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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Trinity Sunday

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

This gospel today contains one of the most famous passages in the Bible. It even gets its own name: “The Great Commission.” Seems like in Christian circles, we talk about it all the time. A few years ago, this was even the theme of my diocesan youth summer camp. The program and projects centered around The Great Commission, tied in with Dr. Seuss’ book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go. As it happens, I even rewrote the scripture for use that week. A different sort of RSV: the "Revised Seussian Version:"
Go, therefore—yes, you! Now go right away
To make disciples (that’s followers of Jesus) today.

Tell all kinds of people, from all kinds of places
All shapes and all sizes, all colors of faces.

Baptize them then, using all of God’s names:
The Father, the Son and the Spirit who came.

Teach them all to obey everything I have taught;
To believe and to follow, just as they ought.

Remember now, each of you, as you walk as my friend
That I’ll always be with you, from now ‘til the end.

Now, the reason we did this with the kids is that this is important. This is our mission statement, if you will, handed down by upper management. As Jesus’ disciples, this is what we are to be about: sharing the Good news of love God has for us, and the salvation Jesus’ life and death and resurrection make possible, and the grace and strength and healing mercy that exist in the presence of the holy Spirit.

Easier said than done, isn’t it? Truth be told, we often don’t do this very well at all. Sometimes, it’s that we (and I say “we” advisedly; Episcopalians are especially famous for this one) don’t want to be “pushy” or aggressive about forcing faith on another.

Sometimes it’s that we get caught up in the internal efforts of discipleship (church activities, and prayer groups, and various ministries) on top of the busy-ness of our daily lives, that we lose sight of the God-given imperative to reach outside ourselves, to offer what we’ve found to others.

And sometimes, it’s a lack of confidence. Our faith seems faltering, or uncertain, or insufficient. Doubts creep in; and how can we share that?

Let’s look at the passage here again. “The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.” the Bible we're reading says. And “when they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”

I want to take this one step further; bear with me while we have a Bible geek moment. There’s a translator’s interpretation here. In the Greek, that word “some” is not present. The verse literally says “And when they saw him, they prostrated themselves, but (or and) they doubted.”

The word some is not there.

With the help of my NT professor, we did a little checking on this; and we discovered there is not a universal consensus about this. Some translators feel justified in adding it, while others do not.

Let’s think about the implications of this. Here you have the eleven remaining apostles, who have lived through the crucifixion of their beloved teacher. They have, according to other Gospel accounts, been hiding in fear for their own lives for several days. Then ( just a few verses earlier) they have some women come to them with this fantastic story of eathquakes, and angels, and an empty tomb, and orders to go to Galilee to meet Jesus. So they go, climbing up the mountain to which Jesus directed them. And sure enough, they find him there, just as they had been told. There he stands, the fulfillment of all those promises. And what is their response?

They fell on their faces in worship... and they doubted. All at the same time.

Faith and doubt. . . these are not such opposites, really. Seems to me that one rises out of the other.

I think of my husband, for example. He’s an intelligent man; he knows a great deal about any number of things, and has some well-informed and strongly held opinions. But if you ask him what he thinks about one topic or another, the answer you'll get will almost inevitably begin with, “Well, it depends...” He is confident in his abilities, and in what he knows; but he’s not arrogant. He retains a healthy skepticism that lets him be open to other factors: to the possibility that he might be wrong, or not have all the information he needs to make an accurate judgment.

Faith, tempered by doubt.

It goes the other way, too. I’ve been on something of a medical merry-go-round, the last few weeks; tests and doctors' visits... good news and bad news and no news... overall, a distracting time, and not without anxiety. There have been moments where what I've been tempted to do is to crawl in a hole, and wrap myself in that anxiety like a blanket; to feel pessimistic and forlorn and alone, waiting for something else to go wrong. But thanks be to God, I have folks around to remind me that I am not alone: that I am loved, far better than I deserve; by God and the community of saints and disciples in which I live my life.

Doubt-- not eliminated, but overcome by faith.

I think this is part of what is behind Jesus’ commandment. I believe he knew what was in the apostles’ hearts. I believe he knew of the doubt muddling their worship. But he did not chastise them for it. Instead he gave them a gift, as his final word with them: along with his instructions, the reassurance of his presence with them “always, even to the end of the age.”

It’s the same today, my brothers and my sisters. Today is designated Trinity Sunday; the day we celebrate a Christian doctrine that has confused and raised doubts for millennia. And we’ve been trying to explain it, and falling short, for almost as long. One in three and three in one? Father, Son and Spirit? Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier? All of these expressions contribute in some way to our understanding; but they also fall short of being able to express the diversity and the unity of God. And so we wonder, and we question: how can this be? It doesn't make sense.

And truthfully, I have no answers. I cannot say how God does this, or that trying to contemplate this mystery has not confused and challenged me. It still does. I do not understand, and sometimes it seems that the more I think about it, the less I understand.

But just as the disciples learned on that mountain in Galilee, I have learned this: God knows of our doubts and fears, and is not diminished by them, and does not leave us alone in them. Jesus calls us to service in the face of them. And the Spirit remains with us, in the midst of them.

This is the faith, which balances the doubt.

This, my brothers and sisters, is the reality-- the gift-- of the Triune God to which we as Christians witness.


Blogger The young fogey said...

I'm impressed.

The Seussian rhyme would work as hip-hop (but please, not in church, LOL!).

May 27, 2005 10:20 AM  

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