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June 16, 2019

“Collaborative Creator”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Romans 5.1-15

John 16.12-15

June 16, 2019

Life is full of the unexplainable, which we try – very hard – to explain. Our brains do not comprehend mystery very well – which is why philosophers seek the meaning of life. Theologians seek the meaning of pain. Scientists seek the ordering of nature and life. We find some answers, but we also have more questions than solutions. Today is the celebration known as Trinity Sunday. It is a day of mystery; it is a day of recognizing the relationship among the three entities; it is also the understanding that we do not have full understanding of our faith.

The questions that arise from our texts include uncertainties of the meaning of pain, as well as the Trinity. We may not leave today with complete answers but perhaps scripture can help us understand the struggles of life in a new light.

The author of Romans, Paul, tells the Romans (and us) to boast in both hope and suffering. We can definitely envision boasting in hope – or celebrating in hope. In our world today we might not see much hope with the shootings that happen, with the natural disasters, with poverty and the list goes on and on. Much hope may not be found, but it seems that when we do have hope, we glow with it – we celebrate it. We share it with those who are around us who seem in despair.

Yet, to boast in suffering? That seems out of character. Paul was pretty good at the “whoa is me” stuff at times. You’ll remember the thorn in his side, and talking about persecutions, and being in jail. His writings could sometimes come across as a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of guy. At first glance, this boasting of suffering may seem a bit like that, or even like a competition. Maybe you’ve even heard a suffering “one-up” conversation, in which the gist of the exchange goes along the lines of: “you think you’ve got it bad…” This isn’t quite what Paul is talking about, though.

Recently I heard psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb speak on NPR’s Fresh Air[1]. She gave an interview about her own journey through therapy as a therapist. The interviewer asked if ever she heard tragedy after tragedy in therapy sessions, and then heard someone talk about something not as tragic, and wanted them to move on. Gottlieb validated all sufferings, stating that there is no scale of suffering, or understanding that one is worse than another – everyone’s suffering is unique and difficult.

Paul’s boasting is not about comparing suffering. In fact, we should toss out the word “boast” and maybe use “recognize” or “acknowledge.” You have probably heard the phrase “no pain, no gain.”[2] Artists, people who exercise, people who play extreme sports, and others have used this phrase in training and practicing their art. Some artists believe that in order to paint the best picture, write the best song, or produce the best art, one must suffer. Buddhists believe that suffering is part of the world – to live is to suffer. We will suffer as human beings – but how do we respond?

Peter Steinke writes: “We ‘waste’ suffering if we gloss over, deny, avoid, or neglect its message…If, however, we can learn from pain it isn’t wasted but a source of life and health.”[3] It is a slippery slope to say that people must suffer for something good to happen. It is that deadly slope that leads to the valley of the shadow of slavery and abuse and justifying terrible events. When looking at Paul’s message to the Romans, we cannot say that Paul is telling them to suffer, but perhaps asking the Romans to look critically at their suffering, and how they will move forward.

Essentially, Paul is talking about resilience. Will they be stuck in a cycle of resentment? Will they spiral into obsessing over revenge? Will they hold a grudge? Or will they learn from the experience? Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris has been a spokesperson for how ACEs – Adverse Childhood Experiences – affect adults. She has talked about how the trauma a child faces affects not only that person as a child, but as an adult, and then their children. It seems like an obvious fact – trauma can cause depression and anxiety, as well as heart problems and other medical issues. Yet, many doctors do not screen for ACEs, and people go untreated.

One of the biggest impacts in someone with a high ACE score depends on stable adults in their lives. If there is one person who is a stable adult – a parent, grandparent, teacher, or caregiver – they are more likely to succeed. They are more likely to be resilient. Perhaps they are more likely to live in the manner that Paul is talking about.

The idea of resilience means being connected to people. To have that stable adult means being connected to someone you can rely upon. To be resilient means creating healthy relationships within crisis. Resilience means relationship, and God is all about relationships. Last week we talked about how God and the Spirit and Christ are in relationship with one another – one we might not understand – but a relationship, nonetheless.

The Gospel of John tells a bit about this relationship and interconnected being. The Trinity means that these three are Co-conspirators. They are Colleagues. They are Collaborators, working together for good. I love the idea of naming the Trinity with the “co-“ prefix, because it means that they are all working jointly, equally.

Jesus tells the disciples that he has so much to tell them – but they cannot bear it. They simply do not have the capacity for the information he wants to tell them. Is he talking mentally? Emotionally? Spiritually? Maybe all of the above? Maybe the disciples couldn’t comprehend it in their minds, but also the emotions that go along with understanding God. Perhaps we cannot understand the spiritual implications of the Trinity. We are reminded that we simply cannot understand everything and that we are limited. Sometimes we need that reminder.

The Spirit is an Advocate. An advocate is often someone who speaks on behalf of someone else. The Spirit speaks for us and to us. The Spirit helps translate some of those mysteries into feelings – still unexplainable, but tangible within our sensory systems. The Spirit speaks in ways that we can understand.

There is something magical and mysterious and strange about the number three. Fish start smelling after three days. Guests begin to lose their welcome after three days. I noticed this past week that the third day of Vacation Bible School is the day all the children seem to show up with sugar pumping through their systems and they forget how to act. Jesus, of course, rose on the third day. Then, there are the Three of the Trinity. We cannot comprehend how Jesus rose from the dead. We cannot comprehend why it is almost always the third day we begin itching for guests to go back home, even though we love them so much. We cannot understand how these three are One.

I like the way Steve Collins articulates the Spirit in a poem. I leave you with his words:

 

Three is the magic number
calling us out of individualism
insisting on relationship
i to you
we to another
trinity seeding networks
until all the cosmos joins in

one to create
one to save
one to sustain

one to author
one to fight
one to enliven

one to conceive
one to die
one to resurrect

one to plan
one to act
one to explain

one's sufficient
two's company
three's community

trinity expose our self-reliance
trinity break open our exclusivity
trinity seed our joining tonight

amen — written by Steve Collins.[4]

 

[1] Fresh Air. NPR, Lori Gottlieb: A Therapist Goes to Therapy (And Gets a Taste of Her Own Medicine), March 28, 2019.

[2] Richard L. Sheffield, “Romans 5.1-5” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 3 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 39.

[3] Sheffield, 41.