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Sermon for Trinity Sunday Year B 2015

Reverend Canon Charles Royden

The Sunday after Pentecost is always a special day dedicated as Trinity Sunday.
The thinking about God expressed in the Trinity is old

  • Trinity Sunday has been observed by the church on this Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost in the West since the tenth century and was adopted officially in Rome in 1334.
  • But the three fold shape of the triquetra is one of the oldest Christ symbols, in the shape of the fish and it was found in Pompeii which destroyed in AD 79!

Trinity Sunday is not everybody's favourite for preaching. In College they used to say that Trinity Sunday was a great time to invite the Bishop to preach. In the Partnership we say that it is great time to invite a local preacher.

Trinity Sunday is that Sunday where preachers reach for the popular images trying to explain the unexplainable in an easy way. However when it comes to God we have not even begun to scratch the surface. God is so much beyond our human reasoning that it arrogant and foolish to claim to have all the answers. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than in the belief in the Trinity. However Trinity Sunday is special because for once we are not looking back to a specific occasion, or remembering an event, instead we are celebrating who God is - Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Trinity Sunday is a day on which we can focus on the extraordinary truth that God is three persons and yet still one. This wonderful truth about Trinity Sunday reminds us that God is above and beyond our attempts to explain or understand. Our rational human explanations for God collapse when we are confronted by the truth that that God is three and God is one. Nobody can ever understand God, God is a profound mystery and all human reasoning will always fail to encompass the glory of God.

Listen to some people talk about God and you might think that they had met him on the bus, ‘God told me this, God told me that, God found me a parking place.’ This Sunday expresses and celebrates the fact that we encounter God as a mystery. In our world there are some certain simple truths, like - ‘water is generally wet.’ But when we start to speak about things which really matter - like God, then we soon find out that we run out of words. Human language and thoughts simply fail to work. Truth is no more easily reduced to trite slogans than the scientific explanation of the creation of this wonderful world can be reduced to two chapters of Genesis. As Christians we need to be honest about our inability to explain God. It would be wonderful to be able to speak of God in certain and simple truths, but if we are honest, certainty is not the property of the wise.

It is usually those who are intellectually more secure who will admit that the more that we find out - the less we seem to know. To see issues in simple terms of black and white is often simplistic. This is not to say that we should stop the task of learning, but we must be more prepared to recognise that God is too big for us. It is no more possible for us to understand God than to put the ocean into a bucket.

So part of me likes the doctrine of the trinity because it makes the point that God is so far beyond our comprehension.
we say as in Isaiah 40
'His understanding no one can fathom.'

Of course although God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit is central in our readings today, none of the Bible passages use the word ‘Trinity,’
Indeed the word ‘Trinity’ is not used by Jesus, it is not found in the Bible at all. Yet faith in the Holy Trinity is the touchstone of what it means to be a Christian. Those who do not believe in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit cannot use the term Christian to describe themselves - hence Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christadelphians etc.

However whilst the word Trinity is not found in the Bible, the belief which it expresses is stated many times. The early Christians soon discovered that they simply could not speak of God without speaking of the three ways in which God was revealed to them. This does not mean that there are three Gods. It means that there is one God who has shown himself as three : God the Father, God the Son or Jesus, and Holy Spirit of God who came to them and made God alive in them.

Clearly this teaching is absurd from the point of human logic, it makes no human sense! All of the clever illustrations (Clover leaf, the sun as heat, light and energy etc.) which we have heard since Sunday School, they all fall short of explaining how logically God can be totally three and yet totally one. Indeed some of the best illustrations used in sermons serve only to illustrate serious heresies !
If we are honest it is something which is more clearly explained in terms of that great Christian word, mystery. It is a mystery of our faith. We know why we use the term ‘Trinity’ because it expresses our experience of a God who can be
Present in Jesus,
Whilst at the same time, the voice of God is heard to speak from heaven
And the Spirit descends as a dove.

As Christians we need to have the honesty to say that we see but a poor reflection of God as in a mirror, we see through a glass darkly. Our knowledge of God is imperfect, we know in part and the rest is guesswork. Moreover we will never know all the answers until we see God face to face

The significant point to make today is that Trinity Sunday should not be a time when we try our best to reconcile God as one ‘montheirm’ and ‘polytheism’ God as many. This is not the day to try and be clever and come up with another illustration and pretend that it explains the unexplainable.

The Trinity is not an explanation but rather a description of God’s passionate determination to work out his purpose of love towards you and I, humanity and the cosmos.

This is why we have come to use the language of the Trinity - it describes what is going on in terms of our salvation - hence it is good news.

It is not easy to understand and even those bits which we do begin to appreciate do not really make sense. We are left a little like Nicodemus who when confronted by the teaching of salvation by Jesus said
‘How can this be’

However whilst

  • The Trinity does not tell us who God is
  • The Trinity tells us what God does to save us and what God’s attitude towards us is

A most important things is that Jesus tells us in John’s Gospel that we are loved by God.

‘For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but to save the world through him.’

It is important to remember these, words. The Trinity reminds us that it was God who so loved the world. That love of God was matched by the love of Jesus who willingly takes up the cross. Why is it that so much Christian teaching focuses upon the idea of Jesus loving the world, but having to in some way appease God who is angry with it ?

Rowan Williams said –

“We must not preach as though Jesus, on the cross, was changing God’s mind about us!”

This is the idea is that God is itching to let fly with holy thunderbolts, but Jesus steps in as a shield and takes the fiery punishment for us.

The trinity reminds us that grace is God’s idea, grace is who God is. It is God who loves the world and who does not condemn the world, and remember that in this case the world is not the devoted few who had the privilege of being born into a Christian family, or some other fortunate circumstance. Jesus says that God loves the cosmos. It is a mystery to me how we can imagine that in a world where so few can have the opportunity to hear let alone believe the Christian gospel, being born into other faiths - that we can imagine that God’s love is so constrained by geography.

Read John 14 with an appreciation of the depth of God’s loving heart and we recognise that Jesus tells us that God’s love goes much wider, not just to humanity but to all creation indeed the word is cosmos is used.

Faith in the Trinity is a test which we must pass to be accepted,
It is not about facts
It is about relationship.
We are created by God, loved by God.

The Trinity is not a way of playing off holiness and mercy within the godhead.
We are loved equally by Father, Son and Holy Spirit with the same love in equal measure

Our response should be to love God with all of our heart and souls and mind and our strength. Not because we are grateful to have been let off, that is not love that is abuse.
We love because God first loved us.

In Quo Vadis St Peter is questioned by a pagan
Athens gave us wisdom, Rome gave us power, what does your religion bring us?
He answers ‘Love’

I finish with the words of John Wesley who express most wonderfully what the Trinity means

‘Let us adore the Father, the God of love; who created us; who continually preserves and sustains us; who has loved us with an everlasting love and given us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Though He was rich, yet for our sakes, He became poor; He was tempted at all points as we are, yet without sin; He became obedient to death, death on a cross; He was dead and is alive for ever; He has opened the Kingdom of heaven to all who trust in Him. Let us rejoice in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life; by whom we were born into the family of God; whose witness confirms us, whose wisdom teaches us; whose power enables
us. All praise to you, Holy Trinity, for you live and reign, one God for ever and ever. Amen.