Sermon by Rev Allister Lane on 23 June 2019
Readings were Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:9-13
You’ll see the sermon title printed in the Bulletin is ‘Trinity’. My supervisor for my Masters dissertation said “Few things have the potential to strike fear in the heart of a parishioner like the threat of a sermon on the Trinity. Speaking of God is deceptively tricky… How do we speak the unspeakable? How do we describe the indescribable?”
And yet we must speak about God. The Trinity is the central doctrine we discussed in our recent Baptism/Confirmation course.
On this day of Tyler and Luke’s Baptisms, I want us to visit this task of speaking about God – it’s something we all need to remember and need help with! Something we acknowledged in the Baptism/Confirmation course was the fact that God wants to be known.
And so, what we speak about God is what has been revealed.
What has been revealed is that God is always at work in creation, …calling, redeeming and restoring. God is always moving, Father, Son and Spirit, so we may know the fullness of God’s love for us.
Both our readings today reveal important facts about God.
Mark’s Gospel is well-known for its ridiculously fast pace! If we were being nice, we’d say the author ‘uses words very economically’. (Perhaps I should follow this example!) This passage at the start of Mark uses very few words, for a massive payload of facts about God. He gets away with it by drawing on the resources of God’s story revealed in all of scripture.
We can see this in how the start of Mark matches the start of Genesis (in talking about God and what God does):
- The Spirit of God descends on Jesus like a dove. In the Aramaic translation of Genesis the Rabbis would describe that “a wind from God swept over the face of the water…flittering like a dove”.
Mark uses this same image of the Spirit of God.
- Like the creating voice in Genesis, the voice of the Father speaks, declaring ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’
- And, of course, the Son is there (dripping with water), having been born into God’s own creation. The Son’s Baptism is the mandate for our own baptism, as the embodiment of divine solidarity with humanity.
Both passages reveal God as three persons, by what God is doing – this is how God wants to be known.
I’m not trying to pretend the Trinity is easy to understand. The Trinity is very difficult. It overloads our puny brains! Our intellectual wiring gets overloaded/overheated!
The doctrine of the Trinity is essentially: one God eternally existent in three persons.
God is neither three gods, nor one God acting in different ways.
God exists in three persons who relate to each other and love one another.
God is not fundamentally more one than God is three, and God is not fundamentally more three than God is one.
The picture is the ‘Trinitarian Washing Line’. It depicts (in a silly, but memorable, way) this necessity of speaking about God as both ONE and THREE.
But let’s not worry about the Trinity as some mathematical problem for us to solve. Although the Trinity is difficult (and easy to express badly or partially) the Trinity is the experience of God for us to enjoy.
We are dealing not with an abstract concept, but the activity of the real and living God (as God has chosen to be known).
God wants to be known as God really is (even if that’ll risk frying our puny brains!)
This truth is difficult to express, and the result is a doctrine that is unique.
If you were making up a religion, could you make up the doctrine of the Trinity? Perhaps you and I can see this as compelling proof that Christianity is true… because even if you could have imagined this up, you would never dream of sharing this idea with others! It’s too hard to believe – too difficult to explain and too easily misunderstood!
We deal with the facts about God, and this way we avoid misunderstanding God, and our own existence. What has been revealed is one God eternally existent in three persons. And we can speak about who God is by saying God is a community, in relationship.(Someone said to me recently that when a big idea is expressed as essentially ‘relationship’ – it’s probably Allister giving a sermon!)
But relationship IS the fundamental reality of existence; that’s who God is, that’s what is revealed in creation, what is revealed in the life of Jesus Christ.
And if God is a community, this truth shapes the reality of the universe and the meaning of life.
Now, a relevant sermon always offers practical implications for our own lives – and a sermon on the Trinity is no exception! I’m pleased to offer you all VERY practical implications today.
If this universe is made by a God who is one in three persons, then relationships of love is what your life is really about.
Did you hear that? Relationships of love is what your life is really about.
