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Sunday, June 3, 2012

Love Is No Mystery

We confess a faith in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which we know because Jesus has revealed this to us about God.  Though this will always be deep mystery, what Jesus revealed about God’s love for the world is not a mystery at all.

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, The Holy Trinity, year B; text: John 3:1-17

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Humanity is always looking for God, it seems a consistent theme.  The beautiful Psalm 27, which begins, “The LORD is my light and my salvation,” says it best in verse 8:  “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!  Your face, LORD, do I seek.”  We look so we can better understand God and God’s purpose for us.

But let’s be honest.  Most of humanity is a mystery to us.  Each one of us doesn’t really understand our own motives, or true essence, let alone that of others.  Our parents, or children, or loved ones, while we know them, and think we understand them, even try hard to understand them, are at their core a mystery to us.  And what of our existence as a species?  Biologists and chemists can tell us what makes up a human being, but can anyone really explain what a human is, or what makes us different from other mammals, or other, more distant species?  And if that’s true about human beings, how much more so is it true for God?

Today Christians celebrate the reality, the essence of God, what God has revealed to us, that the true God, creator of the universe, is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  But let’s not mistake ourselves.  God is a deep mystery, deeper than we can fathom.  We never have a handle on who God really is.

But here’s the Good News.  Today we celebrate not what we don’t know but what we do.  That somehow the God of the universe has shown us a glimpse, a picture, of the true divine essence.  Enough that our small brains can grasp part of the picture, only part, but a true picture nonetheless.  And the source of our picture, our glimpse, is the Son of God, our Lord Jesus, whom we claim was God himself, and who taught us what we need to know about God.

And this is what we learn from Jesus: The true God is known by loving relationships within God, and with us.

It’s no accident that Jesus uses relational language to describe God.  So first, Jesus teaches us to call our Creator “Father,” a relational word, and invites us to a life of prayer in that loving relationship.  I want to suggest that it’s very important that we keep this language, if for no other reason than that it was an abiding experience of the only One who can truly tell us about God, the Son himself.  It’s clear that many people struggle with masculine language for God, because it’s often used exclusive of others.

But let’s say two things about that.  First, the Father, the Creator, the first Person of the Trinity, is not male.  And yet second, he was known to the Incarnate Son in such a way that Jesus could only describe as Father, and Jesus invites us to use that intimate, parental language ourselves.  Within the Trinity, the Second Person relates to the First Person in a relationship Jesus best could describe for us as Father-Son.  And as God relates to God within the Trinity, we’re invited into that relationship ourselves.

This is a gift, my friends.  Whether or not we had good fathers or bad fathers, to know the Creator as our Father, to be able to intimately pray to the same Father Jesus prayed to, this is gift.  In fact, I think the bigger problem we have is that too often people equate “Father” with the entirety of the Triune God, not just the First Person.  And that is too small a concept, too limited a language, to speak of “Father” as equal to all that God is.

Because it was Jesus himself that opened up a deeper understanding of who God is, once people after the resurrection began to confess that Jesus himself is the Son of God.  It was inescapable for those first believers.  Jesus’ language about abiding in the Father and the Spirit, Jesus’ power over death and his resurrection, Jesus’ very risen presence among them all led them to the conclusion that Jesus was fully God.  And showed them, and us, the true depth of God’s love.  Of course, that led to several centuries of debate and conversation about how there can be one God and yet Father, Jesus and the Spirit, centuries which led to our Nicene Creed which we still confess today, 1,700 years later.

And as we began to consider last week, in many ways the Spirit is our Mother.  As Jesus says to Nicodemus today, the Spirit is the one who gives us new birth and life in God’s kingdom.

Thinking of the Spirit in this way doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit is female, any more than the Father is male.  And even though some have good mothers and some have bad mothers, the idea that God comes to us in ways we traditionally have understood as maternal is a great gift.

Because the truth about God is so complex, even as Jesus revealed it to us, so mysterious, what we want to be sure we do with our language is not limit God’s reality in any way.  We who were created in the image of God, male and female, surely must understand that every aspect of the gift of humanity can be found in God, things we stereotype as “masculine” and things we stereotype as “feminine.”

The fullness of good that we find in each other finds its source in the Triune God, who lives in and with each other and in our lives.  If using both “he” and “she” to refer to God’s presence in our lives helps us remember that, well and good.  We’re not talking about a holy family here – Father, Mother, and Son.  We’re not talking, as some pundit once said, about two guys and a bird.

We’re talking about a complex, impossible-to-understand God about whom we know nothing except what that God has revealed to us through Jesus.  A God who embodies the best of what we call male and female, and far beyond even that, and whom we know as Father, Son, and Spirit – one God, yet three Persons, all of whom live and move in us.

In truth, Jesus spends almost no time explaining the mystery, explaining God’s way of existence.  If anything, he heightened the mystery with what he revealed.  It took centuries to come to the conclusion that Trinity was the only way to do justice to Jesus’ revelation, to Paul’s proclamation.  It’s easy to get confused.  This is such a deep and abiding mystery, we had to make up words just to encompass all Jesus told us.  But I believe that it’s OK to be confused.  Because I don’t think Jesus’ goal was our full understanding.

Jesus came to tell us what God seems to think we need to know most: God is love.

This is the truth about God that we most confess today: God’s primary essence, God’s reality in the universe, is love.  Just look at what Jesus says today about God’s love.  It’s a love for the whole created cosmos that is so deep the Father is willing to risk everything, even losing the Son, to bring us back.

It’s a love for all people that is so powerful the Son is willing to risk everything, even death, to show it.

It’s a love for all people that is so creative and living that the Spirit’s main goal is to give new birth to all people, to enliven and enrich the world with the essence of God’s love.

And according to Jesus again and again, God’s main hope for us is not that we understand the mystery or grasp the essence of God’s existence, but that God and we live together in a relationship of love.

And really, that makes sense.  Because it’s the only way we ever understand anyone else, when we give and receive love with them.  Those people in our lives whom we love, we may not understand them at all.  What they’re thinking at any given time, what motivates them, why they make decisions they do.  Sometimes we know each other well enough to predict or understand.  But all people have the capacity to surprise us, no matter how well we think we know them.

But when they reach out in love to us, we know what we need to know.  They have found the way to us, and we understand what was most important to understand.  And so it is with God.  We know God by God’s love, by the relationship of love God wants with us.

The whole reality of God will always be a mystery to us.  But the face of God is shining on us in love.

And that’s all we need to know.  Psalm 27 urged us to seek God’s face.  As it turns out, it is God’s face which seeks us out in love.  And that’s enough.  God’s face of love shines on us.  That is no mystery, it’s what has always given us life.  Now, through us, may God let that love shine on others so they see God’s face, too, and know the truth about God’s love for them and for the world.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen

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