Investment, Learning and Practice (Holy Trinity Sunday)

Sermons on YouTube…

As many of you know, I’m deeply into woodworking.  And while I was on sabbatical last winter, I had many opportunities to play around in my friend’s wood shop – and he’s got a lathe!  I had used his lathe before, just to turn a couple of pens and once to try my hand at something more complex, and I had enjoyed the experience.

But this time around, I had many more opportunities to use the lathe. I began to really enjoy the possibilities of what I could do creatively with a lathe.  And so I came back from sabbatical thinking, “I gotta get a lathe!”

But I did this with eyes wide opened. I’ve now had just enough experience and talked to my friend enough to know that if I want to really enjoy the experience of working on a lathe, it’s going require significant:

  • Investment – when you go to wood shows, they let you try out a lathe by turning a pen.  It’s REALLY simple, and it’s fun.  (John describes this as the “gateway drug” to turning, because you don’t realize that the lathe isn’t the most expensive thing – it’s all the stuff you need to buy to go with the lathe …!)
  • Learning – this is unlike anything I’ve done before in woodworking, and like any hobby or sport, there are a lot of techniques which seem simple, but actually aren’t.  Even as I’ve read online blogs about which tools to buy, there’s great debate about which are better, and there’s a LOT of reading and watching YouTube that I’m going to need to continue to do…
  • Practice – like anything else, theory is often easy.  Actually doing it requires practice and refinement…

And as with all of my woodworking skills, if I want to continue to grow and enjoy the experience, I’ll always have to invest and learn and practice.  It’s a process that never ends.

But in the end, I’m happy to do those things because the experience is worth it.  In fact, any activity in our lives that becomes meaningful or fulfilling requires personal investment, and continuous learning, and active practice and work.

The same is true about any meaningful relationship in our lives.  Any real and meaningful relationship you have with anyone else depends upon both people investing themselves in the relationship, continually learning about one another, and actively working to make that relationship work.  And we’re willing to do those things in relationships that give meaning, purpose and joy to our lives.

And that same thing is true in our relationship with God.  It is absolutely true that God loves us and creates a relationship with us purely because of his love for us and not because of anything we’ve done or might do in the future.

And God does this by investing himself in our lives, by listening to us always and caring about our wants and needs, and by actively working in our lives to make his love and presence known.

But it’s also true that that relationship cannot be meaningful and fulfilling in our lives unless we’re also willing to invest ourselves in the relationship with God, to grow in learning about God’s love and presence, and to actively work on that relationship in our daily lives.  And that’s a continual process that goes on throughout our lives.  It never ends.

But sometimes, people figure they’ve got this God thing all figured out.  We’ve read some important Bible stories.  We learned a couple of theological words.  And we’ve got some good catch phrases like, “Love God and love others.”  And those are all good things.

But that can end up being like the person who goes to a wood show, learns the most basic things about turning, and then figures he’s got it all down.  But we don’t have it all down.  And growing in our relationship and understanding of God is something that’s never finished.

Today, we celebrate Trinity Sunday, which is dedicated to a seemingly impossible thing:  That the One God is Three persons; but the three persons are really One God.  And in some ways, if that doesn’t really make sense, then that’s the point!  This day reminds us that anytime we think we’re done, and that we’ve got God all figured out, we’re missing the point.

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus addresses his disciples right before he goes to the cross.  He had been with them for 3 years.  He had taught them.  He had trained them.  And in some respects, you might expect him to say, “you know what to do; you know how to do it; now just go out there, trust your instincts and get it done!”

But he doesn’t say that.  In fact, at first glance, it’s kind of depressing: “I have many things to say to you, but you can’t bear them now!”  Ouch!

On the other hand, Jesus doesn’t leave it there.  He tells them God isn’t finished with them.  God will NEVER be finished with them.  The Spirt is coming, and will continue to guide them into all truth.  And that means that the disciples are called not to be people who have it all figured out about God, but people who are so committed to their relationship with God that they are:

  • Invested in that relationship – and that has real life consequences for how they live their lives.  It’s that way for us, too.  Actually, one of the first things I had to do when I decided I wanted a lathe was to figure out how to make space for it in my shop.  It wasn’t initially easy or intuitive.  And sometimes, the investment we most need to make in our relationship with God is how we make space for God in our lives …
  • Committed to life-long learning – Jesus makes it clear that the disciples have now completed the pre-requisites for real learning.  But they have to be open to listening and continuing to grow.  And for us, too, that means growing beyond a few basic Bible stories and Sunday School lessons from when we were kids…
  • Dedicated to practicing their faith in real life – Jesus sent the disciples out into the world to do real things in the lives of real people.  For us too, this means moving beyond great catch phrases like, “Love God and love people”.  It’s a great phrase, and that’s what Jesus says.  But what does it mean in practice?  And that question can’t simply be rhetorical in our lives…

Our relationship with God is bigger and more complex than we can ever comprehend in our lifetimes.   And a real and meaningful relationship with God defies easy answers or simplistic explanations.  And even though it’s a gift, if we want to get anything out of it, it requires constant investment and learning and practice in our everyday lives.

But in the end, that investment and learning and practice are worth it, because a real and living relationship with God brings meaning, purpose and joy to life.  A real and living relationship with God builds confidence in God’s love in spite of the chaos that so often surrounds us.  And a real and living relationship with God makes God’s love an active reality in our lives, and not just a concept.