Trinity Sunday Sermon
By The Reverend Charles Royden
Well this week has been an eventful one for me. I would like to say to all of those who have expressed their well wishes a very big thank you for your encouragement and support. You will know that I take seriously the importance of not using the pulpit as an opportunity for party or individual political campaigning. But I think that we are far enough away from the next election to be able to say that I am pleased to be given the opportunity to continue to be able to serve our community in a way that I find personally fulfilling as a person and a Christian minister.
Can I just say a few words which might sound political, but which are certainly not meant to be party political. In my time working with our local politicians, councillors from all parties across Bedford. I have seen some poor behaviour, but there are people who don’t live up to our expectations in all walks of life. And some times we don’t even live up to our own expectations of ourselves!
We should not categorise all of our politicians as corrupt, they are most often very hard working committed people who give time and energy hoping to make the world a better place. Like all of us they have feet of clay, but I would pay tribute their commitment and service.
During the last week of the party political campaigning I was joined by a young lady from America who is over here in England staying at Blackfriars In Oxford. This is a Roman Catholic monastery and Elizabeth, who is a Philosophy major, is studying some theology there and also going around Europe gaining experience not just in churches and theological colleges but also out in the community. She came over to Bedford to join in the political experience and she stayed with us at the Vicarage for a few days. We had a delightful time with her she was an outstanding young person and enjoyed taking part in all of the fun and hard work of election time.
But is was apparent from what Elizabeth told me that people in America are fully aware of what has been going on here and across the world the political life of our nation is viewed in a very poor light because of the revelations which have taken place. I find this deeply troubling. I first sat on the Urban Community Council in Brickhill about 15 years ago, it later became the Brickhill Parish Council. Over that time I have worked with councillors from across the political parties and I have never known any of them claim even a penny in expenses. To see one of the election boards in our ward, which displayed the names of local people, have ‘liars and cheats’ drawn over it is really quite sad. As I say I have I have worked with many people across the political parties and we should be mindful of all those good people, whatever their party, who come together to serve in our new Borough and parishes. I hope and trust that over the coming years you will hold them in your prayers.
But today is Trinity Sunday 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;
This is because it sums up all that has gone before in the church calendar.
We have seen the major events the birth, death, resurrection and ascension--and the demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the church now tries to put these things together, and we have come up with that old theological relic, the Trinity. Every year preachers across the world come up with corny examples to try and explain how God can be three Gods and one God at the same time. Most of their attempts would have been sufficient to have them killed as heretics in earlier times.
I mentioned Elizabeth earlier, who is at Blackfriars, that is directly opposite a flat in Iffley Road where I lived for four years as student. Elizabeth asked me whether I had enjoyed my time there. I reflected that it had been OK but I much preferred being out doing ministry than training for it. Theology is fascinating but it can also be utterly futile and wasteful. One area of our Christian faith where this is particularly apparent is that of the doctrine or the ideas about the Trinity.
Some people will find the whole thing a barren wilderness. Some will find the language we use when we speak of Trinity as positively unhelpful. For example we use such male language for God, many would want to incorporate other images which point to a broader understanding of God as the mother of all that is. When we try and contain God within our language we inevitably must recognise and be aware that words are not sufficient.
The doctrine of the Trinity is a stumbling block for many, how can God be three and one at the same time ?
It is a vain attempt to put into words the fact that
- God is the Gives life as creator,
- shares our life as Jesus
- and empowers our life as Holy Spirit.
I would very much like to get rid of the doctrine of the Trinity, this is not a word which we find in the Bible. However we do need to keep on explaining the facts that God has revealed himself in different ways, he is not just the old man on the cloud. We have a God who in the person of Jesus walked and talked, lived and died with us and shared all that we are will become.
So too, salvation is not about what we know, or understand, it is about opening our hearts and minds to the presence of God within us as Holy Spirit.
Trinity is very important. We baptise in the name of the Trinity, it is a sign of orthodoxy - adherence to good belief. But what does it mean to be a Trinity Christian?
God the Father
It means that we recognise the transcendence of God, his majesty or other wordliness. This is the message from Isaiah this morning.
Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory." At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.
We see in God a holiness which means that he is more affronted by human sin than we are by corrupt politicians. It is no use pointing the self righteous finger at others we are all exposed by God’s holiness.
God the Son
Yet we also have begun, through the life of Jesus to understand a little of the fact that God is love. Forget all of the theology which tries to explain things like substitutionary atonement. In the life of Jesus we see God in human form and he approaches the weak and lost and forgives them instantly of their sin and offers them new life, even before he has died.
God the Holy Spirit
We have embarked upon a journey of discovery. Recognising our complete inability to comprehend God, we have nevertheless opened our lives to draw close to God and have experienced something of the reality of God’s life in our lives. This is what all of this language in John 3 is about when it speaks of being born from above, or born anew.
Put this together and you are left with a Christian Trinity.
But Trinity Sunday is not a day for theological conundrums. It is a day in which looking at God we learn something about ourselves and this affects us and changes us.
In the passage from Isaiah we read
and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty." Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
When Isaiah learned something about the holiness of God, he learned something also about himself, his sinfulness, and having learned this he understood the possibility and the importance of change.
This is what Jesus in the passage from John 3 is teaching us, about the possibility of change, so radical that it can be called new birth. Each person can be transformed.
Let me leave you with a story
I wonder if any of you have watched the dog whisperer? He is Caesar Milan and he takes deviant dogs, monster dogs and helps change them into good dogs.
There is a lovely story about somebody who was the original dog whisperer. He is known now as Saint Francis of Assisi born 1181 he was a friar and the founder of the Franciscans, he is known as the patron saint of animals,
The story is told of the Wolf of Gubbio. During the time when St. Francis of Assisi was living in the city of Gubbio, a large, ferocious wolf was terrorizing the area, devouring not only livestock but also human beings. One day, St. Francis decided to go and meet the wolf. Despite being advised against going, Francis headed to a spot in the wood where he knew the wolf would be.
When he saw Francis, the wolf came charging at him with his jaws wide open. Francis made the sign of the cross and stated, “Come here, brother wolf.” The wolf immediately closed his jaw and sat down at Francis’s feet. Francis looked down at the wolf and chastised the wolf.
“Brother wolf, you have done much evil. You have killed people and animals alike without permission from God. But, if you promise to no longer commit acts of evil, God will forgive you.
Are you willing to promise to no longer attack any human beings?”
The wolf lifted up his paw and placed it on Francis’ hand, consenting.
For the remainder of his days, the wolf kept his word. In fact, the wolf became a pet to the town. The town’s people fed the wolf every night and were constantly astounded by the change in his character. And, when he passed away, the once feared wolf was mourned greatly by the residents of Gubbio.
Following Trinity Sunday we now have many weeks of Ordinary Sundays when we will wear green and get on with living our Christian lives without fanfare, we have left behind us the special festivals of Christmas, Easter, Pentecost. From now on the Sunday readings will encourage us to live changed lives, to be ‘born again’ transformed by God’s Spirit.