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Trinity at York Minster – The Rev Canon Dr Jennifer Smith

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Title: Trinity at York Minster

Date: 26 May 2024, Trinity Sunday

Preacher: The Rev Canon Dr Jennifer Smith


Trinity at York Minster

Let us pray

Holy God, break your Word as bread for the feeding of our souls: and may the words of my lips and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, o Lord our strength, and our Redeemer.  Amen.

So friends, it is Trinity Sunday and we are here – this place where wars and plagues have been outlived, which has stood through how many elections, governments risen and fallen, this is a place where, when God has asked ‘whom shall I send,’ many generations have said ‘here am I send me.’

You heard about Nicodemus visiting Jesus under cover of darkness in our Gospel reading.  I hope you bring with you today as blunt a frustration, as much reality about the perils we face right now, as Nicodemus did when he came to Jesus.  He was living in the shadow of empire, well aware of the perilous future.

Yet unlike Nicodemus, you are here today in the light of day, for all to see.  It is an audacious thing to gather to praise God, still to bring our concerns to God, knowing what we do of the world.  Well done.

Trinity Sunday, today, is a day that clever priests traditionally get in a guest preacher to grapple with the tangle of metaphor and obscurity which is our usual talk, even our best talk, about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

(Perhaps then, this is the moment to thank the Dean for his kind invitation to me, Methodist that I am.)

Friends, just because something is hard to speak of, does not excuse us from the responsibility.  To ask, and to speak, and in the full light of day.

It is particularly because it is hard to speak of Trinity that we must work at it today – never more urgently – unless we wish to let might make right again,  in this generation,  unchallenged.

The boundless, eternal self-giving love of God the Creator embodied in Jesus, and the breath of the Spirit which is God’s revelation – still today God brings order from chaos, still comes alongside us, still gives us the gifts of outrage, and compassion, and enlivens us.

This God in Trinity refuses to stop at what can fit on the slim page of an election manifesto, or what is fair, or practical, or affordable, or convenient when it comes to abundant life for every person.

Salvation is not a life boat for a lucky few, but the promise offered to all.

And salvation is intimately linked to, flows from who God is, in Trinity – this ‘three-one God’ as my predecessor John Wesley called it.

This week we commemorated John and Charles Wesley’s conversion experiences.  Anglican priests, both of them, they went on through the decades of the 18th century to work for revival among the English, the Cornish, the Welsh – even the Scots.

And the missions spread in their name ‘Methodist’ went around our world, and have come back again to these shores, planting schools and hospitals and putting about the radical notion that people can make just society, drawn into the dance of God.

On Friday, several hundred of us walked in the streets of the City of London, ending at St Paul’s Cathedral.  These are the same streets where the Wesley’s worked and taught.  I am certain they would have thought by now, more than 250 years later, there would no longer be anyone sleeping rough.  Or elder folks forgotten, or anyone who couldn’t get medical care.  Their dream is not yet realised.

Some have said the most dangerous word in the Methodist vocabulary is ‘all’ – that is, ‘all may be saved.  All must be saved.  And its ethical corollary – ‘do all the good you can, at all the times you can, in all the ways you can, all as long as ever you can.’

That word ‘all,’ is dangerous only to those who would limit the reach of God’s call, or God’s promise: that ‘whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ And make no mistake, eternal life is not some hazy relief or reward that begins after death.

It is a statement of God’s intention for right now, and the work in which we are already involved, we who dare to say ‘I believe’, let alone ‘here am I, send me.’

Friends, the doctrine of the Trinity was not arrived as an intellectual exercise, but was an attempt of the early church over generations to speak of our experience of the self giving love offered by God.

When Christians are asked ‘who is your God,’ then and now we answer by re-telling together the story of what God has done.

This we call the Creed.

Look at it – it is not a list of doctrinal abstractions, but a record of God’s three-one self poured out in love from the beginning.  First in creation, then in the events of the life, death, resurrection and ascension, and through both in the Spirit, which enlivens the Church and our fragile aging bodies.

When asked ‘who is God?’ we answer with a story.

May I say gently, let us not treat the Creed as if in saying it we are looking at faded holiday pictures from long ago of a time when God was active in our world.  It begins with the ending that puts us squarely as a part of God’s story: we believe.

And God in Trinity moves and draws us by our longing – into the story – and we are indeed born again, fragile, fearful children that we are – and sent in power.

There is no doctrine of the Trinity, no understanding God come among us in Jesus Christ, that can be separated from salvation, which is the ongoing work of justice.  Justice is not condemnation nor making one scapegoat and thinking we can wash our hands and go home, job done.  Jesus was specific – the salvation he speaks of is an implacable truth that whispers to us that it could be different, and not because of who we are, but because of who God is.

And so the seraph can call the prophet Isaiah in that extraordinary passage we heard read, and so any one of us can discover we too are already taken up in this story.

The Trinity, its power and love outpouring and eternal dance is an antidote to the bloodlust of our world.  Eternally drawing folk into the work of rebirth, creating, coming alongside, enlivening.

And you are still here, knowing all you do of the world.  All we do.  Again, it is an audacious thing you do to gather here, to offer praise and thanksgiving to God.

Today, I hope , if you have come with weariness, or with outrage, or despair at any of the things you have seen and heard this week in our news – any of the things you live with – I hope you will leave with the perspective that you are part of the story which reaches back and forwards, and in this place.  And it is not done yet, and the worst day is not the last day, and we are not alone.

For God still loves the world, still calls, still sends, still saves.

In the name of God, womb who bore us word who walked among us, breath that eases in us now, AMEN.

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