Pastoral Articles

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TRINITY SUNDAY

Today is Trinity Sunday!  Who said that you have to be a mathematician to understand the Trinity!  One  is three and three are one!  That takes some thinking about!  We had better begin by acknowledging that the Trinity is mystery.  But we do know something.  God has revealed himself as creator. At Xmas he revealed  himself in Jesus.  At Pentecost he came in the form of the Holy Spirit.  Today we attempt to bring all three together. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Trinity sums up what we as Christians believe about God.  That is, God as creator, God as redeemer, God as sustainer.

You won’t find the doctrine of the Trinity set out in so many words in the New Testament.  But not to worry.  It is there all right.  Every time we say the grace we have the Trinity in mind.  ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’   2 Cor.13.14.   And of course the Trinity is also in mind in the great commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel.  ”Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the ||Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’.

What I’m saying id that although there is no formal statement of the Trinity in the N.T. the idea is presupposed .

The question is how did the first Xians come to express their faith in God in this way?

First, they began with God – God the Father.  They took over the Hebrew and Jewish doctrine of one God –  monotheism is the theological word for it.  Monotheism was the great contribution of the people of the Bible to mankind –  the belief that there is only one God.  It is believed that  there was a very brief  period in the 14th cent B.C. when an Egyptian pharaoh .  Akhenaton was his name –  Amazingly, he hit on the idea of monotheism.

This made him a controversial figure whose ideas were rejected by the priests.

People  were polytheists. If you visit Egypt. Greece, or Turkey you will see statues, altars and temples to different gods.  You will find evidence of polytheism if when you visit Hadrian’s wall you go into the museum at Hexham.   You will find a room full of the images of gods whom the Roman soldiers had brought with them.

Monotheism was most important development for humanity.  A famous theologian once said wittingly that the devil was the first grammarian for he persuaded people to use the word ‘god’ in the plural, and once he got people to believe in gods instead of God in the singular his battle for their  allegiance was virtually won.  And think of the consequences!  If you have more than one god you don’t know where you are.  There can only be divided loyalties and confusion.  Things like truth and justice become uncertain. That was why the great prophets of Israel proclaimed the truth of the one true God. The one who rules the world with righteousness and mercy.

So the early Xians followed the Jews in affirming belief in the one god.

But there was something else they had to account for.  That was Jesus Christ.  Very soon they understood that Jesus was more than a human being.

That he was the Son of God.   He was a window into God.

I can’t remember if I told you of my experience soon after I began work in So. Africa.  If so, it’s worth repeating.  I  found people addressing me as ‘RRA PAUL.’ Which meant father of Paul – Paul being our firstborn.  I asked my language teacher what was the significance. He told me that when a man has a baby son his name is changed to the name of the child.  He becomes known as ‘father of so and so’.  I was Rra Paul- father of Paul.  When I asked what the reason was what I was told   took me directly to the N.T.  He said we use this expression because the father is known by the son.  That reminded me immediately of the words of Jesus ‘whover has seen me has seen the Father’ (14.9).

So we have God the Father and God the Son.  But the early Xians didn’t stop there!  Before they knew what was happening they had to take account of something more: the Holy Spirit.  That was the result of Pentecost!   They were experiencing God ín a new way.  They had to stretch their imaginations and understanding still farther to include the Holy Spirit – the third member of the holy Trinity.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

I cannot giver a better explanation than by saying what a student of mine put in his essay He said ‘The Holy Spirit is God in the present tense.’

As in the case of Jesus it was a question of experience.  Experience first.  Reflection later.  I f you had walked into one of the meetings of the early Xians and asked them if they missed their Master , they would have exclaimed: ‘Miss him?  No, not at all.  He’s here.   they would have explained that they experienced God in another way.

How did they account for this?

Obviously it wouldn’t do to say simply that what they were experiencing was a new awareness of Christ. This was different from what they had experienced when Christ was with them.

Well, they had the scriptures to help them.  The  OT  prophets Ezekiel and Joel had predicted that in the new age, in the time of the Messiah, God’s spirit would be poured out in a new and remarkable way.  So it wasn’t so very difficult all,  after when the testimony of scripture is added to personal experience.

What all this adds up to is the Trinity.  What we are celebrating today is not a theoretical formula created by theologians.  It is based on experience and it is supported by scripture.

The Trinity conveniently summarizes the three ways in which God has revealed himself.

                     God our creator

                     God our redeemer

                     God our companion and helper

That is why this particular Sunday is celebrated throughout the Xian world.  It stands for the specifically Xian understanding of God.

Hence in our worship we never tire of saying, ‘Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.’  And we offer the beautiful prayer:

         O Lord, we worship you as Father, Son and Holy Spirit

         Help us to trust you as Father

         To receive you as Son

         To rejoice in you as Holy Spirit..

Now let’s try and think about what the doctrine of the Trinity has to say to us today.

In  times like ours when there is so much emphasis on the individual and we need a new sense of community we are helped by thinking of the Trinity.  For the Trinity is a community of persons. God is essentially social.                                                                True community depends on unity, but allows for diversity.  Each person is able to be truly himself or herself, with his or her own gifts and functions and contribution to the life of the whole.  Our wellbeing depends on the wellbeing of others.  We depend on them.  They depend on us.  The community and the reciprocal relationships displayed by the Trinity are a challenge to us for  living today.

Think of the threefold nature of the Trinity.  Two persons of course is better than one, but three is better still, for a twofold relationship can be very exclusive.   The third person is a challenge to ensure that our love is outgoing  The Trinity keeps reminding us that our relationships should be outgoing and inclusive.

But we are here this morning to think not only of the social relevance of the Trinity, but to worship God –  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  To give thanks

 for creation, for salvation and for guidance.  So we say Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy |Spirit

Jack