Posted on Jun 16, 2019 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Today is Trinity Sunday, which means it is the one day of the year that we celebrate a human-made doctrine. The term Trinity and its meaning do not appear in scripture. The doctrine of the Trinity is a human attempt to explain how God chose to reveal God’s self to the world. As we read the scriptures we discover that throughout the centuries God revealed God’s self in many ways: wind, fire, silence, wisdom (Sophia), a loving parent, a mother hen, a husband (Isaiah 54:5-6), as a human (Jesus Christ).
But, regardless of how God had chosen at any point in time to reveal God’s self, humanity always seems to eventually reject God. We humans want to describe God in human ways, but the truth is God isn’t human, and God’s ways aren’t our ways.
You want to hear something really weird? This might get me in big trouble with some of you, but God is not a man. Oh, God is often described in male terms in scripture, but God is also described in feminine terms, and even as objects such as mountains. The term for God “El Shaddai,” means the mountain. Jesus referred to God as a “mother hen.” In the Old Testament, God is described as wisdom and called Sophia. The point of these terms is not to make God into a human but to help us recognize God in ways we will understand.
Now, over the centuries, even though we continue to reject God, God has persisted in revealing herself to us so that someday we might truly come to believe. In Jesus’ time, the culture was such that even Jesus most often used male terms for God. He most often referred to God as Father, but that does not mean God is a man. Many of you have asked me why I have begun using more feminine pronouns for God lately. Well, that is because I believe it is important to speak of God in ways that will help everyone recognize God in their lives. Yes, the doctrine of the Trinity says God has revealed God’s self to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the real point is to help us see that God will continue to reveal God’s self to us in many ways, and we are called to listen to God in whatever way God chooses to reveal himself to us. Now, for some of you, you might think I am changing the meaning of scripture. In fact, several years ago I was teaching a class on the names and terms used for God in scripture. When we got to the part about whether or not God was male, one person got upset and quoted Jesus when he called God Father and then that person quoted a bumper sticker, also. “The Bible Says it, I Believe It, That Settles It!”.
Now, as many of you know, I often say, I do or don’t do things because scripture says so. I believe that we need to read and study scripture daily because I firmly believe that it always speaks the truth, but I also believe that we have to be careful not to misunderstand scripture, which is why we need to read and study it.
In my sermon last Sunday, I made the statement that many of us are afraid of the Holy Spirit. And this week I was told by a mother that on the way home last Sunday one of her children said, “Mom, why are people afraid of the Holy Spirit?”. What a great question! I told this mom, well at least I know the kids were listening. The answer to this question and the answer to why I believe we have to be very careful about bumper sticker statements like “The Bible Says it, I Believe It, That Settles It!” is because of our text today. Did you hear what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit? “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” (John 16:12-13).
There was much more Jesus thought we would need to know, but he said that until we were ready to hear these things, we would not be able to receive more teachings. But our learning did not end with Jesus’ departure. No, as Jesus said, in the future, the Holy Spirit would open our hearts and our minds to more of God’s truth. This doesn’t mean the scriptures are wrong, or not true, we just ought to be open to what they mean in today’s world. I read and study the scriptures daily and I have come to know that God inspired these words, but the writers were human beings. Their writings were influenced by their life experiences and their historical contexts. They wrote God’s word in order to help the people of their day come to believe, but they write their stories in ways that make them valid today, if we would only use them in such a way. These writings, we call the Bible, were written to help explain a theology, a faith and the ethics of their day, and it is for these reasons that the biblical authors at times wrote things that today we rightly reject.
We no longer believe it is permissible for one nation to kill every man, woman, and child of another nation; we call this genocide and consider it a war crime, though Israel was commanded to do this many times in the Old Testament. The book of Proverbs repeatedly suggests that the proper way to scold a child is to beat them with the rod, but today we call that child abuse. Many biblical authors endorsed polygamy and having concubines, but we no longer accept those ways as right. The scriptures say that working on the Sabbath is a capital crime, but we don’t believe that any longer. And, what about slavery? Yes, the Bible introduced important regulations regarding slavery, but it still permitted it. Jesus could have forbid slavery among Christians, saving centuries of human misery, but he didn’t. It seems we were not ready for such a new way of treating each other.
Now, you can accuse me of cherry-picking texts as some people have and of stating the obvious about horrendous things, but let me ask you a question about a more everyday situation. How many of you have a pension account or a savings account? So, let me ask you another question, what part of Jesus' words “Don’t store up for yourself treasures on earth…” do we not understand? The world has changed drastically since Jesus spoke those words, and so today, we still need to take Jesus’ words seriously, but not literally.
Now, here is the point of all this, I argue the reason we are afraid of the Holy Spirit is that for the most part we are afraid of change. The Holy Spirit is charged with opening our hearts and our minds to new and differing ways that we often don’t like that. We like things the way they are. We like our customs, our traditions, or interpretations, our ways of living, but the Holy Spirit is constantly revealing new ways, new ideas, and new truths to us that cause us discomfort.
So, as I said last week, “It’s time to get on with it.” It’s time to let the Holy Spirit move us and change us and to live in the discomfort. I love the Bible and I believe everything it says. Daily, I read it, study it, pray it, and seek to live it. And just as I don’t believe that genocide, slavery, beating children with rods, reflect God’s heart and character, neither do I believe that God's word is finished. God’s word is a word of love, a word of diversity, a word of passion, a word of forgiveness and grace, and anytime our interpretations changes those characteristics of God’s word then we must allow ourselves to be open to this truth speaking Holy Spirit. Sisters and brothers, there is more to come, and the Holy Spirit has much more to share with us. I find that exhilarating and promising. I pray and I hope you are ready for more, because the Bible says it, I believe it, but that most certainly does not settle it. Thanks be to God, Amen.