May 30, 2021 – “Mystery”
Grace and peace to you!
On this Trinity Sunday, we welcome our online worshippers, as well as those here in the sanctuary at West Tulsa UMC.
Trinity Sunday is all about grabbing hold of as much God as we can stand, all the while knowing that we can only have a tiny piece.
The thing is, whether we’re standing next to Moses at the burning bush while Yahweh refuses to be defined and limited by a name,
Or, we’ve gone with Nicodemus after dark to meet with Jesus, only to find that we can’t completely understand what He means by being “born anew of the Spirit.”
As we learn to accept the mysteries of God, we stretch our imaginations; we reach beyond the easy comfort…and we dare to approach the frightening majesty and wonder of God.
Theresa and I like to watch a BBC television series called, “Endeavor.” It’s about a detective who solves the “who-done-its” of crimes committed in Oxford, England.
As we watch the show, we look for clues and try to guess who the culprit is. The problem is, “Endeavor” never gives us all the information to the crime. In the end, Detective Morris solves the murder mystery with a tidbit of information that we were never privy to.
The mystery of faith is something like that. God puts us on a “need-to-know basis.” There are things about our Lord that we cannot know or understand.
For now what we see is like a dim image in a mirror. What we know now is only partial; but there will come a time when we will see Jesus face-to-face. Then, we know Him as He already knows us.
In the meantime, faith, hope, and love will carry us a long the journey; and the greatest of these, of course, is love.
We are here to worship God! Let’s make a joyful noise, for He calls us “sister” and “brother.”
Let’s turn our hearts, and minds, as well as this service over to God in prayer before we sing our first song, “God of the Ages”
“Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For when the trumpet sounds, the dead will be raised, never to die again,
and we shall all be changed.”
(1st Corinthians 15:51-52)
Today is Trinity Sunday: When we say, “I believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit; we’re acknowledging that we believe in the mystery of God as three persons in one. It’s something that we can’t explain.
When we say that we believe that a person must be “born again” to receive eternal life; we are admitting that we believe in a mystery.
In our Gospel reading from John, Nicodemus was drawn to Jesus. He didn’t want to raise suspicion among his peers, so Nick came under the cover of darkness because he could see that Jesus was teaching with God-given authority.
Nicodemus went to Jesus with lots of questions. Jesus tried to explain the good news clearly, but the more He said, the more questions Nicodemus had because he was struggling with it. It was a mystery that Nick couldn’t wrap his brain around.
In the Message Bible’s paraphrased version Jesus seems a bit frustrated by Nicodemus. He challenges Nick:
“You’re a respected teacher of Israel and you don’t know these basics?
Listen carefully because I’m speaking sober truth to you.
I’m teaching from firsthand knowledge, yet instead of facing the evidence and accepting it, you procrastinate with questions.
If I tell you things that are as plain as the hand before your face and you don’t believe me, what use is there in telling you of things you can’t see,
the things of God?”
(John 3:10-12 MSG)
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly. We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist.”
(1 Cor. 13:12a NRSV, MSG)
That was Nicodemus’ problem. He couldn’t see clearly and that confused him because he thought that he had a pretty good handle on the things the Bible taught.
Let’s be real: There are things that we just can’t understand. There are things that aren’t ours’ to know. God is so infinite that God cannot be described in human words. If we try, we’re limiting God’s impact on our lives.
In the Fourth Century Christians were trying to come up with doctrines that everyone could agree on. Even though the Holy Trinity is not mentioned in the Bible, the relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit is there.
After writing 800 pages trying to explain the Trinity, the great theologian St. Augustine realized he did not understand it.
One day, he saw a young boy playing with a seashell on a Mediterranean beach.
The boy had scooped a hole in the sand, and was trying to fill it with water from his shell. Watching him make trip after trip between the sea and the hole, St. Augustine asked him what he was doing.
The boy replied, “I am going to pour the sea into that hole.”
Then Augustine came to a realization. He said to himself, “That is what I have been trying to do. Standing at the ocean of infinity, I have attempted to grasp it with my finite mind.”
If you’ve ever gazed up at a star-filled sky on a dark night you probably came to the conclusion that mystery is at the heart of the universe.
Mystery fills our minds with questions. It’s enough to make a person ask, “Why am I here? What is my purpose, my role in this vast creation?”
What are calling me and Theresa to next? Where are you leading this church to?
At this point, these are mysteries.
My question this morning is: Are we OK with mystery? Do we believe with such strong conviction that when events in our lives, or our acquaintances throw us a curveball, we can swing for the fences with confidence?
I’m not talking about blind faith. Have you ever driven a long distance in thick fog? Maybe a thunderstorm that gets even more frightening when driving by a semi-truck?
You’re not actually blind in that situation, but you sure can’t see clearly.
On those occasions when I feel overwhelmed by the mystery and questions of life in this world, we might ask, Why? Why? Why?
The late Cardinal Cushing tells of an occasion when he was administering last rites to a man who had collapsed in a general store. He knelt by the man and asked, “Do you believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit?”
