Sermon 27th May 2018

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 27 MAY 2018, TRINITY SUNDAY

Listen Here: https://soundcloud.com/user-942286720/sermon-from-the-27th-may-2018

 

In the year that King Uzziah died,

I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up;

Seraphs called one to another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:1-3

In a piece entitled, Growing, Flying, Happening,

Scots poet, Alastair Reid celebrates an earth full of glory,

but highlights the gulf between the names we label with – birds or plants –

with the true reality/amazement of such things:

 

Say the soft bird’s name, but do not be surprised to see it fall

headlong, struck skyless, into its pigeonhole –

[columba palumbus and you have it dead,]

wedged, neat, unwinged in your head.

 

In the Church calendar, today is Trinity Sunday.

Unlike other Christian high days,

This is not a famous Jesus moment –

birth, baptism, death, resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost.

Today, we celebrate the character of God –

Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

On such a day it is wise to heed the poet’s warning about naming/labelling;

Say the soft bird’s name – Trinity –

but do not be surprised to see it fall

headlong, struck skyless, into its pigeonhole –

God is not an idea to be explained, but a mystery to be entered.

As another poet, Kenn Storck, in his poem, “Holy Trinity” advises:

“Expand, do not contract God.”

 

American theologian, Debie Thomas described this week

a recent encounter with her thirteen-year-old Jewish neighbour.

“Your family is Christian, right?””

“Yes,” she replied. “Born and raised.”

“Why do Christians believe in three gods?” 

His tone was solemn and earnest.

“We don’t.  Actually, we believe in the same God you do. 

Just… differently.”  She knew this was an inadequate answer

but hoped it would suffice. It didn’t.

“No,” the boy pressed on.

“I mean the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost thing. That’s Christian, isn’t it?

 I don’t get it.”

 

His Christian, adult neighbour offered some of those classic descriptions

she had heard as a youth:

“Think of water – liquid, ice, steam – God’s like that.

The same thing in different forms.

Or a tree – roots, trunk, branch – three parts, one tree.”

The look of confusion on his face only deepened.

Brieflyhis politeness warred with his curiosity,

but then he blurted out the inevitable:

“Why three? What difference does it make?”

 

It is a good question.

Does our understanding of God as Trinity shape or enlighten

our understanding of our place in the world?

Does it help us live well in this world?

What does Trinity tell us about God’s character or priorities?

 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

The scale or expansiveness of God,

is conveyed by Isaiah’s vision, our first reading today:

“In the year that King Uzziah died –

A smoke-filled temple, foundations shuddering:

“I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty;

and the hem of his robe filled the temple.”

The prophet trembles in the undiluted presence of Divinity.

But the coal upon his lips, becomes a fierce kiss of cleansing.

He is set free to go forth upon God’s sending.

“Whom shall I send? Send me.”

 

This is God the Father – Creator, the source behind all that is.

Behind the vastness of the cosmos,

the mystery, that rather than being nothing,

there is everything – all of life,

its breath-taking wonder and complexity, including us.

 

But the enormity, the otherness of God

is not the only thing we celebrate today.

For if God is infinite, beyond our grasp,

Trinity tells us, God is also intimate.

In the life of the beloved Son, Christ,

we are given a glimpse of the God

who shares our humanity –

the postcard from heaven, revealing the heart of God.

 

Finally, Trinity tells us that the God of Creation, and the God in Jesus,

continues to move among us in the gift of the Holy Spirit,

blowing, as Jesus assured Nicodemus, where it will.

 

So, God, expressed as Trinity,

encompasses relationship, movement, love between the Three –

Trinity expresses the dance or flow of God. (Richard Rohr)

Yet, before we pin the butterfly to the wall,

let us keep the garden fence question in mind:

“Why three?  What difference does it make?”

 

In the Christian Orthodox tradition icons are greatly venerated.

To the uninitiated, these flat surfaced and stylised representations

of biblical figures or saints

do not immediately surrender themselves to easy understanding.

But behind their careful preparation is the understanding

that every brushstroke is a prayer.

Given attention, gazed upon,

they become windows into the depths, the mystery, the love of God.

 

The most famous icon of all is that of the 15th century, Andrei Rublev.

The Rublev icon depicts the hospitality of Abraham

to the three strangers at the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18)

but it has often been understood as a representation of the Trinity.

 

Three figures sit around a table, sharing food and drink.

Their faces are nearly identical, but they’re dressed in different colours.

The Father wears gold, the Son blue, and the Spirit green.

The Father gazes at the Son.

The Son gazes back at the Father, but gestures towards the Spirit.

The Spirit gazes at the Father, but points toward the Son with one hand,

and opens up the circle with the other,

making room for others to join the sacred meal.

 

The beauty of the icon lies in the shaping/framing of the three –

they clearly love and enjoy each other.

But their circle is not closed.

There is also the invitation to enter into their intimacy —

space at the table for the viewer, for us.

The Trinity is not ring fenced, keeping others out;

the point of the Three is always to add one more;

to draw near and bide awhile;

to make our tables – kitchen or communion –

more expansive and more welcoming.

 

Next month, here at St Columba’s,

we will try to show that in a small but real way.

At the conclusion of the Sunday School (24 Jun 18) year

we will celebrate an extra communion,

intentionally offering it to all members of our church family –

youngest to oldest.

Not a replacement of our traditional, formal communions

with their snow field of communion table cloths

and the solemnity of morning coats.

But a different expression of that same sharing of bread and wine.

 

We will offer it to the young, on the understanding

that communion is given for the feeding of faith,

not as a reward for understanding it.

Given, because in the including of the young,

we convey, as best we can, that here there is a place for them.

Given, because with their inclusion,

the Spirit enjoys a freedom to roam.

 

What difference does the Three make?”

Alasdair Reid’s poem finishes:

The point is the seeing…

the ways of the bird rising, unnamed, unknown,

beyond the range of language…

Eyes open on growing, flying, happening,

Amazement is the thing.

Not love, but the astonishment of loving.

 

By the grace of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit –

that will make all the difference.