June 13, 2022

Holy Trinity Sunday, Pastor Michael Burk, June 12, 2022

John 16:12-15. The way the story is told, right after my dad was drafted during WWII, he and my mom “ran off.” That’s the way they tell it. They “ran off” to get married. Shortly after that, they head up to the close-knit community of Norwegian immigrants from which my mother came, to meet her parents, hoping that now, after the fact, my dad will receive her father’s approval and be welcomed into the family.

Before you know it, my grandpa and his new son-in-law head into town to the local tavern to get some beer. Beer that they bring home in a pail, which is something people did at the time. After an evening of what must have been modest celebration, (these are Norwegian Lutherans after all), they awake the next day to the sight of that pail sitting on the table holding the remnants of what had not been consumed the night before.

My grandpa’s a survivor of the Great Depression and is averse to wasting anything, which may be why he insists that they start the day by drinking what’s left in the bucket. Or maybe it’s a test of my father’s commitment. Either way, this is late June, so what’s left in that pail is warm and flat and… Well, some of you will understand better than others that just the thought of it is so unappealing.

When my dad starts that day with a warm, flat beer, he finds his place in the family, and in the larger, close-knit community that surrounds it.

The way the story is told, the disciples of Jesus appear, themselves, to be a pretty close-knit community. A community that is undoubtedly larger and more diverse than the twelve who stand as a symbol of a movement that is always something more. All of the disciples have this much in common, they follow along and listen and learn from Jesus. That doesn’t mean they understand everything he’s telling them or that they get it right when it comes to their response. In fact, it seems that more often than not they get it wrong. Still, in a way that binds them together, they have this much in common.

They have seen Jesus.

At their best, when they tell others about Jesus, even and especially when they meet with skepticism or scorn,… At their best they say, “Come and see.” Come and see.

The way the story is told – at least the way John tells it – seeing Jesus is a big deal. Jesus is everything that matters. As far as John is concerned, Jesus is the full and complete revelation of God. So to see Jesus is nothing less than to see God’s own self.

With that in mind, maybe you can begin to imagine how unnerving it might be, how confusing it must me, to hear what Jesus is saying now, on the brink of what will be his betrayal. Sounding as though very soon, these disciples who are closest to Jesus are not going to see him anymore. It likely makes them feel more and more removed from the fullness of God.

And as if that isn’t unbearable enough, there is even more that won’t be said in the moment because, Jesus says, “you can’t bear that right now.”  For the 5th time he promises the Spirit. Promises that the Spirit of truth will come and guide them. “Will guide you,” he says. “Into the truth, and will declare to you,” he says, “the things that are to come.”

It must be frustrating for the disciples. That whole business about the Spirit. It seems beyond comprehension. Because the way the story is told Jesus embodies the fulness of God. And the way the same story is told, God will come as Spirit. So somehow, God is more than Spirit. More than Son. One in Three. Three in One. A confounding mystery, especially with a heavy accent on seeing.

The church of my childhood is named for St. John, the storyteller. It is a place where I grew up seeing all kinds of things, including on one occasion, my dad, in the midst of that community, standing at the font. A full grown human being, being baptized. It’s a few years after I, like all four of my siblings had been brought to the same font, one by one as small children. To experience the same ritual. The same washing. The same promises made.

For the longest time it was hard for me to comprehend what I was seeing. What was going on and why. You see, even after that baptism, my dad – a good man in more ways than I can number… Even after the baptism, my dad lived the rest of his long life out on the edges of that faith community. Never really finding his place. I’m not sure he doubted that God loved him. But I don’t think he could ever see the connection between the promise of that love and the people who regularly gathered there.

My experience in the same faith community was very different. Those same people encouraged me all along the way, and still claim me as one of their own.

I have my theories about the difference. Among them involves some of the ways that that congregation has never really lived up to what they are called to be. But then, I’m not sure any congregation ever does.

I’m not talking about programs and volunteers and just the right staff who bring out the best in people. I’m thinking about all the ways that the world is broken and how the church is never as far removed from the breaking of it, as much as we wish we were.  In fact, sometimes, even now, the church – not only individuals within, but the whole of it – can contribute to the harm done to relationships and to creation itself.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’ve seen so many examples of the church at work in ways that make all the difference in peoples’ lives. But I’ve also seen more than my fair share of bad behavior. And I must confess that when it comes to responding to the call of Jesus, after listening and learning and striving to understand, I count myself among those who get it wrong.

Jesus says that there are more things to say, but “you cannot bear them now.” Maybe the unbearable is an accounting of the things we do or leave undone that result in more harm than good. Or the ways we seem to tolerate systemic wrongs that lead to injustice, especially for those who are persistently pushed out to the edges or beyond. Maybe the unbearable for disciples then, and disciples now, is facing the reality that it is human behavior, sometimes like our own, that leads to Jesus’ suffering and death.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s all about the inability of people like us to bear the reality of God. To make sense of a God whose very being and whose mercy cannot be contained. To come to terms with being confronted relentlessly by a love that longs to be shared. To be seen.

The last time I was with the people of St. John I was among them to ordain a new pastor. But first, at the beginning of worship, to preside at the baptism of her infant child. At the same font where I was baptized. At the same font where my father stood.

Standing there, I can see the faces of a few people who most likely were there to witness my own baptism more than sixty years before. And my dad’s baptism. And so many others. So many examples, as Paul would say it, of people brought into Christ, united, joined together in one body.

Standing there – standing here – I begin again to understand that this is how the story is told. Imperfect people, gathered, guided to see the truth that over and over again, in spite of who or what we have or haven’t been, God comes.

Here. Now. The God who loves us from the start. Father, Son and Spirit arrives.

Wisdom herself is present. Jesus, the risen Christ, stands among us insisting that he will make a place for us,…for anyone and everyone in this, God’s close-knit community.

Today by the power of the Spirit, Jesus, the fulness of God is here. Here giving himself to us in water and word, in bread and wine. Giving himself to us in one another so that we can see him in the body. And by the power of the same Spirit, God in Christ is giving us to the world. Sending us to love the world relentlessly with the very love that we receive.

That…that is the way the story is told. Amen.


Text: John 16:12-15