Sermon delivered by the Rev’d Sydney Maitland
A few days ago the radio had an item about 2 women who had converted from Christianity to Islam. In their interviews, both referred to their difficulty in understanding the doctrine of the Trinity as their explanation for rejecting the faith into which they had grown up, and I have to say I found this tragic.
The idea of the Trinity is not developed by the bible as such and yet Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples of all nations and to baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. This is set out at the end of the Gospel of St Matthew.
Paul had a strong sense of the Trinity and he wrote fully about God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
But yes, the idea of One Godhead of three persons is perhaps difficult to grasp. Most of us have a reasonably strong idea of God:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise; in light inaccessible, hid from our eyes.
The idea of one God, supreme above all things and the source and foundation of all creation, nature and morality, probably makes sense to us.
And yes, most of us have grown up with the imagery of Jesus: the stories of His birth at Bethlehem, His ministry and His death on the cross, so that is not too confusing, although we then have to fit Him into a pattern and a relationship with God the Father. But Jesus Himself tells us about that relationship, and how He has come that we might see Him and hear Him, and through Him be reconciled with God. In this sense the idea of Jesus as the Great High Priest who pleads for us with His Father in heaven is not too difficult, especially when we trust that God does not need too much persuasion when we seek His face and when we find that face as we look at Jesus.
Yes the idea of a single Godhead has now been refined into a concept that makes Him accessible to us without compromising His glory or majesty.
Perhaps it is the Holy Spirit where it becomes more complicated, and in this sense the celebration of the Trinity directly after the Feast of Pentecost is there to help us and not to confuse us.
The Holy Spirit makes Jesus real to us day by day, as we read the bible, receive the sacraments, say the daily offices or maintain a personal life of prayer and study.
The Holy Spirit is there to draw us to Jesus at any and all times and in all parts of the world. Just reflect that when Jesus was alive, He was restricted by His body to being in only one place at a time. If He was in Nazareth and you were in Nazareth, then you could go and see Him. If you were in Jerusalem when He was in Nazareth then He was not immediately accessible to you. Either He was not there, or you had to make a journey to go and see Him. As it is in our time, Jesus is only a prayer and a thought away from us. But it is the Holy Spirit who makes Him apparent to us at all times and in all places, wherever and whenever our hearts are turning to Him.
More than that, the Holy Spirit is working in all of us so that we may not only seek Jesus in the details and the course of our lives, but He works so that we may indeed pray to Jesus with faith and understanding.
Without the Holy Spirit, we would be here and Jesus would be in heaven at the right hand of God, and that would be that.
The Trinity is therefore a wonderful truth, which enriches our faith and our trust in Jesus: and in so doing, draws us closer to the presence of God Himself. There are of course plenty of images to help us to express it: a three-legged stool, which requires all legs to stay upright; or a car with steering wheel, engine and transmission: all of which are needed to make it go.
To take it further, you might think of music: a musical score, a musical instrument and the human players or even voices, all being needed to bring forth a beautiful sound.
But there is another aspect to think about, for the Trinity indeed makes sense as a doctrine, yet it demands a heart and a mind and a will to accept it.
It requires a heart that loves, a mind that thinks and indeed meditates, and it requires a will that is turned to God in obedience.
When we look at the Great Commandment, it is to love the Lord with all our heart and soul and mind and strength. To love is in any case a matter of putting the other person’s interests ahead of one’s own, especially when it is not convenient or easy or even clear what is involved.
To love God with the mind is also to love Him with a desire to approach Him as He would be approached and without imposing our own demands for every aspect and detail of His mystery to be disclosed to us instantly.
To love God is to wait upon Him, even when there are aspects of faith or our own lives that we do not wholly understand.
To love God is to receive the three persons of God as they come and without imposing our demands or agendas upon them. It is rather to wonder and to rejoice at the glory and beauty of the nature of God, who has been pleased to give Himself to us in these three aspects: God the Father, God the Son and yes, God the Holy Spirit.