Puzzling God

Holy Trinity Sunday
June 16, 2019

12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, you will be guided you into all the truth; for the Spirit will not speak out of the Spirit’s own authority, but will speak whatever the Spirit hears, and will declare to you the things that are to come. 14The Spirit will glorify me, taking what is mine and declaring it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.” – John 16:12-15

This sermon was inspired by the central image from Rev. Paul Carlson’s commentary on this week’s texts. 

I have fond memories of doing jigsaw puzzles when I was growing up. There was a time when my mom and I would pull out a puzzle every Friday night, stay up late watching TV, and assemble the puzzle together. 500 to 1000 pieces were our specialty – something challenging but not impossibly frustrating. We would put the border together first, then slowly fill the middle – starting with the parts of the picture that were most distinctive and then the more challenging sections once more of the pieces were gone. The picture it created didn’t so much matter as the satisfaction of finding the right piece and seeing it come together, though we always, always kept looking back at the picture on the box to figure out how it would all come together, trusting it would turn out just like the picture we could see on the box. The great feeling of satisfaction that would come as those final pieces would fall into place!

I imagine that by the time we meet them again in our gospel reading today, Jesus’ disciples were feeling like the puzzle was finally coming together. It had been a challenging and sometimes unpredictable ride, to be sure. And they all had a slightly different picture in mind about how the world would look when Jesus was done putting it together. Peaceable kingdom, an end to oppression, food for the hungry, healing for the sick – that sort of picture with some variation. As they followed along with Jesus, all of the gospel writers hint that the disciples were a little slow to get it. But piece by piece they began to catch on at least to part of Jesus’ mission and ministry. Their picture of how things might turn out had started to change here and there, but it’s almost as if it was finally starting to come together. Maybe they weren’t at the final pieces yet, but the border was done and some of the bigger parts of the picture were finished. They were beginning to understand who God was and what God was doing among them.

But Jesus wasn’t anywhere close. He had been trying to tell them that, but they were a little dense, like most of us disciples of Jesus. And in this passage we just read from the long conversation Jesus has with them just before his arrest, crucifixion, and death, some of the disciples are just starting to get the sense that the puzzle isn’t going along quite as well as they had thought. Jesus says, ‘There are many more things I have to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” Wait? What? I thought we were wrapping this thing up? We finally had God in touchable form, in a human we can relate to, and you’re implying that we have to stop and wait for more to come?

Perhaps some of the disciples were go-with-the-flow kind of people, the blessed ones who are comfortable with fluidity, spontaneity, and uncertainty. But surely some of them were like me – anxious to see the puzzle put together, every piece in its place. And whether they realize it or not, they are about to be confronted by something so far beyond what they had been able to picture that it will change their puzzle-working forever.

Because God isn’t a puzzle to be solved, at least not that kind of puzzle. God doesn’t have nice, neat finished borders. We can’t study our way into understanding God. There really is no finishing of the puzzle. The nature of God is to be always creating, always renewing, always resurrecting. The borders we think we have put in place to contain God, to contain the church, to contain even our own lives, are, in fact, just places where we have failed to see more places for connecting and growing, more places for the puzzle of God and of the world to expand into something new.

With this puzzle image in mind, I’ve been thinking that Youth Sunday is especially appropriate on Trinity Sunday. Because so often we adults think of kids as a puzzle to be solved. Perhaps some of our young people, too, are like I was as a young person and like I still am today: anxious to see what the rest of my own puzzle looks like, anxious to grow up the rest of the way, anxious to see where I’ll end up and what the future will hold. And at the same times we as the church are sometimes guilty of tokenizing young people, imagining them to be an important piece of carrying forward the picture of the church we are trying to piece together and failing to see all the ways they are already a part of the church we are now and the ways they are helping us now add on to the picture we thought we’d figured out about God and church. I am so grateful for the ways our kids lead us in this congregation into this ever expanding vision of God and God’s plan for us.

And I’m certainly guilty of wanting desperately to know where this congregation is going. I’ve joined you in the ongoing work of discerning the future for the congregation. And I often find myself trying to imagine different scenarios for how things will play out – different ways our mission and ministry could continue or find new life or new directions. And because I am at ease with clear plans and schedules, I am often looking for that puzzle to come together and near completion.

But that is to deny the very important promise that Jesus makes to the disciples and to us: The Spirit will come and guide us into all truth. Now I have often simply thought about that statement as the promise that one day – maybe only after we’ve died and landed back in God’s presence in a new way – one day we would finally know the truth, we’d finally put the last piece into this puzzle and see everything for what it was and is and ever will be.

But that is to miss the promise – that the Spirit will guide us. I have always been so focused on understanding God’s future that I have been slow to think about the part of that promise that is the Spirit’s daily guidance. I am sometimes so focused on figuring out the puzzle that I miss the presence of God, with a steady hand on my back to calm my frantic work and worry, the presence of God reassuring that it’s ok to dwell in mystery and wonder, the presence of God helping me take joy in adding one piece at a time to an ever-growing, ever-changing puzzle of creation.

That’s the steady presence of God as we as a congregation experience change and sometimes even turmoil. Present in worship – in water, wine, and bread, present in community, present in our joys and in our fears, present in our wondering and worry for the future. Present, now as each day adds another piece to the ever-growing picture of what God is doing here.

So for my fellow type A folk, I’m sorry. The puzzle isn’t almost done. It will never be done. My picture of what God’s reign of justice and peace will look like isn’t what it will look like. And your picture of it isn’t it either. But the mystery of God is present in you and in me. And for that we give thanks today as we pause to dwell in the mystery of God.

-Pastor Steven Wilco

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