Sunday, August 12, 2012

August 12, 2012

Rev. John Watts

NampaFirst UMC

UBIQUITOUS AND LOQUACIOUS

Matthew 28:16-20

OK, first of all, let’s get it out of the way.  I’m not sure what those words mean, either.  I think I remember seeing them on one of those Reader’s Digest “Increase Your Word Power” pages a few years back.  Not sure I got them right then.  But I have had the opportunity to look them up.  So we’ll begin today with a couple of definitions.  That way you’ll understand my title even if you don’t understand my sermon.

Ubiquitous:  Being or seeming to be everywhere at the same time.  Loquacious:  Very talkative.  Having a lot to say.

And now to make sure we understand these words, let’s use them both in a sentence.  “God is ubiquitous and loquacious.”  In other words, God is everywhere and God is always talking.

We know people like that.  Both presidential candidates qualify.  They really get around.  It seems they’re everywhere.  Especially if it’s a battleground state.  They never run out of things to say.  And even if they do, they keep on talking.

And we know people who we would not describe as “ubiquitous” or “loquacious”.  Sir Isaac Newton for example.  One of the most brilliant human beings who ever lived, but he didn’t do much traveling or much talking.  He was a member of Parliament but he never made a speech.  His only recorded words were a request that someone close the window.

Think back to your best teachers.  I’ll bet they were big talkers.  They were loquacious.  And I’ll bet they also were pretty good at getting around so that no one felt ignored.  They were ubiquitous.  They were everywhere, all the time talking and interacting with their students.

This is especially true of teachers of young children.  It’s true of our Kid’s Stuff teachers.  I get to spy on them now and then.  They somehow manage to be everywhere at once, moving, talking, on the floor, always interacting with their children.  Full of opinions about their work, full of encouraging words and constant conversation.  There’s a reason good teachers are like that.  Always reaching out toward the children has a wonderful way of bringing out the best in them.

God is like that!  God is ubiquitous and loquacious.  The Bible is really just a long story of God’s ongoing conversation with humanity.  Part of the story is humanity putting their fingers in their ears and running away.  Worshiping false gods.  Trying to hide from God, as if that were possible.  But God keeps coming after us.  In the patriarchs and the prophets and the law of the Old Testament.  And then, stopping at nothing, coming to us as God’s Son, Jesus.  What do we do?  We kill Jesus.  But does that stop God?  No!  Jesus rises from the grave and picks up the conversation with the same disciples right where he left it off.  God keeps coming back again and again and again.

Today’s text is the final words in Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus has risen from the grave, he’s spent 40 days walking around and talking and proving that he is really back, and now he’s about to rise again, this time into heaven.  But he has some parting words.  He tells his followers to stay right where they are, get some real estate, build a nice church with plenty of off-street parking, and hold on tight to the experience they had shared.   . . .    I don’t think so.  He tells them to “Go!”  He tells them to, “Get out of here!”  Go to where the people are and make disciples.  Then baptize them.  Baptize them “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

That’s the Trinity.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  God in three persons.  There’s a lot we could say about the Trinity and no matter what we say it won’t answer all our questions.  I just want to make two points today.  (1) The nature of God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is to be ubiquitous and loquacious.  Always on the go and always talking.  (2) God wants this to be our nature, as well.  And so we are told to “go”.  Not “stay”.  “Go!”  Into all the world.  Be ubiquitous.  And talk as we go.  Make disciples, teach, baptize.  Be loquacious.

One thing the doctrine of the Trinity tells us is that we can’t pin God down.  No definition fits God.  No description.  No formula.  Not even a sermon.  Just when we think we have God in a box and all figured out, God gets loose.  You can’t pin God down.  God is ubiquitous.  And you can’t capture the essence of God in a few words.  God is loquacious.

It’s interesting to me that both fundamentalist Christians and progressive Christians want to reduce God down to something simple.  The fundamentalists have a short list of non-negotiable “fundamentals”.  The progressives have their own short list of vague platitudes.  Either way, they are trying to put God in a box.  They are trying to bring God down to our level.  And the result is something far flatter, duller, and tamer than the Trinity.

Christians don’t have one Gospel.  We have four Gospels.  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  It would be so much simpler and less confusing if they had stopped with one.  The official version.  Did you know that all four Gospels don’t even always agree with each other?  Why did those who compiled the Bible let that happen?  Because the truth that came into the world with Jesus is not something to be captured but something to be sought.  And so we look at Jesus from different angles, from different perspectives, and we get a fuller picture than would otherwise be possible.

Albert Einstein said we should make things as simple as possible, but never simpler.  The Trinity is not the simplest way to understand God.  It’s an exasperatingly complicated doctrine.  We talked about the Mormons last week.  They got rid of the doctrine of the Trinity as one of their first orders of business.

But there’s a reason the Trinity has been part of Christian tradition ever since Jesus told his followers to go and baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  The Trinity is the closest our small minds can come to putting into words what we know and what we have experienced of God.  The Trinity doesn’t claim that we know all there is to know about God.  It just says that we have experienced the one and only God in three ways:  (1) The Maker and Ruler of the universe,  (2)  the man, Jesus, God in the flesh, and (3) the Spirit which is always with us and which is even less possible to pin down than the first two.  The Holy Spirit reminds us especially that God is everywhere – ubiquitous – and that God is always speaking to us – loquacious.

