Sermon for Trinity Sunday, Year B - Mucknell Abbey
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Sermon for Trinity Sunday, Year B

The Community here at Mucknell is, as with any group, made up of diverse individuals with varying opinions on just about everything! As such, sermons posted on our website represent the ideas of the preachers who wrote and delivered them, not necessarily those of the entire Community.

Sunday 26th May, 2024

So, this is the day in the Church calendar when we are supposed to leave the service feeling we understand less than when we arrived!  We attempt to get out heads around the Holy Trinity, knowing before we start that this is an impossibility.  However, as St Augustine said:

“Human speech labours under a great dearth of words.  We say three persons, not in order to say that precisely, but in order not to be reduced to silence.”

So, what do each of our bible passages today tell us about God?

Let’s get St Paul out of the way first.  As usual he is problematic, but this time, I think it is the fault of the translators.

When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very 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.

It sounds as if Paul makes suffering a condition of being a child of God.  Either we can only be God’s children if we are suffering, or all those who are heirs with Christ, we will inevitably suffer. It’s not a very attractive prospect!

However, with no lesser ally than John Wycliffe, I suggest that this not the only way to read the original Greek. 

The text says:

If now children also heirs, heirs indeed of God heirs together now of Christ; if indeed we suffer together so [that] also we glorified together.

There is no necessity to insert “suffer with him” in the original.  It is an interpretation to which the text is open, of course.  But I want to suggest St Paul is (perhaps!) talking about the community of Christian suffering together with one another supporting one another in their suffering because that is the reality of their experience and St Paul knows that and is trying to encourage them.  So it now might be paraphrased something like:

“Indeed we are suffering together, because we belong to Christ.  We are heirs with him.  This is going to happen.  But we will also be glorified, just like him.”

We see more encouragements if we look at what else Paul has just said:

“For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs.”

These are astonishing ideas:

that we are adopted as children of God,

that we will inherit everything Christ, the Son, inherits,

that slavish fearful obedience has no place in this relationship.

This is the very opposite of what our translation originally implied in its talk of suffering;  this is life and hope and fulfillment.

This is the glory of the Trinity!

This is the place where we are as free to run to God like a child crying out, calling out, “Daddy (Abba)”, “Mummy.”  We may be running to our parent because we are hurting, or because we want to share our delight.  It maybe life has given us hard knocks:

The sudden shocks – like the sharp, intrusive, consciousness-filling pain of a toddler’s grazed knee.

The hopes and expectations dashed – like a broken precious toy.

Or loss and bereavement; the inseparable from taken away.

We can sob or scream our distress and sorrow, hurl our anguish at God and the relationship remains unconditionally unbreakable.  We are God’s children.  Always. This is not a sadistic God who insists we suffer at all.  And the other side of that coin is that we can also run into God’s arms at some inexpressible gleeful delight, desperate to share: “Look what I’ve found!”, “Look what I’ve made.”  And surely our heavenly parent share our delight with an expressive smile – explosive laugh – of the creator.

This is the glory of the Trinity.

Isaiah came face to face with that glory in the 8th Century BCE temple.  It was terrifying. The foundations shook, there was smoke and dust everywhere; noise and clamour.  No wonder Isaiah’s reaction is “Woe is me…”

When God enters this world, the created order quakes.  God breaking into this world is disturbing, disruptive, intrusive.  The full force of the One whose power detonated into galaxies cannot but cause the foundations of the world to shake. Even angels cover the faces before this power!  But God comes.  And this is the point.  God steps into this realm of time and space again and again.  God wants to be here among us, to communicate with us, to guide and lead us out of the stupid messes we get ourselves into – people of unclean lips and unclean lives.  God longs, to be with us with the same intensity of that primordial pinprick of energy that catapulted everything – all that is – into being.

That Love could consume us in a moment.  Instead, with the burning energy of a lover’s kiss, God lightly, gently touches.  Though tectonic plates lurch at God’s presence, yet her touch is searing, breath-taking love; a whispered Word, an intimate – infinite – invitation.

This is the glory of the Trinity!

Of course God comes to this world, comes here to be with us most intimately in Jesus:

‘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.

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Jesus is God’s self-expression, God’s Word.  Jesus is God’s self-giving into the world.  It is as if God cannot help but come in person.  The divine life of love that is the Holy Trinity overflows into the world in Jesus.

That whoever believes… may not perish but may have eternal life

Eternal life is not “life after death” except in one sense – it is life after the death (and resurrection) of Jesus.  Eternal life begins now, as we come to trust Jesus – however feebly and uncertainly we do that, and as we begin to find ourselves drawn into loving as he loves.  The overflow of divine love escapes its boundaries once again.  The “love for one another” that Jesus urged on his Church, is supposed to escape that Church too and to flow out into the world to disturb, disrupt, intrude into all human lives.  This is what eternal life means.

The glory of the Trinity is found and experienced:

            in the unbreakable stability of parental love as we run to Abba

            in the foundation-rocking obedience of response to the lover’s whispered invitation.

and it is also found when are caught up in the life-converting, life creating propulsion of the flow of God’s love out into the cosmos.

The glory of the Trinity is only complete when we are caught up in the invitation to “go with the flow” and reach out to others too.  We are enveloped (beclosed is Julian of Norwich’s word) into God’s embrace, a breathing in of coming to God, and as we are caught up in the life of the Trinity, we cannot but find ourselves “converted”, turning in new directions; the breathing out of God’s Spirit at work with us.

Rowan Williams said, in a recent talk on Julian of Norwich:

“The life of the Trinity is inseparable from our own flourishing and fruition.  The only satisfaction God requires is the joy of our own homecoming and fulfilment. God’s bliss, God’s at-home-ness with God, becloses [envelopes] our own growth, healing, and homecoming.” 

This is the kind of God that God is, gathering us to God’s-self that we may more fully live.  In Mother Julian’s own words:

He is our clothing that for love wrappeth us and windeth us, halseth [embraces, caresses] us and all becloses us, hangeth about us for tender love that he may never leave us.

We just have a hard time “wrapping and winding” our minds and hearts around this belief and letting ourselves actually live it!

Perhaps Malcolm Guite’s, “A Sonnet for Julian of Norwich” from his book “The Singing Bowl” can be our prayer to help us with that:

Show me O anchoress, your anchor-hold
Deep in the love of God, and hold me fast.
Show me again in whose hands we are held,
Speak to me from your window in the past,
Tell me again the tale of Love’s compassion
For all of us who fall onto the mire,
How he is wounded with us, how his passion
Quickens the love that haunted our desire.
Show me again the wonder of at-one-ment
Of Christ-in-us distinct and yet the same,
Who makes, and loves, and keeps us in each moment,
And looks on us with pity not with blame.
Keep telling me, for all my faith may waver,
Love is his meaning, only love, forever.

Sr. Alison

Sonnet “Mother Julian” by Malcolm Guite is taken from his ‘The Singing Bowl’, 2013, published by Canterbury Press

Image: Moyers, Mike. Awake My Soul, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57138 [retrieved May 28, 2024]. Original source: Mike Moyers, https://www.mikemoyersfineart.com/