Monday, May 19, 2008

Surprises

at Church on the Hill yesterday included
  • a new couple in the congregation, who seemed extremely delighted to be there and happy with everything on offer
  • the two grandsons of one of the Wardens who sat patiently amusing themselves in the children's area, therby lowering our average age so dramatically that I can't begin to do the sums (I so wish I'd known they were coming though...of all the Sundays to choose, Trinity is not the one I would have picked to encourage them to join us more often - and tbh Church on the Hill is not the natural venue for child-friendly worship in any case...)but there they were, and as their grandmother clearly expected them to be given Communion I was more than happy to oblige. That was emphatically not the moment to question their status, if such a moment could ever exist - and those felt-tip covered fingers added a most welcome variety to the beautifully-manicured and the work-hardened hands on either side of them
  • one of the two ladies of the choir launching into the most amazing descant during the final verse of "Thou whose Almighty Word" - which was the more inspiring because it was utterly unexpected. When congratulated afterwards, she said "I just remembered it from school"....given that I'd preached about sharing our gifts, this felt pretty much on message!
  • a compliment, a real live compliment, on the sermon....absolutely the first time anyone in either church has even mentioned my preaching afterwards, and one lovely man actually said it had "helped him a good deal". That, of course, can only be down to God's grace - but his words were a huge encouragement to the vicar!What with the topic, the leak and the wedding, writing the sermon had been distinctly challenging but, in the interests of consistency, here it is...Perhaps I should start planning now for next year?


Trinity Sunday – the day when preachers across the globe decide that it’s time to take a spot of gardening leave…The day when ingenious demonstrations involving shamrock leaves (3 lobes, 1 plant) or the 3 states of water – ice, liquid, steam –come to the fore. The day when, surely, our non Christian friends must wonder whether we’ve all finally and irrevocably lost the plot. As Dorothy L Sayers once said, when commenting on the Athanasian Creed “The Father, incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the whole darned thing incomprehensible…” Why on earth do we make life so incredibly complicated for ourselves, with claims of one God and three persons. Why? The simple answer is one that is never going to satisfy sceptics. We preach the doctrine of the Trinity because, whatever its complexity, it is fundamentally and deeply true. Not the maths - 1x1x1=1 Not the unhelpful attempts to somehow split the nature of God into 3 job descriptions – "Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer" perhaps – or "Lover, Beloved and Love…"though there are elements of truth here, of course. In reality all those roles belong to all three persons of the Trinity and not specially to one or another…We do often speak in terms of God the Father as the creator – indeed, we will do so when we stand to affirm our faith at the end of these reflections – yet both Genesis and John describe Creation as being an act within which all Three persons are active and intrinsic... Listen
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men -

There from the very outset is community…Father, Son and Spirit are all involved as their creative love is expressed in our world.
Are you confused yet?
Are you thinking sadly “It’s all Greek to me?”

Well, in fact there is a Greek word used to describe the Trinity (perichoresis) – which I find a hugely helpful route into understanding a little more….
Perichoresis means that the three dance together as one…

