TRINITY 2014

Many years ago when I was curate to our brother Robert in Zimbabwe, Robert invited the local professor of theology to preach on Trinity Sunday. He clearly hoped that the professor would enable us to understand the theological mystery of the Holy Trinity. We were disappointed. What we got was a sermon on truth and beauty, which barely mentioned God and certainly did not describe the complexities of the ‘One God in trinity and trinity in unity.’ I suspect our professor was a unitarian, or perhaps even an agnostic. Any student who has tried to grapple with the theology of the Trinity, with its persons, natures, substances and all the rest will have some sympathy with a preacher who dodges the issues. It is a doctrine not for the fainthearted, though - like mathematics - beautiful and fascinating for those who can work through it. Why do theologians make it all so difficult? Well, it is not their fault. It was God who made it difficult. God spent at least a thousand years drumming it into the Hebrew people that he was the one and only God and that other gods, if they existed at all, were in no way equal to or like him but wholly subordinate. Only the Jewish God could be God. All the rest were not. “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One”. Then, having succeeded in this, he sent them Jesus who called himself the Son of God revealing that God was at least two and Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, showing that God was in fact three. That left the early Christians with the problem of how to reconcile that contradiction. It required very high quality Greek thought to do it.

It is very important for the church that that doctrine is correctly understood and carefully maintained. If those definitions go wrong a lot of other things unravel in the life of the Church. Fortunately, we have theologians who can do that and it doesn’t matter if most of us are pretty hazy about the details. When we fly in aeroplanes we want to know that the pilot knows how to fly and that the engineers have maintained the plane well. We don’t need to be pilots or engineers ourselves. We can simply enjoy the convenience of rapid air travel. So too with the Holy Trinity; we do not need to understand the details of the doctrine but we can draw some very important conclusions from the basic belief that God is one God, yet made up of three persons existing together in perfect unity of love and understanding, which does not in any way compromise their individual natures.

In the first place God is community. He shows the ideal of different persons living together in perfect unity. Christians also live in community. There is no such thing as a solitary Christian. We are in churches, congregations, religious communities. We bound together in the Body of Christ. Even a hermit prays for and with the world; he is not apart from the world. God sets before us the example of perfect love and understanding leading to perfect unity. We, of course, are very imperfect in our love and very sinful. We fall out, fight, argue and misunderstand each other. Just occasionally we get it right and then we see how wonderful Christian life would be if we lived it well. When we give up our individual self centredness and try to care for others we find we don’t grow smaller. We grow bigger and become much happier. Yet we can’t stop there.

God in his holy trinity is the perfect unity. He does not need anything else but God chose to go beyond his existence and create a universe. In that universe he created a world we call earth and on that earth he placed the men and women we are today. When those men and women made a mess of their lives, God sent his Son into the world to bring them back to him. Sending is part of the nature of God. Sending in Latin is missio which gives us our word ‘mission’. Mission starts with God sending his son to human kind. It should continue with us looking outside our Christian communities to those millions of people who know nothing of the God we know and love and asking ourselves how we can tell them about God. How can we draw them into our Christian communities so that they too can discover God? A Christian community has to be careful not to focus so much on getting our own life right that we forget about those outside it. When we go outside our community to bring in others we are imitating the Holy Trinity. Of course we need to imitate the Holy Trinity in trying to make the life of our community a place of equality and love so that those who come in will see that God is among us and we are in God.

God cares for this world he has made and he loves it; he also loves the people in it. The more we realise that the more we shall want to love it too. We will be angry when we see the world being badly treated. We will be upset when we see other people being treated badly. Poverty, injustice, violence and exploitation are insults against God. We cannot talk about the love of God and put up with unloving behaviour in our society. We can’t talk about Father, Son and Holy Spirit being equal and yet put up with massive inequality in our society. It may be an impossible dream to create a perfectly equal society on earth but we can work towards it and when we do that we are bringing the life of the Holy Trinity into our world.

In the end, of course, our world is finite and will come to an end. So will we as human beings on planet earth come to an end. Today, Trinity Sunday, is a reminder of where we are going. We go to God. Quite what that means none of us can know. I hope it doesn’t mean sitting on a cloud playing a harp for eternity. I don’t think it means finding a city with streets paved with gold. It does mean coming into a relationship with the Holy Trinity and being taken somehow into that life of perfect love. Even the great St Augustine at the end of a thousand pages writing about the City of God – even he quails at trying to describe what that final state will be. He says it will be our Sabbath “whose end will not be an evening but the Lord’s Day, an eighth day, as it were, which is to last for ever, a day consecrated by the resurrection of Christ, foreshadowing the eternal rest not only of the spirit but of the body also. There we shall be still and see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall praise. Behold what will be in the end without end! For what is our end but to reach that Kingdom which is without end?” Amen

            Nicolas Stebbing CR