Sermon: Trinity Sunday, 22nd May 2016

Solemnity of the Holy Trinity

Fr Martin Davies, Saint Alban’s Epping 2016

Some months ago when Father Ross asked if I’d preach at S Alban’s on Sunday 22 May, I didn’t realise it would be Trinity Sunday.  I’m never quite sure what to say in preaching about the Holy Trinity.  And in many ways I’d rather begin by saying nothing, for a sermon about the Trinity is a sermon about God.  When we get over our compulsion to do a lot of talking and explaining about God – and even to set doctrinal tests – we come to realise that our first and best response before God is simply to stand in wonder and awe.  Or, as the Orthodox put it, to stand with the mind in the heart, before God.

When I was young, on Trinity Sunday we would sing the Athanasian Creed in procession around the church.  Creeds are a bit like policy statements.  They contain – in summarised form – what the Church believes about God who creates, redeems and gives us life; God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Of course, there is much more that we could and do say about God, but in the context of worship, just as all liturgy’s component parts are a summary of much more, so too a credal form points to something much greater.  What we have here is, at the very least, a window into the vision of God.  At best, the window may be enlarged into a doorway, through which we enter to partake very fully of that vision.

When the controversial theologian David Jenkins became bishop of Durham over thirty years ago, you may remember there was a fire in York Minster shortly after his consecration.  Some were quick to see the fire as an expression of God’s displeasure at Bishop Jenkins’ theological views.  However, long before he became a focus of controversy and a much quoted, partly-quoted and mis-quoted theologian, David Jenkins said that failure of vision lies at the root of our problems.  He described this as a failure of vision

of the unlimited resources of energy and love to which the believer has access, when the [triune] life of God is felt as power.

When we talk about power, especially in an age when power is frequently used to control and bully people, we need to be clear about what we mean by power.  The sort of power which David Jenkins was referring to was an understanding of

the Trinity [as] a symbol for pilgrims who know no limits to their hopes of endurance, discovery and enjoyment.

That, it seems to me is what God is about – or who God [is] For Us, as the title of a book on the Trinity by American theologian Catherine LaCugna so well catches it.

Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel warns against faith being replaced by creed.  He said, religion is an answer to ultimate questions, and the moment we loose sight of ultimate questions is when religion becomes irrelevant and its crisis sets in.  The task of religion is not necessarily to have all the answers, but certainly to discover or rediscover the questions to which religion is an answer.

In our glimpse through the window of worship and our entry through the door into a fuller participation in the vision of God, we may gain a practical and practising insight into the living mystery which is the creating, redeeming and sanctifying God among us now.

Actions speak louder than words.  The words which we profess must have some way of showing themselves in our lives.  Our vision of God, and our resulting human action, are inseparable.  Prayer and action go together.  A rediscovery of the necessary unity between contemplation and action, the mystical and the prophetic, is almost certainly the central need of modern Western Christianity.  We need a vision of God which resources us for action in the world, not one which keeps us immune from the world.

On this feast of the Holy Trinity, we recall that the creating, redeeming and life-giving power of God are not static.  They are active.  The creative, redeeming and sanctifying power of God which we know in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are still accessible to us now.  All that is required, is that we consent to enter into this life of God.  And this is made all the easier, because God is already reaching out to welcome us.

The Trinity is a symbol for pilgrims who know no limits to their hopes of endurance, discovery and enjoyment.  We are called to share in God’s creativity; in God’s enduring.  Every aspect of God’s creation endures, and we can share in creating that durability for our lives, our ministries, and our faith community.  We make discoveries of ourselves through our life in God.  We are not yet complete as God’s creation until the day of our final dying, when we enter into the fullness of the inheritance prepared for us.  The discoveries we make along the way, personally and as a faith community, prepare us for our fullest discovery of God, and eventually beyond the limitations of time and space.

Despite my initial reluctance to say anything about God, on this feast of the Holy Trinity, there is something we can say, without tangling ourselves up in doctrinal puzzles over which some may wish to run a heresy check.  What we can say about God – from the standpoint of the lived experience of faith – is how we know God the Trinity through Holiness, Humility and Hospitality.

By holiness I don’t mean some other-worldly piety which is unrelated to ordinary human experience.  Holiness is inextricably linked to our creation by God in God’s image and likeness, and to our place within the whole of God’s creation.  All that God created is good, and our response to that goodness in creation is one of reverence toward each other and to the earth itself.  It is becoming more and more evident that reverence for humanity and for the earth itself is the central need of our time, with vast consequences whenever this is disregarded.  Our response to God’s holiness is to respond to all that God offers us in the work of restoring our broken likeness to God, reassured that despite our seemingly endless capacity to get it wrong, we cannot erase the image of God is us, whose creation we are.

Humility is another way in which and by which we know God and participate in God’s life.  Even more than that: humility is a feature of God – of God who became human; became one of us.  Jesus told us that he is the way, the truth and the life.  We discover the truth of ourselves through humility.  By humility I don’t mean the putting-ourselves-down kind of false humility.  I mean that humility is living in the truth of who God created us to be; as beings created in the image and likeness of God, and of not living as if we are either greater or less than that.

And hospitality: the third way I am suggesting through which we participate in the life of God; God the Holy Trinity.  Saint Benedict says that we are to welcome those who come among us as if they were Christ himself.  Hospitality flows on from humility.  If we have a true sense of who we are – rather than either an inflated sense or an undervalued sense – we will be open to love and to grace received from God, and we will be open to giving love to others and to being gracious in our welcome of others.  Hospitality simply means: there is room in my life for you; there is room in this church for you; there is room in this society for you; there is room in this place for you.

In the world of time, and in this meeting of time with the vision of the eternal, may we come to know God; creating, redeeming, giving life.  May we participate in God’s creation, redemption and bringing to fullness.  May we commit ourselves to life in God.  May we rejoice in the life into which we were baptised; the life of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.