“Loving the Questions”- A Sermon for May 27, 2018 (Trinity Sunday)-The Rev. Libby Berman

Loving the Questions

Good morning!  Today is called, “Trinity Sunday.”  It’s the day we celebrate and delve into the concepts of “God the Creator, Jesus the Christ, and God the Holy Spirit.”

Now many preachers don’t like to preach on Trinity Sunday.  (Imagine that!) Some of us think, “Ah, I think I’ll take that Sunday off, and a substitute priest can come and preach about the Trinity…”  Others think, “I don’t think I’ll preach on the concept of the Trinity on Sunday; I think I’ll preach on one of the other lessons of the day; that will be easier…  (Ah, it turns out that one of those lessons is from Paul, who wrote the very complicated text of Romans, and another is from the Gospel of John… So…not-so-easy… Hmmm…  Today, I thought, “Well, it’s Memorial Day; I’ll be ok!  At least thre won’t be very many people in church!” (Oops!)

Ultimately, after fighting with ourselves, we Trinity Sunday preachers, whoever we are, have to sit down and reflect and pray, and think about something to say…

When I came to that moment, earlier this week, I picked up a book I love, but that I hadn’t looked at in some time.  It’s called Loving the Questions; it was written by a woman named Marianne Micks.  Now, when I encountered this book, and flipped the paperback book over to take a look at the author’s bio, I was somewhat surprised to see the photograph of a kindly-looking, smiling, older woman, one who reminded me somewhat of the lovely, seemingly gentle grandmotherly-type elders in my parish, when I was a kid.  I wondered what such a person might write, into this slender volume, called Loving the Questions. Well, it turns out, upon reading, that I was reminded that “seemingly gentle, grandmotherly-type elders” can pack an intellectual punch!  Marianne, who was professor of Biblical and Historical Theology at Virginia Theological Seminary before her retirement, had written the most powerful, succinct and meaningful treatise on the Nicene Creed (and the meaning of the Trinity) that I had ever seen! Needless to say, Loving the Questions has been a favorite of mine, ever since.

Marianne begins her book with the chapter entitled, “Asking the Questions.” Her main point, in this whole book, centers there:  “Theologians as different as Augustine of Hippo, Anselm of Canterbury, and Charles Shultz, of Peanuts fame, have long celebrated the necessity of asking questions in search for truth…Bernard Lonergan said ‘the asking of questions is the effective emergence of wonder, of the desire to understand.’”  And she (further) quotes the poet, Ranier Maria Rilke, who gave this advice to a younger writer, “I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart, and try to love the questions, themselves.”

In developing my own, personal theology, my own sense of “who God, in three persons, in the Trinity, is, I have always been drawn to and delighted by the concept of “God as Mystery.”  I am grateful that, in thinking about who God is for me, I don’t have to “get there.” I don’t have to “figure it all out.” I don’t have to grasp or understand these concepts completely in order to properly worship God, or to be loved by God, or to be a Christian in community.  In my own theology, I regard all the information I have about God (the Bible, the various liturgies of the church, and all my experiences of God) as helping hands, as tools that help me know better who God is. Taken all together, this combination of what I know from scripture, liturgy, experience and story are what I know, right now, about the Trinity.  And for me, that collection is very much enough for me to know that Trinity, to realize that what I know is only a small portion of what the Trinity truly is, and to delight in the idea that my own understanding of God–in the Trinity–can and is intended to grow and develop over my entire life  I believe that my formation in God truly is life-long, and that I can look forward to ever deeper experiences of the Holy, as I live on.

Now, you may be a person who loves what folks in seminaries call “systematic theology.”  You might be a person who enjoys using the fine intellectual tools of logic to have conversations about God.  In her book, Loving the Questions, Marianne Micks demonstrates great facility with this method of making inquiry about who God is; she spends several chapters in the middle of her book tracing the history of those who, in the Western tradition, have used logic and intellectual inquiry to explore the nature of God.  She cites Tertullian and Ananasius, from the early church, poets and painters from the middle centuries, and Leonardo Boff and Gustavo Guttierez from the Liberation Theology movement in 20th century Latin America. (And she quotes a favorite theologian of mine, John MacQuarrie, who describes the Trinity as the “Primordial Being, the Expressive Being and the Unitive Being.”)  There is no question, to my mind, anyway, that Micks read very deeply and was able, probably in her classroom as well as in her several books, to summarize “theologian thinkers.”

But it is very compelling (and comforting) to me that Marianne ultimately comes back to that idea that each of us can (and properly should) come to our own understanding of who God is–and how we should live our lives in light of our findings–by asking our own questions.

So I have shared the most profound notion that I have of how to know the Trinity (and know about the Trinity) with you.  It’s not complicated. It is quite in line with what Marianne Micks would say, I think: live your life as fully as you can, and keep on,throughout your whole life, asking more questions of the Holy One:  Who are You? How can I know You in your different manifestations?

And now I think, I would like to put my own theology into action, and ask you:  Who is God in three persons, for you? What questions have you asked and what answers have you found?  My sense of God, I believe, and my continuing growth in God, the three in One, is bound up, inextricably, with yours.  Please continue to tell me, and tell one another, how you imagine, experience, and explain the Holy!

With gratitude for the many and varied ways in which we can know you, Holy One,  Amen.

 

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