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Bearing the Difference (a sermon for Trinity Sunday)

May 25, 2013

trinity - Hans Von TubingenSlow me down… today we seek to talk about God…. not just about what God does, not just about values that God purportedly underwrites… not just handy take-home advice which presumably has the authority of God behind it… today we try and focus our attention on God… the nature of God. We reflect on what we may or may not know about God… and we do so in the usual manner by listening to scripture… So slow me down and permit me to read the gospel text again.

John 16: 7-15

7Nevertheless 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. 8And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.

12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When 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. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

v12. I have many thing to say to you, but you cannot bear them now… I am struck by that last phrase… you cannot bear them now.

The fundamentally unbearable challenge of being different… Christians are called to be different about the most fundamental things, about what is right, and what is not and who gets to decide… sin, righteousness and judgment.

To be a Christian is to live in a different world, in a universe within a universe, in a strange place, and that is an impossible burden. So Jesus promises a Spirit, an advocate, one who comes alongside those who face unbearable things. Jesus calls this advocate The Spirit of Truth.

v13. The Spirit will guide us into the truth

The notion of Truth reminds us that to live in this universe within a universe is to live under guidance. We cannot avoid having to make decisions about our life and what to do and what not to do. We cannot be neutral. We are constantly addressed by the question of truth. In a sense, this is the question of God. What is God in this universe we live in?

One way of thinking about this is to say that God is the source of authority over our life… To be a Marxist… the demands of the class struggle are God. To be a Capitalist… the market and its demands is God. To be a Libertarian … my own desire is God (the libertarian might think that that makes them their own God, others might say they are deluded and that in fact desires never simply originate from me). To be a Fundamentalist Christian … the Bible is God.

The question of truth points us towards its source in the question Who is God? Who is God for us who follow Jesus? In John’s gospel, God is the one who has authority, but God is not merely the one who has authority, but the one we live in. And not just live in but in a very particular way.

Here’s where it gets deep… Here’s where this whole business of the Trinity arises. The ancient Father’s of the Church spent the first few hundred years of the churches history thinking about questions like ‘Who is God?’ and for them the answer came as a result of this experience… God is the one we live in. We know about God because we have been given to live in God. For them the question was specific. God was specific and called them to a very specific life in the midst of competing loyalties and competing God’s and competing lives. It’s not just a crazy philosopher’s question. And the parts of Johns Gospel that we have been reading over the last few Sundays were crucial to the church’s thinking. So on Trinity Sunday we reach the culmination of this reflection. If God is the one we live in, what does this say about who God is – the nature of God?

To answer this question we need to be more specific about how come we live in God. According to Jesus the future for his disciples is to be more intimately connected to God they can imagine. This Spirit of Truth, this Advocate will be so close as to be said to be ‘in them’. The Spirit in their very actions, the actions that they take to be their own… will be just as much the actions of God’s Spirit. You might remember Jesus prayer that the Spirit will ‘sanctify [us]… in the truth’. This Spirit in us makes our actions holy.

And in living in us this Spirit is said to do one thing… connect our life and our action to the life of Jesus. (14:26 reminds us of everything Jesus has said 15:26 testify on Jesus behalf, not speak on his own, but speak whatever he hears, 16:13 [today’s text] take what is mine and declare it to you)

And Jesus says that this connection the Spirit creates will be such that we can be said to live in Jesus (John 14:20) becoming more and more like Jesus, and this in turn means living in the Father (because Jesus is profoundly in the Father – ‘all that the Father has is mine’). It makes me think of Russian Dolls, one inside the other… except it’s not first of all about space (in a container), its about action and character.

In other words fearful people, called by Jesus to a strange new world find the courage to be different because of the Spirit within them who remakes them in the image of Jesus which is to say also in the image of God.

In a nutshell: the world is being populated by God-like creatures… (that’s what Christianity is all about really) all because God has established this deep intimacy with us by the Son, Jesus, and by the Spirit. To save the world is to populate it with God-like creatures. It doesn’t mean we become gods (as some people say – we are all ‘divine’) we need God (are dependent on God) in order to be God-like (so it makes no sense to forget the distinction between us and God) … but Christianity is about this deep intimacy created between us and God so we become God-like.

We find ourselves (our true selves) living in God. So there’s this inward movement, if you like – a movement of indwelling – Spirit, Son, Father like Russian Dolls (but not!).

And there is a movement out from God to the world that makes this possible. God moves out of invisibility and into the concrete realities of history. Father sends, Son breathes, Spirit moves.

God addresses the world in the life of Jesus. Jesus addresses the world in the work of the Spirit in human life. And when God speaks (speaks the Spirit of Truth) truth happens. Truth is the result of a movement outward from God.

Who is God? … God is the speaking God. Who is God? God is the habitable God.

We are guided by our habitat… and our habitat is the Trinity. God is Father, Son, Holy Spirit… God is love… a movement of relationship, in which we live… in which we come to life, in which the world comes to life.

The unbearable difference!… you can see it’s unbearable when you see where it led Jesus in the end… to the cross. Jesus bore the difference between God and the world… not so that we wouldn’t have to, rather so that we would be able to by the Spirit… the Spirit who brings us into the life of God.

Thanks be to God

One Comment leave one →
  1. Greg Hughson permalink
    May 25, 2013 7:07 am

    God is the One in whom we live, and move and have our being

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