One of the reasons people enter monastic orders is because they want to get closer to God and gain insights into God's wisdom and truth. In these holy communities they seek the things we all seek - faith and truth and wholeness, but they give up much more to try and get there. I hold a great deal of respect for people who can take vows of community or silence or simplicity or poverty. My dentist told me that one of her patients decided to enter holy orders and that she would no longer be able to visit the dentist. So my dentist said, "Well, just be sure you brush and floss daily." The soon-to-be-nun replied, "Oh, they do not allow us any luxury items, no floss allowed!"
Today, on Trinity Sunday, we might not be taking any great vows, but it is a day in the church where we try to lift our thoughts a bit higher, trying to get a bit closer to God's holiness and wisdom and truth. Mother Teresa, when asked about her holiness or saintliness, said that holiness is a necessity in life - and she explained that it is not the luxury of a few ... but it is "a simple duty of all. Holiness is for everyone."
Striving towards God's wisdom and truth and holiness is something all of us, as Christ's disciples, are called to do. In this passage from the gospel of John, we find Jesus with his disciples during one of their very last conversations with him. They had finished the last supper and Jesus explained to the disciples he was not going to be with them for much longer. You can imagine the sense of anxiety this would have caused the disciples to hear that they would have to face the future without Jesus at their sides.
Questions would have been racing through their minds, "What will we do without you? What is going to happen to us? Will we ever see you again?" They wanted wisdom, they wanted holiness, but at that moment what they really wanted was answers!
But Jesus says to them, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." A classic parenting technique sounds similar, "I will tell you when you are older." Sometimes, parents know best and want to protect their children from the harsh realities of the world. Jesus, of course was trying to protect his disciples, too. He had things to tell them, truths to teach and wisdom to impart, but right now they would not be able to bear it. Soon the disciples would have to witness the arrest, torture, and death of their leader and friend. The future would hold the greatest days of darkness they would have ever known.
If we knew the future, if we knew about the wars, natural disasters, economic recessions, shattering illnesses, personal trials, and unthinkable tragedies, if we knew what was ahead of us, we would not be able to bear it. Jesus tries in his final conversation with his disciples not to give them all of the answers but to teach them about faith. They needed to rely on the teachings he had already given them and the presence of the Holy Spirit to help them carry on into the future, into a world where he would no longer be physically present. The bigger lesson Jesus was trying to teach them was that they would now need to rely on their faith and they could rely on their faith to endure all that was to follow.
In Mitch Albom's book Have a Little Faith, he goes to visit his childhood rabbi who is terminally ill. Mitch asks the rabbi if he believes in God. "Yes, I do." Do you ever speak to God? "On a regular basis." What do you say? "These days? These days I say, 'God, I know I'm going to see you soon. And we'll have some nice conversations. But meanwhile, God, if you're gonna take me, take me already. And if you're gonna leave me here, he opened his hands and looked to the ceiling, maybe give me the strength to do what should be done.'"
What the old rabbi realized was that he did not need to strive for answers about the future, what he needed to strive towards was the strength that comes from God's wisdom and God's holiness. If the rabbi asked God for the answer about when he was going to die, he probably would have been told, "I have things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now." Or, "I will tell you when you are older."
I think one of the hardest parts of my job as a pastor is not being able to give people detailed answers to their questions. People have hard questions: why did this happen, how can I believe, what should I do, what is going to happen? When people are searching for truths and reasons and answers, it is very hard not to be able to give them the answers they want. Jesus does not tell the disciples, if you follow me, you will have all the answers. Jesus says, "Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest." He says, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." He says, "You shall never be hungry nor shall you thirst." These promises from Jesus are answers. They are answers that remind us we can rely on our faith, even in times of hardship.
When Jesus told the disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them and that they will come to be with him, Thomas still had questions. "Lord, we do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus responds to Thomas not by telling him where he is going but by saying, "I am the way and the truth and the life." Jesus wants Thomas to have faith in the promises he has made to him. Jesus wants us to rely on the faith that is within us to lead us to his way and truth and life. One of God's greatest gifts, given to those who ask questions, is not always answers but faith.
Saint Augustine was walking along the beach one day, puzzling over the doctrine of the Trinity, when he came across a little child who was running back and forth with a bucket, pouring water from the ocean into a hole he had dug in the sand. Augustine asked the boy, "What are you doing?" The boy replied, "I'm trying to put the ocean into this hole." Augustine abruptly realized that he had been trying to put an infinite God into his finite mind. An ocean into a hole: he was searching for answers instead of searching for faith.
Jesus was trying to teach the disciples that even though they did not have all of the answers, their faith and the Holy Spirit would guide them. Yes, they would face challenges and triumphs; they would have heartaches and successes. And it would be their faith that would guide them in the present and into the unknown future.
In the book, Letters to a Young Poet, there are ten letters written by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke to a young man about to enter the military. The young man wrote to Rilke looking for guidance in life and a critique of some of his poems. In one of the letters Rilke wrote, "Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart ... Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
When we pray for answers, they do not always come. But when we ask God for guidance and strength the questions find ways to work themselves out. We are called to be people who strive towards holiness not people who know all of the answers. A life of faith helps us to strive towards heavenly things like holiness, wisdom and truth - in our lives of faith we strive towards God. Jesus knew that it would be better to leave the disciples with a faith that would ultimately answer every question they would face in the days ahead.
We cannot always bear to know the answers about the future, but God will help us to bear what we will face. The future will test us in ways we cannot anticipate, but God's Word will be as present for us then as it was for the early disciples. Part of Jesus' promise to his disciples was that the Holy Spirit would continue to teach them and guide them in the changing circumstances of their lives. Jesus' words are not trapped in the past, but they are living words to the disciples of all times and all places. God still leads those who seek the way, the truth, and the life towards lives of faith ... and faith will help us to live with our questions today and in the days to come.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Lord, you call us to seek lives of purpose rooted in our faith. Help us to be led by your Holy Spirit throughout our lives, seeking you first, and striving to love our neighbors. May our lives be meaningful, our hearts be open, and our faith every growing. We give you thanks for this season, this day, this moment. In Christ's name we pray. Amen.