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Essay

Mysteries

By May 27, 2014 One Comment
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According to CNN, the satellite data related to the missing Malaysian airliner is to be released today in a 50-page document.  The media, family members, and legions of interested persons will doubtless devour the document in a hunt for clues, in a hunt for incriminating evidence of the government’s incompetency,  but most of all in a hunt for answers.   

Nobody likes a mystery.   And let’s admit that the missing airplane is by almost any definition a pretty big mystery.   At some point we may know what happened but there probably will be lingering questions and doubts.  Those things will nag at us for years perhaps and will above all leave an unsettled feeling in the hearts of those who lost dear ones through whatever it was that happened to that great big plane that disappeared without a trace.

We don’t care for mysteries, but recently I was reflecting on this in a different venue and on a different subject.  I co-host a radio show called “Groundwork” and last week my partner David Bast and I were talking about worship along with a guest on the program, Sue Rozeboom.  Sue teaches liturgical theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan, and was a perfect conversation partner on a program about worship.   At one point we got to talking about definitions of worship, one of which was from my colleague John Witvliet who calls worship “Trinitarian New Covenant Renewal.”   Every week in worship we–among other things–come before Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to rehearse the great truths of the Gospel and of the New Covenant that was established through the death and resurrection of Jesus the Son.

But as we talked, we noted that in so many places these days worship does not have a Trinitarian cast or shape.   The focus tends to be, at best, on one person at a time or in a given worship service even as many songs focus primarily on the Son.   Part of that is understandable given the central work of the Second Person in the Trinity–even the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, although Trinitarian in structure, devote the most space to the person and work of the Son.    But to have no regular sense that we gather before the mystery that just is our One God in Three Persons seems unbalanced and theologically suspect.

Among other things, having an active sense of being in the presence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in worship does indeed introduce a sense of mystery to both our worship and our larger lives as disciples.   The bigness of God, the impenetrable puzzle of how God really is three and yet finally only one, reminds us a bit of our place in the larger scheme of things.  Yes, we are loved fiercely by this God of grace but we don’t have God all figured out on account of that relationship.    There is grandeur and majesty and, yes, mystery there that humbles us, quiets us.

Maybe that is why we don’t get a more robust Trinitarian sense in lots of worship services: people don’t like mysteries, not when it comes to airplanes and not when it comes to God.   It’s more manageable, more tidy to keep things simple.    But maybe part of being a disciple is to acknowledge that life is not simple, that even the way God worked out our salvation is fraught with questions of why it had to go the way it did.

At the Festival of Homiletics a few years ago, Fred Craddock delivered a gem of a sermon in which he complained at one point that so much of what passes as Christian faith today is so simple, all folded in at the corners and tucked in neatly.    He said that he’d heard altogether too many sermons in which the preacher left the clear impression that he had already walked all the way around God and had taken pictures.   Preaching, Craddock said, needs some size to it, some sense of mystery to match the mysterious Triune God before whom worshippers gather.

We may not like mysteries but a bit more Triune mystery in worship seems like a fine goal for pastors and worship planners to ponder.

 

Scott Hoezee

Scott Hoezee is Director of the Center for Excellence in Preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary.

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