Sunday, May 27, 2018

trusting what God tells us


May my words be in the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

How do we know whether to believe what others tell them about themselves is true or not? Well, generally, it depends on if we feel we can trust the source. For example, there were two men I knew while I was in the army who told me stories of their experiences in special forces operations. The first, lets call him Murphy, claimed to have been involved in covert anti-terrorist operations in Germany not long after the Berlin Wall had fallen. The second, who'll I'll refer to as Reilly, said he was a special forces sniper who was regularly sent on missions to South America to help deal with drug cartels during the time of America's so-called War on Drugs.

Now, being the sort of person who is involved in those sort of operations is quite a high status thing in the military. So there are plenty of people who will, quite frankly, lie about such things in order to 'big' themselves up a bit. So the question quite reasonably arises as to whether either of these men were to be trusted about the stories they were telling. Murphy's, as it happens, I found doubtful. He and I were both training at the same time in a place called Redstone Arsenal to be ammunition specialists. Soldiers, as you are probably aware, wear a kind of 'CV' on their chests when in dress uniform, made of different coloured ribbons marking medals won and various other achievements. Murphy wore only the most basic ribbons. His explanation was that he had been kicked out of his unit, his file sealed because his missions had been so secret, and he was denied being allowed to wear the military decorations he was entitled to. I am afraid I found it all a little implausible. The army was unlikely to take someone they had invested so much in training into highly specialised warrior and send him off to be a glorified box stacker; and a man with such skills not only was unlikely to be happy with such an extreme demotion, but was also well qualified to go elsewhere and be highly paid as a private contractor exercising his deadly skills.

Reilly, on the other hand, was my next door neighbour when I was stationed at Fort Bragg. I saw him often in uniform with his impressive display of decorations. As part of his uniform he wore a green beret, proof that he was a member of the army's elite special forces. I met other members of his unit, also green berets. And when he was going through sniper school, we sat together in his apartment, drinking a few beers while I watched him working on his 'gillie suit' – a special kind of camouflage outfit, worn by snipers to help them blend into the landscape around them and essentially be invisible as they stalked their prey. So I had no reason to doubt Reilly's story; and every reason to believe him.
I mention all this because today is Trinity Sunday. And the Trinity is a hard concept to understand – that there should be only one God but three persons in one God. I could probably spend the whole day here going through the many different ways to explain it from the Church Fathers and Great Scholars and Doctors of the Church and only scratch the surface of all that is written. 

But if I were to attempt to do so – and you were all kind enough to stay while I tried – the result would be a very sore throat for me, aching heads for you, and most likely no one much the wiser, myself included, on the topic. The truth is that we are finite human beings and very limited in our understanding despite the fact that often we fail to realise it. Some people, to paraphrase the apostle St Paul, become puffed up with the little knowledge they have; and, while they may know a great many facts, far more than the average person – or even more than most others – that does not make them wise. True wisdom lies in accepting how little we know and understand, and are capable of knowing and understanding. True wisdom teaches that we must be humble in the face of our overwhelming inability to penetrate the mysteries and that there is much that we must simply take on trust.

God's triune nature is one such thing. And we must take it on trust because of the source of our knowledge about his nature – which is God himself. God himself chose to reveal to us that he is both One and Three; one God, but three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And that, I think, is the most important thing we need to understand about the Trinity – we know it because God has told us this about himself, both in Scripture and directly, from his own lips, in the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. I could, of course, remind you that it is an integral elements of the Creeds to acknowledge God exists in Trinity – and not just one of the Creeds, but all three of them: the Apostles, the Nicene, and the Creed of St Athanasius which is commonly read on this day. And that the Creeds are a summary statement of the Christian Faith – which, to put it another way, means that what the Creeds tell us are to be accepted as all Christians as being true if they are indeed to be a Christian.

But better, I think, to remember, that this is information that we have from God himself; and God is to be trusted. He has no reason to lie to us; and we have no reason to believe that he is a liar … and, indeed, we should tremble at the thought of calling him a liar by doubting what it is that he has told us about himself.

As we go through life we will meet many people who will try to convince of things about themselves and the world that is clearly nonsense. And even those who appear very plausible indeed may prove themselves to be untrustworthy. But God is always to be trusted in what he tells us about himself – because he created us, he loves us, and he wants us to have a right understanding about him for the sake of our salvation. In the case of the Trinity, if we do not know that he exists in three persons, then how can we accept that he came into the world as the second person of that Trinity to die for our sins? And how can we believe that the Holy Spirit is with us unto the end of the ages, sanctifying us, and leading us into all truth? Upon such right belief, such right understanding rests our hope of salvation. And even if we indeed find much it to be a mystery, it is a mystery we must hold in our hearts in faith … trusting that it will one day help us to stand before God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit … and be with him for all eternity in heaven. Amen.

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