Not Known, But Trusted

by Genevieve Zetlan, Licensed Lay Preacher

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 29
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17

Welcome to Trinity Sunday! If there’s anything that’s hard for non-Christians, or even most Christians to understand about our idea of God, it’s the Trinity. Our Nicean Creed uses a lot of beautiful language to talk about the Trinity – God from God, Light from Light, begotten not made, proceeding from, of one being with … but do we really know what any of that means?

Theologians have struggled for thousands of years to explain the unexplainable, to put into words the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—as if in defining God we could somehow know God. As poor Nicodemus struggles this morning. Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark of night – a Pharisee who nevertheless recognizes that Jesus has some sort of special relationship to God—but what that is, he’s not exactly sure. He comes seeking answers, seeking explanations. And what does he get in response to his earnest—if timid—inquiry? A Jesus who speaks in riddles and never seems to answer a question straight! Nicodemus comes confessing his faith, wanting to understand, and Jesus puts him off!

And how many times do we feel this way about God? We seek after God in the dark places of our lives—when change is all around us and we don’t know what the future holds—faithful, yes, but wanting to understand: Why did a loved one die? How can we possibly heal from a heartbreak? Where do we go from here?

How can these things be?

But this Jesus in John gives us no satisfying answers. He is rather remote, certainly confusing, frustratingly un-knowable. Today we are not given the comforting shepherd or the parable teacher. Today we are given a God incarnate who reminds us how little we understand—the wind of God’s Spirit blows where it chooses, and we do not know where it comes from or where it goes. Because God cannot be fully known.

But, God can be trusted.

Trust doesn’t happen instantly. It happens gradually, one step at a time, as we find that over and over, when things seem darkest, God is with us. St. Tim’s began with 9 people in 1868. As we were preparing to construct our first building, we needed to come up with $200 to purchase the land. We couldn’t afford it. But when the land owners realized it was wanted for a church, they envisioned what God could do in this place and they sold – for $1.

Twenty years ago during the search process for our current rector, the Vestry conducted an 18-month process culminating in an offer to a candidate, who then backed out – resulting in our call to Brad. From generation to generation in our history, we have learned to trust God.

We humans tend to trust others once we get to know them. But of course the difficult part of faith is in putting our trust in something that is ultimately, sometimes frustratingly, un-knowable. And so we tend to ask, over and over like Nicodemus, questions that are mostly the wrong questions. Because God doesn’t generally hand down timely answers to Why or How or When?

Instead, in response to our search for understanding, God continually offers us something completely different – and sometimes not at all what we’re asking for: a glimpse of the holiness that does indeed fill the earth. A taste of bread and wine. A birdsong breaking through our thoughts. A vast expanse of starry sky. A vision, like Isaiah’s, of heaven. A holy moment in which all our questions and worries become somehow irrelevant.

To get a glimpse of the holy is not to have our questions answered or our problems solved. And to trust God doesn’t mean everything will turn out exactly as we want—as Isaiah found out when his people went into exile and slavery after his glorious vision of God.

Trusting God means that somehow, if we seek after God, if we come questioning in the dark places of our lives as Nicodemus did, God will give us a glimpse of the holiness that fills the earth, and work with us to fill our lives with that holiness.

Nicodemus’s encounter with God incarnate does just that. After his encounter with Jesus, it is Nicodemus who calls into question the legality of his trial. After Jesus’ death, it is Nicodemus who brought 100 pounds of embalming spices for his body — an abundance that exceeds all normal proportions and would have been more than enough for even a royal burial. He does these things despite being a Pharisee, despite the personal danger of associating with a criminal executed for treason and blasphemy .

Some time ago I had the opportunity to walk a labrynth. A labrynth looks a bit like a maze, but there is only ever one way to move forward through it. The first time I walked it, it was daylight. I could see my destination in the center of the circle, but to get there, I had to walk the pathway that doubled back on itself, moving me sometimes closer and sometimes farther from the middle. For a type A personality like myself, I have to admit, it wasn’t the peaceful, spiritual experience I had heard others recommend. It was actually rather maddening! I could see the destination, but there was no straightforward way to get there. And it took SO LONG.

I returned to the labrynth at night though, and walked it again. This time, it was much harder to see the destination in the center or even the direction the path in front of me was taking. To move through the labrynth in the dark I had to put one foot in front of the other, over and over, knowing that eventually I would get where I needed to be.

In the dark places in our lives, when we are in gut-wrenching sorrow or heart-breaking pain or deep confusion, we cannot clearly see the path ahead, much less the final destination. We cannot know what God has mind, to what good God will turn our walking in darkness. But we can trust that if we keep putting one foot in front of the other, God will walk with us, and we will reach the center, and it will be filled with God’s holiness. Because God cannot be known. But God can be trusted.

And when we are not, ourselves, in the midst of darkness?

It is then we get to walk with someone else. It is the reason we come here, week after week, not only to seek solace, but to get a glimpse of the holy that fills the earth, so that we can be solace to others. At Shrine Mont about 60 members of our congregation had a chance to share the places in our service that they felt were holy. It was different for everyone, and sometimes the experience of the holy varied from week to week. But when we come here and are touched by the holy on earth—the holy we experience during Eucharist, during quiet moments of prayer, during the exchange of the peace or the singing of a hymn—we can put aside for a moment all our questions, our need to understand the Whys and Whats and Hows …

and respond as Isaiah did, when the hosts of heaven ask “Whom shall I send?”

“Send me.”

Because whether we are walking in the dark places ourselves, or walking with others through their dark places, God cannot be known, but God can be trusted—one step at a time.