Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Trinity: God's revelation of himself

May my words be in the Name of Almighty God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday and it is very appropriate that we gather to do so in that church within our Union of Parishes that is named after the most Holy Trinity. It is one of the great mysteries of our faith that God exists in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – while yet remaining one God. Many attempts have been essayed towards explaining how such a seemingly impossible thing should be – these attempts usually work by way of analogy – there is, for example, St Patrick's legendary attempt by way of holding up a shamrock which has three leaves but yet remains one plant. But all such attempts break down at some point. I think it best for us to simply remember that the explanation to mysteries may all be very well when it comes to the closing pages of a detective novel, but what we are dealing with here is the infinite and Almighty God – and we are but finite created beings. It is not that a full explanation does not exist, but simply that such a full explanation is beyond our understanding and is knowable only to the one being who is complete and full in and of Himself – that is, the God who exists in Trinity. Some may find that frustrating; but actually, I do not think it too much to ask of most. We most of us, for example, have only the haziest idea of how television works. We know that there is an explanation and that there are indeed some few who know what it is; but for most people it is simply enough to know that you plug the machine in, hook it up to an aerial or a satellite box, and turn it on … not forgetting, of course, to make sure you have your TV license as well!

The most important thing for us to know, I think, is that God does in fact exist in Trinity … and how it is that we know. It is easy to know that God exists … it is something that we know instinctively from looking at the world around us, from that restlessness in our hearts that the God who created us to know him has placed within us, and from reason by way of philosophical inquiry … but that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is not something that we can know by such means. This we can only know by what we call Revelation – which comes from the Greek word for 'unveiling' – it is something that God himself must tell us – and has told us.

This self-revealing of Himself by God to man is recorded for us in Sacred Scripture. Look at our reading from St John's Gospel today, for example, where we see Christ speaking of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit … knowing that elsewhere he has said that he and the Father are one … and in other places that this Spirit he will send is his Spirit. And, of course, St Matthew ends his Gospel with our Lord's command that his disciples baptise all peoples in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Outside the Gospels there are many references to the various persons of the Trinity, while at the same time staunchly upholding the fact that there is only one God. We have one such passage from the Apostle St Paul's letter to the church in Rome today; and of course we have that very famous verse from his second letter to the Corinthians which we commonly refer to as the Grace.

But the self-revelation of the Trinity to us is not confined to the New Testament – it is also to be found in the Old. Consider the opening verses of the Bible which we heard read earlier. We have God the Father as Creator, we have God the Holy Spirit moving over the waters of the deep; and we have God's creative Word present also when he says 'Let there be light.' And, as St John tells us in the prologue of his Gospel, that Word that was with God in the beginning was none other than Christ himself, God the Son. And elsewhere in the Old Testament, particularly in that part called the Wisdom literature, there are references both to the Spirit of God and his Holy Wisdom, who was later identified with the Divine Logos or Word. So God's self-revelation of his Triune nature was already seeded throughout Scripture before the ultimate self-revealing of himself that he gave us in Christ, the Word made Flesh. In fact, many scholars believe that the reason that stalwart Jewish monotheists, such as his first disciples were, were so ready to accept God's revelation to them of his Triune nature was because of the groundwork that He had already done in that part of the Bible that existed before he sent his Son into the world.

That God has chosen to reveal to us that he exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is important for many reasons. It is a wonderful act of Divine love, his freely helping us to know him better so that we may come to love him better. It also shows the importance he places on his children having a right understanding of his nature – if it were not, why would he go to so much trouble to make sure we knew it? We cannot worship rightly that which we do not rightly know. And the last reason I will mention as to its importance is the way how it, rightly understood, helps guard us against the heresy of religious indifferentism. Indifferentism claims that there is no meaningful difference among religions – the man who bows down before an idol he has carved is essentially the same as the most orthodox Christian. The great danger of such thinking is obvious once one pauses even for a moment to think about it. The first is that it offends against objective truth – God exists in Trinity and wishes to be known and worshipped in that truth; indifferentism denies the importance of what God has himself revealed to us of his nature. Another danger is that it removes from the one who accepts it the imperative given to us by Christ himself to evangelise and share the truth of his Gospel, baptising them, as we were reminded earlier in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. People had different faiths when Christ issued that commandment; and yet he clearly thought it important that they come to believe that there is but one God who exists in Trinity, and that Christ is the second person of that Trinity. Indifferentism therefore is not an option for a faithful Christian as it offends against the obedience we owe to God.

The final danger that flows from this heresy that I will mention is strongly linked to the second. And that is if we fail to share the faith, we fail to live the faith. Our Christian faith is a seamless garment; we do not get to choose some parts and reject others. It is a particularly easy heresy to fall into in this modern age of ours, given that the ever vigilant guardians of political correctness will thunder with great outrage at how offensive it is to say that Christianity is anyway better than any other religion and how arrogant it is to make such a claim. It is never arrogant, however, to speak the truth of this matter; it is in fact the most fundamental acts of Christian charity, for to fail to speak the truth of this matter is to risk letting others hear what they need for their salvation. And it endangers our own salvation too; for thinking it is all right not to live out this part of our faith, tempts us towards thinking that perhaps there are other parts that we can ignore. And before you know it, you are picking and choosing from the faith as if it were some kind of a menu at the restaurant – living only the parts that we find congenial to our nature, and ignoring those which we find a challenge … and all the while wounding Christ again and again with our open and deliberate disobedience to his teachings …

But it was not for such as this that God sent his Son into the world; and it was not for such as this that he graced us with the knowledge that his divinity exists in Trinity. It was so that we would know him; and knowing him, love him; and loving him, obey him; and through that obedience, and his grace, be with him forever in heaven … where the mystery of the Trinity would be revealed to us fully … and I pray that it is is a mystery that will be revealed to all here at the end of the ages. Amen.

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