SERMON PREACHED AT ALL SAINTS’, CHARLEVILLE
AND AT St LUKE’S, AUGATHELLA
TRINITY SUNDAY (St Norbert’s Day)
(6h June) 2004
Readings: Proverbs 8.1-4, 22-31
Is it worth holding on to, this bizarre doctrine? Centuries ago, in a document wrongly called the Athanasian Creed, the author reached into the heart of Christian belief with these revealing sentence “Such as the father is, such is the Son, and such the Holy Spirit: the Father uncreate, the Son uncreate, and the Holy Spirit uncreate, The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Spirit incomprehensible.” Many a believer – and many a curate forced to write a sermon on this most incomprehensible of all doctrines – has been tempted to whisper a heartfelt “amen” to the solemn words.
A week ago we heard of and reflected on the unsettling, troubling ‘enemy of apathy,’ the Spirit who takes us from our comfort zones and leads us on and into the Way of Cross and resurrection. Only after we have celebrated that feast is the Easter story complete: the one who is crucified on Good Friday bursts unexpectedly from the tomb of Easter day. The same one, revealed now as Son by his obedience to the One he confidently and familiarly calls Abba, slips from sight on that forgotten Thursday, Ascension Day. Pentecost Sunday whispers to us with the belief that these are not just some happenings from long ago and far away, but events that transform our lives – if we let them – today and tomorrow and tomorrow’s tomorrows, always and in all places. And finally this day, in all its mysterious languages, urges us to believe that the Man of Nazareth and the disturbing Enemy of Apathy and the creating, judging Father are all interconnected, one in essence, one in substance, yet able to be differentiated. Incomprehensible?
Perhaps you noticed in recent weeks the footage of the mad rush of gap so-called wedding ceremonies that have been occurring in the United States. Many of these ceremonies were conducted not, as we might expect, in a civil court, but in a church. The churches, with perhaps one or two exceptions, were predominately Unitarian – a branch of old Testament influence religion that has powerfully influenced the United States and parts of Europe but never really gained a hold in the Australasian religious consciousness. Unitarians, where they believe at all, believe only in a creator God – sometimes too a sustaining and even a judging God – but not in the Trinity. Such a god would make conversation with our Jewish and Muslim cousins so much simpler. Such a God would make belief so much simpler. Such a God winds up the universe, perhaps even hears our prayers and directs our lives, but remains far out there, far removed from the messy actualities of day to day life.
Such a God may hear our prayers and even direct our lives but does this God enter our experience? I am reminded – since we are celebrating at this time the memories of D-Day – the stories of soldiers who entered battle led by fresh-faced, private school educated officers whose hands had never been dirtied. Foot sloggers tended to respond far better to the officers who had done it tough, who had felt the dirt on their faces, smelled the cordite and the sweat and the fear. Yet on the other hand a leader who knew nothing of the plans and directives of Central Command was of little use. It was no use heading aimlessly west when Head Office knew only too well that victory could be gained only to the east. Somehow the balance needs to be right: a God who sees the way ahead, yet one not removed from the day to day pains and joys of my existence or yours.
Then, as we saw last week, there is another problem: can the entering of God into human experience – the dirtying of divine hands if you like – be limited only to a few brief years in a country far away and long ago? Does Jesus of Nazareth know anything of life in a west Queensland drought or flood, or of life in a US prison camp, or life as a ninety year old or of life as a woman? Can such lives be transformed from the hell holes of Good Friday into the joy of Easter and Ascension if God’s connection with human activity is limited only to an outpost of a long dead Mediterranean empire? Surely this is what the Christ of John’s Gospel-account is saying when he speaks of one who “will declare to you the things that are to come.”
If not, can we truly with Paul cry out in joy that we have encountered God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand? Or that our hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us? Or are we alone and disconnected to the Creator?
I know many Christians who are keen to biff this incomprehensible doctrine of incomprehensibility into the too hard basket – or the waste basket. Yet it is a doctrine that we loose at peril of our faith. As we seek to be bearers of Christ-hope in an (arguably) increasingly direction-less world we can know that we are empowered by the spirit who is the Spirit of Christ, and that the Christ who is the unravelling – the revelation – of the heart of the Creator.
This is in the end a mystery, needing language beyond human ability, but to which we must cling. We can do no more than offer our triune God silent whisperings or stuttered words of thanks from hearts transformed by the Creator’s breath, from hearts offered hope that reaches beyond the deepest hells – or boredoms – of human experience, beyond our deaths and the deaths of those we love.