“I don’t believe what I’m seeing…” There are a whole bunch of variations on that these days, aren’t there?
Living now weeks into a pandemic and civil unrest, a point of conversation in nearly every interchange these days is some kind of comment on what we have seen.
Partiers in the Ozarks over Memorial Day weekend as if Covid 19 did not exist? “I can’t believe what I’m seeing…” many said as the video was played around the world of people ignoring social distancing, and masks, and handwashing in preference to partying.
The video of a police officer who held his knee on a man’s neck for over 8 minutes while George Floyd struggled and pleaded for him to get off, for his own mother, for breath itself.
We watched it and said, “I can’t believe what I am seeing.” He’s killing him. I can’t believe they are showing that.. over and over and over again.
Protests that appeared peaceful on the television camera angle we could see were suddenly broken up by lobbing tear gas canisters, or rushing law enforcement officers.
A man shoved backward by a police officer and striking his head on the pavement, the officers then surrounding him and walking on by leaving him to bleed on the pavement unassisted.
I can’t believe what I am seeing.
I could go on, there have been a lot of unbelievable things this past week, but you can fill in the blanks with your own.
Some will be about not believing what you see.
Some will be about things we can’t believe that are joyous, law enforcement and national guard joining peaceful marches, hands clasped, encouragement given, hospitality extended.
Others will likely be about others disbelieving the validity of the images, or explaining them away, or trying to temper them, or maybe even substituting other videos or images to counter with comments like “where was the outrage when this happened….”
I can’t believe what I am seeing has become for us, almost like a liturgical refrain to life.
This is Holy Trinity Sunday, and one might wonder just what a rather arcane formulation about God like being “Three in one and One in three” might have to do at all with any of the turmoil or the events of this current age?
You might even be tempted to mock a bit. “You go ahead pastor, talk about the Trinity, while the world burns and the virus spreads. Maybe your comments will be a pleasant brief academic distraction from all the troubles.”
I wondered if there was any point to mentioning Holy Trinity Sunday at all, but then I looked at this Gospel lesson from Matthew again and found in it a peculiar little detail that seemed to make it speak precisely to this moment.
Matthew records that Jesus gathers his disciples on the mount again, the high place from which in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus always seems to ascend to deliver an important address or a teaching.
They gather there, (we are told) and then we are given this detail by Matthew that we dare not overlook.
When they saw him (that is, Jesus), they worshiped him; but some doubted.
In other words, (at least for some of them, although we don’t know who or which disciples exactly) — they could not believe what they were seeing….
Suddenly the events of this Gospel make direct connection to us.
It is possible, in other words, to look squarely at the presence of the Resurrected Jesus in your midst and not believe what you are seeing, still have doubts and questions in your mind.
It is possible to hear the call of Jesus to come up to the high place, and to answer that call, to come up to stand in the presence of Jesus looking full at him and hearing his words to you and still not believe what you are seeing.
It is possible to be in the presence of Jesus and not trust your own eyes.
It is possible to be listening to the very words of Jesus spoken to you and still not trust your own perception of what he is saying.
Question and doubt and not knowing what to make of a particular moment, as powerful as it may be, is apparently a possibility even for those who follow Jesus and are listening to him.
I think that’s good news!
We are under incredible pressure right now to do the right things, to make the right decisions, and to follow the right procedures.
We are all trying to understand the dynamics of race relations, the behavior of epidemiological spread, the intricacies of supply and demand, global supply chains, how one sector of the economy impacts another, etc. etc.
We want to get this “right.”
We don’ t want to make any mistakes!
We are bombarded with more than our minds can take in, and so while we listen, discern and sort things out it is completely possible to stand even in the presence of experts and have the experience of not believing what we are seeing!
I think it is good news that even the disbelieving disciples still hung with one another even after the ascension of Jesus.
I think it is even better news that the way they are able to do that was not simply because of what they had seen or heard.
No, the disciples are given the commission in Matthew’s Gospel to go and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
This is the point.
God doesn’t just come at us in what we can see and hear.
God comes at us in whatever way God has to in order to bring us into God’s presence.
I can look at Jesus before me, and hear him speaking, and still have doubts about it, and about what I am supposed to do, and how I am supposed to respond.
But God doesn’t only come at us in the person, in the examples and teaching of Jesus.
God also comes at us as the Creator, surrounding us with all of creation that we might sense the power and majesty of God in all of its raw and unpredictable power.
When I am full of myself and feeling like I am the one in charge of my fate, the thunder rolls and the lightning strikes and the earth shakes and I am suddenly put in my place as creature.
I am given a sense of awe at things that I cannot comprehend or certainly cannot control.
This is the God who comes at me too, who terrifies as well as comforts. Who I turn to when the machinations of human events, politics, violence, terror at the hands of the oppressor threaten to overwhelm me.
The God of the Omni’s – Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, — so different and far above me…. does not do the bidding of Presidents or Kings, Queens or Corporations — nor can God be pocketed by them or held up like a talisman to be controlled.
Holy Trinity reminds us that God is unsearchable and unknowable at times, we can see and not believe or make sense of the things that God may be doing (even in our midst) that are simply beyond our comprehension at this time.
We trust in this God to bend the moral arch of the universe toward Justice, as God has promised so to do with the narrative arch of the scriptures.
From the blood of Able crying out from the ground to God showing Pharaoh who is God to exiles returned and children mourned, the stories of scripture recount a God who moves to end oppression and who calls to count those who trade in exploitation.
We trust in this God even when we cannot see how the arch of justice is bending from our particular angle.
But God also does not only come at us simply as raw power and unsearchable other.
No, God also comes as Spirit.
God comes as a breath that gives life, and that separates waters, and that stirs dry bones making them live again.
God comes as a breath that warms, as a feeling that overtakes, as a movement that cannot be directed or manipulated or stopped.
“The Spirit blows where it wills..” Jesus says to Nicodemus, who cannot fathom or understand what Jesus is talking about in that moment, even though Nicodemus sees and hears Jesus face to face!
It is not just Jesus who reveals God’s presence, Nicodemus also senses God’s presence in and around Jesus’ actions themselves, and his own inquiry.
“No one can do these things without God.” Nicodemus says.
The Spirit is the promised advocate who will work on us internally.
The Spirit will inhabit us, fill us, cause our eyes to see and our ears to hear, and empower our service, as imperfectly as we may offer it – and it is the Spirit who will multiply our meager efforts until God’s will is done at last.
This is the gift this day, of Holy Trinity.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not so much something hammered out by theologians and controversies and ascents to understanding.
No, Holy Trinity is finally about how God comes at us, and God has chosen to come at us in these distinct ways.
God comes at us through creation to remind us that we are indeed creature and limited, and so must never think so highly of ourselves that we begin to believe that we can take the place or position of God.
God comes at us through the Son, Jesus — whose life, example and teaching, and whose acts of love and acceptance become the model for how we are to live and understand God’s own love for us.
God comes at us through the Spirit, to move us and fill us in ways that we cannot quite describe but know when we feel it.
“I can’t believe what I’m seeing….” The disciples would say, and thanks be to God, seeing was not the only way that God was willing to come at them, or at us.