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The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
Sunday 27 May 2018 – 4.00pm Evensong
Ezekiel 1. 4-10, 22-28a & Revelation 4
As Christians we do have a tendency to get into a state about the Trinity. We find it hard to explain to others and difficult to talk about. And yet we are blessed, baptised, confirmed, married and buried in the name of the Trinity, ‘the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.’
The Trinity falls into that category of thing that we know we should believe but which, to our rational, 21st century minds, we actually find difficult to believe, like supernatural miracles, virgins giving birth and dead bodies walking out of tombs.
Where did the doctrine of the Trinity come from? It was not handed down from heaven as a kind of divine CV. Neither was it created by a super-clever theological Einstein to be put into creeds, to become a kind of defining tenet of our faith, something we have to put a tick against on the application form for becoming a Christian. Neither was it ever meant to be a dogma to daub on banners as we Christians went to war, in centuries past, with those we called heretics and non-believers because they didn’t believe in the Trinity.
The doctrine of the Trinity is simply an attempt to explain our experience of God. We experience God as creator, the prime mover, the source of all that is. We also experience God as personal, one of us, someone who shares in our humanity and identifies with our life experience, that is Jesus. And then, as we heard last week with the story of Pentecost, those first Christians had an intense sense of Jesus’ constant presence with them even when his physical presence with them had come to an end. This was a dilemma – it did not seem to make sense. God was the creator, the source of all creation, God was personal, one with us in Jesus and when Jesus was no longer physically present among them the first Christians still had a profound sense of God being with them and within them. So the doctrine of the Trinity grew out of people’s experience of God, it is simply an attempt to describe our experience of God.
Think of any life changing experience like falling in love or bereavement or becoming a parent and then think about how you explain that experience to someone else. Someone once said to me that they felt as if a bucket of love had been poured over them when they fell in love. The bereaved often talk about feeling as if part of them has been amputated when a husband or wife dies. New parents talk about living in a new world with new horizons when a child is born. We are always finding ways to try and describe the inexplicable and indescribable. The trouble is that the more you talk about something, the more you try to define something, the more complicated everything becomes. This is not a reason for not trying to talk about your experience, we just have to be careful and measured and never claim that we have the definitive explanation. Our attempts to talk about these important life-changing experiences are valuable and worthwhile but they will always fall short of what our experience actually is.
The Trinity is simply the Christian communities attempt to explain and describe the way we experience God. But we must remember that it is ultimately only an attempt to explain and describe what is inexplicable and indescribable. As the ex-Bishop of London, Richard Chatres has said,
When we think about God we are not supposed to pretend that we know everything. We are supposed to proclaim with the hymn ‘O Lord my God when I in awesome wonder….’ That awe is what worship is about.
The doctrine of the Trinity is hugely helpful and important, we should reflect upon it, dwell in it, but in the end we are not called to worship the explanation, the ‘description’ of God, we are called to be drawn into the awesome wonder of God which is beyond explanation and description.
I think we end up getting anxious and confused about the Trinity because everyone wants everything explained these days. Everyone wants everything to make sense and to fit in with our understanding of the way the world works. Bookshops are full of books with titles beginning with ‘How to …..’ or ‘Such and such for dummies’ or ‘so and so made easy’. It maybe that lots of subjects can be handled in this way but we make a huge mistake if we attempt to squeeze humanity’s experience of God into this ‘make everything easy and accessible’ packaging. I think we need to come at this from the other end and start, not with making everything easy and accessible, pretending that we can know everything, but by being drawn into the mystery, generating worship that leads to a sense of that ‘awesome wonder’ we sing about in that hymn. What people need now is less information and more inspiration, less explanation and more exploration, less stark simplicity and more rich complexity, less manmade systems of belief and more divinely inspired glimpses of glory.
So the Trinity is an attempt to explain the way we experience God, an explanation that has helped endless numbers of people draw close to God. The books and sermons written about the Trinity have helped countless people into a deeper understanding of God and a deeper relationship with God – that is why the doctrine of the Trinity is a precious, holy and sacred thing. Everything that happens to us as Christians happens in the name of the Trinity. The best way we can respond to this is not to spend our time attempting to explain the Trinity and make it easy for people to understand, but to lead people, through our love and compassion, through our worship, through the beauty of our church building, through our welcome and our witness, to experience something of God who is the creator, the source of all true creativity, who is Jesus, one with us, and who remains constantly present in the energy and inspiration of his Spirit. We are not here to defend or explain the doctrine of the Trinity we are here to lead others into an experience of the awesomeness and wonder of God who creates, redeems and sustains.
Let us pray
Eternal source of life and love, holding all in purposeful order, awaken reverence and awe for your mystery and wonder.
Eternal Presence, making visible and intimate the depth of your being, draw all people into your outpouring heart.
Eternal Spirit, indwelling, moving creation into being and hearts to leap for joy; inspire justice, excite truth and refresh the face of the earth.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, blessed and glorious Trinity, to you be glory and honour, now and for ever. Amen
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