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Title: A Sermon for Trinity Sunday
Preacher: The Reverend Matthew Porter, Vicar of St Michael le Belfrey and Bishop Designate of Bolton
Date: 4 June 2023 Trinity Sunday 11.00am
Readings: Is. 40:12-17, 27-end; 2 Cor. 13:11-end; Mt. 28:16-end
Last words. Last words are important, especially when you’re dying. It’s said that famed musician Billie Holiday’s were: ‘Don’t be in such a hurry.’ The last words of footballer George Best, who struggled with alcohol, were: ‘don’t die like I did.’ And Bob Marley the celebrated singer, said to his son as he died, ‘Money can’t buy life.’ So often it’s the final words that people remember.
When Jesus gives his last speech to his disciples, his Great Commission, what (according to Matthew) does he say? ‘Go’ – don’t keep the good news to yourself; go and make more disciples. ‘Teach’- pass on what I told you. ‘Baptise’ – immerse people. In what? In God. What kind of God?
‘In the Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ Immerse them in the God who is three and yet One. That’s what I was doing last Sunday, next door in St Michael le Belfrey Church. I got wet, immersing five young adults in water in our baptistery, declaring: ‘I baptise you, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ It marked the end of their old life, as they now chose to follow Jesus for the rest of their days.
While we need to take seriously the rise of atheism, especially in the contemporary West, most people in the world today, and across human history, believe and have believed, in God. The question is: what kind of God is he? Let me highlight three things we can confidently say about the nature of God from our readings.
First God is Trinity. We’ve been seeing this already, for today is Trinity Sunday.
This three-in-one way of understanding God has sometimes been seen as an embarrassing problem which the ancient church has passed down to us. Passed like a hospital pass in rugby, that’s difficult to receive! Or passed on like inheriting an old house, that comes with a lingering fusty smell that’s annoying and we just can’t get rid of it! Over the last two to three hundred years, ultra-rational people have often thought like this about the Trinity, finding it awkward: how can God be three and yet one? They find it goes against their neat categories, being untidy and even contradictory. But, think about it, we live in a world that rightly celebrates both unity and diversity; they don’t have to contradict. Also most of us can live holding two things in tension; it doesn’t phase us. We call this paradox – living with apparent contradiction. For example: throw things in the sky and they normally fall. And yet people travel daily on planes in the sky, trusting they’re not going to fall to the ground. Also, people normally do all they can to avoid pain, yet across our planet every day women are giving birth, knowing full well it’s going to hurt! Those are just two examples showing that we humans can live with a bit of paradox in our lives! So, observing that’s there’s paradox in the Trinity doesn’t mean it’s not true. In fact for some, it makes things more reasonable, with Oxford theologian and scientist Alastair McGrath describing our faith as ‘shaped by a rich and coherent Trinitarian logic of faith.’
And of course the testimony of our Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation, is that God is Trinity. Even in our first reading today, from Isaiah, it’s possible to see the interconnected and beautiful work of God the Creator, God the Lord and God the Spirit. So rather than being something to apologise for, I want us to celebrate the Trinity today! We gladly worship this wonderful, relational God, who’s revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I hope you know this trinitarian God. We know him through Jesus Christ, who through his cross and resurrection has opened the way to the Father, and to the experience of the Spirit. It’s all through Jesus Christ. If you don’t know this God, come in prayer to Jesus Christ today, and enter into the joy and wonder of worshipping our Trinitarian God.
Here’s a second thing we see in our readings: he is a giving God. All three persons of the Trinity are like this: giving and giving and giving. They give love to each other. And to us. They just can’t help it! It’s in their nature. The close of 2 Corinthians (in our New Testament reading) speaks so simply, but profoundly of this, of the gracious work of Jesus: self-giving of himself with great love. Forgiving and freeing us. So unconditional, undeserved and unending! All overflowing to us. The deep love of God the Father: so strong, protective and creative, which he wants us to experience. The rich loving fellowship of the Holy Spirit: life-giving and empowering; pulling together and bringing unity, that he wants us to enjoy.
Notice that Jesus says: ‘All authority in heaven on earth has been given me,’ and then he passes it on. He gives it away, for our God is a giving God. This is why Isaiah, having told us that God doesn’t get tired or weary, then says that if we hope in him, expectantly putting our trust in him, we can have our strength renewed. Some of us here today, are tired and weary: worn out with life, with work, with politics, with our relationships, even sometimes with church. If that’s you, again come to our giving God and ask for him to give you his strength. For he loves to give to us all we need for life.
Ann Voskamp, a mother with young children, one day felt dared. She dared to write a list of a thousand things for which she was thankful. Not of gifts she wanted, but of gifts she already had. So she made a start:
As she thought about these things, they made her smile, so she wrote them down in a journal. They were common things she was grateful for. Here’s what she said about it: ‘I didn’t even know they were gifts really, until I wrote them down, and that is really what they look like: Gifts which God bestows. This writing it down – it is sort of like … unwrapping love.’ And that was the start of a joyful journey into thankfulness, eventually written up in her best-selling book One Thousand Gifts, a book which has helped many not only journal their thanksgivings, but more importantly live lives of gratitude to the trinitarian God who keeps on giving. This is our trinitarian God. He gives.
A third and final thing we discover about our God, is that he gives to us, not just for own benefit, but for others. He’s a going God – who sends us out to serve. That’s why Jesus said, in the Great Commission of Mt 28: ‘Go and make disciples.’ He wants us to give away our faith: pointing others to Jesus Christ, so they too follow him. To give away our money: generously giving to church, and to the poor and those who are struggling. To give away our time: investing in people and projects in our locality and beyond that make a difference. To give away our love: trusting that God will give more, so we can give again. This is our mission, with the Father being the sender, Jesus being the One sent, and the Spirit being the sending power.
The purpose is transformation. Starting in us. And then spilling out, well beyond ourselves. John, one of those baptised last week in St Michael le Belfrey Church, gets this. Although he’s only been a believer a few weeks, here’s what he said in a short interview before his baptism last week: “I moved to York but didn’t expect to find Jesus or church. But Jesus found me. That’s how it feels. I want to be baptised to start a new life with Jesus. I want to live better. And I also want to make a difference in the world.” How right he was! As disciples, we are baptised people: immersed into the Trinity, to live a new life. Yes, to live better. But also to make a difference in the world. Eighteenth century pioneering missionary Henry Venn grasped this. On arriving in India, knowing that was the place he was called to serve, he famously said: ‘Until now I have not been very useful. Let me now burn for God.’
So on this Trinity Sunday, may you experience the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, as he gives his love to you, and sends you out, with heart on fire, to transform the world.
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