Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 22, 2016

2016.06.22 “Mystery” – John 16: 12 – 15

Central United Methodist Church
Mystery
Pastor David L. Haley
John 16: 12 – 15
Trinity Sunday
May 22nd, 2016

holy_trinity

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.” – John 16: 12 – 15, the New Revised Standard Version

 

Trinity Sunday is a day we talk about mysteries, and today I want to talk briefly about three of them: the mystery of life, the mystery of relationships, and the mystery of God.

At the outset, I was curious to see how the Merriam Webster Dictionary defines mystery. What it says is this:

  1. Mystery is a religious truth that one can know only by revelation and cannot fully understand.
  1. Mystery is something not understood, or beyond understanding.
  1. Mystery is something profound, inexplicable, or which has a secretive quality of character

Today in the Gospel, Jesus is talking about mysteries. He is telling his disciples that while he has much to say to them, they cannot understand it now. We get that, don’t we? Every time I read this Gospel, I think of the 1992 movie “A Few Good Men.” In that movie, Jack Nicholson, playing Marine Col. Nathan R. Jessep, made famous the line: “You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth.”

What Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel is that truth is Spirit-driven and Spirit-led. Because of this, truth is never static, but progressive, over time. Not only as individuals, not only as the community of faith, but as the human race we are constantly discovering and learning new truth: as examples we no longer believe in blood-letting or the divine right of kings or slavery or that the earth is flat. Many of us in the Church believe another modern example of progressive truth is the full acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQ people of faith, who have been unjustly mistreated and excluded for too long.

Finally, the truth is personal, in relation to each of us. We can only understand it and accept it when we are ready for it in our life; before that, , “We could not handle it.” As the old song goes, “We’ll understand it better by-and-by.” So as we go through life, there are some things we understand better, and some things we understand less. They are mysteries.

For example, the older I get, the more awed I am by the mystery of life. We who are religious tend to forget sometimes that we are animals. We are born from a mother, helpless and dependent. We grow up into a human being, we live a life, we age, until the day comes when we die, which we all do. Even though we must do it, it is not a pretty sight. The Englishman Thomas Browne who once said, “I am not so much afraid of death, as ashamed thereof; ’tis the very disgrace and ignominy of our natures, that in a moment can so disfigure us that our nearest friends, Wife, and Children stand afraid and start at us.” (Religio Medici, 1642)

I confess I come before you today as one in grief, saddened by the death of a beloved church member and friend, Ron Campbell.

In many ways, there is no other job like the job of a pastor. We get to share with families and people, their life passages, such as births, and baptisms, and weddings, and deaths. But the thing about it is this: we do not do it bloodlessly. You get to know people and love people, even in their quirks and individuality, and when they die, a part of you dies. I have had five congregations of people I have pastored; do you know how many people I have shared this journey with? Sometimes the names and faces – of people like Ron Campbell – comes back to haunt me.

Such that I think the older we get, the further we go along the journey of life, the more life becomes an awesome and sacred mystery to us.

There is also the mystery of relationships. When we are young, we like to think our life is about other things: jobs, careers, accomplishments. And while those are all good things, eventually we come to see, that without deep, meaningful relationships, our lives are nothing, no matter what we accomplish.

You women – for the most part – are much better at this than most of us men. Garrison Keillor: “Girls stay inside and play with dolls; men go outside and make guns out of sticks; who’s better suited for domestic tranquility?

Robert Waldinger is the 4th director of the longest study on human happiness, the Harvard Study of Adult Development. He has a TEDS talk, entitled, “What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness.” For 75 years the study has tracked the lives of 724 men, 60 of whom are still alive. They were from every walk of life, including factory workers, lawyers, bricklayers, doctors, even one President of the United States. (John Kennedy.) Year after year in interviews, these men were asked about their lives, their home lives, and their health. What the study has consistently found is that it wasn’t wealth, or fame, or working harder and harder, that make for happiness and health: it was good relationships. Loneliness, on the other hand, tends to be toxic.

Which is not to say that relationships are easy, ever. As Waldinger says, the hard work of tending to our relationships is neither sexy or glamorous. It’s also lifelong, it never ends.

Waldinger ends his TEDS talk by quoting Mark Twain. More than a century ago, looking back on his life, Mark Twain said, “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account; there is only time for loving, and but an instance, so to speak, for that.”

How are we doing? Men, in particular, how are we doing? (You may view What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happinesshere.)

The final mystery today is the mystery of God. On Trinity Sunday, what we affirm is that we live our lives and our relationships under the mystery of a God who by nature, is in relationship.

Trinity Sunday comes as the final Sunday of the Lent/Easter cycle, and is a celebration of how we have experienced God, not only throughout Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, but in our lives. We experience God as “Father,” the source and origination of all that is. We experience God in other lives, especially the life of the one we call Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. And we experience God within, through that still, small voice we know as the Holy Spirit of God, celebrated last week on Pentecost Sunday. Ultimately, the Holy Trinity is not so much creed to be believed, as an experience to be explored.

Do we understand it? Of course we don’t understand it. What kind of pathetic God would we believe in if we could comprehend and encompass God with our finite minds?

I saw a cartoon recently in which one character asked another, “How can I understand believe in and understand the Trinity?” The other character said, “Well, do you believe in black holes? Have you seen them? Do you understand them?” No, we believe they are out there because scientists like Stephen Hawking tell us they are out there. We believe it is the same with God as a mysterious, triune being, beyond our understanding.

The Spirit may be leading us into all truth, but until then life, relationship, even the nature of the God we praise and to whom we give thanks for our lives, remains a mystery. Personally, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Thanks be to God, Amen.

 

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