Sunday, 11 June 2017

Enjoying the Trinity: a sermon for Trinity Sunday

It’s good to be back in the pulpit at All Saints’ once again. 

I’d like to thank Father David for the invitation to preach on Trinity Sunday.  The invitation may have originated in a comment that I made to him two weeks ago, when I said that, on Trinity Sunday, I normally make it my business to attend worship in congregations that regard the Trinity as an occasion for joyful celebration, rather than as a theological problem to solve or a theological embarrassment to somehow explain away. … Here goes.

Let us pray.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

If today’s Eucharist was an episode of Sesame Street, we could say that our liturgy today was brought to us by the number three.  We celebrate God-as-Trinity, with the unity of the Three and the diversity of the One.  

Today, I’d like to mention (briefly) three reasons for us to go overboard in celebrating our affirmation of God-as-Trinity.

Affirming God-as-Trinity reminds us that our faith has never stopped developing, and that it keeps on developing.

If you read any of the scripture lessons for Trinity Sunday in any year of the lectionary, you won’t hear any definite statement about the Trinity.  Instead, you’ll hear hints about the Trinity,
  • such as Paul blessing the Corinthians in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
  • such as Jesus calling his disciples to baptise in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
There’s a good reason for this.  The Christian belief in the Trinity really developed after the Scriptures were completed.  As important as the Trinity is for Christian faith, it’s definitely post-biblical.  And that’s OK.

Our faith as Christians has never been static.  It has never reached a point where it stopped developing and where we can say, “Here it is.  Here’s our faith in its final and definitive form.”

Affirming God-as-Trinity reminds us that our faith has never stopped developing, and that it keeps on developing.

Affirming God-as-Trinity reminds us that it is a good thing for us to use our minds in service to our faith.

The last time I preached here, I referred to the importance of our using our minds in service to our faith.  I spoke of Hercule Poirot and his “little grey cells”, and how it’s important for us all to use our “little grey cells” in service to our faith.  We don't need to check in our minds at the church door.

Our affirmation of God-as-Trinity is the result of generations upon generations of Christian thinkers using their “little grey cells” to make sense of the relationship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and how this relationship relates to us as people of faith.

Affirming God-as-Trinity reminds us that it is a good thing for us to use our minds in service to our faith.

Affirming God-as-Trinity reminds us, clearly and unambiguously, that “God is love”.

For many children, that brief, three-word verse “God is love.” would be the first words from Scripture they learned.  And these words are true.

And these words are also a profound theological statement.  When we affirm God-as-Trinity, we state that a loving relationship is at the heart of God’s very being.  The love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for one another is the source of our very being.  The love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for one another spills over into love for the whole universe.  “God is love.”

This is the theme of the famous Russian icon by Andrei Rublev on the bookmarks that Father David has given you today.  The Trinity is depicted as three people sitting at a table sharing a meal together.  They are three distinct figures, whose oneness is seen in their arrangement as a circle and in their identical faces:  identical, youthful, androgynous faces.  And there’s a fourth seat at the table: a seat for you, … for me, … for all the world.    The love of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for one another spills over into love for the whole universe.  “God is love.”



And, as we affirm that “God is love’, we are also called to deny the popular distortion of our faith that says that God is somehow less than love. 
  • Sometimes these distortions are forwarded by people seeking to rubbish the life of faith (as we sometimes find in letters to the editor in the newspaper). 
  • Sometimes these distortions are forwarded by those seeking to promote a legalistic understanding of faith (as we sometimes find in letters to the editor in denominational magazines). 
In either event, the distortions are wrong and it’s the task of all of us - not only those of us who are ordained, not only those of us who have a theological education, but all of us - to challenge these distortions (and to ask "What part of 'God is love' don't you understand?") “God is love.”

Affirming God-as-Trinity reminds us, clearly and unambiguously, that “God is love”.

And so,
  • Affirming God-as-Trinity reminds us that our faith has never stopped developing, and that it keeps on developing.
  • Affirming God-as-Trinity reminds us that it is a good thing for us to use our minds in service to our faith.
  • Affirming God-as-Trinity reminds us, clearly and unambiguously, that “God is love”.
Thanks be to God, the Trinity of Love.  Amen.

 
(Don't worry, Dame Maggie, I didn't use the word, but I used the idea.)