Sermon for High Mass – Trinity Sunday Sunday 31 May 2015
Sermon preached by Father Julian Browning
I like preaching on Trinity Sunday. Thinking through Trinity helps us to answer that pressing question. What should I do with the rest of my life? And then the follow up thought: given our human propensity to mess things up, do I have the courage and strength to see anything through anyway?
The Trinity isn’t really a description of God. Let’s not get stuck with a diagram. Trinity is the language we use to talk with God. This is about verbs, not nouns. What matters is the relationship between the three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, how they get on, how they work together. Then we join in the conversation; we speak with God, we listen to God, and we discover a God who makes us, who mends us, and who sustains us.
It’s worth sorting this out, because how we’re going to live will depend on the sort of God we have. If God is a resident policeman, then our lives must be fearful. If God is a loving but demanding parent – and all too often that’s the image put forward by churches – then our lives may be obedient, but not grown up, forever guilty about being a disappointment. Or we have a God who is all too manageable, and not really there anyway. All societies project their own attitudes on God. So a harsh and vindictive society, like that emerging among the terrorist armies in the Middle East, requires an unpleasant and vengeful God. A liberal and easy going society becomes content with a God who has no authority and no interest in us at all.
We’ve got the Trinity. I read a lot of old stuff, and back in the 12th century, hanging around in Paris, was an Augustinian monk called Richard of St Victor. Richard wrote a book on the Trinity, and this is, more or less, what he thought. 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.
That sounds much more fun to me. Trinity isn’t about us working God out. It’s about God on the move, sorting us out, restoring a divine balance. This lovely idea is part of our Anglican tradition. John Donne talks about “the sociableness, the communicableness of God; he loves holy meetings, he loves the communion of Saints.”
This is the God we met last week. Some of us went up to the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham in Norfolk for the National Pilgrimage; it’s a Whitsun Bank Holiday festival, big outdoor service and procession, with thousands of people and some of the strangest clergy you’ll ever see. And the banner of All Saints Margaret Street, you will be pleased to hear, was borne proudly towards the head of the procession. And I thought, God wouldn’t miss this for the world. This is Trinity country; here is Truth, here is Love, here is Joy, and we understand somehow that we have been lovingly created (there’s the Father), we can be mended whatever we’ve done (there’s the Son), and we shall be sustained and encouraged, however weak we are (there’s the Holy Spirit). Or, as we sang loudly in the procession, there is power, power, wonder working power, in the precious blood of the Lamb.
Trinity is the sign of God enjoying what He’s doing. We join in as best we can. Here’s how.
This is what Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel: You must be born again. We are to be born again and again and again, from above. You and I are made for this Trinitarian life, a life in which we let ourselves go, touched by God’s continuing forgiveness and love, for God so loved the world. Our world, our life in this world. God the Trinity is not separate from this world; He is committed to it, in all its brokenness and undeserved suffering.
For what really happens out there? It’s not an easy ride for anyone, that we soon find out. The world looks cruel, but that’s human cruelty we see. The reality is that the world is deeply unfair, because the laws by which the world operates take no account of what we want, or of what we think should happen. We are powerless to change the unfair laws which govern our world, which make us who we are, and which cause so much suffering. That’s why we look at an innocent human being nailed to a cross. Because this is what happens.
When what is most feared happens, when the optimism runs out, when there is no solution, when the diagnosis is clear, when the unfairness of it all can no longer be joked away, it is not a clever explanation about God that we need, it’s a friend. Many of you will know that, because you have been that friend.
Now we’re getting somewhere. The Trinity is the holiness to be found in the unholy mess that is a human life. It’s the holiness of the Friend who dies for us. It’s Good Friday, and Easter Day and Pentecost all over again, for ever repeated, rolled into one, and living in each of us. When we take a deep breath and try to join in and be part of this circle of self-giving love, which is somehow in tune with the rhythm of that natural world which seems so unfair to us, then we can know a resurrection of our spirit, the hint of an eternal life. We are born again and again, from above; our troubled lives are remade as Love would have them be. Somehow, God gives us his life, and it is new and beautiful, whatever happens. A crucifix can be beautiful. And that is why I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity.