Trinity Icon – Andrei Rublev

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Psalm 8

John 16:12-15

A sermon by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying… Amen.

This morning we celebrate Trinity Sunday. We have journeyed together through the story of Jesus, from the season of Advent and Christmas to the season of Epiphany where, after we remembered the journey of the magi to the stable in Bethlehem, we kept watch over the baptism of Jesus, and we began to spend time with the gospel of the year, this liturgical year, the Gospel of Luke. And then Lent came and we spent time in reflection, that we are dust and to dust we shall return, and we devoted a little time to this pondering, honouring in some way the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, the forty days and forty nights, finding out what it meant for him to be God’s “Beloved Son”.

We entered Jerusalem with the crowd on Palm Sunday waving our palm branches, crying “Hosanna”, and as Holy Week evolved we found ourselves in the same crowd crying out for Jesus’ crucifixion. We watched in horror and awe as he died forgiving those who nailed him to the cross. As we, on Holy Saturday, rehearsed and prepared and arranged the glorious flowers in white and gold for Easter Day, we might have thought just a little of those who did not know what we know, that the tomb would be found empty and Jesus would meet those who loved him in different and mysterious ways in his resurrection. We told the stories of those encounters for seven weeks until we watched him ascend into heaven and we celebrated, as we did last Sunday, Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.

It is time, now, to enter the precious ordinary Sundays when our cathedral will be dressed in green, when blessed by the story of our faith, we will settle into worshipping more gently, listening to the stories of Jesus as Luke tells them. In our cathedral this year, of course, we will have our celebrations for this special 150th year, but, on the whole, this is a quiet time in the church’s year, a time to live ordinary life, if you like, to settle into knowing that our day by day living is woven into the day by day living of God who we know in Christ.

Before we enter the precious green Sundays, for just one Sunday, we pause. We pause and ponder the nature of God. For just one Sunday, Trinity Sunday, we reflect with theologians and men and women who faithfully come to church like us, we wonder about who God is, who God is who we have glimpsed in Jesus, who sent the Holy Spirit to be our guide.

The word “Trinity” does not appear in the scriptures, neither the Old Testament, nor the New. But the hints are there. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Jesus says at the end of Matthew’s Gospel (28:19). “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all,” writes Paul in his second letter to the people of Corinth. (2 Corinthians 13:14). And in the Old Testament, this spirit is present hovering over the waters when God created the earth and the heavens in the account told in Genesis, and the wisdom of God is spoken of in the Proverbs reading that we heard read this morning.

But what does it mean that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons, one God? The writers of Church history help us imagine what it was like in the first decades and centuries following the life of Christ, how puzzling it was, how they wondered about Jesus. Was he human and divine, was he just a very good human, was he really only divine? And what was the order of things? Was there an order of things, did the Father come first, the creator who then made the Son and the spirit, or was it not like this at all? Was God in three persons the way God was from before the dawn of time? We cannot imagine how strange it must have seemed for the first Christians, to believe in Jesus, to be baptised and blessed by the Holy Spirit, and yet not to really know the nature of this Son and Spirit who they worshipped and in whom they worshipped. We cannot imagine the puzzling nature of it, can we, two thousand and a few years later, when so very much studying and reflecting and writing has been done for our benefit, by the wisest of souls?

Or are we really just as puzzled now? Does the mystery of the one in whom we live and move and have our being seem just as much a mystery to us now as it was all those years ago in the times so close to Jesus’ earthly life? Is this just as much of a mystery now? And, perhaps, mystery is how it’s meant to be.

By the mid 4th century, the Council of Nicea agreed on the creed that we say each week in our cathedral, the Nicene Creed. This statement may have been wrestled over and agreed upon to keep the heresies of the early church about Jesus at bay, but does it help us? When sickness or disaster strike, or the beauty of things causes us to wonder, when we somehow need to know who God is, to have some clarity to cling onto, is it to the creed that we would go?

Jesus knew that we would struggle. The words from our Gospel reading are taken from the 16th Chapter of the Gospel of John, the great speech of Jesus to the disciples at the Last Supper:

‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.’ (John 16:12-13)

The spirit is our guide. When we ponder, as we do this time each year, just what God is like.

What do we do when we introduce a person about whom we deeply care to another person? How do we go about it? How do we speak of God? God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That, if you like, is God’s proper name. Creator, redeemer, sanctifier is another way of putting it. The EFM group this week found themselves reading a description of the Trinity as “The communion of Lover, Beloved and Enrapturer”[1]. But how shall we know God. How shall we flesh out this name? What will resonate with the God we know just a little, sometimes close, what will shed light on the love we sometimes know is forgiving us? …

I think we tell stories. I want you to meet God, to know God, to know yourself loved and held and redeemed in God. How shall I do it? Yes, I’ll you a story. I’ll tell you God’s story. God’s stories really. Found in the scriptures. The story of God rescuing the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The God who brings freedom. The story of God giving the Law to Moses to help God’s people live well. The God who builds relationships. The story of Job wrestling with God which sheds some light on the awe-ful mystery of human suffering. There are the Jewish stories, the stories through which Jesus would have found his understanding of God who he knew so intimately as Father.

And then in the New Testament there is the story of Jesus. Jesus is sometimes spoken of as the sacrament of God, the window into God. The Gospel stories and the other New Testament writings tell us the story of Jesus as the one who shows us what God is like. Paul writes to the people of Corinth that “God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) Do we see God in Jesus’ face?

And how do we know? What stirs our understanding? How is it that when we hear a gospel story telling of Jesus healing a blind man, or we hear Jesus telling the parable of the Two Sons, or we gaze at the sun shining through a stained glass window of Jesus dying on the cross, …how is it that we know that this is about God … how is it that we know we have seen God in Jesus’ face?

God longs that we know. Remember this morning’s psalm? Who are we that you are mindful of us? God is mindful of us. Remember the reading from the Book of Proverbs that speaks of God’s wisdom “delighting in the human race”. God delights in us. God longs that we would know. That in Christ, in God, we are created and loved and redeemed – us and all things[2], all creation. God longs that we know. Yet, how do we know?

The theologian Alister McGrath puts it this way:

“To say that Jesus is the self-revelation of God will not do in itself: there must be some means by which Jesus is recognised as the self-revelation of God. …sinful humanity is not capable of reaching this insight unaided. …The recognition of revelation as revelation must itself be the work of God – more accurately the work of the Spirit.”[3]

In other words, God, who longs for us know who God is, to know we are loved and forgiven, this God is revealed in Jesus, and our understanding of this revelation, our seeing God in Jesus, is enabled by the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said to his frightened disciples, “When the spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

Next Sunday our cathedral will be dressed in green. And we will hear a story from the Gospel of Luke about a deeply troubled man and about Jesus’ encounter with him. And it may be that something in the way Jesus relates to this troubled man in this gospel story seems to show us something of the way God loves us and keeps close to us when we are troubled. For the love of God does shine in Jesus’ face. And the Holy Spirit will be at work guiding us into the truth of these things. For God delights in us and longs that we would know.

[1] Mark McIntosh, The Mysteries of Faith

[2] See Colossians 1:15-20

[3] Alister E. McGrath Theology: The Basics p. 135