GOD’S LONG VIEW

Sermon delivered on Trinity Sunday, the 22nd May 2016 by Bishop Nicholas J G Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands in the service of the Holy Eucharist.

Scriptures: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31     Romans 5:1-5     S. John 16:12-15

S. John 16: 12-13 Jesus said, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority.”

I suppose that priests as well as doctors and lawyers can all identify with the words of Jesus “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” The truth about something can be too hard for a person to face just at that point of time: and the person may even adopt a coping strategy that temporarily shields him from the reality; yet he will have to bear the truth later. Part of mourning for the loss of a loved one or of a friend or colleague has to do with getting to grips with it as an undeniably true fact. I think the words of Jesus had another side though as well: that something can be too wonderful to be believable in current circumstances. In our faith, and going beyond the exercise of any temporal commitments we may have, the call to patience and suffering and the call to the greatest joy imaginable make an awesome and sometimes alarming mix. Jesus’ words in our text come in his address to the disciples at the Last Supper, and they all had a notion that something terribly serious was about to happen, but these disciples could not envisage either the enormity of the crucifixion or the experience and power of the Holy Spirit that would shortly be conferred upon them.

The Son of God, however, possessed from His Father what we can call the “long view” of things, the understanding of life that takes into account not merely what is immediately before us, but more especially the sense of how things are going to work out in the end. Some sense of the long view is surely what even marks us out as human beings most starkly from the other sentient beings of God’s creation, like our domestic animals, although it is possible that the mind of a dog or a cat may have more complexity in this regard than we often credit them with. The Bible is full of accounts of people facing difficult or apparently impossible situations for a godly cause, which in the end is rewarded. We think of such figures as Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Hannah the mother of Samuel, and the stories of Jonah and Daniel. They possessed a quality which we can think of as wisdom that enabled them to endure their hardships and discouragements and to see their good fruit.

Indeed, in the Old Testament, especially in Proverbs ch 8, and in other examples of what is called the “Wisdom Literature”, Wisdom is personified as a wise and virtuous woman, that is drawn in stark contrast to the flighty adventuress depicted in the last part of Proverbs ch 9. The latter figure is concerned for the delights of the moment regardless of the horrors to which those delights ultimately lead. Wisdom, on the other hand, is drawn as one that has been present with the Creator from before He made the world, Wisdom the first of all God's works, Wisdom at God’s side having intimate knowledge of all His creative acts, and indeed being God’s master-craftsman and confidante in all He did. “I was beside Him, like a master workman; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing before Him always, rejoicing in His inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men,” says Wisdom. We can see that the characteristic of wisdom is a long view of things, both with respect to past history and with respect to the future unfolding of present purpose. So when Jesus said to His disciples, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority,” we would be right to recognise in those words the long view of wisdom.

“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority.” The third Person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells us here, is the full truth-teller no less than the Father and the Son. Indeed it is the truth of the Father and of the Son that the Holy Spirit declares. This proposition about the Holy Trinity can be drawn directly from today's Gospel reading, which is why no doubt it was selected specially for Trinity Sunday. What truths have thus been declared through the inspired pages of the New Testament! St. Paul in our New Testament Lesson from Romans 5 conveys many such Spirit-truths, such as, for instance, one that we touched on last week, that the normative condition of suffering in the Christian life is fully expected to bring forth good rather than evil fruit. Suffering works patience, says St. Paul, patience establishes character, which in its turn brings forth hope. This is the truth, this is the long view, the view of the Father and the Son and of the Spirit, the Wisdom which we must disclose with love, and not the view that is so often accepted, that the men and women of this or any age, including Christians, have an inherent right to a suffering-free life. On the contrary, and this is what politicians and media buffs rarely say, if we never get to suffer, we will never really get to rejoice, because we will not ever come to know the power of God. This is partly what Jesus meant when He said that there were things He had to say to His disciples that they could not yet bear. These things are hard truths when as St. Peter says the fiery ordeal comes to us, but if we are guided into the truth we shall rejoice in the truth.

Not all politicians get the opportunity to make a call to their people to bear more suffering, and few of them would have the stomach to make such a call. Could this perhaps be one such time when statesmen all over the world, including here, are being challenged to a degree of real leadership that has become uncommon? And perhaps it has become uncommon because of the increasing distance of the common mind from these foundational Christian beliefs of our civilisation. Certainly there have been statesmen like Sir Winston Churchill who were obliged by the demands of the time to make a call to “blood, sweat and tears”, a call that was wholeheartedly responded to for the sake of the long view, and this response resulted in what has been described as the British people’s finest hour. Such times seem remote from us now. Who will now, I wonder, be motivated to make such a call? Yet the call Jesus made to his disciples too was for blood, sweat and tears, though the burden would principally be his own, and the Holy Spirit in the Acts of the Apostles and in the ages of the Church since, has always called the disciples of the time to face up to the consequences of discipleship. St. Paul recounted to the elders of the church of Ephesus, “Now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there, but that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me.” The wheel of time has turned, and again the disciples of the Truth in our age are called to sufferings, and again they are called to joy, and to this call of suffering and of joy the Cayman Church with its own particular circumstances must respond by hearing the voice of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit that calls it and guides it into all the truth, and, in good faith and heart, obey. For the worldwide Church lives and speaks its truths in places of persecution in the East and South, or in places of the North and West in which the objective realities of the structures of humanity and civilisation are being twisted and deformed; and through speaking the truth in love, in all places true Christians may increasingly be denounced as liars and haters. Those who speak peace where there is no peace will deny all this. But in Christ we are called to keep to the long view, the eternal, everlasting view that will never be overturned, no matter what fashionable thought-forms may temporarily appear to be in the ascendant. As so often throughout history, it is those who have had their minds and hearts sucked in and corrupted by the gales of fashion, who will end their days in sadness; but those who, hearing the voice of the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are faithful no matter what, will pass over into unending joy.