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Home » Sermon – 26th May 2024

Sermon – 26th May 2024

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    Readings: Isaiah 6: 1-8 and Romans 8: 12-17

    The Christian Year could be said to divide into two parts. From Advent in November or December to Pentecost in May or June, we celebrate the events of Jesus’ life, from the expectation and announcement of his birth, through the Christmas season, then Epiphany and Lent in preparation for keeping Holy Week and Easter. 40 days after Easter we keep the Ascension of Jesus, and 50 days after Easter we celebrate the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost.

    Trinity Sunday starts the second part of the year. In terms of the calendar, nothing much happens from now until November, when the annual round starts again. After all the commemoration of events surrounding Jesus’ life, today we try to talk about God. That’s difficult. It’s much easier to talk about Jesus. All our language about God is picture language, because God is so difficult to describe. In the reading from Isaiah today, the prophet tries to describe the glory and majesty of God, as he experienced it in through a vision in the Temple. He heard the seraphs cry out, ‘Holy, Holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Repeating an adjective three times is a Hebrew form of superlative. Isaiah was overcome at seeing the unseeable thrice-holy God.

    The abstract language that philosophers and theologians use to talk about God is just as much picture language as the down-to-earth illustrations that have helped ordinary people relate to the God to whom they say their prayers. People have found a working-out of the idea of Trinity in a three-headed clover leaf; or in a three-legged stool, or in the image of the three hares in a ring. Last week I suggested that contemporary society might warm to the idea of the Holy Spirit being ‘gender neutral.’ Today, we might think modern parlance would appreciate the idea of Trinity being ‘they’: so often now we don’t say ‘he’ or ‘she’ either because it’s tedious to say both, or because the individual wishes to be thought of as non-binary, or because we’re trying to hide the identity of the individual or individuals. So – Trinity is three – but also one: ‘they’ and ‘gender neutral.’

    I attended a Bishops’ Teaching Morning last Monday, when the invited speaker talked about the absence of God in the Old Testament. She offered the suggestion that experiencing God’s presence is a learnable skill, but that we cannot think ourselves into the divine presence. I think I know what she meant. When we experience something of God’s presence, that is a gift, and we must not presume. There was some discussion about this on the morning. After all, we kneel down and say our prayers in the faith and expectancy that God is there. The author of The Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th-century writing thought to emanate from this part of the country, had this to say: “How am I to think of God himself, and what is he? He may well be loved, but not thought. By love he can be caught and held, but by thinking never.”

    But who do you say your prayers to? To God, who is Father? To Jesus? or to the Holy Spirit? I like the introduction to intercessions we sometimes use: “In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the Father.” It is good Christian doctrine that Jesus ever lives to make intercession for us, but also that the Spirit helps us in our weakness; Paul says that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.’ But Jesus was insistent that we pray to our Father in heaven; how many times have you and I recited those words, probably from when we were tiny.

    And the Lord being prayed to was Jesus’ father also. In the Romans passage today, St. Paul says that when we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ – it is the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God. When Paul uses the word ‘Abba’, he is repeating an Aramaic word that Jesus himself used in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he prayed ‘Abba, Father, take this cup away from me, yet, not what I want, but what you will.’ Now this word ‘Abba’ in Aramaic was a term of affection and endearment, closest in our language to ‘daddy’. It was not the usual term used in religious circles when addressing God, so it shows something of that unique relationship Jesus enjoyed with his Father. The continued use of ‘Abba’ by the first Christians, as relayed by Paul, shows that they knew that they too were part of that special relationship.

    And relationship is what we celebrate in the life of the Holy Trinity. Our God seems not to be complete if we do not recognise these three constituent persons, who together are the perfect example of love and harmony. We can sometimes see the same dynamic working out in a human family. Man and woman come together, with their different personalities, characters and abilities: so often in a partnership, one complements the other, and, we hope, compliments the other. Then children come along, often reflecting the personalities of one or both persons and displaying their own. And there is a bond within the family: strands of love and loyalty. Sometimes we don’t understand how another family works so successfully, with the mix of people involved, and, of course, sadly, some families don’t.

    So we can see the Trinity in the same way. Until you’ve met the three involved, you don’t get the overall picture. I asked just now – who do you pray to? Christians are sometimes lacking in their life of faith because there is a missing element  that leaves them poorer when they should be rejoicing in the great riches that are offered to them. If you look at your prayers, do you neglect to have a relationship with one of the three – either Father, Son or Holy Spirit?

    David Adam puts it well like this:

    Are you aware of a loving Creator? Do you know he made you out of his love and for his love? He surrounds you with love and wants you to respond to him with love. Do you rejoice that nothing in this world can separate you from the love of God? He is with you, the Almighty, the Creator – and seeks your love.

    Have you discovered the grace – the free gift – of our Lord Jesus Christ? He lived and died and rose again for you. You do not have to earn his love; it is a free gift – gratis. When you cannot help yourself, he comes to your aid. He is your Saviour and Redeemer. He loves you and seeks your love.

    Are you in communion with the Holy Spirit? He is with you at every encounter and shares in every bond of fellowship. The Spirit brings gifts and talents for you to use. We all need to learn to wait upon the Spirit.

    Father in heaven, you are our Creator.

    Jesus, you are our Saviour.

    Spirit, you are our Guide and Strengthener.

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