The following is a homily I wrote for this coming Trinity Sunday. After four years of turning the priest down when she asked me to preach, I've decided to give my first sermon, and I don't think it's too terribly heretical. The day's readings are at the end for reference.
The Faith and Knowledge Paradox : A Homily for Trinity Sunday
Imagine being with the disciples, not exactly paragons of wisdom and intelligence, listening to what Jesus has to say here about his leaving and sending the Spirit, who will give to them what Jesus and the Father share, and thinking, perhaps out loud, "Huh? What Advocate? Prove the world wrong about sin, righteousness, judgment, HOW? And would you please stop talking about leaving?" No wonder Jesus said to them, "I want to tell you more, but… you wouldn't understand."
But we can't really blame the disciples that much. Today we commemorate a teaching of the Church that many have tried to explain, and none have completely succeeded. It only took us four centuries to nail down a doctrine of exactly how the relationship between the Father, Son and Spirit works, and two thousand years later, it is still surrounded by theory, questions and argument. Entire books can be written on the subject of the Trinity, filled with words such as "economy of salvation," "immanent Trinity," "perichoresis." And don't think the muddling around with theology ended in the fifth century. The church universal still disagrees with itself in certain aspects of this doctrine today, such as the hotly-debated filioque clause of the Nicene Creed--does the Spirit proceed from the Father AND the Son or just the Father? Depends on who you’re talking to, I suppose.
All the big words and longstanding debates, though, don’t take away from the fact that God is God, Three in One and One in Three, Divine Paradox. There is a mystery involved here, a chasm between where our reason stops and where the Reality stands—from our vantage point, we see it, try to describe it, we can even move closer, but never grasp it completely. It’s a little humbling; a stumbling block to the skeptic, and a comfort to the one who believes God can be all that we imagine Him to be--and then some. Faced with mystery, we can no longer put God in the proverbial box, believing in our naiveté that we are able to understand everything about the One who created us.
Understanding is all well and good…. but when I’m face to face with God for the first time, I don’t think I’ll use that as an opportunity to interview him. I think I will be more like Isaiah, overwhelmed by holiness, saying, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am one of unclean lips.”
The reading from Revelation gives a vision of a similar scene of heavenly worship. Angelic beings fly around the throne of God, singing, "Holy, holy, holy!" This is the superlative "holy" here, the most sacred imaginable. This is a God of Majesty! Power! Might! God is a BIG God. How big? Isaiah describes what he sees of God in his vision: he can only see "the hem of God's robe filling the Temple." When I was young, I used to look at the largest things I could find, like a skyscraper in downtown Houston, or a boat on the Ship Channel, or the moon, and think, "That's only about as big as God's toenail." No wonder there have been thousands of years of debate on the nature of God; he's simply too big for us to comprehend fully.
Unfortunately there are some who will take this to the other extreme, asserting that we should be happy to leave mysteries as mysteries, and never give them a second thought. But that negates the reason that Jesus tells His followers that they will receive His Spirit, doesn’t it? “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” Doesn’t sound to me like Jesus wants people to accept things they don’t understand. He doesn’t even continue telling the disciples all He wants to tell them, because they won’t understand at this point. We are promised the Spirit that will lead us to truth. But, as the author Wilson Rawls wrote in his classic children’s book Where the Red Fern Grows, we “have to meet God halfway” on this one. Yes, the Spirit will guide us, but we have to do the walking. To ask, seek, knock, study, pray, debate, and continually ask, “Why?” -- this is our privilege and responsibility.
Each of us will eventually come to know God in a unique way as He leads us on the path toward Him, closing the gap of paradox with the intellect, love and wisdom that He is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not everyone has to be a theologian, but we all can use our times of devotion and prayer to get closer to God. We can rely on reading and studying Scripture as a way of knowing God, and know Him through the teachings that have been passed down to us through Tradition, such as the one we celebrate today on Trinity Sunday. We should never give up on our search to know Him more, but never become complacent, thinking we have all the answers, because God simply is too big for us to hold in our hands. So, search. Debate. Question. And never stop. But always be humble enough to fall back into the arms of a God who's strong enough to hold us and our unanswered questions, who promises to quench our thirst for Him.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"
After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, "Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this." At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and carnelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.
Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,
"Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
who was and is and is to come."
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives forever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
"You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created."
Jesus said, "Now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, `Where are you going?' But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
"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."