This is the text of a sermon for Trinity Sunday, in the parish where I am now licensed. The Scripture it references is Isaiah 6:1-8.
Last year the vicar was criticised on Facebook for letting me (or should I say making me?) preach on Trinity Sunday, because some people felt it was a “wasted opportunity” for a mere curate to preach on such an important topic. I shall do my best to make sure that this morning’s sermon exceeds their expectations and is not a wasted opportunity.
But it is a problem, this question of the Trinity. In holding on to the idea, we are alienated from the faiths which are otherwise closest to our own, we grapple over whether to accept some church groups as properly Christian, and we remember a history of long and bitter struggle – even martyrdom – over what can seem like a very abstract idea. It’s hardly surprising that teachers in the church can struggle to explain why it’s been such a central issue.
There’s a temptation, I think, when confronted with the idea of the Trinity – especially if, like me, you don’t find it an easy thing to get your head around – a temptation to decide that what we think about the Trinity doesn’t really matter. But I think it does, and I want to focus on just one aspect of that this morning.
If you think of God as being not a Trinity, but One person, there is one thing that that God does not have which the Trinity does; and that is relationship as part of God’s very nature and eternal reality. A God which is not a Trinity must create others – the physical world, angels, human beings – with whom to experience that relationship, and those relationships are always profoundly unequal; the worshippers and the worshipped. I think this morning’s reading from Isaiah conveyed the depth of that gulf beautifully.
In contrast, if we believe in a God who is a Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all uncreated, each eternal – we believe in a God who is intrinsically and eternally in God’s very nature a relational God. In the relationships within the Trinity – says the Creed of Athanasius – “none is afore, or after other: none is greater, or less than another.” But these three are united in purpose and perfectly cooperative in action, each contributing their part in submission to their shared dream for creation.
And here’s the important bit about that, for us in our everyday lives. If this is how God relates within Godself, then this is the model for ideal human relationships. Within the home, within society, and within the church, we are given a model for relating to one another in which position and hierarchy are suspect; in which power is relativized, and in which the importance of shared vision, shared purpose, and mutuality in taking up the work involved are set forth as the highest possible example, and we are shown our opportunity to reflect and even participate in the divine glory.
This way of relating to one another is important because people are important. The Trinity – like the home, like society, like the church – is comprised of persons in relationship. True healthy, Godly relationship will build one another up, creating unity which celebrates our diversity, never impoverishing us all by marginalising or reducing to silence or stillness people who are an integral part of who we are.
Here we have a stark judgement of our continuous failings; because in the light of the Trinity, we have no excuse for any domination of one human being by another, or of one group of human beings by another. No excuse for war; no excuse for economic exploitation; no excuse for leadership structures which silence the voices of the powerless; no excuse for patriarchy; no excuse for racism; no excuse.
In particular, an understanding of the Trinity as a perfect relationship of equals undermines the patriarchal view of marriage put out by some Christians as reflecting eternal submission of the Son to the Father. If Jesus’ submission was not eternally of his nature, but an outworking of the cooperation of all the persons of the Trinity to achieve their will for creation, then we cannot use belief in the Trinity to argue for wifely submission, but have to acknowledge that the ideal set before us is one of unity, cooperation and mutuality.
I’m not saying that there will never be leadership and authority exercised by some, that’s a necessary part of our human relationships; but it’s about how that is exercised, with reciprocity, consensus and concord, in a spirit of mutuality and service.
This understanding of God also calls into judgement our individualism and our consumerism; our belief that fundamentally, we stand alone in this life, and our tendency to relate to one another for what we can get out of it, rather than who we can be to, for and with one another. How we relate to one another shows clearly how deeply we have been shaped by the worship of a God of perfect relationship. This vision of God as Trinity challenges directly each of us when we, consciously or unconsciously, perpetuates division within ourselves, and between ourselves and others. We all have our share in the making and the perpetuating of these wounds. There is a need for the healing of these rifts; a healing which for us, lies in our Lord and God whose inner life of loving relationship overflows into and renews the life of the church.
All of us are here today because something about God has been attractive to us. The deeply creative, loving, overflowing life of God comes to live within us; to show itself within us, and to work through us to take hold of others around us. Our life as a community should mirror something of the inner life of God; a life in which hierarchy and ego is not at issue; a life in which each is willing to be involved in work that is costly; a life which is not closed off and turned inward, but looking outward in overflowing abundant generosity, love and joy. God’s love has been poured into our hearts, and we can hardly remain unchanged after that experience.
The Lord be with you.