The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r033g.htm

 
s033g14  Trinity Sunday  15/6/2014

‘make disciples of all nations ..’   Matthew 28.19

As I thought what I might say about the doctrine of the Trinity the old nursery rhyme came to me: ‘Little Jack Horner’:   As I remember it, it went:  Little Jack Horner / Sat in the corner / Eating his Christmas pie / He put in his thumb / And pulled out a plum / And said 'Oh, what a good boy am I!   (1)

Sometimes it seems ‘christians’ and Anglicans can be rather self-satisfied that they have pulled out the plum - the doctrine of the Trinity - and are therefore good.   Actually the plum might be any number of things: their belief in the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement, belief in the theory of creation, their belief in the infallibility of the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, their adherence to the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, the fact that they are male and straight or that him or her has repented of sins.   But little Jack Horner is in the corner, all by himself.   And if there is one picture that I don’t associate with Jesus, is that he was ever much by himself thinking how good he was.   His time in the wilderness certainly disabused him of any notion of specialness.   Once he returned from the wilderness he had to make time for himself to pray.   Crowds dogged his every step.   Jesus reminded the rich young man: ‘No one is good but God alone.’  (2)

If our conception of the doctrine of the Trinity, or whatever, causes us to separate ourselves off from other people, to think that we are better than another person, we can be pretty certain that 1. Our understanding of the doctrine is faulty.  2. Our fallacious understanding is not of God. 3. Our ‘god’ is actually an idol.

I am reminded of that story of Jesus: ‘The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.   I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’  (3)   I note that this man was ‘standing by himself’ - for the Pharisee is literally ‘the separated one’ and translated into ‘christian’ terms he could well have added to his religious qualifications those I enumerated above: belief in the Trinity, his belief in the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement, belief in the theory of creation, his belief in the infallibility of the 1611 King James Version of the Bible, his adherence to the Book of Common Prayer of 1662, the fact that he was male and straight or that he or she had repented of sins.   But we are told, it was the other one who 'went down to his home justified’.  (4)   Therefore there is no justification whatsoever for christians believing themselves better than other people, whatever the criterion.

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is the church's efforts to insist that God is beyond our comprehension.   It is a highfaluting way of saying that any explanation of God will end up gobbledegook.   Any efforts that purport to successfully explain God are heretical.   And therefore rather than defining God, the doctrine, properly says that any and every definition of God is inadequate.   The doctrine of the Holy Trinity actually implies that there is no ‘right answer’ to the question of ‘God’ and therefore all exploration is invited and allowed.   So rather than excluding the seeker the doctrine includes all.

In Douglas Adams' radio series and novel: ‘The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy’ it takes the supercomputer ‘Deep Thought’ 7˝ million years to compute and check the answer to the ‘Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything’, which turns out to be 42.    Well, it could be close :-)  (5)

I note that Little Jack Horner had a ‘Christmas Pie’.   And our christmas pie that we refuse to share with others can as easily be the conception that Jesus was sent for us alone, was incarnate for christians alone, for believers alone.   The pie that we refuse to share with others may be that Jesus died on the cross for us alone, for christians alone, for believers alone.   This is the essence of heresy and idolatry.   Jesus came to humanity that we might be human amongst others, the Cross of Jesus is about the at-one-ment, not ‘christians’ with God, but all people with one another.

So our making disciples of others presupposes that we have got the message right.   Our message is not that others have to become better like us; the vital message is that we have to be at one with others, in our humanity, our doubts and frustrations, our explorations and our failures, that we do not have the ultimate answer.

One of the difficulties of the doctrine of the Trinity is that it is used by the church as the ultimate weapon.   It typifies a very prevalent attitude that the church has all the answers, up to and including the correct nature of God.   But so many times in the Bible we see the divine avoiding giving humanity even a name for him/herself.  (6)   This is surely not an accident, for God knows how often the divine name is use to marginalise, alienate, condemn and kill others - by ‘christians’ just as much as anyone else.   It is no wonder that many cross their fingers behind their backs when having to recite a creed in church!   It is no wonder that the doctrine is an acute embarrassment to many thinking christians!   Not because they don’t believe in God, but because of the way it is misused!

And if there is one thing about modern society, it sees through these pretensions the church has so often wanted to claim.   And to this pretence the world wants to say to the church: Isn’t it tiresome having all the answers all of the time?    Do you not see how demeaning it is to others being right all the time?   Do you not see how limiting it is sitting in the corner all by yourself with your Christmas pie? 

Recently I read an appreciation of the invention of the bicycle: ‘A bike to a child means freedom.   It's his first passport, a licence to widen the world.’   The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that there is no limit to that widening.   There is a world to explore and we leave our little corner and our christmas pie through the inspiration and empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

And so the call to ‘Go’ is directed, not primarily to us as individuals, but more importantly to the church corporate, to enter and explore the world.  We go through the inspiration and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and when the church ‘arrives’ we will find the risen Christ waiting to greet us, perhaps even asking the church: ‘What took you so long?’   For it is here in the world (rather than in our little holy huddle in the corner) that the promise of the risen Christ: ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age’ actually becomes true for the church corporate.

And I want to reiterate one of the last thoughts I had in last week’s sermon: ‘There is no point bishops and clergy berating lay people for their lack of evangelical enthusiasm when the church is still operating on a pre-1950’s model of ‘parishioners are to be seen and not heard’.’    This last week the 25th anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen Square was remembered.   For all we abhor this atrocity, the repressive authorities are only continuing to operate using the same paradigm as the pre-1950’s model of the church.

1.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Jack_Horner
2.  Mark 10.18
3.  Luke 18.11,12
4.  Luke 18.14
5.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrases_from_The_Hitchhiker%27s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy#Answer_to_the_Ultimate_Question_of_Life.2C_the_Universe.2C_and_Everything_.2842.29
6.  e.g. Genesis 32.29  Exodus 3.14