This is a day when in some churches you may get a doctrinal sermon about the natures of God’s essence. I’m not here to do that for you today. If that’s what you wanted, sorry. If you were hoping against hope you’d somehow muster yourself through it, you’re welcome. And anyone who was looking forward to the Athanasian Creed today in worship, why? For you, it’s printed in the bulletin!
Either way, suffice it to say today, for our purposes at least, that the Trinity, the divine Three-In-One and One-In-Three, is a mystery. That is to say, it’s a revelation of something that was hidden, but now is made plain to see, hear, or more broadly, understand. God has chosen to reveal himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—and, in fact, claims this as his name. It’s the name that we’re baptized in, as we saw not once, but twice a few moments ago. We could spend a lot of time wrestling with what God’s name means, and that could be fruitful for something like a conversation over coffee of scotch, but not now.
What is important for us right now, though, is recognizing that God’s name reveals to us no so much who God is but what God does—or rather, God’s name reveals to us that God is relational. And it’s in relationship that God acts. Relationship is what’s at the center of God’s own self, and it’s also what’s at the center of our faith. We have a relationship with God, one way or another. The question for us is what we’re going to do with it—or rather, how we’re going to live with it.
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
“Daddy, where did I come from?”
“Mommy, where do babies come from?”
Anyone who’s a parent knows either what it’s like to dread these questions coming up or what it’s like to deal with the awkwardness when they did, in fact come up. Research shows kids will start asking these questions around the age six, and that as many as 12% of kids start wondering about it as early as age four! According to my own research, parents don’t ever really look forward to these questions—be they coming when their kids are six or sixteen! But either way, anyone who’s a parent knows that these questions, and others like them, are coming…Experts in childrearing tell parents that even though you may not want to deal with it, you should have some answers ready for that fateful moment when your kids finally pop the question.
When faced with a flustered encounter about where babies come from, about 4-in-10, or 40%, of parents say they answer their child openly and honestly, but around a third, 32% to be exact, simply explain babies are born when two people love each other very much.
Then you have those who’d rather not deal with any sort of biology or relationship lesson and say that babies are picked up at the baby shop or delivered by the great stork. That accounts for 10% of parents. I must admit, I’m surprised that percentage is so high! I guess it’s a indication of just how much some parents do, in fact, dread any sort of conversation with their kids about anything remotely related to the “birds and the bees,” as it were—even if it is humanity’s favorite pastime. And let’s face it—we wouldn’t be here if people didn’t do it! As uncomfortable as it might make us to think or talk about, it’s pretty part and parcel to being human!
Parents get their fair share of questions that they probably aren’t looking forward to, or they feel ill equipped to answer. And sometimes, the questions that kids ask their parents, or other adults for that matter, come at a time when we might think they’re inappropriate—either particular moments or, more broadly, general stages of life. And to be frank, going into the details of human conception with a four-year-old, how after the sperm enters the cytoplasm of the oocyte, that oocyte undergoes its second meiotic division, producing a haploid ovum and releasing a polar body—all while the sperm nucleus fuses with the ovum, thereby fusing of both parents’ genetic material so that after roughly nine months of gestation, a baby is birthed, but only after the pituitary gland releases the appropriate hormones deep within the mother’s brain and induces her body to start the necessary preparations for delivery.
Frankly, no four-year-old needs that explanation. Maybe you didn’t either…But there are better explanations for where babies come from than saying they come from the baby shop or that the great stork brings them. At different points in a child’s life, when they ask difficult questions, there are appropriate and not-so-appropriate ways for them to be answered.
“I still have many things to say to you,” Jesus tells his disciples in today’s gospel, “but you cannot bear them now.” Jesus tells his disciples this in the middle of his last supper with them. This is after Jesus has given his disciples the new commandment to love one another as he has loved them, having just washed their feet in one of the lowliest forms of servanthood of his day. Jesus says this to his disciples after he calls them friends…because friends share in all things, and he shares with his disciples as he and the Father share in all things.
And so, at this point, Jesus tells the disciples, “I still have a lot to tell you, but you can’t handle it right now.” In John’s gospel, Jesus knows what he is about at this point—he’s about to be betrayed by one of his own, tried in a charade trial, tortured publicly, stripped naked and nailed to a cross, and die and excruciatingly painful death. He knows that’s coming, and as he knows that’s coming, he tells the disciples, he has things he wants to tell them, but they can’t handle it all now. And lest we think that it’s that he knows they can’t handle knowing about his impending passion, crucifixion, and death—no, it’s no that. He’s already told them about that. It’s something more than that…
So what might those things be?
Those things are what come with a relationship with God that is marked by precisely that trauma Jesus has already told his disciples about. Those things that they can’t bear yet at this point are the matters of discipleship—matters of intentional living in faith, in intentionally living like our relationship with God makes a difference to us. Those things that Jesus tells the disciples, and tells us, that we can’t yet handle are the things that tell us what it means to live life as someone who’s been transformed by the truth of God’s unswerving love—love that undergoes everything it means to be human, including suffering and death. And Jesus tells us we’re not yet ready for that yet…
So how do we become ready?
Well, Jesus tells us that too…“When the Spirit of truth comes, she will guide you into all the truth,” Jesus tells us. We of course know Jesus means the Holy Spirit, the same one who moved over the face of the waters at creation and called forth life…This Spirit of truth will come to us; we don’t go to her. And when she comes to us, she will guide us into all truth. That is to say, it’s not we who make ourselves ready for the truth, for deeper relationship with God, but instead the Holy Spirit comes to us, comes through God’s promise. She enlightens us, makes and keeps us holy, and keeps us in faithful relationship with God—just as she does for the whole Christian church on earth and keeps us with God and one another in the one common bond of love.
This is not our own doing, but God’s. And the more that we live in intentional loving relationship with one another, the more we hear God’s Word and participate in communion with God and one another, the more we return to the fundamentals of praying as Jesus taught us, of confessing truly what we believe and following what God has handed down to us as a plan for good living, the more we encounter the scripture—the better we learn how to live our lives as an example of trust in God, proclaiming God’s love through word and action, caring for everyone and the world God made, and working for the sake of righteousness and peace that surpass all understanding. Our lives lived together as the church, in relationship with one another, are lives lived as friends who intentionally make a commitment to love each other, even when it’s hard to do just that—perhaps precisely when it’s hard to do just that—because it’s in that relationship, relationships that mirror God’s own relationship with us, that we come to understand more fully what it means to be a follower of Jesus, a disciple of Christ, a child of God…
This is how Christians are made. This is where we come from—we come from the work of the Holy Spirit, born out of the love God poured out for us in the obedience of Jesus Christ in the cross and resurrection. It’s not without reason that the church as long called the baptismal font the womb of rebirth. For in its water we are made ready to be born anew, and when that water breaks over us, showering us with God’s own name, our new life, a life lived not for ourselves but lived to the greater glory of God, begins. For just as all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit, so we too might walk in newness of life.
This newness of life is our gift of relationship, our gift of friendship with God—and it’s a relationship that grows daily. It grows through asking questions, wrestling with what it means to be God’s friend, to call ourselves God’s children, to be born not only of flesh and blood, but of the Word and the Spirit. And each new day is an opportunity, a chance, a challenge to grow more…to mature in our relationship with God so that we can better handle what it means to love one another as Christ has loved us—because on our own we cannot do it, but with God’s help, with the help of the Holy Spirit poured into us in baptism, the same baptism that unites us with Christ in death and life, we are able to embrace the calling to which God our Father has called us—the call to love as we have first been loved.
This is how we are made.
This is where we come from.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.