Sermon for Trinity Sunday, 11th June 2017
May I speak in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
Canon Dan Hardy said, “Let me be completely straightforward. Trinity Sunday is the most exciting day of the year, because it celebrates the simple heart of Christian faith, and wraps all the excitement of the other great festivals of the Church’s year into one sunburst of a celebration. But there is also a sense in which this excitingly simple heart of the Christian faith is an open heart; and for that reason it cannot be wrapped up.”
Trinity Sunday is a time for celebration, excitement, open hearts and worship. Quite simply, trinity is how God is: holy, glorious, creative, beautiful, life-giving; everything that is not isolated and static. Trying to explain the mystery of Trinity is very difficult as our finite imagination cannot conceive of such a perfect union; it is God surrounding us, Christ who is with us, and the Holy Spirit within us. That Divine Glory which we are invited to share is woven into all of life like a fine thread, there is a Presence and a Power that pervades everything.
Thinking back, to the very beginning, God created the world through the Word and the Spirit of God swept over the face of the water. Isaiah in our reading today pondered the uncontrollability and immeasurability of God’s power: ‘Who has measured the waters in the hollow of God’s hand?’ ‘Whom did He consult for His enlightenment and who taught Him the path of justice?’ ‘Who taught Him knowledge?’ Who indeed? But he also shows us a God who is aware of our suffering and circumstances, small though we are in comparison to Him. He shows us a God who is constantly looking to refresh and empower His people, to share His strength and life giving nature with us.
Isaiah wrote this to the people of Israel warning them of their impending exile into Babylon and the destruction of their Kingdom, but he is still able to offer them a vision of comfort and God’s support. We see a very involved and active God, a God constantly reaching out.
God said “let us make mankind in our image, according to our likeness.” Not “I will make mankind” but “let us make mankind”. Creation was the collaborative act of God who is already revealed as more than one Person, yet one God. The same happens in Isaiah’s vision of the Lord in the temple. Having glimpsed the holiness of God, Isaiah hears the Lord say, “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?” again indicating the unity of persons in the godhead. His response, “Lord, here am I, send me” launched him into a life of sharing in the mission of God.
Fast forward through the Old Testament where God’s Spirit is revealed at different times and sometimes through different people and we come to the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, God the Son. For God to be revealed as Father, God must also be revealed as Son and so again, that was an act of the Trinity – God the Father sent the Son, the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary so that she conceived. Jesus is the name of the incarnate Son of God and there are times in the gospel stories when He spoke of His relationship with God the Father “before the worlds began” – I actually preached on this on the Sunday before Pentecost.
In today’s reading, Matthew tells us that Jesus met with His disciples on a mountain top, just as God had met with Moses on a mountain top and Elijah too. Their actions are inextricable woven together and although there is diversity in their action, no person of the trinity ever acts separately from the other two.
Jesus invited his disciples to share His risen life, telling them that all authority in heaven and earth had been given to Him. He commissions them, clearly defining the Ones who they will be serving; the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our first real mention of the Trinity as the focus of the church’s work, our first defined meeting of God in Three persons. Jesus also says that He will be with them always, even to the end of the world. Such a strange thing to say as He was leaving them! But He knew that as His glorified body left for heaven, His Holy Spirit would be there to guide, comfort, teach and support. He had even said it would be better if He left them because then God could send the Comforter, that is the Holy Spirit. There is no doubt in Jesus teaching of the reality of the Trinity. “Belief in the Trinity means that at the root of everything there is movement, there is an eternal process of life, of outward movement, and of love. God is coming out to meet us.”
Last week, when we celebrated Pentecost, we acknowledged the coming of the Holy Spirit as the One who would lead the church forward and empower frightened men and women to become bold and fearless preachers of the Gospel of Jesus. He came with the sound of mighty rushing winds and baptised with tongues of fire. He enabled the disciples to preach in languages they had never learned. We can recall God revealing Himself in mighty winds and fire, the Burning Bush comes immediately to mind. The Spirit empowered the disciples to proclaim that Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, has been exalted to the right hand of God. In the godhead there is distinction of persons but never separation of persons. We do not worship three gods; we worship one God in three Persons. We cannot understand one Person of the Trinity without the others. The early Christian theologians had to try to grasp and express the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, One God in Three Persons. Our creeds evolved partly in response to this.
Since about the seventh century, Orthodox theologians have talked of perichoresis, a difficult-to-translate word derived from ‘around’, ‘make room for’, and ‘dance’, to describe God’s Trinitarian life in which each of the divine Persons dwells within the other. The life of the Trinity is a life of inclusion. None precedes the other in eternity; none exceeds the other in greatness or excels the other in power.’
Having a triune God has amazing implications for our world. This is a God who involves Himself totally in our daily lives in different ways. This is a God who creates and who is present in His creation. This is a God who loves, and who teaches and guides those He loves. This is a God who protects and acts as a shield against attacks of evil. This is a God who is present in everything around us, Christ in the hearts of all who show us love and Christ in the words of our friends and even strangers. This is not just a God for church or Sundays, He is a 7 day a week God for church, home, work and play.
This open heart of God is at the heart of the Christian faith. Trinity Sunday is God’s invitation to dance together if you like, and is, indeed, exciting. Having made us in His image, God cannot help but want us to share His life
And so to Paul’s letter. When Paul ended his letter to the Corinthians, he was writing to a church that exasperated him. If any church did not express the unity in diversity that is the Trinity, this was it. They fell out with Paul, they fell out with each other, and they fell out with God. And yet Paul spoke of the unity of the Trinity into which they were drawn and we now use this in the grace at the end of many services
So when Paul prayed that “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit” be with all of them, it was no platitude but a cry from the heart. These words that we hear week by week and perhaps take no notice of because they are so familiar, were first spoken to a disordered church which was told to put its house in order, to agree and live peacefully with each other. Because God never gives up on any of us, we will sometimes find ourselves alongside some awkward characters. Rather than allowing us to give up on them, God offers the grace, love and fellowship of His Trinitarian life as the source of our strength to manifest God’s life on earth. When we say the grace or are dismissed with this beautiful blessing there are consequences for our daily living. We are called to acknowledge the presence of God in our lives, day by day; the presence of a God who supports, who strengthens, who protects. This knowledge should be in our hearts and not just in our minds, memorised in a creed, we can know that at all times we are immersed in the peace of the Father, the love of the Son and the power of the Holy Spirit.
This Trinity Sunday, in a sunburst of celebration, we worship a holy God who invites us, with mutual excitement, to launch out into the dance of God’s life throughout the coming months. There is that lovely chorus “Lord of the Dance” which sums up the work of the three persons of the Trinity, Creation, the Incarnation and saving mission of Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s work within the unstoppable church. How different would the world be if we respond to God’s invitation to be His dance partner, sharing the dance of Trinitarian life, letting Him take the lead as a dance partner does, enjoying the wonder of sharing His life and encouraging others to join the dance? How wonderful it would be if all Christians opened themselves fully to “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit” so that it was in our lives, lived and not just a well rehearsed blessing we say when we leave church.
We may not fully understand the mystery of our triune God, but each member, Father, Son and Holy Spirit invites and enables us to become a living part of themselves, their loving nature, their forgiving acceptance of others, their unity of mind and purpose and their longing for those loved and created by God to share their Glory. It is a heady calling but one we should grasp with such eagerness, like Isaiah, recognising our need for repentance and responding with heartfelt “Here I am Lord, send me”.
Margie Gall at Mojacar on Sunday 11th June 2017
The views expressed do not necessarily represent the views of the Church of England.