Say, What?

May. 22, 2016

Prov. 8.1-4, 22-31; Rom.5.1-5; Jn 16.12-15

Several years ago, a dramatic scene played out in the Thames River that flows through London on its way to the English Channel and the North Sea. A 20ft bottlenose whale showed up in the shallows of the river and was thrashing around at low tide trying to survive. People watched from the embankment next to Big Ben and wondered why this majestic animal from the depths of the ocean had swum the thirty miles inland to London, until they found the body of a baby bottlenose a little upstream. A momma was trying to save her baby. The plight of this magnificent animal touched the hearts of an entire nation. For at least two days, the eyes and ears of the nation were riveted and it prompted many prayers...but all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't save the life of this mother whale.

The English writer HG Wells had previously wondered if perhaps God watches over our struggles much like all of Britain had watched the plight of this magnificent sea creature. Many have wondered how God is connected to us and us to God. In the midst of our struggles we can sometimes feel the presence of God as palpable and close as the breath that enters and exits our lungs. At other times we're baffled by the eerie silence of God. Yet, to offer a definitive description of God is a challenge that is beyond all of us. Most stay away from the job as far possible.

My first assignment as a priest was on a cathedral staff. I went on to serve in other large parish churches and it has always been my observation that it's the guy who is the lowest on the totem pole who is assigned preaching on Trinity Sunday. St Augustine in the 4th century, wrote an insightful treatise on the nature of the divine Trinity, but finally concluded with something like, "When faced with the mystery of God, it is better to be silent than to speak half truths." I guess that's why the job generally falls to the one who just can't say "NO".

St Jerome was by a seaside and he saw a little boy taking buckets of water and energetically pouring them into a hole that he has dug on the beach. He proudly proclaimed to everyone who passed, "I'm going to pour the whole ocean into that hole!" And Jerome realized that that was what his effort to put God into his mind was just wouldn't fit. Yet we keep trying! I remember being in the congregation at Canterbury Cathedral in England on a Trinity Sunday several years ago and hearing the well known chaplain at Harvard and the author of several popular books, Peter Gomes. He preached for nearly 45 minutes on the baffling nature of the Trinity and he stopped suddenly and said..."Please, kindly disregard what I've been trying to say now for the better part of an hour"..."let me just say instead, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen." What can one say? The Trinity is a mystery beyond all human comprehension.

We don't even have the words to describe God! When reasoning about God we borrow the language of the Greek philosophers. They use the word ousia...a word that means "being". And each person or part of that Trinity of God is called a hypostasis--or a person. But with this language we can say that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God...but likewise we affirm that the Father isn't the Son, the Son isn't the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit isn't the Father! So, are you still with me? The persons of the Trinity are not confounded or confused. They are three personages that make up One God of love.

Somehow we think that if we could just crawl up inside this Trinity, we might just be able to comprehend what God is all about, that is, by taking God apart into these key manifestations we could see the parts, but again not so. We don't even understand the nature of the common stuff that we call matter?

For the longest time, scientists have had the belief that if they could just get down small enough into matter, that finally we'd be able to discover the building blocks of the universe. Physicists again followed the ancient Greeks who postulated that the smallest building block of the universe was the atom. Subsequently, scientists verified that the world is indeed composed of atoms that vary in size and composition, but all following the same basic pattern. The large atomic collider at CERN Switzerland accelerated atoms to near the speed of light and then smashed them together only to see them break up into even smaller particles called "Higgs bosons" that compose a substructure of the atomic world. It doesn't appear that there is a singular building block to the universe! How far down could these sub-structures go? Could it be an infinite regression? God only knows!

I guess the point I'm trying to make is this: we don't understand matter that we can see, how can we understand God whom we don't see? What is the nature of this God? What is the nature of this Trinity of God? We humans have probed the universe and concluded that it is almost 14 billion years old. We speculate about how it all got started in some kind of "big bang" and the Hubble telescope shows that the universe is expanding in all directions into what seems to be an infinite universe. Studies postulate that as much as 93% of the matter in the known universe is made up of an invisible substance known as "dark matter". We don't know what or how it is! The astrophysicist Stephen Hawking in his challenging book "A Brief History of Time" said that the physical world presents itself as "just a set of rules and equations." But we begin to see the face of God on these mysteries when we ask, what "breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?"

We struggle so to's like pouring the whole ocean into a hole on the beach. But the circle of love that is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit passionately cares about our thrashing around and extends hands of love and compassion out to us to really bring us the peace of God so we will know salvation, love, and deliverance. God's hand is there to save us when all the king's horses and all the king's men cannot. Just like a mother comes to save her baby...God is there for us. "Praise God from whom all blessing flow, praise him all creatures here below, praise him above ye heavenly host, praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!" Amen.

The Reverend WA Ray
St Thomas Church
Diamondhead, MS