We affirmed our faith today with “The Nicene Creed.”  It dates back to AD 325.  Constantine the Roman emperor had become a Christian. Constantinewas aware that there were differences of opinion within the Christian Church about this matter of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  So he called all the bishops together to a place called Nicea and asked them to get this figured out.  The debate went on for months.  Finally they took a vote.  Out of 300 present there were 3 negative votes.  That’s about as united as you can expect any 300 Christians to be.  The creed they came up with is a little long and complicated, so most churches prefer to use the Apostles’ Creed in worship.  But the Nicene Creed came first and it is the Church’s earliest expression of the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Then along cameSt. Augustine(AD 354-430).  He had a great deal to say about the Trinity.  He wrote 15 books about this subject.  The sound bite out of all this scholarly work that sums it up best for me is this:  “Anyone who denies the Trinity is in danger of losing his salvation, and anyone who tries to understand it is in danger of losing his mind.”  I’m not sure that’s a verbatim quote, but it’s close enough.

Augustine also uses an analogy that was new to me.  Several analogies have been made, trying to make the Trinity easier to understand.  A clover with three leaves.  Water in three forms, ice, liquid, and steam.  The spatial dimensions of height, width, and depth.  Here’s the one Augustine used:  Say the words, “I love myself”.  We have it on the authority of Jesus it’s OK to say that.  We are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.  But think about what’s going on when we say, “I love myself.”  There is the “I”, the one who is doing the loving.  There is “myself”, the object of that love.  It’s the same person but described in two ways – the lover and the beloved.  And finally there is the loving, the act and energy of the lover upon the beloved.  So Augustine concluded that God created us with the “vestiges of the Trinity” within our very hearts.

That’s one creative way to make sense of the Trinity.  There are others that might be more helpful for you.  But, remember, the point of the Trinity is never to make God smaller and easier to understand.  It is to help us realize how limited our language is and how small our minds are when it comes to understanding God.  And as we see in these last words Jesus speaks to his disciples, what we understand about God is meant to be applied to ourselves.

God does not sit still on his throne.  God is always on the move.  Reaching out to his creation.  Never resting until we have been reached.  God is everywhere.  Ubiquitous.  There is no place we can go to escape God’s love.  We know at least that much about God.  So we know that we are expected to respond to God’s love by doing at least this.

We go.  We don’t stay.  We go to where the people are.  We go to where the needs are.  We go to where God needs us to extend his love.  “Go into all the world,” said Jesus.  It’s a big world.  No one of us can be everywhere at once.  But that’s the beauty of the Christian Church.  It’s a worldwide Church.  It’s a ubiquitous Church.  So we today through our mission offering can stay inNampaand be inHaiti!

And God does not keep his mouth shut.  God is always talking, always communicating, always revealing to us as much truth as we are capable of receiving.  There is so much God has to tell us!  The limiting factor isn’t God’s reluctance to speak, it’s our reluctance to hear.  We have a loquacious God.  We know at least that much about God.  So we know that the least we can do in response is to speak.

“Go make disciples,” said Jesus.  It’s hard to make disciples without speaking, without sharing, without bearing witness to others what God has done for us.  Some of us who otherwise are pretty good talkers get all tongue-tied when it comes to talking about our faith.  We need to get over that.  And of course, there’s more to talk about than just our faith.  There is tremendous power in simple kind words.  Even just breaking the silence with a stranger to acknowledge that person’s presence.  Better yet, carefully chosen words spoken to lift another’s spirit and to let that person know that you care.  We don’t need a filibuster of words.  We don’t need to say out loud our every thought.  So it’s impossible for anyone else to get a word in edgewise.  We have too much of that already.  We need to speak the right word at the right time in the right place to the right person.  And we’ll never get all that right without God’s help.

As it says in the hymn:

Lord, speak to me, that I may speak

In living echoes of thy tone;

As thou hast sought, so let me seek

Thine erring children, lost and lone.

Ubiquitous and loquacious. God is everywhere and God is always talking, always reaching out, always drawing us in.

God is in that hospital room where there lies a woman who has loved God her entire life.  She feels God’s presence.  She hears his Spirit speaking to her spirit.  A visitor asks if she is afraid of dying.  She says: “Not really.  When I think of all the trouble that God has gone to for me, all the tricks that God has used to grab me, all the traps that God has lain to catch me, I can’t believe God will let a little thing like death stop him.”

She’s right.  We have an awesome God.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We don’t have to figure him out before we can trust him.  Will you trust him today?

Dear God, you’ve given us minds, magnificent minds, and it’s our nature to want to use these minds to understand.  But help us to accept the limitations of our minds when they encounter you.  And help us to see that even as we seek to understand  you, it’s far more important to trust you, and more important yet to share you with others.  In Jesus’ name,   Amen.