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s167o98 Somerton Park Trinity Sunday 7/6/98

"delighting in the human race" Proverbs 8.31

Recently I was grateful for a question - why I called myself "sparky" in my email address. I was grateful for this, for it comes to the heart of faith - whither God in all this? And what better Sunday to discuss this than Trinity Sunday.

I am not much of a poet, and so while I love such hymns as "Oh Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder ..." which is, of course, a paraphrase of Psalm 8, and I suppose intellectually I agree with all that - as poetry it does not really speak to me. If I was to listen to this on a CD (and we have quite a good CD player at home) I could take it or leave it. But if I were to sing it, well that's a different matter, both for me and for those who were unfortunate enough to be nearby at the time :-) It is one of the reasons I am not personally particularly keen to say the psalm in the service - they are properly songs - they need to be sung.

Again, I have shared with some before today, that our boys are giving me an appreciation of classical music for the first time in my life. It is not that I didn't like it before, but my experience of music has been via the radio or recorded music. What a difference it makes when one goes to a performance, or listens to a sibling practising in the next room! It is the same with football - the opportunities I've had to watch a match "live" have been few and far between. It is not the same as watching it on the television at all, even though in fact one has a better view on the television. A program I saw briefly a couple of Saturday nights ago, a 1993 Russian film called "Living with an Idiot". The plot of the part of this film I saw was essentially how a madman came to live with a married couple, and how sexual intimacy brought the man to a level of normality thought quite beyond him.

However I still remember my early years, that the Sunday most likely to be rated as the one when we were bored by the sermon was Trinity Sunday. For all I love "Holy holy holy, Lord God Almighty" sung to "Nicaea", one can't help almost suppressing a yawn. C S Lewis asks the question "Will we be bored in heaven?" (The Business of Heaven Fount p113). Heaven seems to be portrayed like eternity spent without ever going to a live concert, or never again going to see your favourite team play, or living an eternally celibate lifestyle.

How sad this is, for it is not the picture of God I have. And if heaven was actually like this I would have to seriously consider the alternative :-)

My experience of God, creativity and enthusiasm comes when I am involved in something or with someone else. The match against the match box, the metal against the flint in a lighter, that is whence the spark comes, whence the flame has its origin. ( Neither the match, the box, the metal nor the flint, within themselves contain the essence, it is only when they are brought to bear against their opposite partner that things begin to happen. This is why I was pleased for the question about being "sparky". It is a perfect example of what I am trying to say. As we ask and listen, things happen for the answerer and perhaps for the questioner.

So again, I am grateful for the words of the Bishop of London, Bishop Richard Chartres, writing on the Holy Trinity, who illustrates precisely this point, saying: "You can't have a God. If you have, possess a God, if you talk about My God, my own little possession that helps me, my asset, then what you have is not the true and living God, father of our Lord Jesus Christ, but an Idol, a God made in our own image. And, brothers and sisters, much of the history of religion, even in the Christian Religion, is an attempt to make Gods of ourselves, by launching ego-projections into the middle distance - plop - and then having an affair with that ego-projection. That's what religion has been, so very often." ( He perhaps wouldn't agree with other things I say here however :-)

So I have great difficulty with a portrayal of Christianity as a religion of those who think that they own God, that their version of the faith is right, and their sole job is to adhere and proclaim this version and the sole job of others is to repent and be saved - conform or be damned! Bishop Chartres comments: "Subject to object communication is the source of some of the greatest evils in the world, when people are overlooked, sized up, measured up, weighed up."

So I have used the word "sparky" as my email address, as another rub up against me, and vise versa, something a little bit creative comes into being, which I couldn't have brought into being myself. I am but a matchbox, looking for matches! It is as we relate to other people that sparks fly. One needs to be involved to do that.

I have often quoted, I think it was Mark Knoffler, lead singer of "Dire Straits", who once made the comment that music made him feel humble. Music was so much bigger than any one person could comprehend. If it was Mark, he was not saying it to suggest we should withdraw, quietly hide ourselves away and not touch ... As a musician, the real response is to jump in, to enjoy the length and breadth and height and depth to the fullest.

And so it is with God. God is big, and we might feel humble in the face of the Almighty, yet the proper response is not to hide away, fearful that we might do something wrong, but to jump in and enjoy ...

The most creative experience that humanity can have is sexual intercourse and surely this is for our enjoyment. One partner does not wish for the other to feel humble - to hide away, fearful that they might do something wrong ...

The book of Proverbs tells us that God and wisdom were in the beginning "delighting in the human race". That delight has not changed and it contains within it the invitation to join in. Quite the opposite of wanting us to feel humble, to hide away, fearful that we might do something wrong ...

Bishop Chartres concludes his exposition of the Trinity with the words: "Now this vision of God, this understanding of God's way of being, and His presence, is called by the Holy Fathers the preichorses, the dynamic dance of the Holy Trinity, and this language of course is very useful. I mean one of the difficulties when you are trying to teach the Christian Faith is that people are still hung up, believe it or not, with the idea of God as an old man with a white beard, or some other gender-related vision."

God the Holy Trinity is not something static, aloof and discriminatory, but active, immediate and accepting. The invitation is to jump in and enjoy ...

Recently we have had our National "Sorry" Day, where some have felt moved to "say sorry" for the Church's part in the past involuntary removal of indigenous children from parents. I am well aware that there are differing views to the appropriateness of saying sorry, and I do not want to weigh into that debate. I believe that issue is well covered by the covering letter from the National Meeting of Bishops. What I want to draw our attention to is that the removal of children was the conventional wisdom of the time, backed by the Church, yet people were hurt in the process.

The acknowledgement of the Church not being completely right in the past about the removal of children, should lead us to consider if all we do and say now, and the attitudes we have now, are correct. It is not enough to be well intentioned. The Church might have been well intentioned before, but perhaps sometimes failed to really consider the personal circumstances of others and so may have brought misery to some people's lives.

There would be few here who have not been touched in some ways by the sexual revolution. It may be separation, divorce or remarriage in your own lives or in the lives of children or grandchildren. Children might be living together in a defacto relationship. Is our reaction as the Church to decry or to condemn - the all knowing old man in the sky will heap his revenge sooner or later - or do we see other people as participants in the dance of the divine, and pray that God will bless them, as we pray God will bless us.

I want to invite the Church to move away from well intentioned but ultimately deadening rules. I question whether simply saying these things without considering the personal circumstances of others will similarly be unhelpful to people. I come back to the link made between sexuality and normal behaviour by the Russian film I saw. I wonder how much mental illness we as the Church might be contributing to by our moral stance. Or, to put it far more positively, what health is possible if we not duck this issue and allow others to make decisions for themselves based on their personal circumstances.

This comes directly from our view of God. If we have a God who is static, aloof and discriminatory, we will never have the opportunity to see anything beyond "not unless you are married". However if our picture of God is active, immediate and accepting, there is a possibility that we can look at others this way.

Perhaps this is rather a different sermon from what you were expecting. God invites us to be involved. My ideal of heaven is not getting a cricked neck as (in the words of that lovely hymn by Frederick William Faber: "My God how wonderful thou art" ) "prostrate before thy throne to lie, and gaze and gaze on thee". My ideal of heaven involves this life as well as the next, it is about being involved, it is about not being content to be an empty matchbox, but looking for matches, here and there.


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