Sermon: Trinity, Sunday, 11 June 2017, Rev. Paul Weaver, St Aidan’s

St.Aidan’s West Epping, 11th June 2017

Rev. Paul Weaver

THE GOD WHO IS LOVE (Trinity Sunday)

 (Exodus 34:1-8; Song of Three Young Men;

2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20)

Every now and again we have a “lightbulb moment”: a moment of unexpected insight or understanding, a time when the penny drops, when we see something we hadn’t seen before. It might be something fairly ordinary, like realizing where we have put that thing we could not find anywhere, or suddenly remembering just who that person is whose name we have not been able to remember. Sometimes these lightbulb moments can be very significant, even life-changing.

I still remember one lightbulb moment the best part of forty years ago when I first worked in the parish. Scripture was a significant part of my ministry, and I was driving from a class at Epping Public School to one at West Epping School. It must have been about this time of year, for I had been thinking about the doctrine of the Trinity, no doubt with a forthcoming sermon in mind. I think that I was reflecting on someone I had heard speaking on the radio, when I suddenly put two truths together that I had not previously connected. One truth was the doctrine that God is a Trinity, and the other was John’s teaching that God is love. God is Trinity. God is love. Putting these two ideas together, seeing how much they interlink, was for me a very significant light bulb moment. Ever since that time, whenever I have thought about the Trinity, I have thought about it in the light of the truth that God is love.

Before that time, I felt I had a good understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. There is one God, the Creator God, who called Abraham and Moses, who made his covenant with the people of Israel. In the person of Jesus Christ he took on human life and shared our earthly existence and even death itself. In the person of the Holy Spirit God works in us and through us to fulfil his purposes and strengthen us in our life and service. And so we believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: there is a distinction between them, and yet they are one, so that we continue to worship one God, not three Gods.

Nor is it that God takes on different forms from time to time, like Clark Kent and Superman. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all eternal. And Jesus prays to his Father in a real way, and he sends the Holy Spirit to work in us.

God is one, and yet God is three. God is a Trinity. But there is nowhere in the scriptures which gives a neat organized explanation of all these things, or answers all those questions we might ask. It is only as we gather together the different strands of the teaching of scripture that we see the truth of this doctrine of the Trinity. You can see why the early church had heated debates and even divisions as they tried to put these truths together, and as they sought to understand this doctrine, and indeed as they used this word to sum it up. Even today the Orthodox Churches have a slight difference from us in their form of the Nicene Creed: in a short while we will say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, whereas their form of the Creed says simply that the Spirit proceeds from the Father. There were and are complex arguments around this difference: I can see a point in either wording, but this great historic argument reminds us that there will always be a limit to our understanding of a God who is infinitely great. There is of course so much about God that he has made clear to us, especially in the scriptures, but there will always be limits to our understanding. We can’t put God into a box of doctrine, and think that we have sorted out everything about him! He is too great for that!

We think of God the Father particularly as our Creator, but also as one who cares for us as humans made in his image. He is in a unique way the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But Jesus himself is truly God: he shares the same divine reality as his Father. He put his glory aside to also share our human existence. One of the many surprising things Christ told his disciples was that when he left them to ascend to his Father’s side, they would be better off. How could that be? Because the Holy Spirit would come to them to be with them: within them and among them, individually and as the church, wherever they were. Jesus was limited in time and space by his physical existence, but now he would come to them, God himself, in the person of the Holy Spirit. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all seem to have special emphases in their ministries to us, and yet their reality and their ministries are also intertwined: they are three and yet one.

When Sarah and I were in Jordan some years ago, our Moslem driver was talking about his understanding of God, the holy and only God. Jesus he could honour as a great prophet and teacher, but that was all. I told him that as Christians we believe that Jesus was and is God, coming among us to share our humanity and teach us and die for us. He found the idea ridiculous. “He is the holy God! Why would he do that?” I explained that God loved us so much that he did not want us to stay at a distance from him: he wanted us to share with him the blessings he has to offer, and Jesus came to make that possible. Our driver believed in a solitary God, who in his holiness kept us at a distance. I believe – we believe – in a God who is Trinity: a God who is indeed holy, but who reaches out to us in his love, sharing our lives in a real and wonderful way, and drawing us to himself: forgiving us at immense cost through the death of his divine Son, Jesus Christ.

The Trinity is a doctrine which is complex, and can seem hard to understand. But it is more than that: it points us to the very reality of God. God is not simply a God who is loving, wonderful though that is. It brings out the truth that God is love. God did not need to make us before he had anyone to love. There is relationship in the very being of God. Love is at the heart of God’s existence.

Think of our first reading from Exodus. The Israelites had forgotten all that God had done for them and all that he had promised them. They had turned to false gods, worshipping the golden calf even as Moses was receiving the words of the covenant on the mountain. The stones of the covenant had been destroyed, and now Moses was receiving them anew. The Holy One, the Lord who simply is, who exists independent of anyone and anything, reminded them of who he is. And notice how, even in this situation where his people were so badly in the wrong, the Lord described himself as “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and kindness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin”. Only then did he also remind the people that he was not to be trifled with: sin still had its consequences, especially for those who were not open to God’s mercy and his correction. Even this early in the scriptures, we are reminded that God is love.

And then we heard those familiar final words from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. The Corinthian Christians were a difficult bunch. Going off in all sorts of wrong directions: so often arguing and divided. Paul calls them to seek to show love and unity in their life together: of course this love and unity reflects the love and unity of the God who is Trinity. And he closes the letter with this beautiful prayer of blessing, which has been used for centuries to close the liturgy in the Anglican services of Morning and Evening Prayer. Jesus Christ who is the divine Lord brings God’s grace to us. God the Father shares his love with us. And the Holy Spirit brings us together in his love. This is one of the relatively few places in the New Testament where we see the three persons of the Trinity so neatly linked. You’ll find them at Jesus’ baptism and in a number of other places, but here they are so beautifully linked in this beautiful prayer.

And in Jesus’ words which close the Gospel of Matthew we find the risen Jesus himself commissioning his disciples to continue his work on earth. His authority is not just as the Messiah of Israel, but as the Lord of all the earth. He will be with them, not physically but in the person of the Holy Spirit. And they are to take his message not just to the people of Israel now, but to make disciples – students – of Jesus from all nations, people who wish to know and understand and follow him. And as people turn to him, they are to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Note that it is not the names of the members of the Holy Trinity, but the name. The Trinity is a Unity, and ultimately God is one.

And if God is love, what are we to be like? We know that we are made in God’s image and restored to fellowship with God. Of course then, we are to be people who reflect the love of God and show the love of God to others. That’s at the heart of what following Christ is all about.

God is a Trinity. God is love. May God’s love be lived out in our lives as we daily live as followers of Christ. Amen.

Paul Weaver