Let’s be real about how hard that is in our lives: when there is so much pressure to work hard, to accomplish all I can, to make lots of money, to make the most of who I can be. There are many distractions away from loving relationships in family and community.
Do you know how many funerals I’ve conducted where family and friends wished the deceased had spent more time at the office, looking at a screen, posted more on Facebook? Not one.
If you put other things over relationships, you will miss out on love. When Jesus says “those who lose their life will find it”, he’s only telling us what the Father, Son and Spirit have been doing for all eternity.
Being in deep, committed relationships involves loss of personal options, time, and money. But you will be in touch with reality – for we see in God as a community that love is the ultimate reality. And how can we know God (who is a community) except by being part of a community? To best know God is by living actively and deeply as Church.
During the Baptism/Confirmation course we heard this quote from the comedian Milton Jones:
You don’t have to be part of a team. You can go and kick a ball around in a field on your own if you want. Just have a plan for when the opposition turn up, that’s all.
In a world of disintegration and fragmentation, the Church can be a reflection of God as community. We can transcend divisions between people existing as a community
where all ages, sexes, professions, cultures, etc. meet, for this is what the Gospel promises us to be the Kingdom of God. (John Zizioulas Being as Communion p254-5)
I want to finish by coming back to the Gospel of Mark. Mark is telling us the story of Jesus – which is the story of God in connection to the history of human beings. Mark tells us Jesus lives and dies not for his own sake, but for ours.
Jesus is not living with himself at the centre, but is expressing the reality of the Trinity – love that spills over, and orbits around others.
Jesus draws us into communion with God the Trinity – as Jesus moves toward us (in his baptism and death on the cross).
And we respond, because if we know Jesus we cannot stay still, but are drawn into living community.
What is ultimately true about who God is, is shown to be real for us too. We experience the life of God, because God is relationship, and God looks at us and sees the Son:
You are my [child]… with you I am well pleased.
 “The doctrine of the Trinity affirms the rightness, the propriety, of speaking intelligently that the true God must always transcend our grasp of him, even our most intelligent grasp of him.” N.T. Wright
 N.T. Wright recognises the humility with which we speak about God… “…the doctrine of the Trinity, properly understood, is as much a way of saying ‘we don’t know’ as of saying ‘we do know.’ To say that the true God is Three and One is to recognize that if there is a God then of course we shouldn’t expect him to fit neatly into our little categories. If he did, he wouldn’t be God at all, merely a god, a god we might perhaps have wanted. The Trinity is not something that the clever theologian comes up with as a result of hours spent in the theological laboratory, after which he or she can return to announce that they’ve got God worked out now, the analysis is complete, and here is God neatly laid out on a slab. The only time they laid God out on a slab he rose again three days afterwards. But we don’t get to make up our religion, we have to deal with the facts – with what God shows us about who God is. And, if you’re wondering ‘Why does all this matter?’, let me try to explain why I think it matters a great deal how we speak of God. You see, if God is not three and one, but just one, then God would have an essence, not of love, but of power/greatness/otherness. Many people see God as merely one, and such belief produces moralism. We know God primarily as the ‘prime mover’, the overseer, the holy ‘other’. A god who is distant and harsh (ever heard God described this way…?) The other danger of this view of God (particularly in our culture) is it elevates individualism – for if the fundamental essence of God is one-ness then this true for my essence (I’m, most importantly, an individual with individual rights).
 The reality of God is the essence of the universe, because it’s a reality that has existed forever. It’s what’s been happening inside the life of the Godhead for all eternity.
 John Zizioulas summarises the breath-taking implication for humanity:
“Thanks to Christ man can henceforth himself “subsist,” can affirm his existence as personal not on the basis of the immutable laws of his nature, but on the basis of a relationship with God which is identified with what Christ in freedom and love possesses as Son of God with the Father. This adoption of man by God, the identification of his hypostasis with the hypostasis of the Son of God, is the essence of baptism.” (Zizioulas p56)