June 12, 2022 Sanctuary Worship, "The Divine Dance"

Jun 12th  |  The Reverend John Vanderzee |  John 16:12-15

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   Next week we will celebrate the official beginning of summer.  School is already out, and families have already made preparations for summer vacations and holidays. Places like Disney World and Holiday World will be packed with sweaty adults and hyperactive children. Our own family is on the move. Even now the Singletons are spending time with Wendy’s father and stepmom in Sarasota as well as romping on the beach and seeing the sights.  

   Part of making plans for summer vacation is letting friends, neighbors, and other family members and friends know that you are going to be gone. That means informing them where you are going and how they can get in touch with you in an emergency; having neighbors watch your house and your pets, and the like. What’s assuring for those people you are leaving behind is that you will be returning in a relatively short time.  

   It’s different, of course, and much more difficult, when a graduate is leaving home or to a job in another city, or a neighbor or friend is being transplanted to another part of the country. It’s hard to say “good-bye,” especially when you don’t know whether you will ever see some of those people ever again. Of course, today it is much easier to stay in touch with emails and social media.

   What we have in this brief passage from John 16 is only a small part of a much longer farewell discourse encompassing almost five chapters in which Jesus is preparing his disciples for his own departure which will include his dying and rising. Here in particular, he is making his disciples ready for the coming of the Spirit. The arrival of the Spirit of Truth is necessary because there is much more for the disciples to learn and do than they are ready to hear from Jesus in the short amount of time he is with them.

   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 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.

   That first line is something we all can relate to, I think: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  Examples abound of someone having more to say than listeners are able to hear, either because they lack the capacity to understand or because it is just too painful. Parents have more to say about all sorts of things that their younger children aren’t ready to hear. 

   Teens have things to say that adults, especially parents, aren’t ready to accept. So too with teachers and students, even pastors and congregants! And it goes both ways. There are things to be said about pain and suffering, grief and loss, the effects of war, and hurtful and destructive acts of people toward others that cannot be understood by those who have not experienced them.

   Such is the case with the community gathered around Jesus on the eve of his death. What’s all this stuff about suffering, dying, and rising again? What about the things he teaches about being servants and the suffering that comes from servanthood? Messiahs don’t talk this way!

   What the disciples do not possess - and will not until Pentecost and after, when the Spirit guides them “into all the truth,” - is the depth of meaning of the revelation of Jesus himself.

   Eugene Bay writes that it is the same with every Christian community since. Jesus said more than we sometimes can bear regarding the meaning of his teaching, his act of sacrificial death, and his subsequent rising to new life. We are still far from fully grasping the truth - his truth. And there are some Christian communities, writes Bay, that can’t bear to hear all what Jesus has to teach, so self-assured are they that they have all the truth about being saved and going to heaven. (cf.www.sacredspace.ie, John 16:12-15)

   And then Jesus seems to say in a few brief sentences what the church has wrestled over for many, many centuries, debated in ancient church councils, and mused over in the writings of theologians. It is about the communion between Father, Son and Spirit that is to come.

   He [the Spirit] will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it unto 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.

   Jesus’ words about the Spirit in these verses attempt to show the disciples how, even in his absence, their futures are assured if not safe.  The functions of the Spirit spelled out here will reassure the disciples that they do not face an unknown future alone. They will have Jesus’ words always with them. The Spirit will transmit and uphold Jesus’ teachings after he is gone. And they can trust all of this because, as he said, “all that the Father has is mine.” “My words, that the Spirit will carry” Jesus is saying, “come from the Father and are therefore trustworthy.” While the word Trinity, as any Jehovah’s Witness will tell you, is not in Scripture, these words, coming from Jesus himself, come about as close as you will ever get, let alone that marvelous passage from Proverbs that was read.

   I found it interesting in my study of this passage and the history of the Trinity in church doctrine that, even in the earliest church, believers experienced God in three ways. Taken together their writings described God as “Father,” the one from whom all things proceed (Mother might be even more applicable here), as the “Son,” the incarnate expression of God, and as “Holy Spirit,” “in whom we live and move and have our being.”  The Trinity was the early church’s way of trying to maintain a belief in one God but doing so in light of their actual lived experience of God’s activity in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and after an encounter with the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

   Jesus presents in verses 12-15 two distinct but related activities of the Spirit: “He will guide you into all truth,” and “he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

   Of all the things the disciples have yet to learn - even after spending all that time with Jesus - it is that they do not and will not have all the answers. It is the Spirit that will teach them what they need to know as they face a future full of challenge and uncertainty. 

   But that process of truth-revealing was not limited to the era of the disciples-turned-apostles. In every age of the church up to and including now, the Spirit is active through the persons, actions and words of its willing and but sometimes reluctant prophets and teachers. The Christian community continues to be a place that doesn’t have all the answers but makes space for different voices and experiences to reveal truth even when it’s painful - even when it’s hard to hear.

