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


Holy Trinity
June 21, 2011, 9:17 am
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A sermon preached at Holy Nativity, Knowle, 19th June 2011

I was here on Trinity Sunday last year, and reminded you of an earlier sermon I preached here in 2002. This time, I shall have to think up something new!

Let me start with this morning’s first lesson, from the Book of Exodus. This is the second time Moses has been up the mountain. On the first occasion God gave him the Law, but when he came down again the people were worshipping the golden calf, an image made by their own hands, and Moses broke the stone tablets on which the Law was written by God himself. Now he has engraved new tablets with his own hand, and taken them to God for approval. (In passing- this indicates that in our fallen state we do not receive the Divine Law directly from the “finger of God”, but in part at least only through human expressions of it.)

There is a difference at this point in the translations from the Hebrew. In one (as we heard) it is Moses who calls on the Name of the Lord; in another (and here I quote from a Jewish translation) “ADONAI descended in the cloud, stood with him there and pronounced the name of ADONAI.” Of course, the word ADONAI is a title, not a name, meaning LORD. It is substituted in public reading for the actual name of God, never spoken by Jews, except in ancient times by the High Priest entering the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement. But here, in the translation I am using, the Name is at least spelt out: “ADONAI passed before him and proclaimed ‘YUD-HEH-VAV-HEH!!!’” (That is to say, Y-H-W-H). “Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh is God, merciful and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in grace and truth.” Moses bows down and begs forgiveness for the people.

What are we to make of this? First, remember that in Hebrew the “Name” of a person expresses their inmost reality. To know someone’s name is, in a profound sense, to know who they are. It expresses intimacy. We are nowadays very free with first names, Christian names. People used to be far more formal, addressing one another only as “Mr this, Mrs or Miss that,” unless they were family members, or until they gave one another permission to use the personal name. It is still like that in Germany, I believe. An employer might use a servant’s first name, but never the other way round. So the ancient Israelites would never use what they took to be God’s personal Name. It was far too holy. Only God “knew who he was”, and even revealing his Name was an act of huge condescension. To this day, Jews regard it as sufficient privilege to know God’s Name: they would never actually speak it.

God is a Holy God, a God who surpasses our ability to “know who he is”, who has to reveal himself to us. When he does reveal himself, it is as a Being of infinite mercy and love. Muslims, too, know God as “the Merciful, the Compassionate”. A verse has been left out of the passage read: in my Jewish translation it reads: “Showing grace to the thousandth generation, forgiving offences, crimes and sins; yet not exonerating the guilty, but causing the negative effects of the parents’ offences to be experienced by their children and grandchildren, and even by the third and fourth generations.” God’s love extends to a thousand generations (a way of saying “for ever”), forgiving sin, but even so permitting its effects to linger on. “The evil that we do lives after us”, even though God receives us back into his friendship.

St Paul speaks of God as “the God of love and peace”, expressing the same idea; God is Love in his inmost being, he is Peace in his own inner harmony, and wants that love and peace to prevail in creation. Our Lord calls God “Father”, which again implies a close family relationship based on love. He instructs us and encourages us to do likewise, so that although we are small and full of failings, we dare to call the Almighty Creator “our Father.” There is one God. In the mystery of the Godhead Word and Spirit are not separate and independent beings from the Father: they are as it were the two arms of the Father which reach out to embrace us. “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost, but may have eternal life.” Jesus is the human face of God, God himself revealing himself. Jesus too is the “Name above all names”, the expression of God’s fullness. Whoever has seen him has seen the Father. The Spirit is the Love of God, proceeding from Father and Son together, and now poured out into our hearts. This Trinity Sunday is, by coincidence, also observed as “Fathers’ Day.” We should reaffirm our love and loyalty to our heavenly Father, to whom with the Son and the Spirit be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

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