Here is my sermon for Trinity Sunday; it appears to be mainly coherent, and as with anything on the Trinity is likely to be skirting heresy. However to quote a book on my shelf
“You are flirting with blasphemy.”
“Blasphemy and I are just good friends,”
- Isaiah 6:1-8
- Romans 8:12-17
- John 3:1-17
Sermons part one: Children’s Address
Today we are looking at how we talk about and understand God. God is more than we can know, but we can catch glimpses of God. So now we have some items and will try and guess what they are by only seeing a part of them.
[Display a number of items (5-10), hiding most of them and only show parts. And have congregation guess what they are.]
Even with out seeing the whole item we can still make guesses what something is, we can still recognise it. In this it is important to remember that God is beyond our understanding, however we still try to understand God and catch glimpse of God, and even without seeing the whole we can still know it is God.
Sermon Main Body
God is beyond the capacity of the human mind to comprehend, as the source of all creation, as present in all places, all times, as one who knows all. God is beyond creation and yet present in it, as I found when discussing with a physicist friend we came up with something like this:
God created the laws of physics, and is also completely outside them, except when at times God choose to be inside them.
However being human we try to understand, as me and my friend did, we search for answers. Not only do we search for answers, we try to come together and share the answers, and to understand the answers we come across. As the quote attributed to Galileo Galilei goes:
I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.
We come as Nicodemus does, to ask questions. But we try to fit them into our frame of reference, we fit the answer into neat boxes of logic. And when the answers seem impossible; or highly improbable we dismiss them as stories or metaphor, and not a real answer.
Now some things are presented as story and metaphor to make them understandable. In one science book on my shelf there is a discussion about “lies to children”. Now these are deliberate lies which are used to to make the subject easer to understand. A similar approach can be seen in Paul’s writing when he speaks of receiving child like things as child and adult things as an adult. There is an here a chance to get our head around parts of an idea before taking on the whole. There is in our attempts to find answers to our questions always the temptation to go for the big questions first.
At some point we do need to come to the big questions – and who is God and what is God is one of them, and the Trinity is but part of the answer – but as is said the brain is a muscle and needs to be warmed up. We need to start with little questions. In his book Faith Lacking Understanding Randal Rauser describes this as climbing a mountain.
“Like the mountaineer who set out for a quick day hike in shorts only to end up in a blizzard, many a theological novice has set out for a quick enquiry into a key doctrine […] only to be lost in the swirling snows of confusion or doubt. But then the way to avoid that danger is not to pre-empt the trip, but rather to prepare adequately for it”
So as humans we build up ways to explain things, ways that can help us with our little boxes of understanding. But also a way of talking and sharing ideas with others. However the Christian faith is not simply a philosophical or even a theosophical discussion. The nature of the faith is to be practical. And in this practicality we are called to show God to those around us.
There is a certain worship song that fits well with the text we heard from Isaiah. [this is by Daniel L Schutte and further info here]
I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard My people cry; All who dwell in dark and sin My hand will save. I, who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright. I will speak My word to them.
Whom shall I send? Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard You calling in the night. I will go, Lord, If You lead me; I will hold Your people in my heart.
At one point a couple of years ago I could barely stand to listen to this song. Not because I dislike it, not because it is badly written, I do like it and think it is well written, and it wasn’t even the electric music machine that one chapel had. No it was because it called me to answer as Isaiah did, and in listening to it I felt God near to me and prompting me for an answer. I glimpsed a little of God.
Isaiah knows that he lives in a world that is far from perfect, and that he him self is also far from perfect. And thus he could not stand to be in the same room as the perfection that is God. But through God’s action Isaiah is made clean. And yet God is not described to us, only that the hem of God’s robe fills the Temple. We see only a tiny part, and yet can still know what it is, we can know what it is, who it is; without knowing the whole.
And we become cleansed and able to be part of what God calls us to through God’s action. The spiritual rebirth which Nicodemus hears about. In this setting presented by Paul in his letter to the Romans all aspects of the Trinity are present, the Spirit guides, Christ whom we are heirs with and God as parent.
Here we reach one of our problems of language, that for us God means the whole Godhead, but also to many means it also means God the Father, and thus makes the application of God when we speak one that is limited. We have God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit, God the creator, God the redeemer, God the sustainer. Each of these roles and titles is God, a glimpse of the greater whole.
As in Paul’s letter to the Romans, these are images of God. For the Roman world being adopted, made one fully the child of the one adopting, as if the person was biological parent and child. Thus Paul is placing us as the children of God through this adoption, the rebirth of the Spirit. But it is the action of the Godhead that does this, the Spirit is not a separate entity from the rest of the Godhead. Nor is the Spirit reduced to only this task of rebirth, or has this task exclusively.
In the list of descriptions of God given earlier, though they where presented in a set order, it does not follow that only God the Father creates and so forth. No all of God can do all that God can do, though at times we see certain things being done by ; and yet for us to gain any understanding of God we divide up how we encounter God. However God is beyond words, God is beyond description and beyond comprehension. And yet we are given a chance to glimpse the hem of God. A chance to come to know a little of God. And as the Godhead is seen as a community we are given the opportunity to enter into such a community with God as shown to us in Paul’s writing.
We can grasp some of these things, but we find that they are built upon a foundation of faith, and the structure is our flawed and inadequate human language. This faith finds it source in God, and is directed back towards God, it is not something that can be explained in a rational way. And yet as humans we try, we do this with our language so that we can understand and share our faith. We come in the night to ask our questions. We come trying to understand, and often misunderstand. We come confined in our earthly ways of thinking and thus cannot fully grasp heavenly things.
When I mentioned that I was trying to get my head round the Trinity, the first reply I got was:
“The mystery of God the Holy Trinity is precisely that – a mystery. Amen”
or as a popular Sunday School song has it
Our God is a great big God. And He holds me in His hand.
He’s higher than a sky scraper And He’s deeper than a submarine. He’s wider than the universe And beyond my wildest dreams.
And He’s known me and He’s loved me Since before the world began. How wonderful to be a part Of God’s amazing plan. Our God is a great big God
God, be God described as father, mother, parent, brother, friend, son, spirit, guide, councillor, advocate, creator, redeemer, inspirer, comforter, sustainer or any other description, is much more than that, and much more than we can understand. But this is the same God who is made known to us, and whom we can know. So to finish with a quote from Charles Wesley:
In vain the first-born seraph tries, To sound the depths of love divine. ‘Tis mercy all! let earth adore, Let angel minds inquire no more.