Sunday, 15 June 2014

Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2014: 'A Trinity of Love'

And so to Trinity Sunday... gave a brief nod to sermon preached several years back with regard to referring to Rublev's icon 'The hospitality of Abraham'.  

Had stumbled upon the legend of St Augustine during the week, so decided to do a little creative rewriting of the story.  Had wondered if, in the telling of the story, the congregation might be poised waiting for a punch-line...and hoped they wouldn't: was wanting to build an initial atmosphere of the strange and mysterious.  Was pleased: it worked
Earlier on in the service, read 'Three', a reading for 3 voices.  

'THREE'
[not sure of the source for this reading, but will happily credit it if someone knows!]

All 3 voices     We believe in God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Voice 1     The three in one and one in three,
Voice 2     God in three persons
Voice 3     Blessed Trinity.
All 3 voices      We believe in the God who came to meet us in Jesus Christ,
Voice 1     Born as one of us,
Voice 2     Preaching and teaching amongst us,
Voice 3     Dying, rising and ascending to bring us life.
All 3 voices     A story in three parts:
Voice 1     Wise men from the east bringing three                
                 gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, to worship the newborn Christ child.
Voice 2     As a teenager he stayed behind in the Temple for three days 
                to argue with the elders.
Voice 3     As a man, he was tempted three times by Satan in the wilderness.
Voice 1     His ministry lasted only three years, yet his teachings survive into the third millenium.
Voice 2     There were three people present at the transfiguration, 
                Peter, James and John, who witnessed Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah.
Voice 3     Nearing the end of his ministry, Jesus vowed to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.
Voice 1     He spoke three times about his impending death.
Voice 2     He overheard Peter deny him three times in the High Priest's courtyard in 
                his hour of need.
Voice 3     He was led to sacrifice like the prized three year-old lamb 
                specially reserved for the Passover meal.
Voice 1     He stumbled three times on his way to Calvary.
Voice 2     There were three crosses.
Voice 3     Jesus died at three o'clock
Voice 1     and rose again, three days later.
Voice 2     He gave Peter three opportunities to redeem himself by declaring his love.
Voice 3     And commands us to love three times: ourselves, our neighbours and God.
Voice 1     We believe in the Holy Trinity,
Voice 2     God in three persons:
Voice 3     Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 
All 3 voices     We believe in God.

Sermon: 'A Trinity of Love'

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts 
be acceptable in your sight, 
O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

It was a mystery.
And he had been puzzling over it for near on 30 years.
He had written thousands upon
thousands of words
and yet, none of them felt adequate.
All of them fell short of the mark.
How do you describe the indescribable?
How do you try to comprehend the incomprehensible?
It was a daunting task;
It was madness:
a work that could never be completed
in a single lifetime.
It was a mystery, a puzzle, an enigma.

One day, as he walked on the beach,
his mind overwhelmed by the
immensity of the task,
he saw a young child playing.
As he watched, the child dug a small hole,
then ran to the water’s edge with a shell in hand.
Gently, carefully, the child filled the shell with water
and tiptoed back across the sand.
The shell was upturned, and water trickled into the hole;
the child then went back to the water’s edge.
The great thinker watched, as again, and again,
the child with the tiny shell 
moved between the water’s edge and the hole,
collecting, carrying, pouring.
Walking up to the child, he smiled.
‘What are you doing, little one?’ he asked.
The child looked up at him with a solemn face and replied:
‘I’m trying to pour the ocean into this hole.’
The great thinker considered the child’s answer for a moment
and responded gently:
‘But the ocean is vast. 
What makes you think that you can empty the immense ocean
into this tiny hole,
with just a small shell?’
The child continued to look solemnly at the great thinker and said quietly:
‘And what makes you think that you can comprehend the immensity of God
with your tiny mind.’
And with that, the child vanished
leaving the great thinker alone
on that empty beach
looking at a tiny hole in which sea water
seeped into damp sand...

Today we celebrate, and reflect upon, mystery:
a mystery that the Church has puzzled over for near on 2 000 years.
There have been thousands of words written -
including the thousands written by the great thinker we heard about in the story -
the 5th century African theologian Augustine -
and while the story of Augustine’s
strange beach encounter
may be mere legend....
in this second decade of the 21st century
we are still none the wiser about the mystery he was pondering.
Words are not enough;
all of them fall far short of the mark
as we try to describe the indescribable,
and comprehend the incomprehensible:
the mystery and immensity of God,
Father
Son
and Holy Spirit -
one God
in three persons...
...blessed Trinity.

