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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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