Sermon for Trinity Sunday

15 06 2014

Preached at Emmanuel Church, Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong

It is a very unfortunate thing that many Christian people have come to the view – whether they share it with their pastors of friends or not – that the point about the doctrine of the Trinity is that it makes you brain hurt. ‘The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Spirit – incomprehensible – the whole thing incomprehensible!’

And not only incomprehensible but, when preached about at least, interminable. Or so we have all felt, at one point or another.

There is a reason for this attitude, and it is not one to be ashamed of. People develop this way of thinking because they have been taught that the important thing about God is that God is a very difficult idea to grasp.

But on the whole people do not enjoy spending a lot of time and effort paying attention to ideas that are very difficult to grasp. What they want are ideas that make a difference, thoughts that get out of the endless cycle in which language chases it own tail.

Someone once said that people have had enough of words. Of course he was wrong, people love talking and reading and doing crossword puzzles and the like. But that’s not what he really meant – what he meant was that people are fed up with blah, blah, blah.

So whatever else the Trinity is – and we all know that it is some sort of ‘three’ it is not ‘blah, blah, blah’. It is not meaningless. It is meaningful – in fact it is the Trinity – it is God – that gives meaning and purpose and destiny to life. and it does this by teaching us that God actually has a purpose.

In fact God has the ‘purpose of purposes’ and the Christian view is that it is by sharing in that purpose of purposes that our own lives find meaning and direction – and of course happiness, fulfilment and enrichment.

What I mean is that being a Christian means that we don’t have to make up a meaning for our lives. Rather we have to come to an understanding of what God’s purpose is and align ourselves with that.

Now you could say to me – ‘but God the Trinity doesn’t have one purpose – God the Trinity has three purposes. The Father to create, the Son to save and the Spirit to inspire.’

But I would say to you that if you say this you have not yet got a feel for the true nature of God. For these things – creating, saving and inspiring are very good but they are not yet the ultimate purpose. You can still ask of all of them the question ‘why’ and expect an answer.

It is not self-evident that creating, saving and inspiring are the ultimate good things. What they are, however, are things that only God can do. And while we should thank and praise God for doing them, we should also ask ‘why?’.

Why, God, did you create this world and me and others, all of us good and bad alike, very good and very bad alike, not to mention the very wonderful and the extremely evil? Why did you do that?

And if we ask why did God create, we should also ask why does God save and why does God inspire?

Maybe its because God is bored and has nothing else to do. Might that be it?

No, I don’t think it’s that. The answer is that God creates, saves and inspires because God is lonely.

Except that God isn’t lonely because God is God and God knows how to avoid loneliness. So let me express this more accurately by saying that God’s fundamental ways of avoiding loneliness are to create, save and inspire.

So what the Trinity tells us about God is that God is ultimately and eternally not lonely. As the theologians say, there is love at the heart of God. But because God is not a person exactly, and is certainly not three different people, what we have in God is not only love, but an engine of love, a fountain of love if you like, which keeps on going and giving – and this is the point about God not being lonely – that love always has somewhere to go.

Human sadness has many causes, but a fundamental one is that we get lonely when our love has nowhere to go.

Does this mean that the ultimate purpose and meaning in life is to have company?

Well no, that’s not quite right because you can be lonely in a crowd and not lonely when you are on your own. So the Trinity is not about getting out of sad trap of loneliness by making companions – in the way that we give children teddies or dolls to keep them company.

No, the answer is spiritually deeper than that. And it really is about love.

Christians believe that God is Trinity precisely because they believe that God is love – and that you can’t express that properly if God is described just as ‘God – the supreme being with the most superlative qualities’. And similarly that you can’t describe it if you believe in a multitude of little gods and goddesses who meet out different needs in different ways.

It is because Christians believe in one God, who is also in a way like a small family which has love at its centre, that Christianity is a primarily a religion of love.

There is a saying – it is a song title – ‘love changes everything’. And, strange as it might seem, it is to keep us constantly in touch with the changeless and transformative power of love that the Church insists on what it rather abstractly yet grandly calls ‘the doctrine of the Trinity’.

But as I said this is not just abstract talk – it has practical implications and these were sketched out in our gospel reading where Jesus says you must go and baptise people in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. And the church does this very assiduously.

But I hope you can see where I am going with this. To baptise people in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is not just to use the right words.

The word ‘baptism’ means ‘to plunge’. So: to baptise someone is to plunge them deep in the heart of God, deep into the love of God, and to say to them – ‘yes, you too can be part of this community of people who believe that the meaning of our lives, the meaning of all creation, is to be drawn into the give and take, the blessing and being blessed, of love.’

Put forward as an abstract idea the Trinity is as dull and lifeless as any other abstract idea. But that’s not what the Trinity about. The Trinity is word made up to try to help us appreciate that the God is the very opposite of loneliness.

And this has some very practical implications for us. One in particular. It means that the purpose of our lives it to be people who, like God, strive to eradicate loneliness.

How do we do this? Primarily by plunging ourselves into the love of God by worship and prayer and then by sharing that love with others in fellowship and service.

So next time someone asks you what the Trinity means you can tell them: theologically it means that God is love and practically it means that the church exists to eradicate loneliness.

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One response

15 06 2014
Anonymous

Very helpful. Thankyou Stephen

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