Watching and Listening Again (Trinity Sunday)

Sermons on YouTube…

I know a bunch of people who like to watch the same movie over and over again. I very rarely do that. Partly, that’s because I don’t usually spend much time watching movies, so I’m always pretty far behind trying to find time to watch newer movies that I haven’t seen yet! But in addition to that, I also sometimes feel like it’s pointless to watch a movie again. After all, I know the plot. I know how it ends. And I remember most of the good lines!

And yet lately, I’ve begun to watch some movies I hadn’t seen for a very long time. And in doing so, I’ve realized that even though I’d literally “seen this movie before”, this time around I:

  • Notice details I didn’t see or remember the first time …
  • Recognize an allusion, an inside joke or a foreshadowing of events to come that I didn’t recognize the first time…
  • Do indeed see something that I had forgotten, even though I’d seen this movie before…

Good movies, and good books, are like that. The stories are more complex and nuanced than it first appears. There are different levels of meaning. And often, because I’m in a different place or a different moment in my life the next time around, there’s meaning or content that I couldn’t or didn’t appreciate before.

And that’s a lesson that I sometimes need to remind myself of when I read the Bible, or sing the hymns or consider what God is doing in my life. Sometimes, like a movie, I feel like I’ve seen and heard this all before, and I’ve pretty well got it figured out.

On this Trinity Sunday, we transition to the long, green season of “Sundays after Pentecost”, when we mostly read the stories of Jesus’ ministry among the people of ancient Judea and Galilee. Most of these stories we’ve heard before. For many of us, we’ve been reading these same stories for years. We’ve seen this movie before.

And yet it’s often the case that, even after years of hearing “the same thing” something is different. I hear something that I didn’t notice before. I recognize an allusion or foreshadowing that hadn’t occurred to me the first 27 times! Or perhaps, because I’m a different person in a different spiritual or emotional place right now, the Spirit shows me something new through this same old story.  Perhaps that’s been true for you, too.

The real lesson in all this is never to think that we’ve got it all figured out; that God has nothing more to show us or tell us; or even to imagine that we’ve got God all figured out.

After all, that’s the basic, most important message of having a Sunday dedicated to the doctrine of the Trinity! Too often, it’s not only tempting to think we’ve got the story of Jesus figured out, but that we’ve also got God figured out. Yes, we know God is big and complex.  But for simplicity, most of us have developed an image of who God is, and we’ve domesticated God in such a way that God feels comfortable and close and all figured out.

But Trinity Sunday is NOT about helping us figure out God so that we have God in the correct box.  Instead, it’s just a reminder that we have more to learn and experience about God no matter how many times we may think we’ve seen this movie.

After all, Trinity Sunday is intended to make things messier, not easier.  It reminds us that God is revealed in Scripture as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet Scripture also tells us that God is one. He is not a committee! And that makes God harder to understand, not easier.

God is a lot bigger and more mysterious than we often like to think. God is indeed close to us and personally known to us through Jesus. But the full picture and understanding of God is bigger than we can imagine. And if I realize that I can’t figure out a movie completely even when I watch it over and over again, the revelation of God as Trinity reminds me that God is One who is so awesome and so mysterious that I can never say that I’ve got God all figured out either.

And if God is a lot bigger and more mysterious than I imagine, then God’s revelation to me is also bigger and more awesome that I can grasp at one time.

I think that’s what Jesus is telling the disciples in today’s Gospel reading.  Jesus says that even though they know him and have seen the ultimate revelation of God in him, the fullness of the meaning of that revelation can’t be grasped so easily.  Like a good movie, they have to constantly consider the deeper mystery and fullness of who Jesus is for them and what God is calling them to do.

And so as we re-read the stories of Jesus’ ministry in these coming months, and as we consider our own relationship with God, it may be helpful and useful to think of these experiences as watching anew a movie we’ve seen before. And that means, even though we may have seen this movie before, we approach the stories and the relationship with God to which these stories call us, in such a way that we’re always willing to consider:

  • What details about this story might I have not paid attention to before? Is there a detail or an allusion or a foreshadowing that maybe God is trying to help me see…? (Sometimes, the same story as told by different Gospel writers gets tweaked slightly differently; what’s the point of that difference for you?)
  • What I may have missed or even forgotten from before? What didn’t I see or notice about the story or the context…? (Even those of us who have studied and preached on these stories sometimes find new things…!)
  • What is the Spirit saying to me through this story that may be different today, because I’m in a different place in my life – whether that place is a different spiritual, emotional or even physical place?  It doesn’t mean the other things were wrong – it just means that God can use the same story to help you see a different thing in a new time, because God knows you need it at this moment…

Sometimes, when we’re reading or singing or doing the “same old stuff”, it can feel like “we’ve seen this movie before.”  But sometimes, we hear or see something new. And that’s why Jesus calls us, also, to be disciples who constantly look and listen for the guidance of the Spirit, even and especially when we think we’ve got it all figured out.

Jesus’ point – and the point of Trinity Sunday – is that God isn’t ever done with us. God is always doing new and often surprising things, even when it feels like we’ve seen this movie before. God is always working through the Spirit to call our attention to things we might not have noticed before. And God is always calling us continue watching, listening and reflecting so that we can continue to have our relationship with God both deepened and strengthened.