Puddletown, Milborne and Dewlish

Sunday 11th June 2017

Isaiah 40.12-17,27-31; Matthew 28.16-20

 

Jesus said, Who do you say that I am?

 

 And his disciples answered and said, Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah or one of the prophets.

 

 And Jesus answered and said, But, who do you say that I am?

 

Peter answered and said, "You are the Logos, existing in the Father as his rationality and then, by an act of his will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and interpenetrating every other member, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple."

 

 And Jesus answered and said, "What?"

It’s Trinity Sunday again – it comes round every year and traditionally preachers are said to groan each time it appears.

 

It’s partly because there is no story to get one’s teeth into when talking about the Trinity. It’s not something Jesus did nor is it something Jesus talked about or told stories about.

 

It’s a complex thing to understand fully, and in fact I don’t think there is any human being who has or even can fully understand what the Trinity is about and means.

 

That is perhaps not really surprising because, as I’ve said before, we are humans with human limitations and God is God without limit. If we understood everything we too would be God too, and that of course is very far from the truth.

 

The explanation given of the Trinity on the Religions pages of the BBC website begins like this: “a difficult but fundamental concept within Christianity, the Trinity is the belief that God is three separate persons but still a single God.”[1]

 

There is mystery about God, which we can only begin to uncover as we allow God’s revelation to us in the world to become part of who we are. God cannot be God apart from the Holy Spirit. But nor can we be who we really are apart from God, because who we are, our identity as Christians, cannot be separated from whose we are.

 

Remember what the Archbishop of Canterbury said last year when he discovered the man he thought had been his birth father wasn’t: “I know that I find who I am in Jesus Christ, not in genetics, and my identity in him never changes. . .

 

“At the very outset of my inauguration service three years ago, Evangeline Kanagasooriam, a young member of the Canterbury Cathedral congregation, said: “We greet you in the name of Christ. Who are you, and why do you request entry?” To which I responded: “I am Justin, a servant of Jesus Christ, and I come as one seeking the grace of God to travel with you in His service together.” What has changed? Nothing!”[2]

 

How much do we need to know in order to be a Christian? That’s a difficult question to answer. There’s no exam we need to pass, no test of knowledge, no certificate to gain. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to write an essay explaining the doctrine of the Trinity before you are guaranteed a place in heaven? I sure am.

 

Our faith is not a set of precepts we have to learn; it is a faith we have to live.

 

And yet, the more we do indeed learn about God the more we also realise that there is to learn. That’s so exciting – to think we will never reach the end of our learning journey when it comes to God.

 

That’s not something to daunt us but to revive us - there is always more to discover about God, that is stimulating and exciting and enables us to engage.

 

The doctrine of the Trinity is not a thing to learn off by heart but something to live. It has come out of people’s experience.

 

If we look at the passage we have just heard from Matthew’s Gospel, we read that they worshipped him, but some doubted. Paula Gooder points out that all the people worshipped but some did so with doubt. It wasn’t two different sets of people, some of whom worshipped and some who doubted, but a group of people, all worshipping, but in which some had doubts.[3]

 

That to me sounds like any church on a Sunday morning.

 

But notice that Jesus didn’t single out the ones who didn’t doubt as the people he sent out to go and make disciples of all nations. He sent them all, doubters and those who were sure.

 

If Jesus waited for us all to be 100% certain about everything, nothing would ever get done. None of us would ever call ourselves Christians, none of us would try to share God’s love, none of us engage in mission or service or anything. And the truth is that the more we engage in God’s work, the more sure we become. Because becoming sure is not about knowledge but about relationship.

 

The true response to Jesus, which they all undertook, was to worship. That is why we have gathered this morning – we have come to worship, to worship God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Creator, Redeemer, Life-Giver; Originator of Life, Eternal Word and Never-ending Presence.

 

We don’t need to understand the Trinity in order to worship.

 

So some doubted, but Jesus sent all of them into the world to make disciples of all nations, and we too have that calling.

 

Many people in our churches lament the decline in numbers but how many of those who lament the decline are also out there talking about their faith, talking about Jesus, making disciples. Our Sunday worship only has full meaning when we live out our faith during the rest of the week, and that includes, however difficult we feel it is, sharing our faith with others.

 

And the Trinity only really means anything as we live in relationship with God.

 

Now, please don’t misunderstand me – I think it’s great when Christians study theology and want to learn more about God and how people have understood God over the years and how they have worshipped and what the Bible means and so on.

In fact one of my greatest wishes is that people who come to church on Sundays would get excited about theology and Scripture, and have a thirst for learning.

 

Not because it is important in itself, but because it points us forwards to God, the Unity who dwells in Trinity, and can help to deepen our relationship with God.

 

If we tried to describe a person we love, our words would ultimately fail. When I do visits before a funeral, it is interesting that people can tell me some things the person did and some of what a person is like, but no one can tell everything about who the person was.

 

If I were to follow instructions to try and replicate the person based on what a family told me, I would always fail, because ultimately what mattered to them was the relationship they had with their beloved, not facts about them that they can share.

In order to gain a greater understanding of the Trinity, we need to be in relationship with it, with God the Father through Jesus the Son in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 

Our view of God will always be too small. Our language will always fail when we try to explain who God is. The Trinity is a central part of our understanding of God, showing that God lives constantly in relationship, and in a relationship within God that is open enough to include us all through love.

 

John Hull, a theologian, explains why three is more inclusive of us than God would be were God two or one. He puts it like this: “If God was a solitary God, so to speak, it would be too much like the rule of a benevolent dictator, and if it was a binary, just two persons, the Father and the Son, this would suggest a kind of mutual preoccupation of one with the other like two human lovers, who only have eyes for each other. But three is a society.

 

“Moreover, it is a society of equals, for the persons of the Trinity are equal in that they equally form the Godhead and so Christian communities should also be communities of equality, of mutuality, and of joyful sharing.

 

“Secondly, the Holy Trinity is an inclusive society. On the one hand, it is true that God is in Heaven and we humans are on Earth. God is often described as being wholly other i.e. completely different and unique from us.

 

“But for Christians that is only half of the story. In John chapter seventeen, sometimes described as the High Priestly prayer of Jesus, Jesus prays that those who love him may be one with him, just as he is one with the Father. In other words, the unity of love within the Holy Trinity includes us within its blissful circle.”[4]

 

 

So in summary: the Trinity is first and foremost something to live. Our true response is worship, through which will come deeper understanding. Our God lives in community, in such a way that we too are included in the love that flows between Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

Let us pray that our Christian communities can be as loving and inclusive and living as the love of God requires of those who are part of the divine dance. Amen.

 

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/beliefs/trinity_1.shtml

[2] http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5704/a-personal-statement-from-the-archbishop-of-canterbury

[3] See Reflections for Sundays Year A (Church House Publishing 2016 p.157)

[4] A sermon preached in the chapel of the Queen’s Foundation, Birmingham, on Trinity Sunday 19th June 2011

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