Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


The Blessed Trinity
May 30, 2010, 4:32 pm
Filed under: Sermons | Tags: , ,

A sermon preached at Holy Nativity, Knowle, on Sunday 30th May 2010

By a strange coincidence, I was here on Trinity Sunday eight years ago, during the previous interregnum.  I looked up what I said to you on that occasion, and not surprisingly I found much that was worth saying again (though in fact I shall not repeat myself much). The mysteries of our faith do not change, although our understanding of them can deepen. But however deep we think our human understanding of God is, it is a drop in the ocean compared with the reality. Thomas a Kempis wrote, more than five centuries ago, “What is the use of speaking learnedly about the Trinity, if you lack humility, and so you are displeasing to the Trinity?” Anyone who preaches about the great Mysteries of God needs to have a great sense of his own inadequacy.

And yet the doctrine of the Trinity (one God, three Persons), together with the doctrine of the Incarnation (Christ, a Person who is both divine and human), marks out Christianity among the religions of the world. It is at the heart of our faith. That surely must mean that it is very important for us. Yet if (as we also believe) Christianity is a religion accessible even (perhaps we should say especially) to the simple and unlearned, this central truth cannot be the kind of intellectual puzzle that it sometimes seems.

I am currently reading a spiritual classic from the beginning of the last century, “Christ the Life of the Soul” by Columba Marmion. He was the Irish abbot of a Belgian monastery at the time of the first World War, and one of the greatest spiritual writers of his day. He begins by pointing out that if we are to live according to God’s will for us, we must first understand what that will is. In a word, God wants us to be holy, wants us to be saints. What is holiness? Ultimately, God alone is the Holy One, in the ancient Hebrew sense whereby God is the “One, and One alone, and ever more shall be so.” He is utterly beyond our human powers of understanding, dwelling (as St Paul says somewhere) in light inaccessible.

Our holiness is to be like God: but how can that be possible, if God is utterly beyond us? Abbot Marmion points out, secondly, that though we cannot reach up to God, he can reach down to us. In Jesus Christ, God has revealed himself in a human existence, at our level. When Jesus came among us, he taught us that God is our Father, a word that conveys so much more than simply saying that he is our Maker. What we make may be quite different from ourselves; but the Scripture says that God made us in his own image. Therefore there is, by God’s own will, a likeness between us and him. Christian writers have taken this further. St Paul teaches that Christ is the supreme Image of God; so by making us “in his Image”, God has made us from the beginning in a certain likeness to Christ his Son.

Jesus frequently spoke of himself as Son: the Son of the Father, of course, but also the Son of Man. Human beings first knew him as a fellow human being, the son of Mary, the son (as it was thought) of a carpenter. Only gradually did he reveal himself as by nature much more than a human being. The Jewish idea of Messiah took them further, because the Messiah was seen as in some specially privileged way the Son of the Most High, but only after his Resurrection did they begin to grasp the full meaning of his words, “He who has seen me has seen the Father; the Father and I are One.”

In Jesus, God himself has come among us; and yet the Son is not the Father. We begin to see that God is more mysterious than we thought! Christ is “the Word of God” and “the Wisdom of God”, the way that God the Father expresses himself to himself, eternally, even before he enters his creation. This Word or Wisdom is not another Being, separate from God, but simply a second Person or Persona of God. And here we return to our earlier point: God has made creatures like himself but separate from himself, in order to raise them up to his level and unite them to himself in the joy and blessedness he has by his very nature. That is what is meant by saying that he wants us to be holy: more and more like him, more and more capable of enjoying his happiness.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Jesus taught that, when his visible presence among us was withdrawn, we would receive a Gift, a Divine Presence that would bring about our transformation into his likeness, would make us holy. What makes us like God, like Jesus our Lord, is not some outward characteristic. It is deep within us. We become like God when we learn to see as God sees, and love as God loves. The Love of God, the love of Father for Son and Son for Father, is again God himself, not some other Being separable from or distinct from God. The Love of God is the third Person or Persona of God. “God is love, and whoever loves lives in God and God in him.” Or, more strictly, whoever remains in love, whoever dwells in love. It is something stable and permanent, not just a passing whim.

We become holy, we become like God as revealed in Christ, when we have the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Love within us. This is why the Church’s belief about the Blessed Trinity is not just some abstract and irrelevant theory. It is the heart of our Christian life. We believe in God as our eternal and loving Father, who made us and cares about us. We believe in Jesus Christ as our brother and friend, the divine Model on which we should pattern our lives. We believe in the Spirit that is breathed into us by the Father and the Son, which changes us and empowers us inwardly, so that we can be other Christs in the world, drawing all human beings into the unity of the family of God.

We believe in One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. “Blessed and Holy Three, glorious Trinity, Wisdom, Love, Might,” goes the hymn. Power, Wisdom and Love: the Power that originates, the Wisdom that guides, the Love that is free. We are small and limited, and we express the mystery of God in human language as best we can. God is great and unlimited, so he always exceeds our powers of expression. There is only one God; but he is Father or Origin; he is Son, the divine Wisdom; and he is the Spirit of Love who is supremely free. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit! As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

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