Sunday 30th May 2021
Year B, Trinity Sunday
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Parish Eucharist
Romans 8.12-17
John 3.1-17

In the name of the one God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.

That wise old bird, Bernard Lonergan, once began a lecture on the Creed as follows:

"In the most Blessed Trinity, there are five notions, four relations, three persons, two processions, one nature and, some would say, no problem" which is to say, in the nicest possible way, that understanding the Holy Trinity is far from simple.

Famously, Saint Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock to explain it and I have been known on occasion to use the example of the three colours, red, green, and blue, to produce all the colours on our television screens; but this is not very helpful, although the three colours example has the advantage over the shamrock that they are different whereas the plant's leaves are nominally identical.

In trying to get closer to an understanding, our Greek-speaking forebears in the 4th and 5th Centuries came up with the notion of "persons" but while this approximates to the idea of a "father" and a "son" as persons, it doesn't do much for the ethereal Holy Spirit. Another fundamental problem with "person" is that it means exactly the opposite of what it meant to the formulators of our Creeds; to them it meant a phenomenon, like a character in a drama, embodying characteristics such as mercy, bravery or prosperity and you can see these embodiments of virtue and vice in Medieval mystery plays; but to us a "person" is a unique set of individual characteristics that make each of us different; never has a word change its meaning so radically through time. On top of this, the metaphor used for the Creator/Redeemer relationship is quasi biological, that is the father/son relationship throws up all kinds of complexities, particularly for a post paternalistic society.

Related to this, Greek philosophers and their theological successors were interested in describing a phenomenon, answering the question "what is this thing?" but in the case of God it might be much more helpful to think of the question: "What did or does this thing do?" So, putting aside the previous problems for a moment, here is a draft statement of what this thing has done and does: God out of time created our world of time; God also eternally embodied Jesus God in  history who has redeemed us from death, consequent upon our faulty exercise of free will; and God also embodies the Spirit out of time, as witnessed in verse 2 of the Book of Genesis and in time, as witnessed in the opening passage of the Gospel of John. That Spirit is with us now in Christ's Church, individually in our homes and collectively in our prayer and in conferring grace through our Sacraments and through those rites which are central to our Christian life: Confirmation, Marriage, Ordination, Reconciliation, and the anointing of the dying.

Put this way, we inhabit God's creation in a post Easter state of hopeful Kingdom Building rendered possible by the redemption of Jesus Christ and supported by the Spirit. Which leads me back to my beginning, identifying the Trinity as the Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. In this respect we should be careful not to insist on too clear a demarcation as the Trinity's attributes are both identifiable but totally integral so, for example, it is extremely unhelpful to use the phrase "God SENT his only Son" as that would imply not only God's chronological priority but also God's superiority to Jesus God in history. Likewise, it does not help to think of a God who somehow requires satisfaction for our misdeeds through the shedding of human blood, the blood of God in history. It is not that God required the death of Jesus but that we did so in order to facilitate the Resurrection.

After all that theology let us come down to earth and down to us. What matters is that we were made to love God and each other freely; that we were saved from the mortal consequences of misusing our freedom such that our false choices will not lead to death; and we are sustained constantly by The Holy Spirit. And it is to this last point that I want to turn because in spite of our special day last Sunday, I think we need more time on, with, and in The Spirit.

If we place too much emphasis on intercessory prayer, as I think we do, it is the Spirit that does the heavy lifting: we pray for the strength to do this, the patience to do that and the grace to do the other but we need to think more about listening to the Spirit, giving ourselves the space and time to hear, that is what I mean by spending time "on" the Spirit; and it is only through spending more time "on" the Spirit that we will find ourselves "with" the Spirit; and if we spend enough time "with" the Spirit we will, if we persevere and if we listen, find ourselves "in" The Spirit. But to go through this three-fold process we have to get away from the idea that The Spirit is a kind of celestial odd-job-man or, to use a different image, a dispenser of Grace in much the same way that a grocer pours sugar, or coffee, or something else, into a bag, fastens it up and hands it over. One of the great virtues of the Reformation is that it rebelled against the packaging up of grace when the packaging should only have been associated with Sacramentality. For the rest, outside the Sacraments the better word for grace is love, the unconditional love with God offers to the whole of humanity.

In the name of the one God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Amen.