Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Sermon, Trinity Sunday 2012

Isaiah 6:1-8           
Romans 8:12-17           
John 3:1-17

Yesterday was a joyful day in the lives of two members of the congregation I serve at St Pancras Old Church. And it was a day of great joy for me as well, as I had the privilege of presiding at their marriage and celebrating their wedding Mass.
The marriage rite concluded, as it does, with the exchange of rings. And the words that are used at that moment are:
I give you this ring as a sign of our marriage. With my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Some astounding things happen in church. Sinners become saints, bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. And those words that people say to each other at their marriage are also astounding.
At a marriage we name the mystery we celebrate today, God in three Persons, the Holy Trinity, incomprehensible, beyond all names and forms; and we locate our pledge of human love within that mystery.
Is this just mystification, spoiling a happy human occasion with obscure theological jargon? I don’t think so. Because the Trinity is about love. It is about the revelation that God is love, and that God calls human beings to enter in and share in that love.
Most people believe in God, of course, apart from a few eccentrics. That belief is expressed in many religions, but mostly in our own so-called secular culture by vague inklings and longings. “I think there is something more than this”; “I believe in someone watching over me”.
But we as Christians find that we have to believe in God, and that we have to talk about God as Trinity, because we are in a living relationship with Jesus of Nazareth. And it is that relationship that enables us to say that God is love, love come to us, love embracing us and enfolding us and carrying us home.
Because we are in that relationship with the risen Lord we are able to say something about God, and in essence it is this: God is whoever it is who loved Jesus and raised him from the dead. And all the formulations of doctrine through church history, the Trinity and the Incarnation, flow from that. God is whoever it is who loved Jesus and raised him from the dead.
The background to the God of Jesus, of course, is Israel. The God of Israel was not like the gods of the other nations that could be described, understood, depicted as statues. In the holy of holies in the Temple at Jerusalem there was no image of God, just empty space, a door into abyssal silence and infinite depth, the void beyond all things from which all things have their being.
And yet that depth, that incomprehensible mystery, called to Israel. That experience of God calling took many forms. It could be the rage against injustice and exploitation that rose unbidden in the heart of the Prophet Amos. It could be the “the sound of utter silence”, at which Elijah covered his face and was afraid. Or it could be a terrifying theophany, such as the vision in Isaiah today.
And then Jesus came among us, a human being who called God “Father” and said that the Father loved him. A human being who, moreover, said that he was the Father’s message of love, in person, sent into the world, as he says this morning in today’s Gospel.
Now for a human being to say that God the Creator loves him is to say something which seems to be impossible. Love, real love, can only happen between equals, in freedom, in a relationship of mutual self-giving.
We use the word “love” quite loosely of course. We might say that we love our cat, or the view from Fiesole at sunset, or a nice bottle of claret. But we are not in a relationship of mutual self-giving with those things. Even a cat cannot give back to us as we give to her, in equality and freedom.
Love, in the proper sense, is only possible between equals. So when Jesus the man says that God the Creator is his Father, and loves him, he is saying something astounding. He is saying that he and the Father are equals. He is saying that they give themselves to each other in mutual surrender and freedom. Jesus the human being is saying that he and the Father are both God.
So Jesus, the human being, is God come among us. And the reason why he has come among us is so that all human beings can come to call God “Father”. So that all human beings can enter into the love that the Father shares with the Son. So that human beings, in Jesus, can be partakers of the divine nature. And to enable this to happen he has sent his Spirit into the hearts of believers. Now this Spirit is sent from the heart of God, and therefore is also God, because everything in God is God, pure and simple.
Now as the church grew and spread, people thought and debated about what exactly this all meant, and how best to express it.
Some Christians argued that Jesus was not really God, only similar to God. But the problem is that this makes Jesus’ mission impossible. If he is not truly God, then the Father cannot love him – or us. He can be kind, merciful, compassionate, yes, but not loving, because he can only love his equal, in freedom and mutual self giving.
Some other Christians argued that Jesus wasn’t really human, just God in the appearance of a human, a vision or illusion. But if Jesus isn’t human, then we humans can’t be joined with him in the relationship of love he shares with his Father.
All of which led over the course of time to the Church saying that there is one God in three persons, and that the Son truly became human and is “of one substance with the Father”, as we say in the creed. And so the Church arrived at the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation.
Language of course can be tricky, and words change their meaning. When the theologians centuries ago said “three persons” they didn’t mean what today we might mean, three individuals or three people. They meant that there are three relations in God, so that the heart of Divine life, the inside of God as it were, is infinite mutual self-giving love. God is not literally a father, or a son, or a breath of wind. These are metaphors which connect with things we do understand, and point to relations in God which are real and true, but surpass our understanding.
And in case you’re wondering if the language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is all a bit masculine for a metaphor, you might like to consider that the word “Trinity”, in Greek and in Latin, is feminine.
But whether the metaphor is masculine or feminine, the message, the good news, remains the same. God is whoever it is who loved Jesus and raised him from the dead. This same God has created us to enter into the relationship of self-giving love that we call the Trinity, and in union with Jesus, who is fully human and fully divine, has made that possible.
Love is the reason for our creation, and the goal of our existence. When that love came among us, and was rejected by being nailed to a cross, God refused to take that rejection as our final answer, and raised Jesus from the dead.
We are joined with the risen Jesus in faith. In our baptism we partake of his nature and are born again as children of God. In the Eucharist and through the scriptures he feeds us with his divine life.
The love of God which surpasses all human knowledge draws us, in Jesus, into God’s very life. The risen life of Jesus opens the life and love of God to all people. In Jesus we have received the Spirit of adoption by which we, too, call God “Father”.
And it is that Spirit, in the risen Jesus, who enables us to believe and confess and love one God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

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