Matthew 28: 16-20
A few weeks ago, I was crocheting a baby blanket during text study, the weekly get-together where pastors chat about all kinds of things (sometimes, even, the Bible). I was using two skeins of yarn at the same time and, somehow, a horrible snarl had happened. Thus, most of my time on that particular day was spent untangling the snarl, attempting to salvage the yarn. I pulled at the tangle, carefully weaving one free end over and around, up and down, through and back again.
The other people thought I was crazy. One pastor thought I should cut it and be done with it, knotting two free ends back together and then going from there. I didn’t want to do that, I reported. I wanted to undo the knot. I knew that I could. It just took patience and a lot of effort. I knew untangling that hideous knot would be worth it in the end, I just had to stick with it.
I worked on it for two hours that day and for an hour and a half during a meeting the next day. Of course, during the time that I was working on the knot, what wasn’t I doing? I wasn’t working on the baby blanket. I was ignoring my main task for this side project, which was slow. Focusing on untangling the knot gave some real pleasure, but I did not make any ground on the real work of finishing the blanket so that I could put it in the mail.
Should I have just cut the knot as soon as I saw it? Maybe.
Should I have set an amount of time to wrestle with it and then gotten back to crocheting? Maybe.
Should I have made more of an effort to remember that creating the blanket was my main goal, rather than untangling what was likely about six feet worth of yarn that cost $4 a skein? In my mind, now, definitely.
This knotty problem kept bubbling up to the surface of my mind this week as I reflected on the mystery of God’s own self as Trinity and Unity. I used to thrill at attempting to explain the Trinity, even if you didn’t love my attempts. Unraveling that knot, making useful yarn out of it, seemed so worthwhile and valuable. I loved the possibilities that seemed evident in considering the questions and the answers of how God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit- are together and separate in an eternal dance of love, creation, redemption, and grace within their own relationship to one another and within their relationship to us.
Suddenly, this week, I realized the more time that I spent on explaining the Trinity, the less time I spent on talking about or doing the actual work of making disciples, of bringing people into the Way of Jesus. Whoops. Since 325 and the first church council at Nicea, when believing in the Trinity became a hallmark of orthodox Christian thinking, there has been immense significance placed on the intellectual understanding of God’s relations within God’s self. Getting the knowledge correct replaced actually doing what Jesus commanded of his early disciples and expects of his present disciples (that’s us).
Frankly, it’s too easy for us to feel like we have to work out the knot, that we need to have everything neat and perfect and completely understood before we could begin to share the good news of Jesus. After all, what if we were trying to make disciples and someone asked us about the Trinity? What would we do then? What happens if there’s a question we can’t answer?
We make a cut, tie the ends together, and keep crocheting (or knitting or fishing or whatever).
Yesterday, several people from this congregation stood in the drizzle on the Park Strip and manned (and womanned) a booth for the PrideFest. The sign on the booth read “People who love Jesus and you, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America”. For hours, we stood- handing out bracelets, inviting people to church, selling children’s bibles and cookbooks, and listening to stories. We answered all kinds of questions. We listened with sympathy to how people had been hurt by church people. We encouraged.
Not once in 8+ hours, as far as I know, was anyone asked about the Trinity. (Rats!) Not once we were asked to explain our understanding of how God could have three expressions. We weren’t quizzed on any Bible passages related to the Trinity (though we did get questions about some other things).
Does it mean that dogma doesn’t matter? No, but it does mean that if we sat here for the same amount of time yesterday, struggling to completely understand that teaching- we would have missed those interactions, those stories, the chance to witness to the hope that is within us. In any kind of work, there is always a little side project that needs to be done or that can be done. (Ask me how often I clean my desk rather than work on a hard text.) The side project in itself is not a bad thing. It’s worth untangling some knots. It is when these little things become our focus that we have a problem.
The relational existence and outpouring of Godself seems enticing, in that we can delay action on anything as long as there is something in our faith that remains less than completely understood. Understanding the Trinity is the Gordian knot of contemporary theology. We must cut it, rather than seek to untie it. We celebrate who God is and who we are to and in God. That's something to think about!
Trusting that God is Source, Savior, and Sustenance moves us into the realm of the life of faith, rather than only the study thereof. In a time and place that calls for actions, we need a God of movement, of internal and external activity, of past action, present guidance, and future clarity. That, fortunately is the God we serve. God’s way of revealing the Divine nature and ability to meet those needs is expressed through what we have seen and experienced true in the movements of the Holy Parent, Holy Son, and Holy Spirit.
We have work to do, specific work to which we have been called. Nowhere is that work defined as total comprehension of the nature of God. There is no shortage of ways to stand with and for the little, the least, and the lost. We take what we trust is true about God, even with our reservations, and we run with it, for the sake of the common good, for the sake of our communities, for the sake of communion, for the sake of Christ in the world.