Sermon preached on Trinity Sunday, 22nd May, 2016.
Readings: Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31 and John 16. 12-15
Last weekend, I managed to dip into two very different TV programmes – both allegedly about music!
On Saturday evening, it was the Eurovision Song contest – which for some reason now includes Australia!! And I very quickly found myself missing the acerbic wit of Terry Wogan – who always helped us not to take it all too seriously. No outlandish costume or pedestrian lyrics were safe from his gentle sarcasm.
Secondly, I began to miss any real sense of musical performance: – special effects seemed to be more important that the actual songs – and the music so digitally altered that you really can’t tell what the performers actually sound like.
And after ten minutes or so, I heard myself saying: “Oh, can we just have something with a proper tune in it? This just sounds like noise!” And, even as I was speaking, I heard my grandmother saying pretty the same thing in about 1976! So maybe it’s just that I’m just getting older!!
There was an altogether more rewarding experience on Sunday evening with the Finals of “Young Musician of the Year”. Three very different musicians took to the stage and, in stark contrast, we could see and hear every detail of their performance. There was a real sense that they were involved in communicating something worthwhile to their audience.
Summing up, just before announcing the winner, the judges’ spokesperson thanked all the competitors for their dedication to their art and, in her own words, “for shutting the door on the mediocrity that pervades our society”. And that comment drew almost as much applause as the performances themselves.
But was it a fair comment? Was she right in suggesting that mediocrity is too often accepted as the norm? I have to say that after watching the Eurovision Song I think she might have had a point!
Certainly, the level of debate and the lack of proper, detailed information – ahead of the EU referendum – do rather suggest that our political leaders don’t expect very much from us in terms of intellectual rigour.
And perhaps we are naturally suspicious, or jealous even, of those who stand out as exceptional in their field: the media love to brand things as “elitist” if only a few manage to achieve them. Although I do think it’s funny that the stars of the Royal Ballet are seen as elitist but the overpaid “prima-donnas” of the football pitch are not! – a certain cultural bias I think..
But actually, there’s nothing new in all that: it does seem to be part of our human nature that we prefer things to be straightforward – prefer people to blend in with the crowd, prefer ideas to be comforting rather than challenging.
We only have to look back to the Old Testament to see the lonely walk that the Prophets endured, for daring to stir things up and speak some new vision.
And yet, in today’s very short Gospel reading, Jesus turns that on its head.
God’s wisdom, he suggests, IS too great for us to comprehend – and yet we are to keep striving for grasp it more fully. “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
Jesus urges his closest friends to expect more – to keep on searching for God’s truth. And he calls us, his Church, to that same expectation – to spiritual growth in its purest sense.
In our faith, just as much as any other aspect of our lives, we may well shy away from what seems complex, or obscure.
But sometimes we need to stick with things – patiently chipping away – until some truth, some insight, is revealed to us.
Today on, Trinity Sunday, we’re reminded that the Doctrine of the Trinity is fundamental to our faith: It sets Christianity apart from all other belief systems and philosophies.
But how many of us have a clear understanding of what it means to speak of “one God in three persons”?
And if we throw in a few theological definitions such as “co-eternal and consubstantial”, it probably doesn’t make the picture any clearer!
Like all our attempts to understand and to define God, the doctrine of the Trinity is limited by our own imperfect knowledge. But it is an attempt to reflect something of that complexity, that all-embracing reality which is the mystery of the living God – who is so much greater than any of us can express.
Speaking about the Holy Trinity – of God the “three-in-one”, is hard: it’s not easy to make sense of and it still doesn’t say all that could be said about God. And yet, if we can get past our initial bafflement, the Doctrine of the Trinity can point us towards important truths about the nature of God, and about ourselves.
Firstly, a Trinitarian God is clearly neither “Superman”, nor our “imaginary friend”.
A being made up of three persons cannot simply be represented as one of us writ large. The God who inspires our human thoughts – but is far beyond our understanding, who makes himself known to us – but is infinitely more than our own experiences of him, is so much more complex than that.
Secondly, God’s own nature is defined in terms of relationships – the three persons of the Trinity supporting one another, totally dependent on each other – each unique, but incomplete without the others. And so we learn that that is how we, who are made in his image, are also meant to be.
As Christians we are called to cherish and learn from each other – to value not only our own reason and experiences, but also those of the whole Communion of Saints throughout the ages.
Thirdly, and lastly, each of the persons of the Trinity is given different attributes.
The Father is often seen as the Creator of all life, Jesus as its Redeemer and the Holy Spirit as its sustainer.
While all three persons are inseparable, and all involved in the whole process, each person of the Trinity is seen as making a particular contribution to God’s work of salvation. They are not all the same – and none is more important than the others.
And surely, that is how the Church is meant to be.
We are not all the same: we have many and varied gifts among us and it is only when all those gifts are allowed to flourish that the life of the Church truly mirrors the life of God, the Holy Trinity.
Within the fellowship of Christ, none of us is more important than any other. We need to value and support each other, with the same generosity that we perceive in the three persons of the Trinity that make up the one God.
And if the reality of the Church doesn’t always quite feel like that, then perhaps we need to spend more time grappling with the vision of God the Holy Trinity, complicated and imperfect though it may be, until it really does shape who we are and how we behave towards one another.
I started by comparing the twin musical experiences of Eurovision and Young Musician of the year – the one glitzy but pedestrian, the other intense and compelling.
Our own faith, and the vision of God that we hold on to and communicate to other people, will only be compelling if we can muster the Young musicians’ dedication and willingness to face up to the things we find difficult and complex.
The alternative would be the “Church of Eurovision” – and that is a “vision” I think we can all live without!