The Cardinal said the man roused a little bit, opened an eye, looked at him and said, “Here I am, dying, and you ask me a riddle.”
Call them riddles. Call them mysteries. There are things about life and faith we do not understand.
There’s a story about a king who issued pardons for two criminals on death row.
Both men were told they could go free.
But the reactions of the two criminals were totally different.
One criminal was trembling and thinking, “Could this really be true? Is it a cruel joke? Nobody would do anything like that for me! Look at all the bad things I’ve done!”
He was terrified and felt miserable over the mystery of being set free.
Some people want answers to inexplicable things. Some demand answers to the unknown. The problem is, if the answers don’t come, if there’s no way to find the answer, even with research; They can’t bring themselves to believe.
In their rational minds there’s a solution to every problem, an answer to every question, a resolution to every mystery. So when it comes to the mysteries of God, they require answers…
There are some answers that we just can’t have. That’s one reason God booted Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden…They wanted to have wisdom like that of their Creator…They wanted to know all, and be all. (Not for us to determine)
The other pardon criminal was full of joy and excitement.
He was shouting and screaming as he looked at the pardon sheet signed by the king.
“What a joy it is to know that I was on my way to death, and I have been given a new chance at life! And, it wasn’t because of anything I did to earn it!”
So, we have two criminals who have been pardoned of their past crimes.
Because the second man believed the pardon, he had both the assurance and the joy of his release.
Because the first man questioned the pardon, he didn’t have the joy or the assurance of his release.
One criminal looked at the piece of paper that guaranteed his release and believed it.
The other criminal looked inward to judge whether he really believed it, and because what he saw in himself was doubt, it stole the joy of his assurance
I’m not suggesting that you give up your effort to understand.
But, I am suggesting that we can acknowledge and embrace mystery. It seems to me that there’s plenty of room and plenty of time in our lives for the unknown.
There IS light at the end of the tunnel. As Jesus says,
“It won’t be long before the weather clears
and the sun shines bright!
We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us.”
(1 Cor. 13:12b MSG)
If we endure a finite amount of time for mystery, we’ll gain the gift of an infinite amount of time with the One with the answers.
He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Nicodemus’ story is one of my favorite Bible stories.
He chose a quiet time, late in the evening, to meet Jesus one on one.
Some say that Nick was a weak soul. Supposedly that’s why he chose to sneak around in the dark to meet with Jesus. I see him differently.
By keeping it quiet at the outset he was able to protect his credibility with the high officials. I think of one occasion when the Sanhedrin members began to denounce Jesus as an imposter and Nicodemus challenged them.
He told them they could not condemn a man until they heard him. That night the visit put Nicodemus on the side of truth and right.
Think of it this way: every one of us has a personality type. God has to tailor his ministry to your personality. There is a Peter type, a Thomas type, a Nicodemus type, a Mary type, a Martha type, a Joseph type, an Elizabeth type.
Identify your personality type. The better you keep in touch with the “real you,” the more effective Jesus’ ministry can be through you.
Make a diary of the difference it makes in your life, big and little ways: the way you answer the phone when someone dials the wrong number, the way you drive your car in busy traffic, the way you mow the lawn and tend the new plants, the way you speak to the cashier in the bank or the shopping line, the way you write a note to your best friend, the way you rub shoulders with someone you’d just as soon not see in church, the way you receive the Sacrament.
What are we doing when we allow room in our lives for a little mystery?
Mystery stretches our imaginations. It challenges us to reach beyond an easy, comfortable faith. Mystery dares us to approach the frightening majesty and wonder of God.
What are we doing when we allow room in our lives for a little mystery?
The answer is, we’re allowing room for Jesus in our lives. In fact, allowing ourselves the flexibility to accept the mysteries of God just naturally builds in a level of excitement to our lives.
There’s an element of exhilaration in the unknown, it lends a “who-done-it” kind of thrill to our faith, and I’m OK with that.
How about you? Do you believe that you can be a believer without knowing absolutely everything?
I believe you can!
Thank God, for life’s mystery. Thank you Lord for putting us right here in the middle of it.
As we proclaim it, sing about it, and ask about it, Lord we ask that you send us onward with a sense of wonder and reverence for you and your world.
Ecclesiastes 11:5 MSG
“Just as you’ll never understand the mystery of life forming in a pregnant woman, So you’ll never understand the mystery at work in all that God does.”
1 Corinthians 15:51-57 NRSV
“Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
John 3:1-10 GNB
“There was a Jewish leader named Nicodemus, who belonged to the party of the Pharisees. One night he went to Jesus and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher sent by God. No one could perform the miracles you are doing unless God were with him.” Jesus answered, “I am telling you the truth: no one can see the Kingdom of God without being born again.” “How can a grown man be born again?” Nicodemus asked. “He certainly cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time!” “I am telling you the truth,” replied Jesus. “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. A person is born physically of human parents, but is born spiritually of the Spirit. Do not be surprised because I tell you that you must all be born again. The wind blows wherever it wishes; you hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. It is like that with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” “How can this be?” asked Nicodemus. Jesus answered, “You are a great teacher in Israel, and you don’t know this?”