The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Our fix-it faith

http://www.latimes.com/media/photo/2010-04/53543597.jpg
**SPECIAL ONLINE ONLY OFFER!!  So there was this really great quote in the article that I couldn't quite figure out how to work into the sermon.  So I'll just throw it in here - as a little lagniappe just for my online audience:

From Richard Feynman, physicist: "For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled."

Trinity Sunday C
Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31; John 16:12-15

In the name of God: One, Holy, and Living. Amen.

There is an article in today’s New York Times about what it calls, “Our Fix-it Faith”. It explores, in the context of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, our belief (in the West, at least) that our technology can fix any problem we throw at it. That somehow, our knowledge will always be enough to triumph over our ignorance and hubris.

The article points to a Pew Research study from a few weeks ago – just a couple of weeks into the now 40-day and counting disaster. The study found that while 54% of Americans believed this oil spill to be a major environmental disaster, at the same time 51% also believed that technological efforts to contain it would be successful before it got out of hand.

Now that it is out of hand, our faith has been shaken.

This faith-shaking comes as a part of a string of recent shake-ups. For the past decade our faith in ourselves and in our technology and expertise has been tested again and again. From the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 to Hurricane Katrina that still ravages New Orleans even years after the winds have quieted to the recent and ongoing economic crisis to the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile to the volcano in Iceland that crippled northern Europe for weeks. All of this, of course, intermingles with our own unrelenting cycles of challenges and tragedies that don’t make the news or enter the national consciousness every day.

Our quest for stability and control fails again and again.

Perhaps this is why the church is more counter-cultural now than it has been since before Constantine. For, perhaps, the first time since the fourth century, our teachings are actively in contrast with the pervasive teachings of the dominant culture. Where our culture insists that technology will be our salvation, the church persists in teaching that our salvation is in Christ alone. Where our culture teaches that all shall be well through our knowing, we hear Jesus say, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” There is still truth to be revealed.

That’s a bold proclamation for our time. To a people consumed with zeal for answers and understanding, our Christ says, “All in time. Take a breath. Not yet.”

On Trinity Sunday the church is particularly susceptible to attempting to give in to the demands of the culture. When faced with the occasion of celebrating the Holy Trinity, we can find ourselves tempted to explain or define the Holy Trinity – the ineffable truth of one God in three persons.

I have, over the years, uncovered a few metaphors that help me to wrap my mind around the concept of the Trinity. I have understood the Trinity to be expressive of the diversity of God: as I survey the diversity of creation, it makes sense to me that God is One who is best known through diversity. When considering the God who made the birds of the air and the beasts of the fields and the fish of the sea – not to mention the air and the fields and the seas, themselves; as well as all of us in all of our diversity – it seems unfair to try to contain that God in simple, human terms. That God cannot be expressed in any linear, two-dimensional fashion. That God needs a Trinity – built-in diversity to accommodate the diversity represented by it.

Or, I have thought of the Trinity as the method by which we, in our own complexity, commune with a God of infinite complexity. Our bodies – our sensations and experiences and interactions – connect us with Christ, God of human form. Our creativity connects us with the Parent, the Ultimate Creator of all that is or was or ever will be. Our wisdom, both innate and acquired, connects with the Holy Spirit – writhing through our experiences and understandings to reveal the Divine where it had before been elusive. These three live in us, as individuals and as communities, as aberrations from our humble humanity to reveal the one God.

But even the best metaphors are just that: metaphors. They are not knowledge. Despite whatever poetic thinking I may impose on the Trinity, I don’t know it any more than I did before.

And that’s okay.

The church, like any great teacher, is at its best when it finds the point of transition between filling us with answers and information and leading us to wrestle with the deeper questions. It’s the shift from acquiring knowledge to cultivating wisdom.

It’s not easy. And it’s counter-cultural. The world begs us to fill it with answers. But the world is not a short-answer question.

Jesus, our teacher, knew this. He knew that knowledge would not give us the answers that our quest for understanding would.

“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…”

All in time. Take a breath. Not yet.

We are seeing, right now and in the physical world, what happens when our faith is misplaced: when we trust in ourselves as our own, personal saviors. We are seeing what happens when we abandon the lessons of the Trinity and ignore the interconnectedness between the Creator and all that is created.

We have seen it before and we will see it again.

But the Spirit of truth is guiding us into all truth. There are no easy answers. But there is Wisdom: rejoicing before God always; Wisdom, rejoicing in the inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

For that, I give thanks. Amen.

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