The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at
s167g04 Lockleys Trinity Sunday 6th June 2004
"You cannot bear them now" John 16.12
A little later I will talk to you about the Holy Trinity; then you'll all be kosher! I don't know about you, but sometimes I have thought that these words were a bit of a "put down"; but I am sure they were not meant this way. And I reflect that how frequently I, and I suppose that I'm no orphan here, take things that are said as critical when they are actually meant to be supportive.
It was interesting as I attended my Yoga retreat a while back. We had two sessions of Yoga a day and three periods of meditation. It was not for the faint hearted but it was wonderful. The meditations were in the Buddhist tradition and they were directed, and that was a very useful experience to have. When I was in theological college we had a 20 minute undirected meditation each week day, and I was tempted to think how useful it would have been to have some directions way back then. But I suspect that really I couldn't have coped with it then. It is only now, when I've got my theology and life sorted out, that I can begin to explore this aspect of life in a more directed way.
There is timing in one's life, whether one ascribes it to a personal being that is more traditionally Christian or to some more ethereal omnipresence that Buddhists would acknowledge.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity "solves" a logical problem. "Solving" this problem might not be high on your or my priorities, for no two Christians, just like no two snowflakes, are identical. Some people have a problem about the nature of God that needs "solving" so they have come up with this doctrine. But it is quite possible to live and love and "get into heaven" (if that's what we're all about) without "understanding" the Holy Trinity. It is certainly not worth fighting about.
The problem that the early Christians found themselves in was that they inherited a fundamental legacy from Judaism, that there is only one God. Anything which departed from this fundamental truth would get all monotheists "off-side". But the Christian Church wanted to witness to what they believed was the divinity of this Jesus, without taking away from the fact that they realised that this same Jesus was no different from the rest of humanity either. There was, of course, the later problem of how to view the Holy Spirit. What clearly had no "form" such as Jesus had, because of this stress on identity, became to be described as a "person" also.
The trouble with this thinking is that it derives from a preconception that naming something, and thereby categorising that thing, by definition means that we understand it. We "understand" the physical world because we have all the natural and manufactured elements tabulated in the Periodic Table. Well this table gives us real insights into the order and patterns of the universe, but I think that it is a bit presumptuous to suggest that thereby we understand all of nature. For all the wonderful knowledge we have about physics, there is the lovely "explanation" of how the shape of the aeroplane wing makes the air above it move faster causing a pressure differential giving the aircraft lift. We "know" that it works; but in fact it is not really an explanation. We don't know if it is a true explanation at all.
So we can see patterns of behaviour, and thank goodness that they are reliable. Scientists can work with elements and make useful things, that without our "explanations" would be denied us. Engineers can design wing profiles to maximise the lift despite not really being able to explain how it happens.
When it comes to human beings, I'm not exactly certain I would want to claim that I am entirely predictable; even to myself! It follows that we predict the reactions that others may have with considerable trepidation. And I wonder if you have thought as often as I have: "Why didn't that other person do this or that..." If we have this uncertainty with humans we know, we can be sure that any claim to understand God is fraught with danger.
Actually the force of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity comes into it's own, when people suggest or imply that they understand the Holy Trinity; that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity explains God. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity evolved to counter a number of people who asserted that they understood God; that they could explain the Holy Trinity. Let me make it quite clear that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity does not explain God; it tells everyone that any explanation of the Holy Trinity is wrong and heretical. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity tells us that God is beyond explanation, beyond categorization. So it you still don't understand the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, praise the Lord and join the club, because neither do I. It is the heretical who do.
There are a number of denominations who make great mileage about the "fact" that the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not in scripture. Of course it isn't in so many words. Their opposition, I suspect, stems from their conception that the Trinitarian churches, holding the doctrine, assert that they understand God correctly, when the doctrine really means that no one can understand God.
Yet God is predictable. God's steadfast love for all of humanity is unwavering. All that we do or not do, does not change this simple fact. We may not understand how God can love that other person, indeed we may not understand how God can continue to love us; yet the fact that God does is constant.
It is important that the fact that God is one is retained, for the possibility of more than one god means we may face a prospect of competing gods, and we having to have a bet on a winner.
So the identical nature of the persons of the Trinity saves us from this uncertainty. That steadfast love for all of humanity cannot be compromised. Everything that Jesus did and everything that the Holy Spirit continues to do in us, is to reinforce and empower the knowledge of this steadfast love for all humanity to be made known everywhere. If perchance our proclamation of this message is compromised then we can be certain that any grace we may ask of God will not be forthcoming.
The importance of Jesus being identical to God means that Jesus dying because he associated with people other than the religious ones was God's will, and the identity of God the Holy Spirit with God the Father means that the Holy Spirit always moves us to associate with all people, not just those in our own religious clique.
"You cannot bear them now" means that our perception of the true nature of God, if this is indeed that to which Jesus is referring, amongst a good many other things which we may consider important to believe, is not something which God considers high on his or her agenda. We as humans are not empty buckets into which God pours divine truths. God is more concerned for us and our needs, especially our need for freedom from conflict.
God doesn't need us to kill or dismiss others because they do not "understand" God in the way we do. Indeed if we use the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to suggest we understand God better than others we are verging on the heretical. It is more appropriate to see in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity how each and every human being, and each and every religious system, struggles to define God.
"I still have many things to say to you", said Jesus, and I guess we as the Church have lots to say to the society in which we live. Lots of good things like the need for justice, compassion and devotion. But the primary thing that God wants us to do is not impart to one and to all our knowledge of the divine, however immaculate, but for us to embrace others as they are.
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