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Friday, 29 May 2015

Daddy-o, Laddy-o and Spook


SERMON PREACHED AT THE WAIAPU CATHEDRAL
OF ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST
NAPIER, NEW ZEALAND
TRINITY SUNDAY


(31st May) 2015




Readings:   Isaiah 6:1-8      
                   Psalm 29
                   Romans 8:12-17
                   John 3:1-17

I was well into my thirties before I first heard the expression “Daddy-o, Laddy-o and Spook” – perhaps under the influence of James K. Baxter we might say “chook”[1] – as a description of the Most Sacred and Mysterious Trinity. It tickled my fancy, and while I might be wrong I suspect the Most Sacred and Mysterious Trinity has (not have!) sufficient humour to understand and enjoy the irony of it: it exemplifies humanity struggling with the impossibility of encapturing the mystery of divinity. If we are offended by the gentle playfulness of the expression, or dismiss it as disrespectful, then we are ourselves missing the point that the mystery of tri-unity is simply beyond the fumblings of human expression or the meanderings of human comprehension.

I remember well as I entered theological college the despair of those of my colleagues who had entered training from a scientific or pragmatic background. If we are used to a world in which e = mc2, or in which one foot equals 30.48 centimetres, or the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides (a2 + b2 = c2) then there is something desperately bewildering about three-in-one and one-in-three, or even about a human who is simultaneously divine, and indeed a triune divinity who has eternally absorbed humanity. I watched the theologs struggle, and wondered why. I came from a world in which

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune – without the words,
And never stops at all

(Emily Dickenson)

I saw no need to reduce God, the source of hope and love and faith and life and light to mere equations. Which is not to say, incidentally, that I accepted the much touted theological equation that “God is a metaphor,” because I maintain God the Creator is far beyond the limitations even of metaphorical language: God needs no vehicle, in grammatical terms.

Still: metaphor is a useful tool, and probably more useful than the modern penchant for scientific rationalism, when we come to explore the mysteries of God. The Trinity, I emphasize, is the doctrine by which Christianity stands or falls. Jettison Trinity and we no longer have the God of our sacred scriptures, no matter what Jehovah’s Witnesses might tell us. Anne had a friend who once declared to her that, if Christianity got rid of the doctrines of Incarnation and Trinity he could go along with it. Ali was a Muslim. Rid ourselves of the doctrines of Incarnation and Trinity and we are likely to find ourselves either Muslim or Jewish. Both are fine faiths, but neither of them is the Christian faith (nor, I suggest, is Unitarianism or the Jehovah’s Witness faith).

The Trinity is the doctrine by which Christianity stands or falls. But if all we have is a divine and even darker version of the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac, then we have no good news to share, just a murderous god. So much of our language of faith has hooked into the imagery of blood-sacrifice and failed to move on from there. We are left with Daddy-o murdering Laddy-o, for us. To be left there is to be left with an image unrelenting in its brutality, an image out of which much inhumaneness in the name of God has been spawned, not least against God’s chosen Jewish people. To be left there is to be left too with a binitarian, rather than a trinitarian faith. To be left there is to be left with no language of love, and it is no accident that this God-as-murderer binitarian faith often spawns the language of anti-Semitic, anti-gay, anti-other hatred.

The language of the Trinity, deeply immersed in the exploration by the first Christians of countless Hebrew and Greek Testament texts, the language of the Trinity is the language of love-making. It is the language of God making love and making creation and making redemption and making hope. It is the language of making possible our reciprocal making of love to God. Just as the rhythms of human love-making are not merely about procreation, not merely explicable by the need to propagate a species, so the language of the Trinity is the language of eternal love, interpenetration, and the making of room even for us in the complexities of the universe and its eternities.

The language of the Trinity is the language that is born deep in the bowels of Jewish and Christian people as they were grasped by the magnificence of a Creator, who didn’t need to create, yet a Creator who does not leave humanity or creation abandoned, a Creator who cares and redeems. It is language that is born deep in the bowels of Christians as they realized that all the justice and forgiveness and righteousness and healing and redemption that the God of the Hebrews had made known to the Old Covenant People of God, all that was now available to them in the person and life and death and above all resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, our Christ-Messiah. It is the language that is born deep in the bowels of worshipping Christians as they realized that all the meaning and pressure and impact of Jesus of Nazareth the Christ-Messiah was not limited to a few years in first century Palestine but was spreading out through space and time to all who would open themselves up to that meaning and pressure and impact no matter where or when. Trinitarian language is the language of praise and adoration and love-making to and from God in an eternal interchange, an eternal dance that is far beyond mere human rationality.

The language of the Trinity is the language that says the experience of humans journeying through birth and suffering and death, through grief as well as through laughter, through war as well as peace, reunion as well as separation, depression and elation, through the whole gamut of human experience, is taken up in the Ascension, deep and inexplicably into the eternal heart of Godhead; there God the Creator, God the Redeemer, God the Vivifier participates in your experience and mine, even when we don’t know or acknowledge or understand it and even to the point where we might cry out “there is no God”, for Jesus did that too. There in the heart of the triune God our whole experience is transformed into, caught up in the Easter promise of eternity and we are invited to journey eternally in Christlight.

 

TLBWY                                                                                                        



[1] See James K. Baxter, “Ode to Auckland”, line 46.
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