The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r167.htm


s167e13  Trinity Sunday  26/5/2013  Ellesmere Parish

'God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.'  Romans 5.5

Of recent times I have been reflecting that the reason that parts of the church become narrow, is that this makes the minister indispensable.   So the ordination of women is threatening to male clergy, because it means that there is more competition for ministry positions.   It makes it easier for parishes or bishops to replace them.   Unfortunately this means that clergy can, and have, acted less than charitably with impunity.  This is not, of course, confined to clergy, but we do well not to criticise those outside if they are only acting in the same manner as those who ought to know better.

So narrowness not only alienates those outside, but also often results in hidden incestuous behaviour within.

So reason tells us that a broad church, an affirming and inclusive church, is likely to be both welcomed by the community and a safe place for people to be.

So the question is, how does this square with the God revealed in the scriptures of the ancient people of God, the gospels and the emergent church - the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

As we have been reading Deuteronomy recently, I suddenly thought how the making of the golden calf happened before Moses had delivered the ten commandments to the Israelites.   They were unaware that they were about to be forbidden to make for themselves a graven image.   And the ten commandments contained the sixth - thou shalt not kill - but immediately the Levites were rewarded for killing their neighbours.   There is clearly a degree of inconsistency here.

And one response to this is perhaps to close our eyes and hope that no one else will notice the inconsistencies.   Those who loudly proclaim the bible as the infallible word of God seem blind to these inconsistencies and dismissive of 'liberal' commentators who point them out.

Another response is to place oneself on the side of the elect and condemn those who are not the elect.   This is to use the inconsistencies for one's own benefit.   The element of selfishness should be noted and cause us to ask: do we worship a God who is capricious and self-centred?

And the doctrine of the Trinity can as easily be used to define the elect as the words of scripture or the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is presented as an academic exercise, something to bewilder the congregation - to show up their ignorance and the preacher's wisdom.   Again, we need to see the selfishness here.  

We can blindly recite the creeds and fail to see that this marginalises those who see them as sanctifying selfishness and misrepresenting God.   Or to put it another way around, others refuse to believe in a god that instigates, perpetuates and rewards those who use the name of God in a selfish manner.

The ministry of Jesus is not about forgiving sins of the few people who call on the name of Jesus in the correct manner in church worship, but showing us that selfishness in the name of God attempts to kill the real God and install an idol of human making - a metaphorical golden calf.   The ministry of Jesus shows us that selfish religion is a force for evil, and it is only selfless religion which is good.   And Jesus defines evil as only blessing our natural and spiritual family - which is what the church has often claimed God does.

Such selfishness and narcissism are all pervasive, both within and outside the church.

And I wonder how the church founded on a gospel of love has been turned into sectarianism - who holds the right doctrines and worship - and who doesn't.   And given this, is it any wonder that people continue to be fearful and lacking self-esteem, beginning with the members of the church themselves.   And if the church only offers fear and lack of self-esteem, is it any surprise that modern secular humanists view the church's message with incredulity?

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity, if it shows us nothing else, it must be that God, Jesus and the Spirit are 'on the same page', when it comes to love.   There is no need to fear - no need for us to fear and no need for anyone else to fear.  

The doctrine of the Holy Trinity assures us that 'in God there is no darkness at all' (1) - that all selfishness is essentially of human origin. albeit often found in scripture, tradition and human experience.

So an essential element of our proclamation of a God of love is that God is not capricious and self-centred, and that God does not instigate, perpetuate and reward selfishness - in short that others are loved whoever they are, whatever they believe, and with whom they choose to share intimacy.   The only thing which should make us fear is when we use the name of God for our own selfish desires, or when we experience others doing so.  "Fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.'  (2) 

Recently I attended a clergy conference and I heard a number of clergy refer to the great commission as the foundational statement of their message: 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations'  (3)   And my reflections above cause me to wonder if these words demand we have to make all nations follow a self centred Jesus or to get all nations to follow a God who, through Jesus, calls us to not act selfishly in the name of God?   If the latter is the reality, surely the world would welcome our message and we would come to realise that they too are on the same page as the Holy Trinity we worship today.

(1)  1 John 1.5
(2)  Matthew 10.28
(3)  Matthew 28.19