By the power of your Holy Spirit, may only the truth be spoken and only the truth be heard. Amen.
So, Trinity Sunday… I just want to tell you that this particular Sunday is infamous to seminarians and new clergy. It is the Sunday when the older and wiser priests “graciously” invite us to preach, much in the way that Mikey’s older brothers in the commercial in the eighties, invited him to try Life cereal—I’m not doin’ it; well I’m not doin’ it; let’s get Mikey to try it; he eats everything!
Even if you don’t remember the commercial, the point is this—that the Trinity is pretty much impossible to explain because 1) it’s not actually in the Bible, and 2) because it’s meant to convey something that is largely mystery. Now that’s not to say that some of you have not heard really good sermons on the Trinity but I have opted not to regale you with stories about triangles, three-leaf clovers, or the various states of water (fog, ice, and flowing H2O). Let’s just leave it that the Trinity is how we attempt to explain all the ways that God makes his love known to us through the work of Jesus.
So having celebrated in the last few weeks, Jesus’ return to the Father, and the outpouring of his Holy Spirit to those of us left behind, let’s talk about the results of these events. Let’s talk about the thing that we’ve been given because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5)—hope.
But before we begin I need to make this disclosure: The ideas and words you are about to hear have been borrowed if not outright stolen—I mean quoted—from the wisdom of David Lose and his online article, “Hope in the Meantime.” (He’s great and I recommend reading pretty much anything he’s written.)
So, on to hope. This has been a really rough week for a lot of people—the tragedy in Oklahoma City, the disappointment for some on political votes and decisions, personal losses that make no sense. Those are merely samplings of the things that you all have brought here with you today, and so I want to talk to you about the hope that is ours as children of God, and recipients of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
We are citizens of God’s kingdom but we live that out in the secular world—a world where meaning is searched for in the material and the immanent. One author defines our world’s secularism as a loss of transcendence, and this loss translates to a loss of hope because of course, the material and immanent do not ultimately satisfy. It is in the transcendent that we find meaning because it is in the transcendent that we see (find) God.
Now stay with me here. We are not only talking about what Paul refers to in Romans: “the hope of sharing in the glory of God” through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the hope in the things above, but Paul also says we have hope in the things below—here and now, in our struggles and suffering. Listen again to the words of Scripture:
…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us…
Why? Because our struggles and suffering are “hallowed by God’s presence and love.” And how do we know this? Because God made himself known in the very concrete suffering and death of his son Jesus. It was in the physical body and material world that God showed his love and salvation to the world. So if God’s greatest revelation was made manifest in and through the struggle and suffering of a man hung on a tree, then what possible suffering of ours can ever truly be God-forsaken.
God’s presence is with us in our suffering and we have a promise that our suffering joined to Christ’s suffering will be redeemed somehow, someway, sometime. That does not mean that God wants us to suffer or is even OK with our suffering. No, what it means is that God notices every tear; that every pain, disappointment, and loss is important to God; that no tragedy is ever ignored. God is with us in every kind of suffering and thereby dignifies our pain with his presence. Yes, dignifies and sanctifies it.
It’s true this idea of boasting and having hope in our suffering is completely counter-cultural. Nevertheless we believe it is not only true in the long-run but is powerful in the here and now, as it hallows our daily labor, our ordinary relationships, and our everyday struggles as places that God desires to be.
The kind of hope that Paul is talking about in Romans is a powerful thing. It leaves us open to misunderstanding sometimes by those who do not know this hope. Sometimes it makes us subjects of ridicule as a people with a “pie in the sky” outlook on life. But we are not of this world. We are children and heirs of God. We are the salt and light of the world and God invites us to live into this hope that does not disappoint, this hope that propels us through every circumstance in life because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the blessed Holy Spirit.
We hope because God is with us in all things—cheering us on as well as crying our tears. We need this hope. The world needs this hope. Beloved, remember this hope to which you are called and live it out for others to see.
When words fail in the midst of tragedy, let your presence be Jesus with skin on.
Let the world see that even in the midst of frustration and disappointment that you still practice hope by looking for God in the unexpected.
Let your lives be a testimony that violence, injustice, pain, and loss will not have the last word.
Being a people of hope in the midst of these things will bear witness that transcendence is not just for later but for the here and now.
Our God, Emmanuel, is with us and that makes all the difference. Thanks be to God.