   Second, the Spirit will “declare the things that are to come.”  This doesn’t mean that the Spirit is some cosmic fortuneteller, predicting events that will herald the end of time, and all we must do is decipher the code.  What I think Jesus means here is that the Spirit of Truth will show those who are paying attention how God is acting in history and in the lives of ordinary men and women going forward.

   A little over 150 years ago the church began to learn that despite its centuries’ long acceptance of (and even biblical proof-texting of) human slavery, this practice could no longer in fact be accepted even on biblical grounds but had to be rejected and repudiated. The efforts of the early abolitionists and the later civil rights movement were the result of the Spirit’s ongoing work of “leading us into all truth and declaring the things that are to come.”

   The freeing of women from bondage to male domination in society and politics, and the continuing quest for equality in worker pay and politics, and continues to be, the result of the Spirit’s work of “leading us into all truth and declaring the things that are to come.” 

   The wider church is now grappling with whether the Holy Spirit is leading us - with the help of social scientists - to a new attitude toward LGBTQ+ people: that they are welcome in our pews and as church leaders. Thankfully the PCUSA is one of the denominations leading the way on this issue. Here once again the Spirit is “leading us into all truth and declaring the things that are to come.”

   Could the same be said about the unmistakable dangers of climate change and the hazards of our continuing dependence on fossil fuels? Is the Spirit calling us back to the first directive God gave to humankind - to be good stewards of the earth? On this matter, it seems to me, there is no doubt.

   The future of our planet is far from secure, but there is still time to make a difference. With plentiful resources of renewable energy being developed for our usage, we are seeing that the case for that could well be made - that the Spirit is “leading us into all truth and declaring the things that are to come.” 

   Finally, on this Trinity Sunday we are instructed by none other than Jesus himself to see the activity of the Holy Spirit as contributing to the glory of the other two persons.  Glory comes when each person promotes the other two.  And so, we have here the ultimate deferential community of sharing within one God.

   Since its inception in 1971 on the Dartmouth College campus, the dance company called Pilobolus, has fascinated not only me but millions of people in over 64 countries around the world. Pilobolus’ performances are characterized by a strong element of close physical interaction between the bodies of the performers and exaggerations or contortions of the human form requiring extreme strength, flexibility and athleticism often giving rise to bizarre imagery. I don’t know why but for some bizarre reason I thought of Pilobolus as an illustration of the Trinity: Divine Parent, Son, and Holy Spirit interacting in such a way that it is almost impossible to tell where the body of one stops and another starts. 

   In quantum physics, not only can two be one, but scientists have also created entangled states of three photons. When pairs or triads of particles interact, quantum entanglement may occur. Consequently, the quantum state of either particle can no longer be described independently of the other, even when they are separated by a large distance. If either particle changes state, the other ones do too, even if they are light-years apart. No signal goes between them. This occurs because each of the particles belong to one and the same quantum system. (cf. ScienceDaily, 2019).

   Wolfhard Pannenburg compared the Trinity to three musicians playing a trio sonata. Although they play on different instruments, the musical piece created is a whole - complete in itself. So too the cooperative action of the persons of the Trinity takes form as the one God (cf. Pannenberg, 1992, p. 430).

   The dance of Pilobolus, the action of quantum physics, and the trio sonata may seem a bit remote from the activity of the Godhead, but the point is the interaction, the relatability, the crossing-points of the characters in a kind of cosmic performance.

   The western tradition of Christianity has often depicted the Trinity by way of a triangle. I prefer the Eastern church’s choice of a circle to convey the idea of the circular dance of the three persons in one God. Call it the divine choreography. Scott Hoezee writes that it’s “a dance of life and love that is never-ending as each person adoringly waltzes [or rocks, if you prefer] with every other person in a divine eagerness to make known to the world the riches of one another.” (cf. Scott Hoezee on John 16 in The Center for Excellence in Preaching). The Divine Parent pours out everything on the Son. The Spirit then takes all that from the Son to pour these riches on to you and me and everyone.

   So now we know all we need to know about the Trinity, right?  Of course not. We don’t because our knowledge as humans is naturally limited. But more than that, we don’t know all we need to know about the three-in-one-God because God continues to reveal the mysterious truths of Godself by means of the Holy Spirit leading us into all truth. Those truths will be revealed in human history in painful and liberating ways as I described before, and in the day-to-day interactions and activities of our own lives. 

   And there finally will come a time when all truth and all mysteries will be revealed at Christ’s coming again. In the meantime, let us participate in whatever ways we can with the divine dance where no one is left out on the sidelines.

   In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.