May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in the Christian year devoted to a doctrine. At a time when our country is haunted by the Global Pandemic of Corona virus, to focus on a complex doctrine may seem to be out of place. But seeking to know God has always been the way we human beings have responded to uncertain times. If there’s a time to focus on God’s nature, it is now.
Today we speak of the one God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is one and indivisible. Yet we believe in God the Father, who made the world; in God the Son, who redeemed us on the ‘cross’; and in God the Holy Spirit who lives within us. They are not three gods but one God. It’s not hard to understand why Christians have been accused of undermining the unity of God by this very doctrine we honour today. It’s a stumbling block that separates us from other peoples of the “Book”. Muslims and Jews both believe in one god and yet fail to understand the concept of the trinity. Not so suprising because it took 426 years before the early church agreed on and recorded what we now profess when we repeat the Nicene Creed.
The New Testament doesn’t explain the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Yet over the first two centuries of Christianity reflection on the experience of faith in Christ led the Church to develop this doctrine. We see glimpses of it in the very earliest ways Christians prayed. Think how often Christian meetings all over the world are brought to a conclusion by saying the Grace, those words which come straight from St Paul – “the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.”
This isn’t the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, of course, but it indicates how God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit proves inseparable from the way Christians have always lived their life in Christ. “The grace”, as we call it, developed within the first fifteen years after the resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. It’s still used regularly by millions, perhaps billions, of Christians across the world today.
We should remember the Athanasian Creed says that God is incomprehensible. We cannot get our minds around God. Yet that creed reminds us that God is more perfectly one and united than we can possibly be or imagine. In God there is a mutual relationship of love, which is more outgoing, perfect and complete than the love found in any of us.
There are only two verses in the Bible that seem to suggest a full Trinitarian theme to most of us: Matthew 28.19 ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…’
and 2 Corinthians 13.14. ‘May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all…’
If you had the chance to have a chat with Jesus, what would you ask him? I don’t expect you would ask him to explain the doctrine of the trinity. The man in our reading today had just that opportunity. Having caused mayhem in the Temple with the ‘money-changers’, we are told Jesus was the talk of the town. Most of the Jewish authorities had begun to see Jesus as a threat, but one in particular, Nicodemus became very interested in what this new rabbi had to say.
Nicodemus, was a Pharisee, probably a member of the Sanhedrin, a prominent man in the community, and almost obsessed with the study and the keeping of Jewish law. Jewish people believed their salvation was dependent on the learning and keeping of the laws set in stone by God, and given to Moses.
So Nicodemus crept out at night, because he dared not jeopardize his reputation by being seen talking with Jesus. Nicodemus gave Jesus a compliment. He said that Jesus must have been sent from God, because no one could do the things he did without the power of God, the great ‘I AM’.
Not responding to flattery, Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God with Nicodemus who was expecting the Messiah, a new David sent to reclaim the kingdom of Israel on Earth, but he learned Jesus had come to usher in a new kingdom of God, a kingdom not of the physical but of the spiritual.
Nicodemus imagining his mother giving birth to him now as an old man was totally confused. His mind was set on the physical world but Jesus was talking about the Spiritual. The Kingdom of God was a new way of thinking and a new way of seeing for Nicodemus. “The Kingdom of God is within you.”
Nicodemus could not understand. He had spent his whole life keeping those physical laws in order to gain entrance to God’s kingdom, but he was rapidly beginning to realize this way wasn’t going to work.
We still see the physical world full of violence and hatred, injustice, pain and sorrow. We see the effects of the physical world in the virus everyday on the news. But the Kingdom of God is a new world, a place of peace, where the streets are paved with gold and the light of Christ is always around us. It is then through spiritual not physical means that we will enter into the Kingdom of God.
On this Trinity Sunday, as we ponder the nature of God and his kingdom, we too have unanswered questions. Some theologians prefer to speak of ‘Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer’ rather than the traditional ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’. For myself, the Trinity of ‘Persons’ is completely indescribable by using human vocabulary. We have all heard the metaphore of H2O, ice, water and steam, but it simply doesn’t work. Jesus used the metaphor of birth to describe this change of mindset from the physical world to the spiritual. Echoing Nicodemus’ question, what must I do to enter the Kingdom of Heaven? Love God, and love my neighbour.
Do we get it? Do we truly understand this ‘Doctrine of the Trinity? In our Christian journey we learn more about God as we walk with Jesus throughout our earthly life, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and on into the kingdom of God, by the grace of his Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 07/06/2020