Reading(s): Isaiah 6:1-8; Romans 8: 12-17; John 3: 1-17. This sermon was given by Andrew at St. John’s, North Baddesley.
When we cry ‘Abba, Father!’ It the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if in fact we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
I wonder how often in particular situations in our lives, we have cried out ‘Abba, Father!’ And I wonder if we have discerned, maybe at the time, or over a period of time – maybe a long time afterwards – how God has responded, in ways, clear and subtle and usually unexpected? How many ‘Abba, Fathers’ must be being cried out in the world around us now. Yet, that cry itself is a recognition of a relationship that intuitively we know to exist, especially if we have been fortunate enough to have been nurtured in the Christian faith.
If we look back over the past year and consider the greatest lessons that we have learned and the most significant ways in which we have been impacted, perhaps highest on the list for all of us will be in the area of relationships. The sadness and stress of not being able to meet with family and friends; The trauma of losing loved ones or not being able to visit loved ones who are ill; our recognition of the value of those closest to us and of time spent with them; the care and consideration that we have had to take for others as we all face an unseen danger; our respect for those who have given so much in caring for others.
Today, the Church marks the feast of Trinity. It is the ultimate festival of relationship – the celebration of God’s relational dynamic as Father, Son and Spirit and our relationship, in Christ, with God. Trinity represents the fulcrum of the Church’s year. From Advent until now, we have reflected on the life and ministry, the death and resurrection of Christ and the birth of the Church. Now, we turn to what that means for us his people. And for the rest of the Church’s year – the Trinity season – we shall be grappling with what the life and ministry of Jesus means for us. It is a time of growth and discernment – hence the use of the liturgical colour green. And the start of the journey is the recognition that life in Christ; life with God, is at its heart, a life in relationship – with him; with humanity; and with His Creation.
It is ironic that the concept of the Trinity, which developed during the first centuries of the Christian era, was one of the main causes of the divisions within the early church, and eventually of the split between the orthodox churches of the east and the western churches. The question of the nature of the relationship between the Godhead – Father, Son and Spirit, has challenged the minds of the greatest theologians and philosophers for centuries. To what extent are the three distinct? To what extent are they equal? To what extent are they One. The resolution of those debates is what we declare in our Creed every Sunday.
Yet, whilst the concept of the Trinity caused divisions and even conflicts, it expresses the very core of the Christian faith. It reveals God as a Living, Creating God who is both mystery and is revealed in the world; who loves and reveals himself and his will in the person of Jesus Christ and who through him, brings humanity into a relationship with His being; and who, through the Holy Spirit, gives life, hope, wisdom and strength to all beings.
Back to that cry ‘Abba, Father’. ..Just to make that cry is to take our place in the life of the Holy Spirit. It is to open ourselves and allow ourselves to enter into the love of God.
That opening of ourselves is essential in any relationship. Our relationship with God is already there, but we will not know it if our hearts, souls and minds are closed to it. And when we do open ourselves, He always responds.
In our Gospel reading, we are reminded of Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who longed to believe, but did not understand. He came to Jesus in the secrecy of night to question him. He is literally and figuratively ‘in the dark’. Jesus responds but characteristically he doesn’t give an answer. He offers Nicodemus a vision of life with God and experience of Him. He invites Nicodemus to be born of ‘water and the Spirit’. This represents both the physicality of life with God through Baptism and everything we do in our daily lives; and entering into the spiritual relationship which drives everything we do and are and which transforms our existence. Some things cannot be explained with answers that we expect – or wish for. They can only be experienced through the presence of God working in and through the diverse and sometimes difficult experiences of life. This is true of the mystery of the Trinity.
If we look at the profoundest truths of our lives, then I suspect we will conclude that are not provable ‘facts’. Rather, they are rooted in relational, personal experiences that have transformed our experience in one way or another.
In my current work, I am engaging with people who serve people in some of the most conflicted corners of the planet. The challenges and traumas that so many people around the world face are simply unimaginable, and yet it is precisely in such situations that one finds numerous people of incredible courage and perseverance who are bringing life, light and hope in situations of almost intolerable darkness. And mostly, the source and inspiration of their strength to do so comes from their faith and their relationship with the Trinity that we celebrate today. But we do not have to look to the remotest and most conflicted corners of the planet to discover that truth. I’m sure each of us can think of such examples in our own spheres of encounter.
As one theologian put it: “The early church teachers spoke about the Trinity as perichoresis, the giving of one’s self and the receiving of another that happens in a dance. Perichoresis is the dance of love between the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. They are distinct and yet one the way dancers and the dance are distinct and yet one. Take away the dance and there are no dancers. Take way the dancers and there is no dance.”
But this dance of love spills out beyond the three persons. As John writes: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
(Note ‘God so loved the world’. : Not ‘God so loved Christians, or British people, or Anglicans or Catholics, but God so loved the world’.
This dance of love reaches out, connects, and enfolds all humanity. The Trinity of the Godhead reaches out and connects, in Christ and through the Spirit with all of God’s creation.
That is why we call the rest of the Church’s year the season of Trinity. It is the time of year; the season of growth, where we learn what this means for all of us. It is the season where we remember that in this relationship, no-one is left out and we are invited to join the dance. May we never stop learning, for the sake of everyone, how to do so.