Not all at once

A sermon for Trinity Sunday

“Jesus said to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (John 16:12)

Jesus knew that we cannot handle everything at once. Jesus, in his mercy, his experience of human frailty, promised that the Spirit would remind us, guide us, show us the way in our own time, to what we need.

The relationship of the Spirit of truth to Jesus and to God the Father, the Creator, is of interest on this Trinity Sunday. She speaks not only for herself, but she speaks what she hears, says Jesus, and declares what is to come. The Holy Spirit, who is one with the Creator and the Christ, listens to them, and does not speak apart from them. The mystery of the Triune God is just that – a mystery. Our minds are moulded and, dare I say, imprisoned by the physics and mathematics of the world in which we live. But the life of the Divine, the eternity that exists outside of our laws of time and space can unite three and one, can discuss and listen and speak without division, and whisper as the Spirit to a single soul.

What could we learn, if we were to free ourselves from the constraints that we have imagined about whom we should hear and to whom we should pay attention, and whether in listening to another we risk losing our own advantage? What could we learn from the Holy Spirit, who declares what is true, but does not speak only for herself, but listens for the Word of God, and breathes with the breath of God?

There is a lot going on in our world, in our time. Jesus knew that we cannot handle everything at once. Who can process the images of an insurrection while the words of those reeling from gun violence still echo? Who can enjoy the smile of summer while the spectre of climate crisis clouds the sun? We are still working out how to live through a pandemic, how to survive when it stretches well into its third year and is still bringing people down. We are still grieving the children we have lost, and the innocence we once thought we had. We are still wrestling racism. There is a lot, and Jesus promised to be patient with us, perhaps more patient than we deserve.

Once again, as in last week’s gospel, we find Jesus preparing his disciples for the trauma that is to follow this last evening together: the arrest, the trial, the cross, the tomb. He knows that in their distress, they are liable to forget his promise to rise, to return, that this is not the end. He promises to send the Spirit not only to prophesy and to provoke, but to remind them of all that Jesus has said and done with them. To remind them that God so loved the world as to send Jesus to us.

We cannot handle everything at once. But with the help of the Holy Spirit, who brings the full strength of the Trinity with her, we can remember that God can handle everything at once, and that Christ has already opened the way to salvation. We have only to follow. Only to follow.

Yesterday as you all know we had a pretty major event in our parking lot, then another in the church. A gun buyback and a vigil to end gun violence. We didn’t end gun violence, nor did we address all of the other crises that are assaulting us. We can’t do it all at once. But I do think that the Holy Spirit was with us. I think we saw her in the partnership of friends and strangers alike, from different calls and categories. I think we saw her in the people who bypassed the “Cash for Firearms” sign out on the street and instead handed us their weapons to be forged into garden tools. I think that we saw her before the altar as we prayed for the young lives lost to the scourge of gun violence. I think that we saw her in the reminder that together, we have hope; that in love, there is peace.

We cannot bear it all at once. When I was expecting our third child, I had a small friend over to play with the older two. We thought we would go to the park. I think that it took half an hour to get three children under the age of four into their shoes, because I was for some reason determined that they should each be wearing a matching pair. When my friend came to retrieve her son, I was practically in tears. “How will I manage with three children?” I asked. “We’ll never be able to leave the house again!” 

But the smallest walked early, before ten months, and as soon as she as learned to walk, she began bringing her siblings’ shoes to them whenever we were getting ready to go out, and she was pretty good at matching pairs, for a baby.

I absolutely could not handle everything at once. But I didn’t have to. Three became its own lightness, because of love.

When Jesus promises his disciples that they will not be alone, that they will not have to remember all that he has taught them and given them on their own, he is speaking of the Holy Spirit. But they will also have each other. “Bear one another’s burdens,” as Paul has written elsewhere (Galatians 6:2).

Because the Holy Spirit, even the Holy Spirit, who moves where she will and is infamous for stirring things up, even that Spirit does not speak alone, but in solidarity and unity with her partners in the Trinity, the mystery that is God.

And we, although we cannot save the whole world at once, and sometimes can’t even get a matching pair of shoes together, we are not alone. Christ has already saved the world, the Spirit is here to remind us, and God, God who loves the world so much, will not let us fall like the sparrow without catching us.

There is always more to be done, but as the glorious image of the Trinity reminds us, none of us is in this world alone.

Glory to God whose power, [whose Spirit,] working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Glory to God from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Image via

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
This entry was posted in sermon and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Not all at once

  1. Thank you. An superb sermon. Good for my soul.

  2. I mean A superb sermon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s