Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
Did you hear about the woman who became a Catholic priest?
Sounds like a set-up for a joke, doesn’t it?–but it’s not! Yesterday’s Seattle Times reported that an Olympia woman was the first woman in Washington state to be ordained as a Catholic priest.
The ordination was performed by an organization called Roman Catholic Womenpriests. It isn’t considered valid by the Pope or the mainline Roman Catholic Church because the Roman Catholic Church continues to believe that only men can be ordained. The reason for this belief is that Jesus’ disciples were all men.
In this morning’s Gospel reading Jesus says to his men disciples, I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
Did you catch that? In the two or three years Jesus spent with his disciples, he wasn’t able to teach them all they would need in order to serve faithfully the rest of their lives. But after he was gone, the Holy Spirit would come to guide them.
The Roman Catholic Church, even after 2000 years, still cannot bear the idea of women priests. We Lutherans couldn’t bear the idea until the early 1970s.
God is always out ahead of us, inviting us to see God & the world we live in–& one another–in new ways. The work of the Holy Spirit is constantly to reveal to us a broader & deeper understanding of the truth, which for now we cannot bear.
Last week was Pentecost, a day that marks the beginning of the Church. It was the time Jesus spoke of in today’s reading from John. Following his departure, the Holy Spirit arrived, as promised, & God was revealed in new ways. Unsettling ways. Exciting ways. On the Day of Pentecost, the nations of the world were gathered in one place & they not only listened to one another; they understood one another! It was as if the Holy Spirit was saying, this is a glimpse of what my Kingdom looks like. Let this be your model. Let this be your goal. Let this be your work on earth.
On the Day of Pentecost the people were described as astounded, amazed, perplexed, bewildered. Or, as Jesus put it, they weren’t able to bear what was new. We find ourselves in a similar situation today. Faced with traditional ideas about women in ministry, sexual orientation, other religions, other cultures, economic justice for the poor & powerless, there is much that Christians still are unable to bear today.
But what a gracious God we have! Notice that Jesus doesn’t issue threats or warnings. He doesn’t set a timeline for us to understand the truth, to get it right. He doesn’t judge us. Instead, he says, for now there are things that are too difficult for you to bear. But the Holy Spirit will reveal all truth to you. No matter how long it takes, God can wait for us to see the truth—to embrace what in the past was too hard to bear.
God’s love toward us doesn’t depend on what we believe or don’t believe. We don’t have the power to turn God’s love on & off as if it were hot & cold running water. God’s love for us is always on, hot, & full blast. The only power we have is over our own & other people’s lives. If there are things that God would have us accept but which are too hard to bear, it’s we–& other people–who suffer because of our inability to believe what the Spirit reveals.
Today is the day of Holy Trinity, one of my favorite Sundays of the whole year. It’s one of my favorites because the Holy Trinity gives us an example for how we are to live by giving us a beautiful picture of who God is.
On the Day of Pentecost, the nations of the world came together as equals & gave glory to God. In the midst of their diversity, the glory of God was revealed.
This was no coincidence. Diversity & equality describe the very nature of God.
Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity declares that God is not revealed simply as one, but three equal, inseparable parts.
What we call “Father” is often translated “Creator.” It is that mysterious part of God beyond the natural world, beyond human speech or understanding. The “Father” represents mystery. The Son—Jesus— represents the flesh-&-blood human aspect of creation.
But it gets better. Have you ever thought about the relationship of Father & Son? It’s a description of different generations. The Holy Trinity gives us the perfect example of different generations, not struggling against one another but working together.
And then there’s the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is often described as in the Bible as feminine.
For that reason I picture Jesus smiling in today’s reading from John. He tells his disciples there are things they can’t bear. One of the things he knows they couldn’t bear was the idea of women holding powerful religious positions. I wonder if that’s why he uses the word “he” to describe the Spirit. It’s as if he’s saying, I call the Spirit “he” for your sake because for now you can’t bear the idea of women as equals; one day you will see the truth.
But the Holy Spirit represents more than just the feminine. It represents the goodness of all creation. What images come to mind when you think of Holy Spirit? Fire? Wind? A dove? These are all non-human aspects of God’s creation. And yet, they are represented as equals with the Father & the Son.
Now think of that again. The different persons of the Holy Trinity are not arranged in a top-down relationship: the Holy Trinity gives us an example of genders working together…as equals. Generations working together…as equals. The human & the non-human aspects of creation working together…as equals. And on the Day of Pentecost, the nations of the world coming together…as equals.
Think about how radical an idea that would’ve been in Jesus’ day: children equal to parents? Women equal to men? Animals, plants, & all of creation equal to human?
It’s still a radical idea, isn’t it? If we followed the example of the Holy Trinity in daily life—a relationship of equals serving one another– would we still be paying women only 50% as much as men for equal work? Would we treat God’s creation as if it we were entitled to it? Would there be an out-of-control oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico?
Do you see what Pentecost was about? It was God’s nature reflected onto the world. The perfect, self-giving love of Father, Son & Holy Spirit became visible among humanity & God’s whole creation. Instead of a power struggle based on differences, God is revealed most fully in a relationship of different, but equal.
What do you think? How is God inviting us, in our place, to move away from struggles over power to sharing power? From relationships of suspicion to relationships of trust? How are we being called to move into a relationship of equality—male, female, young, old, gay, straight, human, non-human, white, non-white?
It’s too easy for the problems of other Christians to hold our attention. We read about the Catholic women’s struggle for ordination, or sexual abuse among priests, or rules against homosexuality.
Other Christians have their struggles that for now are too difficult for them to bear. We also have challenges that we have not yet come to terms with. Our challenge is to focus our energy on discerning how Father, Son & Holy Spirit might be calling us to a Pentecost renewal & transformation.
Let us pray: Come, Holy Spirit, & enter the hearts of anxious people & fill us with your peace. Renew& transform the lives of individuals, our congregation, & our planet. In the name of the Father, & of the Son, & of the Holy Spirit. AMEN