It is a mystery
this business of the Trinity
yet, every year, for near-on 2 000 years,
church communities have listened as preachers have used a variety of examples 
to try and come close to explaining the inexplicable:
God like a shamrock - three leaves but one stem
God like water in 3 forms: water, steam, ice...
but still water
God like an egg: shell, yolk, white...
All of these okay, but yet, not quite right.
It’s a tough job...
so perhaps we should just stick to the
Athenasian Creed -
you can almost hear the writers sighing and shrugging as they wrote:
God the Father: incomprehensible
God the Son: incomprehensible
God the Holy Spirit: incomprehensible.

But is mystery necessarily a bad thing?
And will we cope if we haven’t got the answer
to every single question this side of heaven? 
I suspect... yes.
And I also suspect, from scripture, that we don’t get to know the whole shebang 
this side of heaven anyway:
Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, notes:
‘for now we know in part: then we shall see,
face to face.’
Personally, I kinda like the anticipation, and of knowing 
there’s a whole lot more to come.

So, if we don’t get to unravel the whole mystery of who God is 
and what this matter of the Trinity is about, 
where might we go from here?
If we explore God as Trinity within the context
of love and belonging and relationship,
- concepts that are a little more easy to get our heads around -
how might that affect the way in which we live our lives?

In a small nod to ecumenism: the 1982 communion liturgy 
of the Scottish Episcopal Church, 
paraphrasing the 1st Letter of John, states that:
‘God is love and we are God’s children.
There is no room for fear in love.
We love, because God loved us first.’
For me, this gets to the heart of the matter:
relationships of love.
God is love...
and our response to that love.

In the 16th century, the Russian artist
Andrei Rublev
tried to paint his understanding of the Trinity:
Father, Son, and Spirit.
It’s the picture you have in front of you
on your order of service - and up on the screen. 
Rublev was very much trying to demonstrate
a sense of God living in harmonious
and perfect community.
This sense of unity within the relationship of each of the figures 
is indicated by the way their heads incline one to the other, 
almost making an outline of a circle. This shows how they're 
bound together as one by a common will and mutual love: 
love unites them.
...God, as a Trinity of love:
God the Father: the one who loves
God the Son: the beloved
God the Holy Spirit: the love that flows so strongly between Father and Son, 
that it takes on shape and substance of its own.
And, mirroring this, for us created in God’s image, we might ask:
How do we love?
Who do we love?
What is the impact of that love on others?

It is a mystery, this business of the Trinity
and yet, the overarching theme appears to be about community;
to be about relationship.

In our readings this morning,
both contained mention of God as Trinity:
it’s the formula Jesus gives his followers
when he sends them out to make disciples and to baptise them -
in the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -
the holy community that is God.
And the one who is baptised, enters into the church -
the community of God’s people.
As God is in the perfect community of the Trinity,
so those who believe
are to live within the context of community -
journeying together into the mystery
and heart of God
and learning and following, despite our imperfections, the way of love.

This sense of relationship - of belonging to God -
and of being a part of God’s people -
is brought out in our reading from 2nd Corinthians.
And the background to the reading from Corinthians is significant:
Paul is writing to a community that’s wracked with in-fighting,
jostling for power positions,
squabbling over doctrine,
and causing scandal throughout the city, due to some quite 
outrageous behaviour among the believers.
Here, at the end of his letter, Paul is reminding 
this rather fractious community of believers
of whose they are,
and how they should live...
lives modelled on the holy and harmonious relationship
of Father, Son, and Spirit:
lives lived in grace, love, and fellowship.
And every time we say the grace together -
which is from this passage -
it’s a handy reminder to us, 
of just whose we are and how we should live -
how we should love God, and love one another.

And there’s an openness to love.
Our painting by Rublev has an open space
at the front:
it’s as if we’re being invited in to sit at the table...
God looks outwards, not inwards -
looking out in love towards us,
towards the world.
In turn, we are to look outwards not inwards -
look in love at the wider world around us:
to welcome all people,
to demonstrate heavenly hospitality
on earth as it is in heaven:
to build communities of love -
as in the prayer of St Francis:
‘where there is hatred, sow love,
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.’
And, as we go out marching in the light of God, and into the world, 
and build communities of love, 
we have the promise from the gospel of Matthew:
Jesus says: ‘I will be with you always, to the end of the age.’
['marching' was a nod to the singing group, who were following the sermon
with the song 'We are marching in the light of God']

The Trinity:
it’s a mystery.
One that will continue to puzzle
until the end of time.
Thousands of words will be added to those already written;
all trying to comprehend the incomprehensible
and never really succeeding.
But in the end, what matters is this:
love:
the love of the God who dwells
in perfect community
the love of God whose love is limitless, immeasurable
and welcomes us in -
the love that creates a place at the table for all...
And, as God loves,
so we are to reflect that love
because:
we believe in God:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
the Three-in-One and One-inThree,
God in three persons,
Blessed Trinity.
Amen.

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