Sunday, June 15, 2014

a couple of things about the Trinity

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.'

There is something particularly appropriate about my usual opening prayer this morning.  Today is Trinity Sunday and you may have heard me mention before that it is a day upon which many clergy face their weekly task of preaching with a certain degree of trepidation. Part of the reason for this is that it is such a complex subject. That is not surprising: it took the Church many centuries to tease out the doctrine of the Trinity – doing justice to the doctrine in so slight a thing as a Sunday homily would be a near impossible task. 

And a sermon must necessarily be a little thing: there is the practical reason that in most modern parishes clergy have more than one service in more than one church to take – a long sermon in one would mean arriving late at the next; also, most people have, in general, short attention spans – the preacher has some hope of getting across one or two points in eight or ten minutes, but trying to make 20 or 30 in the space of 50 minutes or an hour would not only be impossible, the result would no longer be a sermon, it would be a lecture … and a lecture is a thing where not only a person may take notes that they can go over afterwards and study, there is usually some time for questions and answers so that the hearers can clarify any issues that they had difficulty with, or ask the speaker to go in further depth on any particular point that they found to be of especial interest.

That is why complicated theological matters tend not to be dealt with in sermons. How could we deal adequately with such mysteries as how God became man, how baptism washes away our sins, the manner in which bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, and many other such matters in a few minutes? The preacher may mention such things as these in their sermon, but in general they do so in a way that shows they expect the congregation already to have a good basic understanding from their time in Sunday School, Confirmation Class, and perhaps even personal reading and study groups.

Getting back to the Trinity, imagine if I were to attempt a sermon that dealt even briefly with all of the points raised concerning the doctrine in the Creed of St Athanasius, which we will be using later in this service as is traditional on this day. We would certainly be here much longer than usual and I seriously doubt anyone would emerge from the result much the wiser.

So what might I say, briefly, about the Trinity? Well the point I would like to make this morning is that I think of it as a great gift from God. In this doctrine God has shared with us an intimate knowledge of his nature that we could not have in any way other than by divine revelation. As St Paul tells, we need only look around us at the natural world to know that God exists; and philosophers through their thinking and pondering have come up with many convincing proofs – more than convincing, unassailable, despite what the militant atheist brigade like to assert – but there is something that neither observing the natural world for all eternity nor cramming an infinite number of philosophers together for an infinite amount of time so that they may ponder this question endlessly will come up with: and that is that God exists in Trinity, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. This we can only know because God chooses to let us know. And I find it incredibly comforting to know that our creator loves us enough to share with us such information about himself. God has not created his children and then abandoned them; he speaks to us, calls us into relationship with him, and desires that we know more about him.

But that revelation also, I think, serves as a warning. It lets us know that God is so vastly beyond anything that we could imagine that we can not even imagine how great and wonderful he is. It is a warning also against that terrible modern heresy of thinking we are in some way equal with God, or in some kind of a position to judge not only his actions but his plans for us, to decide that we, small, blind, limited creatures that we are, know better than he when it comes to the other things he has revealed to us – the teaching that he gave us in his Son, the Word made Flesh, which he still gives us today through the Body of Christ, his Church. As Christ tells us in our Gospel reading, we are to obey everything that he commanded us, not just what we decide for ourselves to obey.

By his sharing with us the fact that he exists in Trinity, God tells us that he loves us and wishes us to know him and love him also; but we must never forget that to love him means to be obedient to his will - and I pray all here will both love him and obey him, now and always. To him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls, by whose wounds we are healed and who is with us always until the end of the ages, be glory now and forever. Amen

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