The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at: http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/r167.htm
s167g10 Trinity Sunday 30/5/2010
‘he will declare to you the things that are to come’. John 16.13
Two things strike me about this passage. It stresses the
unity between the Father, the Son and the Spirit, and the second thing
is that there are things to come, not all is yet revealed.
In the Roman and Greek pantheon, humanity is at the whim of competing
gods; and it is true that often humanity seems to be buffeted by
competing interests in the heavens. Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ is a
good example of this. Even within the Judeo-Christian
heritage, there are passages that picture God as full of wrath and
others where God is pictured as a mother hen, gathering her
chicks. Scripture gives us examples where it seems God
changes his (or her) mind. The particular passage that
comes to mind is Jonah. He says: ‘That is why I fled to
Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and
merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to
relent from punishing.’ (4.2)
So it is a bold assertion that God is one and that this God is
loving. We are not at the mercy of competing gods, nor are
we at the mercy of a fickle god. The only interest God has
is in our welfare, and the welfare of all creation. Despite
the seeming fickleness of fate, and the omniscience and unity of God,
we proclaim a God ‘in whom there is no darkness at all’.
But for some people, their life experiences have been full of
darkness. White Anglo-Celtic males (like me) can have no
conception of the trials and tribulations that a female person of
colour has had to face in her life, a young man who is gay, a person
born into a family where there has been three or more generations of
unemployment, or a person who suffers a mental illness. To
proclaim a god who is loving and who knows our situation in life, is
able to help us, yet doesn’t - is a sham. We need to be
very careful about proclaiming our god out of the experience of our
comfortable affluence, and then insist on acknowledgement of this god
for someone else’s eternal salvation. I suspect that it is
our own eternal salvation that is in question, not others.
Proclaiming a god of success is all very well for those for whom this
works, but there are numbers of people for whom it doesn’t, and often
these rapidly become invisible to those who have succeeded.
Unfortunately the church is not a terribly good example, for it is not
just the Anglican church that has a hierarchical structure.
Jesus’ disciples wanted to have a pecking order ordained with
particular ones at the top. So it has been going on for as
long as the church has existed. Even those churches who
doctrinally distance themselves from such structures have unwritten
rules which are as strictly policed.
Even the Holy Trinity could be taken as the prototypical
hierarchy. I recall a person commenting after a funeral I
took, where I used the phrase ‘with angels and archangels’, that there
was even a hierarchy in heaven!
But Jesus associated with the poor and the outcast; the tax collectors,
prostitutes and sinners, and in doing so turned hierarchies upside
down. Indeed it was precisely the fact that Jesus didn’t
recognise the important people of his day that they had him killed.
And we should be aware that the hierarchy of the church is a real
reason that thinking people dismiss the church as a sham.
People who have some little knowledge of Jesus realise that the church
is not being true to her founder. No matter how slick the
evangelism, this fundamental disconnect is a stumbling block to many.
But there is a more fundamental stumbling block surrounding the Holy
Trinity. The church, in proclaiming the Holy Trinity,
purports to understand God, and the conceit of this is self
evident. The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not an
explanation of God at all. It is a paradox that asserts
that God cannot be understood. The doctrine was formulated
to express the fact that it was heresy to be able to understand
God. God cannot be understood or possessed, by anyone.
Each and every person has a picture of God, but as with all pictures it
is but a representation of reality, not reality itself. So
the Holy Trinity is a picture of reality, not reality
itself. As a work of Art it captures something of the
divine, and in particular it captures the fact that the Holy Trinity
cannot be understood or possessed. But even the Holy
Trinity is complemented by others’ perceptions of the divine, because
the Holy Trinity, not being a possession of one or other, is ever
perceived, albeit from different perspectives, by all.
Rightfully conceived, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity allows us to
appreciate the multitude of perspectives that people have of
God. To condemn those who do not hold the doctrine of the
Holy Trinity is to make it into our possession, which is de facto
heretical. To suggest that the Holy Trinity is a possession
of the ‘church’ alone is heretical.
But the second thing I want to say is that we have surely moved on from
the controversies of the past. Some ‘Anglicans’ are still
fighting the battles of the reformation, justification by faith or
works, as if this is still the issue today. Similarly some
‘christians’ are still fighting the battles over the relationship
between God the Father and God the Son. When are we going
to move on to reaching out to other peoples rather than spending our
time trying to determine what makes us distinct?
Sadly within the Anglican Communion the issue of human sexuality is so
polarising the church that we are being called to define what is
distinct about being Anglican, and this in terms of a
covenant. But as soon as we do this we are separating
ourselves off, not just from gay and lesbian persons, but also folk of
other ‘christian’ faiths, folk of other faiths and folk of good will
with no particular faith. The whole ecumenical exercise and
interfaith conversations are being rendered irrelevant.
Right at the heart of a Trinitarian pronouncement, Jesus tells us that
there is more to come. It didn’t stop with Jesus, so it will
hardly have stopped with Athanasius, Luther, or Henry VIII.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity is not the pinnacle of orthodoxy from
whence we look down on everyone else, but a realisation that right at
the foundation core it is an invitation into relationship with others
who are different.
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