If I could go to Jesus by night, under the cover of darkness, so as not to get caught, with even half an expectation that he could deliver to me something like John 3:16, more or less on a platter - the Gospel in compact form - I might ask him to explain himself to me, or at least to explain how God works. Why does it have to be so difficult? I might ask. Why so much mystery? Why this confusing business about three persons in one God? And why, if I try to say that the Father does this, and the Son does that, and the Spirit blows where it wills... why will I be accused of heresy, when it is so much easier to talk this way, than of the undivided unity, without confusion, change, division, separation, or what have you? And why must we be stuck with this unhelpful, patriarchal language, stubbornly rooted in the old ways? That in so many other ways, it seems we must outgrow?
If I could sit with Jesus, I’d like to ask him how God works: how the Father works; how the Son works; how the Spirit works, blowing as it does, where it wills. How does the holy, blessed, and undivided Trinity work? I’d like to tell Jesus a thing or two about how difficult it can be to spread a religion whose inner workings are so opaque. I’d like to explain to him the value of transparency. I’d like to point out that even the “born again” thing has proved difficult and confusing, as evidenced by that early conversation with Nicodemus, let alone the Gon-in-three-persons-blessed-trinity thing. Easy to sing about: harder to talk about.
I wouldn’t need much time: no more than Nicodemus had, I think. Not that Jesus let Nicodemus get much of a word in. Not that Jesus even let him ask whatever question he arrived with. Not that Nicodemus left understanding something that he hadn’t understood before.
I’d like to get my question out - how does God work? - and at least give Jesus a chance to reply.
And if I sit quietly, and prayerfully, and think about it, I wonder if Jesus would say this in response.
“You want to know how God works. You say you hear talk of the Father, you hear talk of the Son, you hear talk of the Spirit, and you want to understand the inner workings of the divine. You are frustrated by the mystery of it, and you want to know.
“Of course you want to know, but how can you know? You do not even know what questions to ask, let alone how to accept the answers.
“You want to know how God works, how it is that I am, if I am is what I am. You say you are confused by the way we speak of ourself. And you would like to dissect the various parts, autopsy-style, and see how they work, as if by speaking of the Father, by speaking of the Son, by speaking of the Spirit, I am speaking of the way we work; when what I am speaking of is who we are, who I am, who I will be, but not of how I work.
“ I am speaking of eternal love, which is not a beacon, or a flag, or even a river that runs down from a mountain; it is a relationship of constant giving, constant receiving, constant dancing.
“You imagine the throne of heaven, as though the Godhead is is seated upon it, as if for a portrait, and your two dimensional imagination. You imagine that you can say something meaningful about God by writing it on a page, which is a little like comparing a sheet of paper to a tree: they may have a thing or two in common, but they are far from the same thing.
“When I speak of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I am speaking of who I am. If the language seems awkward, unhelpfully bound to a particular time and place and power structure, then you begin to see the limits of speaking of me, for you are correct that it is wrong to think that I am rooted in one-sided, either-or vocabulary, in the same way that describing a rainbow in terms of seven colors is embarrassing in its paucity.
“And yet, you struggle to perceive that in speaking of who I am, I wish for you to know who I am. And I am using language that gets as close as it can, flawed and damaged though that language now may be. I have been employing the flawed and the damaged for my purposes for a long time, with reasonable results. Have a look around.
“I desire that you should understand that even what Isaiah saw was inadequate - only a flash - as if there is some throne somewhere that could contain what the heavens themselves cannot contain.
“You think that when you hear it said that you were made in my image and likeness, that it means that you can see something of me when you look in the mirror. When actually what it means is that when you also hear that you could not bear to be alone in the garden, it was then that you were displaying my image within you.
“For if you are to bear my image you need someone to give to and to receive from; you need someone to dance with; you need someone to love and to love you back. But you can’t see that in the mirror.
“I am beauty. I am wisdom. I am truth. I am love.
“Light is my diadem, darkness is my mantle, and the earth is a pebble.
“Pi is the dust that collects in my pocket, and that I delight to know is always there, always accumulating, just as I delight when you gather its specks, beginning with 3.14. You want to be able to calculate me, like the digits of Pi. You think you should be able to dismantle me, to freeze me and slice me into sections to see how I work, to isolate me as though I am hardly more than an atom. But I created every atomic structure and property without much effort, and I could buff my fingernails with atomic power if I wanted to.
“But I want you to see that I am always in splendid communion, but never in isolation. I am always we, I am always us.
“I am not a problem for you to solve, for I am beyond solving. I am not a machine with moving parts to be monitored, identified, and schematized. I am motion.
“I am not a series of actions, or a series of accomplishments, or a series of tasks. I am the origin of all action.
“I have no meaning to be articulated in carefully defined terms, for I am meaning.
“And the meaning, the action, the motion is fluid, and expressive, and inter-relating.
“The music in heaven never stops, and I never stop dancing, embracing, holding, letting go, leaping, and landing, nor did I ever start dancing, embracing, holding, letting go, leaping, and landing. I was always like this, and I always shall be: always more dimensional than you can imagine or describe, always more vibrant than you allow for, always more love than you believe in or have room for.
“In and of myself, I am love, which gives me direction and purpose in and of myself, so that anything I do carries the direction and purpose of love.
“I am holy - thrice holy, which is the perfection of holiness. And you do not even know what holiness means. You are not sure how to define it. But my entire being is holiness itself.
“And I have given you my Son. I have allowed you to call me Father. I have anointed you with my Spirit.
“I have given you myself, I have shown you so much more than I ever allowed Moses to see. I have poured myself over you.
“But you insist on coming to me in the night to complain that you do not understand.
“You cannot understand, because I am beyond understanding. And love does not rest on understanding.
“Love rests on acceptance, as I have accepted you. For I am in a constant process of accepting and offering, in and of myself.
“I have accepted you. I have shown myself to you. I have poured out my holiness upon you, and I have called you.
“Will you now do more than come to me by night with your questions? Will you love me, as I love you?”
Preached by Fr. Sean Mullen
Trinity Sunday 2018
Saint Mark’s Church, Philadelphia