I love that…it conveys joy, order and a recognition that all are essential to the pattern of the dance.
Dances make connections between the dancers while the dance goes on– and the dance of the Trinity continues beyond space and time in eternity….but, most amazingly,
we are invited to participate.
You probably know the icon by Anton Rublev whose official title is “The Hospitality of Abraham” - sometimes referred to as The Trinity too.
It depicts 3 figures seated around a table, set for a meal…the fourth side of the table, the side nearest us, is open and the invitation is obvious. That place is reserved for us…we are called to sit down and join in the feast, for the celebration is incomplete without us. You see, I believe that the central truth of the Trinity, -the point of it all, if you like, - is that our God is a God of relationship…that the Love that is at the heart of God exists to be poured out, because that is what real love does…Real love is equal in the giving and the receiving…real love makes room and draws others in. Real love is not happy till that space at the table is occupied. Right at the beginning, as the catechism reminds us, God was (and is) the supreme being, who exists entire of Godself…with no need for anyone or anything else… BUT God longs to give…so, though there was strictly no need for creation, it came about as a choice, an act of gracious generosity that flows naturally from the inner life of the Trinity, the mutual delight and regard that the three persons have for one another, in the one God. .Made in the image of God, whose very nature is eternal loving relationship, in the image of God who is always in relationship and communion with creation, we too are called to live interrelated, mutually loving lives with other people, In the passage from 2 Corinthians Paul stresses the gifts of love, unity and fellowship that God bears for all. The vastness and majesty of God is beyond our comprehension but through relationship we can enter into a little of the mystery, and indeed share in God’s mission to draw the whole of creation into that relationship of love.We can do that, but we cannot do it alone.That’s what today’s Gospel is about... Following the events in Jerusalem the eleven disciples have obeyed Jesus’ directions and returned to Galilee. They gather on a mountain and meet with the Risen Christ. Jesus commissions them, fervent believers and perplexed doubters alike, to make disciples throughout the world. They are to baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and to teach people to obey Jesus’ commands, Jesus reassures the disciples that his relationship with them is everlasting, that he will always be with them – to the end of the age.That promise is as firm and as clear as the call to mission. No one is excluded from doing God’s work because they ask questions or are perplexed, nor, come to that, because they doubt their own abilities. The disciples, whatever their state of mind, are promised the power and authority to carry out the task of bringing people to faith. Their authority and their mission is not compromised by their human weakness or uncertainty. Their mission, and ours, is to take the news of that loving relationship out to every corner of the world…nobody is to be excluded, nobody forgotten.When I was growing up, I rather think the church had lost sight of the universal nature of the call…but the truth is that God’s mission is laid on us at our baptism, our ordination into the priesthood of all believers. The vocation to share God’s love has never been restricted to those on whom the Bishop has formally laid his hands at ordination. We who are baptised must be nurtured so that we learn to obey the commandments of Christ, living out in the world the discipleship to which we are called. Nurtured in faith, we are tasked with reaching and nurturing others.The task of making Christ known can happen wherever we find ourselves – at home, at school, work, in the community …and though it may involve words, it is as likely to be based upon a life so full of love that others long to share it. As we follow this call, we will find ourselves standing against the prevailing tide that encourages us to go it alone, as self- made individuals The God we serve is a God in community, and in joining in God’s mission we too will come to realize our need for others. This understanding of the Trinity is one which contrasts with the popular understanding of community. It’s nothing to do with gathering like-minded people, united by a common interest…nor is it about choosing to work only with those whom we can see as equals, people like us…God-centred community is different, for it is based on shared openness, a process of mutual surrender. It is based, too, on the reciprocal universal acceptance of the real "me", - a gift that it takes courage to offer, but which must be offered whole heartedly. There is no option of reserve or of pretence. Nothing must be held back, no gift hidden, no weakness denied ... That sounds so un- English, doesn’t it? All very difficult and uncomfortable... There’s so much about the process of self discovery we’d prefer to gloss over, so much self-knowledge we’d prefer to forget –but to live in God’s image means that we cannot hold anything back. God, after all, holds nothing in reserve but trusts us with the gift of God’s own self – Christ in the world, and Christ in the Sacrament. We too, must make a gift of ourselves. Made in God’s image we are to work together, reflecting the life of the Trinity - diverse yet unified. So on this Trinity Sunday we consider the vocation of the whole people of God… We are called, each one of us, to discover who we really are, so that we can give our true selves to one another, to build community. We are called, too, to rejoice in our essential differences, the way that our gifts and weaknesses complement each other, the way that together we can be a church that is strong enough to be serious about our mission to change the world. And at the centre of all that comes mutual love, as we are drawn into the dance that stretches from creation through today and on far into God’s future.

4 comments:

JP said...

Wow! Kathryn - that was an awesome sermon. I love your link to Genesis 1 and John 1, and also the call to share in the trinitarian mission with which you ended. Read on the page, this was tremendous - heard aloud, it must have been utterly compelling. Thank you for sharing it!

Chris said...

Thank you, Kathryn! A sermon like that, after the week you've had ...! Inspired - in the truest sense!

(It would repay study at the Lambeth Conference - and by the "absentees".)

Wow indeed!

Adam Pastor said...

Greetings Kathryn

On the subject of the trinity,
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor

Songbird said...

K, how great!