share in, live by, die by, and be reborn into.

The story of the dry bones invites us to believe that God can heal any situation, even crossing the boundaries of life and death.It's a great, vivid story, one that is preached and sung often in churches. Preached and sung, but not often believed or even hoped. It's one thing to talk about resurrection and new life, but it's another thing to allow room for it to happen in our own lives. Why is it so hard to believe that God enables anger to turn to understanding, that sorrow can become joy, that enemies can learn to care for each other?

Think about some of the places in your own life that are "dead". Relationships beyond healing, hurtful words spilled like milk, missed opportunities, regrets. These things don't rattle back together, grow new skin and live. And yet....if we are believers in an all powerful Creator, why do we despair? Why do we claim a saviour that has conquered death and yet doubt healing is possible? Why do we doubt that something can come back together?

Ezekiel's response to God's question; "can these bones live" is brilliant. He answers: "O Lord God , you know." In this, Ezekiel acknowledges his limitations. He is unable to believe they can live, but he is also unable to doubt God. He simply acknowledges his limitation, trusts God and obeys what he is called to do. When we look at situations that, in our understanding, are beyond healing, we do well to model our responses after Ezekiel's.

There are other bits in these passages to help underline this theme of submitting to and trusting God. Romans 8 encourages us to hope even when we can't see our way through or even manage to pray for ourselves. We are assured that God's spirit 'intercedes with sighs too deep for words." (v26) John 16 promises that this spirit, the advocate, will come and guide us to truth (16:13)

Ezekiel's dry bones vision is incredibly hopeful, it reminds us that we are not in control, we are not knowledgeable or powerful enough to say what God can or cannot do. At the same time that this is hopeful, I still find it frightening too. Even if those bones can come back together and live, then what? Relationships that heal still need a lot of hard work and tender care. It can be tiring. Enemies that learn to live side by side and share have to find new ways to negotiate and old patterns and culture have to be set aside. Doing things differently is hard work.This trusting in God and doing what we are called to do (even when we don't understand or see the hope) is difficult. We can take comfort in hearing that there is an advocate who understands and intercedes and remembering that it is God who breathes life where we know it is needed, but can't see the possibilities ourselves. That message is utterly compelling.