The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s112g15   Trinity Sunday  31/5/2015   All Saints Prebbleton

‘you do not know where it comes from or where it goes’   John 3:8

The feast of the Holy Trinity has always been for me the trump card of Christianity, the ultimate way to gazump others.   When we know the answer, the Holy Trinity, all other answers are wrong, incomplete, inadequate.   To quote John Henry Newman: ’ Firmly I believe and truly / God is Three, and God is One; / and I next acknowledge duly / manhood taken by the Son.’  (1)  It is a bit like me quoting Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth the Second in my report to the Synod, as the model of Anglicanism to which I aspire. (2)

But why, when there are so many examples in the Old Testament of God refusing to disclose the divine name, suddenly out of the blue God repents of this and gives Christians the correct one, and anyone who doesn’t use this name exclusively is condemned?

A while back I spoke about having to give up on our monopoly on orthodoxy and spirituality. (3)  Like Nicodemus, we have to give up our delusion that we know where the Spirit leads which seems to imply that our orthodoxy controls the divine.

As I noted, the problem with monopolies is that they are created to marginalise and alienate others.   The Mafia try to monopolise their particular trade.  This seems to me to be quite the opposite of Jesus’ befriending others, the poor, the outcasts, the heretic and the frankly irreligious.   The theology of knowledge, such as when, after the fall, Cain perceived that his brother Abel’s sacrifice was more acceptable than his own, (4) is invariably fraught.   If our perception that our sacrifice is more acceptable to God because we alone use the correct and full name that we alone, through unmerited grace, know, then this is, frankly, BS.

The trouble is we use the doctrine of the Trinity in precisely the opposite way to which it was intended.   We use it in precisely the way it was formulated to oppose.

When Arius, the heretic of the time wanted to define God, it doesn’t really matter which particular definition he came up with, the church said: God can’t be defined.  God is bigger.   God is mystery even to Christians.   As soon as anyone suggests that they understand the true nature of God - that is the essence of heresy.   So to use the doctrine of the Trinity to suggest that the Church understands the true nature of God is to get it all wrong.   It actually says we as Christians are no better off than the Buddhist and their non-theistic religion. 

I was amused with a Facebook post the other day, where a typo on a church service sheet began the Dismissal: ‘May the Spirit, who hoovered over the waters when ..’   We have domesticated the Spirit, we have domesticated God, and that is frankly heretical.   When various christian groups deny the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, it may well be that they are denying this domestication of God, and as such they are more orthodox than we.

If our God is so precious that he/she insists on being called by the correct name or else its off to hell with you, such a god is not worth worshipping.

So for Nicodemus to be ‘born again’ it is not an invitation to become differently religious, but to forgo religion of any brand which knows and monopolises God - and alienates others.   So, far from being a defence we can hide behind, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity tells us that we are no different from others, that there is no orthodoxy which saves one and condemns another; that any ‘orthodoxy’ that pretends to do this is actually the ultimate heresy.

As I said in my sermon last week (5) Nicodemus, like multitudes of religious teachers, ‘know’ where the Spirit moves.   It moves others to join our religion, our congregation, to speak our language.   The doctrine of the Holy Trinity says emphatically that we do not know where the Spirit blows, and any pretence that it blows only or specially in christian circles is to say that it blows us out of them.   For this is the only useful thing for the Spirit to do, to get us out into the world, making our contribution as we are able, loving and being loved.

For it is only this sort of God that is worth worshipping, it is only this sort of God worth commending to others.   I have sometimes thought: Would I invite someone whose friendship I value to be a part of this or that congregation, ruled over by the inevitable cohort of gatekeepers?   But the question is really wider than this: Would I commend an unpredictable and capricious god to someone whose friendship I valued?

In our Holy Communion service, why is it that ‘real’ communion with god is only permitted after someone has confessed their sins, heard scripture read, listened to it being expounded, confessed a faith in words set in stone centuries ago when there wasn’t even an aspirin, prayed for a whole lot of people and shaken hands with (sometimes) complete strangers, who happen to be sitting near them in church?

Real affirmation and inclusion, sharing table fellowship right at the beginning might actually lead people to trust enough to really examine their lives in confession, real communion is never one way, how do we confess faith in an unconditional love when it clearly isn’t, real communion will no doubt inspire prayer for others, and acceptance and inclusion means a greeting of peace is real rather than pretend.   Real affirmation and inclusion would actually lead people to want to come and worship.

People of the Spirit ‘do not know where it comes from or where it goes’, and are never surprised or affronted when they see the Spirit in action elsewhere, even amongst those who do not hold a belief in the Trinity, among those who call God ‘Allah’, or who work for the betterment of society simply because that is what they believe is right.

1.  John Henry Newman, 1865
4.  Genesis 4:4