16 June 2019
Revd Nicholas Mercer
I am always slightly apprehensive when I get a religious question on a quiz show.
The vicar, of all people, can’t get these things wrong
However,I thought I might turn the tables this morning and ask you a question which I heard recently.
Which of the following words are not used in the Bible?
- Christian (3)
- The Devil (59)
- Trinity (0)
The answer is, of course, Trinity
This term which was not used until the 2nd Century AD and not fully articulated until the Council of Nicea in AD 325
Today is Trinity Sunday
It is one of the crowning moments of the Church Year
We can now affirm “Father, Son and Holy Ghost”
Our hymns this morning speak of a building- “Christ is our cornerstone” and “Christ is made a sure foundation”
It is, as if, a huge monolith of theological stone has been rolled into place
But the Trinity is not easy
St John of Damascus said that he was “baffled” by the Trinity
St Basil the Great said that “it would be easier to measure the entire sea with a tiny cup than to explain the Trinity”
Furthermore, it is unique to Christianity.
Judaism and Islam do not have a concept of the Trinity
I was in the Central Mosque in Bradford on Thursday where the Imam told us about “Tawheed” – or one God in Islam
Although we all share a common Biblical heritage and claim to be monotheistic
Only Christianity believes in “God in three persons, blessed Trinity”
But what are we to make of the Trinity and what does it mean for our lives?
First of all, in terms of understanding, the Trinity is not easy
My tutor at theological college used to say that if a priest tries to describe the Trinity in terms of a three leaf clover you should “get into the pulpit and haul him out”
Please don’t – it would be an offence under Canon Law
When I asked my good friend Father John how he approached Trinity Sunday he sent me a poster which said “say nothing and show pictures of fluffy kittens instead”
It don’t think that would be a good idea either.
However, there is a way of approaching the Trinity, which does not risk heresy
And that is to approach the Trinity/not as a matter of understanding/ but one of revelation
In other words, we have to accept what is revealed to us in the Bible and then try and work out what that means for us in our lives
And the perfect medium for this approach is the story of the baptism of Christ
If you recall the story
- Christ is baptised in the River Jordan
- The Holy Spirit descends in the form of a Dove
- And God says – this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased
Explained in that way, it is so simple.
Try and explain the Trinity – and you will most certainly fail
Tell the story of the Baptism of Christ – and you will, to a large extent, succeed
However, even if we do begin to understand the Trinity through Revelation, what does it mean for our lives?
First of all, it means that our lives, and not just God’s, are Trinitarian
In the first chapter of Genesis it tells us that mankind is made in the “image and likeness of God”
If God is the Trinity, and we are made in the image and likeness of God, then we too are made, not only in the image of God, but also of the Trinity
This, I would argue, has a profound effect on us from the moment we are born
I always delight when I take a baptism and, when pouring water over the infant’s head, I say
“I baptise you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”
Our baptism is Trinitarian and, as such we all begin our lives in the power of the Trinity –
The word font comes from the Latin fons/fontis meaning “source or fountain”
God is the source of all our being
We all draw on that source, that fountain, the Trinity throughout our lives
Secondly, if we journey in the power of the Trinity, it also means that our work is Trinitarian
St Irenaeus – one of the early Church Fathers – describes the Trinity by speaking of the two hands of God
God, [he said] is the Godhead,
And God uses his two hands, Son and Holy Spirit, to do his work on earth
If we think of our head and our hands, figuratively, then our work as Christians is Trinitarian
When you are going about your daily work next week, [using your hands and your head], just pause for a moment and imagine that your work is the work of the Trinity?
When you are guiding, counting, cooking, administering, farming, helping, cleaning
There is a lovely phrase from a third century Syrian Christian called Aphrahat who said
“Give rest to the weary, visit the sick, support the poor, for this also is prayer”
It logically follows from this beautiful quote that the Trinity also extends into our worship
As we clasp our hands together in prayer we pray/with the Godhead/ together with the Son and Holy Ghost
When I taught Confirmation classes at Sherborne, I used to ask the boys to clasp their hands together and touch their forehead, uniting the Trinity.
We say in the Eucharist, this morning and every week, the Trinitarian words of the Seraphim in Isaiah vision this morning, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God of Hosts”
This is so thrilling
And if we love God in our worship and prayer, then there is a relationship between us.
That relationship is one of love
Count up the participants – Me, God and love and then, all of a sudden, there are three of us
As T S Eliot said “Who is the third who walks always beside you?”
But most profoundly of all the Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware said
“The doctrine of the Trinity ought to have on our daily lives an effect that is nothing less than revolutionary”
Our faith in the Trinity puts us under an obligation at every level, from the strictly personal to the highly organised, against all forms of oppression, injustice and exploitation
At our prayer station at Bolton Priory we pray for “peace, justice and reconciliation in a divided world”
The Holy Trinity enables us to put this into action
When we give to the foodbank not only is this an act of Charity but also the power of the Trinity?
When I objected to prisoners of war being abused this was a legal as well as a Trinitarian intervention?
So on this Trinity Sunday it is worth reminding ourselves that,
- Our life is Trinitarian
- Our work is Trinitarian
- We worship in the Trinity
- We seek after justice in the name of the Trinity too
But our Trinitarian life does not begin and end when you leave Church
The last thing I do at any service is to bless you
You are sent out into the world in the power of the Trinity
Too thousand years after Christ sent out his disciples in the Great Commission, empowered by the Holy Spirit
You are sent on your way, each and every week, today.
In the name of the Father, and the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
It may not help you answer quiz questions, but it should radically transform the way we all lead our lives