St Francis, Terriers - Trinity Sunday (22.05.2016)

Tony Dickinson

First of all, a huge “well done!” to all of you who were at yesterday’s open day and still have sufficient energy to make it to church this morning. An even bigger “well done!” to those of you who remembered what Sunday this is and still came to church anyway.

Today is the day when the Eastern Church celebrates the Feast of All Saints – or it would be if the calendar of the Eastern Church this year weren’t a month adrift from that of the Western Church. That has a logic: after celebrating the coming of the Spirit, we celebrate those in whom the Spirit has borne rich fruit. In the Western Church we keep Trinity Sunday, which has a different logic. It pulls together the threads of the Christmas and Easter cycles of celebration, in the course of which we have rejoiced in the incarnation of God’s Word and Wisdom in Jesus of Nazareth, followed Jesus along the way from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, entered into the pain of his suffering and death and the joy of his resurrection, and shared in the outpouring of the Spirit.

It’s a day on which preachers overdose on technical theological language like “co-inherence” and “perichoresis”, and when they quote from the writings of the Cappadocian Fathers. It’s a day when they dredge up all sorts of images to try to explain what the Trinity is and why it matters, like St Patrick with his shamrock (three leaves which grow from a single stem), or Julian of Norwich, linking wisdom, truth and love in one of her reflections, and fatherhood, motherhood and lordship in another, or our partners in Bredaryd, who presented us last autumn with this plaque, with its superimposed images of triangle, Chi-Rho and dove.

If that all sounds like people groping for the right words, it’s because it is. It is, because in talking about God we’re not talking about “a being” like other beings. We’re talking about Being (capital B), the “Ground of Being” in Paul Tillich’s famous phrase, Being which contains within itself the whole of time and space, immeasurable distances, and infinite possibilities; distances far beyond the sight of the Hubble telescope and the hearing of Jodrell Bank, possibilities at which we’re only just beginning to guess.

So when the Psalmist writes of God “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth”, he is speaking truth, but barely scratching the surface. Words fall so far short of reality that it’s tempting to echo the words of another great twentieth-century thinker, Ludwig Wittgenstein, who wrote “whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” Viewed from the perspective of a cosmic timescale that is measured in billions of years, the whole of human history is no more than a barely observable flicker of life on a speck of planetary dust circling an insignificant star at the end of the western spiral arm of the Milky Way galaxy, part of the Virgo Super-cluster. And yet…

And yet, as the Psalmist continues, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” “You are mindful of them”. God, in whom we (and the whole of creation) live, and move and have our being – God is mindful of us. This is God’s Wisdom, as depicted in today’s first reading, “rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” Not only that. As the Psalmist turns back towards God, he exclaims in wonder: “You have made [human beings] a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.”

The God who created the universe in all its immensity, the God who is from everlasting to everlasting, looks on these microscopic, evanescent creatures on their infinitesimal speck of cosmic dust. That is amazing enough. What is even more amazing – mind-blowingly amazing – is that God looks on them with love, the love “that has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”, the love that unites us to itself in total and utter gift, “this grace in which we stand”, as St Paul called it, inviting us into “ever closer union”, to use a phrase which has been much bandied about in recent weeks, and ultimately making “our hope of sharing the glory of God” into reality.

Now, in order for that to happen, we have to be open to God, to have that trusting response that we call “faith”.

Faith isn’t a matter of intellectual belief. It isn’t a matter of ticking the right boxes in a kind of ecclesiastical SATS test. Faith is an orientation of the whole of our life, an orientation which copes equally with triumph and tragedy. To quote St Paul again: “we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us,” the same Spirit who will, so Jesus promises, “guide [us] into all the truth”, as our hearts and our understanding become able to bear it.

It is the Spirit which enables us to recognise God in Jesus. It is the Spirit which enables us to see God in creation. It is the Spirit who is God in our everyday experience. So that the understanding of God as Trinity, as Father, Son and Spirit, becomes part of our DNA as believers and we enter into that movement between God and human beings which has been aptly described as “a flow, a relationship, a waterwheel of always outpouring love”.

In the end, the understanding of God as Trinity is not something to be grasped with the mind alone. It is something to be lived, as we recognise God as the One who gives life to all that is, as the One who, having entered into human joy and human suffering, transforms both by his presence, and as the One who makes real our connection with the Ground of Being, the “Lord of every shining constellation”, to whom we, like the Psalmist, will sing later in this service “My God, how great thou art.” And so to the God who is revealed to humanity as…,