Notes from the sermon preached by Rev Richard Dimery to celebrate Trinity Sunday
God the Holy Trinity
2 Corinthians 13: 11-13
Matthew 28: 16-20.
Trinity Sunday is the day we realise not that God is some incomprehensible philosophical construct that is difficult to get our minds around, but that his Trinitarian-ness is something familiar to all Christians from our new life’s first cry.
Matthew’s Gospel, famous for its “Sermon on the Mount” also ends on a mountain, with the disciples worshipping Jesus. The word “worshipping” is of course natural and correct, and the disciples have had cause to fall down before his divine power more than once before this.
In a statement, Jesus explains why they feel the urge to bow the knee to him. All authority in the created realm has been given to him, both in heaven and on earth: as legions of angels bow to him, so must we, that his will may be done in both these realms. The fact that he is now Lord and Christ, our priest and king, compels us to go out into his world and bring about the obedience of faith among the nations.
We do not share some good advice that others may take or leave, or present a lifestyle option for consumers’ consideration; we bring the authoritative word from the universal king to his rebellious world, and as we do so, Jesus is with us in divine power.
Response to that word is twofold: one must be baptised and one must become a disciple, though the first should naturally lead to the second. Discipleship involves learning all that Christ has taught. Making disciples means teaching people to obey that, not just presenting a dotted outline, but marking in the lines and colouring in the picture of our lives so people know how it is meant to look in practice.
According to Jesus, disciples need to be taught to obey what they read, not just told the stories and left to draw their own conclusions. One with such authority demands obedience.
And one specific command we are to obey is the command
to be baptised. We are to be baptised (we should note) not into three names, but into the one name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
We begin our faltering new life of obedience with the gracious promise of forgiveness signed and sealed upon us, in the name of the holy Trinity.
Our continuance in the obedience of faith is energised and enabled by that same blessed Trinity. Born again into the kingdom of God, as brothers and sisters we are to live in love and peace together, as Paul urges the Corinthians at the end of 2 Corinthians. As we reflect his goodness to the world, the God of love and peace will be with us. Note that for a second time in these readings we are assured of God’s presence — and they say the doctrine of the Trinity makes God distant and cold! Not so in the New Testament!
Paul moves effortlessly from the oneness of “the God of love and peace” to the threefold blessing we know as “the grace.” The unmerited favour we enjoy through the work of the Son, stemming from the redeeming love of the Father, enables us to enjoy the communion, the fellowship, of the Holy Spirit, which they themselves enjoy together. The God who was, and is, and always shall be Trinity, is with us from beginning to end.
Then Paul in Philippians 1 and 2.
He speaks of a God, he speaks of Jesus, he speaks of the Spirit; and he seems to use them interchangeably.
He throws them out, and you might be wondering – which is which, is one the General Manager, and others assistant managers, reporting to the General Manager or what?
But Paul throws them out with a kind of deliberate lack of precision.
We would prefer a modern understanding – God is A Father B Son C Spirit D all of the above, if D describe how in less than 60 words?
But for Paul, he’s throwing these terms around as if God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit all work together
When he speaks of the thing that’s happening in the souls and spirits and bodies and lives of these people in Philippi, he speaks of One God who’s active in this Threeness sort of way.
For thousands of years, scholars have called this the Trinity, the Tri-une nature of God (three-one), Trinity for short.
For many people they hear Trinity and it immediately provokes a reaction of dry stale doctrine that’s incomprehensible and ‘what does any of it mean?’
Scholars have invented words to help understand Trinity, and they’re not helpfully easy ones like threeness, unity, they’re words like perichoresis. Like eurovision, it’s strangely positive but only after a couple of drinks…
Paul’s central understanding is that:
This God is generous.
This God is personal.
But this God is in some way a community of love and grace whom people are in some way enveloped and invited and embraced by this loving living community
Scot McKnight – “God’s eternal reality is the love between Father, Son and Spirit; this is what God is, God is essentially communal in nature.”
Creation is intended to be connected, relational and in loving union with itself.
THIS is why teenage girls are on texting all the time:
We are created for connection.
We are created in the image of a generous, personal, community of oneness.
We are created in the image of a divine being that loves within its divine selves.
We are hard wired for connection, for relationship.
We are deeply hard wired for harmony with other beings, because we are created in the image of a God whose nature is communal love.
And this is why we enjoy…. walking with others, coffee with friends, chatting on the phone, sharing life together:
Because that is how we were designed to live
From eternity God has had a life of interactive relationship.
When there wasn’t Facebook, God socialised.
When there wasn’t – when there wasn’t anything except God alone, God was never alone.
Trinitarian thinking, the kind you get scattered throughout the scriptures, does not believe that God is static, isolated, detached, somewhere else, unemotive, uncommunicative.
God doesn’t create because he’s lonely, bored, or just looking for love.
Since before there was time (ouch, my brain!) God has always been a community of self giving ceaseless vitality and love.
This God has always had company, relationship and harmony.
This God has always had joy, community.
This God did not create so that this God could then love.
This God IS love and creation is the overflow of and outpouring of a being who fundamentally is love and cannot contain that love, it just naturally explodes and spills out.
Before we existed, the universe was still really interesting…
The father gives to the son, the son gives to the spirit, the spirit gives to the father.
Each receives from the others, there is no selfishness at the centre of the universe, only self-giving and receiving of love in harmonious interconnected relationship.
God is nothing but personal, and so knowing God demands a personal response.
Trinity keeps pulling us in to a far larger world than we can imagine on our own
[Eugene Peterson] “Trinity is a steady call and invitation to participate in the energetically active life of God… it is the participation in the Trinity (God as he has revealed himself to us) that makes things and people particularly and distinctively who they are. We are not spectators to God; there is always a hand reaching out to pull us into the Trinitarian actions of holy creation, holy salvation and holy community.” God is never a nonparticipant in what he does; neither are any of us. We need to know this.
This idea of the members of the Trinity moving around each other, the 8th Century Greek theologian John of Damascene had a technical Greek term to describe this movement within the very nature of God, that spilled over, that we were invited into – he called it perichoresis. (Not a medical condition.)
Peri – around (perimeter) chor – movement (choreography),
Later theologians said, yes, if anything, Trinity is Dance.
There is a divine dance within the centre of God.
Each of the persons move around each other.
They serve each other, they each know their part.
It has a rhythm and a beauty to it.
There is a fluidity to it, a movement and a motion to it.
The Trinitarian dance of love
All of creation is invited into this beautiful choreographed flow and movement
Trinity is self giving relationships.
Trinity is self giving and self receiving love.
Trinity is about holy creation, holy salvation and holy community. Trinity is about dancing together.
Church is self giving relationships, not getting what we want.
Church is self giving and self receiving love
Church is about holy creation, holy salvation and holy community – because communion is about community.
Church, following Jesus with our lives, is about dancing together.