Sermon for High Mass – Trinity Sunday Sunday 22 May 2016
Sermon preached by Fr Julian Browning
John 16.13: Jesus said: When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
There’s a story about a priest taking a wedding, and just before he got to the vows, he realised he could not remember the groom’s name – couldn’t find it anywhere. So he thought, what can I do? So to get the name, he had the bright idea of making up a new bit of the Prayer Book Service, and so he said: In what name comest thou unto this service? There was a pause, and the young man looked up very startled, and said: I come unto this service in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.
The Trinity is our answer to everything. It is the badge of our religion, it is the reward for our discipleship, it is the cure for our soul’s sickness. Trinity is the Christian badge. Our God is Trinity. Trinity is at the beginning and the end of your life. You are baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and if you have a Christian funeral, your soul leaves this world in the name of the Father who created you, the Son who died for you, and the Spirit who intercedes for you. And while we’re alive we’re at it all the time, crossing ourselves, bowing at the Gloria, singing away Holy Holy Holy, and so on. And what have we done? What have we done with this image of God’s power and wholeness? We’ve turned a beautiful image of the living God, as free as the air we breathe, into a doctrine which we say we find difficult to understand. What a waste. Creeds are important, but they are only half of what it means to be a Christian. Dogmas and creeds do not heal the soul. But a personal experience of a Father who is creating you, a glimpse of the Son who loves you and stays close to you, and the knowledge of the Holy Spirit, the Divine presence within us… now those experiences can change the way we live and start to heal the world.
Three in One, One in Three, it’s very simple really. For God to be Truth, He had to be One. For God to be Love, He had to be Two. For God to be Joy, He had to be Three. [Richard of St Victor, 12th century]. Truth, Love, Joy: there’s a badge to be worn with pride. It shows we’ve joined the apostles. That’s why Trinity follows Pentecost. Trinity explains Pentecost, the work of the Holy Spirit. Trinity isn’t about us working God out. It’s about God sorting us out by asking us to join him in his life.
If God is to join you, if you are wanting, desperately, to live with God’s life, then one thing has to change. We must put God at the heart of what we think and do, and displace the false self. The ego, our self-obsessed mind, which we do need in order to survive in this world and do well, does, I’m afraid, prevent us living in the present, which is where God lives. So we are always rehashing the past or inventing the future to suit ourselves, and then, without knowing why, we become fearful and sad in the present. But it is in the present that God is to be found. This is why the whole liberal conservative conflict in the church, any them and us impasse, can become death-dealing. Arguments set up for conflict take us to a place we know we shouldn’t go, the place of power broking and mind games, where the ego gets easily upset. This is life in the shadows, not life in the light.
Trinity tells a different story. Jesus said: When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth. As Christians we accept that guidance joyfully. Truth, love and joy, an eternal life, are always there for us, we’ve just blocked the signal. All that is required of us, says Jesus, is our presence, our wakefulness, our humanity. What’s new for us here, what is the secret, the one thing that matters? We find an answer in many of the wonderful Trinity hymns we sing at this time, about the Saints worshipping in heaven, in that image I have loved since I was a child, the saints “casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea”. We are shown another world, where God is at the centre, not ourselves. And from the tenth century comes this: O Trinity,
O Unity, be present as we worship thee. Unity, that’s what’s on offer on Trinity Sunday, a consciousness of unity in the present rather than division. So we want to live in the present, not in the past, nor in the future. There, with the Trinity, singing the song of praise to Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we find our unity, and it is in unity with all that is, that we find a life worth living.
What is the ultimate direction of your life, where does all this religion take us? It is “to share the freedom of God” (Rowan Williams). It is only there, above the many human compromises which mark out our weary days and years, that we find our freedom, recovery from brokenness, a new life of holiness. We have truth and love and joy rolled into one, one God. And that is why we bind unto ourselves this day the strong name of the Trinity.