Sunday, 26 May 2013

Sermon for Trinity Sunday

Sermon: the Power of Three  
Romans 5: 1-5 (p.192 NT) The Experience of God in the power of the Spirit
 John 16:12-15 (p.139 NT) The Voice of God through the Spirit’s prompting

 As you will all know – to one extent or another – this week the Church held its General Assembly in Edinburgh, as elders, ministers, church partners, overseas delegates and youth representatives all gathered to debate and discuss and seek God’s will, God’s plan for the church in the years ahead.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the church had spent the whole week talking about who may or may not be allowed to serve the church.
But actually the discussions were far reaching and centred on injustice, poverty, health, education, nuclear disarmament, the referendum, encouraging vocations, what to do with the buildings, the future of tenure and its implications for individual parishes, how to help people at the difficult time of bereavement and many of the issues that are really important in our society right now.

The General Assembly is part of our institution and constitution
It is like many other things in our church and the wider church, one of those things that happen that some people know lots about, some know a little of and others have not a clue... just like some of our doctrines really!!

Today is Trinity Sunday
That is, it’s the day we think about what the trinity means or is...
If you were to look up Trinity in a bible index – you wouldn’t find it, instead it lies in theological dictionaries and reference books.

But, although Trinity is not named specifically, it is visible all through the bible. From Genesis to Revelation, the Three-Person God is visible moving and breathing and inspiring humanity.
In the prayers of the church, in the way we share a blessing – the trinity is present, a constant reminder, even if we are not fully aware of it.

We pray in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
And our blessing at the close of every service echoes the same
When we close a meeting – we pray The Grace together: a direct quote from 2 Corinthians (as on the front cover today)

And so many of the things we pray for, the things we live with are set in triplets
The very way we talk about life, past, present and future is three-fold. Life is lived in three dimensions... up & down, left & right, forward and back. It is understandable, yet inexplicable.
It is what it is, as is the Trinity.

Whenever we try to pin down a definition of God, a way of understanding and explaining who or what God is, we begin to stumble: God is bigger and stronger and wiser and kinder and more mysterious that we can ever begin to grasp... and any explanation confined to words alone will fall short – words can only begin to touch the real awesome depths of God.

I used to struggle and wrestle and worry about this and many other doctrines; I sought absolute clarity; total understanding; a nice, rounded, complete explanation that would answer all my questions... and then, the older I got, and the more I read and studied and sought wisdom, the more I realised how little I knew, and how little I really needed. For faith is best kept mysterious.

Faith works especially when we are unsure or undecided; faith makes sense only after the life experiences happen.

Our two bible readings today, from St. Paul’s letter to the Roman Church, and from St John’s Gospel, are really short, and really, really full!!

Romans is all about hope: real, beautiful Godly hope – hope that come from God, by means of the Spirit.

And John’s message here is all about truth: truth which is revealed to us by the Spirit – truth about God. John records Jesus’ particular teaching: “I have much more to tell you, but now it would be too much to bear. The Spirit comes and reveals the truth about God, and will lead you into all the truth” I think this is outstanding news! Jesus knew more, much more, but knew also the timing was not right, so he explained what the Spirit would do: the Spirit reveals – the Spirit shows us new ways to live and be.

It is the Spirit who helps us understand, it is the Spirit who guides us to know God’s truth
As we read his Word
As we reflect on life and faith coming together

We rely on the prompting of the Spirit to lead us and move us, not only to words confined to a page but to the Word himself – Jesus, who came and dwelt with us, Jesus said that he could not tell them everything, that in time the Spirit would reveal the Truth

Our faith, our belief that Jesus is God the Son, puts us right with God; through our faith we gain peace; we have faith because of grace... and through that we can be hopeful; we have hope, hope which will never disappoint us, because, as Paul puts it: “God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit – God’s gift to us”

I am a huge fan of C. S. Lewis – many folks know only of him as a writer of children’s fantasy fiction, via the Narnia books – or just the one Narnia book: the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

But there is so much more!
This man was a great theologian, and a great teacher

An atheist, who by his own investigations was converted to Christianity, and became one of the twentieth century’s greatest Christian writers, Lewis made it his aim to help people understand God and to draw them in to a greater relationship with him.  

His classic book is Mere Christianity, a collection of radio lectures delivered between 1942 and 1944; during the dark years of WWII and they are as inspiring and fresh today as they ever were.

This is how he described the working of the Trinity: “An ordinary Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get in touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God: God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Man who was God – that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening? God is the thing to which he is praying – the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the thing inside him which is pushing him on – the motivating power. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So that the whole three-fold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on in that ordinary little room, where an ordinary man is saying his prayers” (Mere Christianity)

I love this: what he is saying is like this: we decide we need to pray about something – yet even before we begin to pray, it is the Spirit which is working in us that prompts us to pray

It is the Spirit’s prompting that causes us to seek to know Jesus, the human face of God; Jesus, God made man who dwelt with us, so that we could have a better, closer, more knowing relationship with God. It is our very knowing of Jesus which in turn helps us to accept, to grasp to begin, little by little, to know God the creator – who has given us everything we have.... and thus as we look around us, at loved ones, at the countryside, at animals in the fields, at the changing seasons – we see God at work in creation itself and are prompted again to pray, and it is the Spirit that prompts us....

It is a perfect cycle; it is God’s perfection at work in us, before we even realise it

And as we begin to grasp it; as we begin to articulate it, we are beginning to think about, talk about, know about God – and whether you realise it or not – you are doing theology!!

Lewis again: “People already knew about God in a vague way. Then came a man who claimed to be God; and yet He was not the sort of man you would dismiss as a lunatic. He made them believe him. They met him again after they had seen him killed. And then, after they had been formed into a little society or community, they found God somehow inside them as well: directing them, making them able to do things they could not do before. And when they worked it all out they found they had arrived at the Christian definition of the three-personal God” (Mere Christianity)

The trinity is a doctrine, established in order to help us understand more about God
Because God is as God is: mysterious and awesome, it is virtually impossible to tie down one single definition that works for everyone

The bible, written my many different people, over many hundreds of years, contains truths about God
And it contains The Truth about God

It is through the Spirit’s prompting, the Spirit’s power, as promised by Jesus himself, that we read scripture, talk to each other, and pray and gain an understanding of those truths, and that truth.

The past is behind us
And the future is before us
We live in the present

And we seek to know more about God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – we call that Father, Son and Spirit the trinity
It is through our faith
And with God’s grace that we grasp those truths

Jesus promised the Spirit would come, and would stay; that the Spirit will continue to reveal God to us; we can only live in faith, and trust that when God speaks, we are listening

I conclude today with a prayer that is more than 750 years old, but as relevant today as it was when it was first written by Richard, Bishop of Chichester.

Prayer of St. Richard of Chichester

O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
And follow thee more nearly:
For ever and ever.
--St. Richard Chichester (1197-1253)


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