Trinity Sunday 2019 Yr C Romans 5.1-5; Ps 8; Jn.16.12-15
Today is Trinity Sunday. It is when we celebrate the God we know as the Trinity, and somehow try to understand how One God can be at the same time, three persons.
Since it is so hard to explain, we usually revert to using a metaphor. . The most common one used is the idea of a stream into which you place your fingers, dividing it into three streams. It is still one stream, but has become three streams.
But I think the idea of the Trinity has more to do with how we see God, or rather how we have seen God over the years – centuries – millennia – and how our view of God has progressed or evolved over time.
What we know of God comes of course, as it should, from the Bible. And reading the Bible, beginning with the Old Testament, and working through the Bible, we can see how God has been perceived differently over time.
We read about the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – Jacob, whose name became Israel. You will remember that Jacob had two wives, Leah and Rachel, and twelve sons, the favourite being Joseph – he of the coat of many colors.
Joseph’s brothers were jealous of Joseph so they sold him to slave traders who took him to Egypt and resold him there.
Through various trials Joseph became a confidant of the Pharaoh, and the second most important man in Egypt.
If you remember he had advised Pharaoh about an oncoming famine and consequently lots of grain had been stockpiled in advance.
When the famine arrived Jacob’s family were starving and came to Egypt to buy grain. They came to Joseph, and he recognised them although they did not recognize him.
After he had tested them, and teased them for a while, he revealed who he was, and when they expressed remorse for what they had done to him, told them not to feel so guilty.
He said it was obviously part of God’s plan for him to be there in Egypt at that time and to rescue them.
He gave them provisions and asked that his family come to settle in Goshen, a fertile part of Egypt.
This they did, and lived and prospered, and grew in number over 400 years. But the then Pharaoh saw them as a threat and had them placed in slavery.
So God had to rescue His people again, now from the Egyptians who had become their slave-masters. He used Moses, as you know.
Although some people still think it was Charlton Heston.
And yet, we read in the Old Testament, that this compassionate God, this loving God, the God of Israel, on occasion commanded Moses to have the Israelites wipe out all men women and children when taking an enemy city.
At the back of this seemingly incomprehensible command was Moses’ idea that Israel must not be tainted with the paganism and heathenism of those they conquered. He wanted to keep the Israelites racially, and religiously pure.
You can judge for yourselves whether God actually commanded Moses that way, or whether it was Moses’ own mistaken idea.
The Israelites had grasped that the purity of religion must be safeguarded, but the only way they could see to preserve that purity, was by destroying those who didn’t believe as they did.
You see that same idea being acted out in some countries, even today, and with terrible results.
When Jesus came, people began to see that the way to preserve purity of faith is to convert the heathen.
Our knowledge of, or idea of God, thanks to Jesus and the words of his followers, has thankfully progressed.
But some people think that progress ended when the Bible was put together. They think that what we know about God is limited to what is written in the Bible.
They say that since AD 120 when the latest book in the New Testament was written, God hasn’t been heard from.
Yet, we know that the Spirit of God is always active; is always revealing himself; always revealing God to us.
We know that because of Jesus, don’t we?
People had seen God as a fearsome being. People had trembled before Him. Or Her. His thunder frightened even those who worshipped and feared him. His vengeance was something to be feared.
Then the Light of the World, Jesus, came to show us a God that we didn’t know, but have since come to love, and not to fear.
The best way to send an idea, said scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, is to wrap it up in a person. God wrapped his great idea in Jesus who brought us the idea of God’s love.
Or as a little girl said, more simply,” Some people couldn’t hear God whisper, so he sent Jesus to tell them out Loud.”
John projects the same idea when he tells us, “ The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
It has been said that when Jesus opens the gates of Heaven we glimpse not judgment, not condemnation – but an undeserved, incredible, unending, everlasting, love.
So we find God in the Scriptures, we find him in Jesus, but we discover more and more about God as we enter into prayer, and communion with Him, over time.
It is the Spirit who helps us do that.
So God doesn’t only show himself in the words of theologians, or priests; they are not the only ones who are inspired.
We learn about God in great poetry, in the words of some of our most lovely hymns, written by people inspired by God.
When H.F.Lyte explained how he wrote the words to Abide with me, he said he had no sensation of actually composing the words, but that he wrote them down as if they were being dictated to him.
Handel says that when he wrote the Hallelujah Chorus, he saw the heavens opened and the Great White God sitting on the Throne.
God, through the Spirit, reveals himself to writers of great music, to authors, and poets, but also to ordinary folk like you and me, and is still revealing himself today.
When a scientist makes a discovery that will benefit humankind, or a surgeon discovers a new technique that will save lives and ease pain, or when someone comes up with an inspired way of delivering treatment for deadly disease to those living in undeveloped countries, then God is revealing herself.
Everything we know comes from God. The laws of physics, the laws of the universe are not invented by scientists, they have always been there and are just waiting to be discovered.
Before Newton watched the apple fall from the tree and had his revelation about the laws of gravity, people weren’t floating in the air, drifting off into space; gravity had always been there. Newton just noticed it and deduced what it was.
Progress in knowing God has come about in the same way. We discover more and more what has always been there.
And the way God’s Spirit reveals him today – in what we discover in poetry and music and great works of art – in science, in medicine, even out in space, but most of all in the loving acts of Christians, emulating Christ, – we get to know more and more about the One who created everything.
You know the world has always been hard for Christians. It was hard in the beginning when the church authorities in Jerusalem tried to eliminate the teachings of Jesus. It was hard in the time of Paul, when Christians were persecuted in Rome.
It was hard for those who sought the truth about God within their own church, in the time of the Inquisition.
Today, persecution continues in some countries as sectarian violence takes lives, churches are burned, and Christians killed.
And here, in our own godless society, we can face ridicule, and criticism for our Christian views.
In some families Christians are discouraged from attending church by other family members.
The six or seven day work-week, which we thought had gone for ever fifty years ago is back, and makes it difficult for Christians to attend worship on Sunday.
It is not easy to be a Christian, today.
Even so, even in this modern world, an endlessly loving God is revealing himself.
Paul writes that trouble produces fortitude. He says that suffering is like the process where metal is heated in a furnace to purify it, and make it stronger than before.
Suffering makes us better able to face whatever difficulties come our way, Paul says.
I am reminded of an item I read some time ago.
It seems someone wanted to ship live fish across the country, in tanks, to enable those who lived far from the ocean to enjoy fresh seafood.
The best care was taken with the tanks, and the water, and the transportation, but for some reason the fish arrived worse for wear. The flesh was not even pleasant to eat.
Then some bright spark had the idea of putting in each tank another fish, an enemy – a predator – of the fish being transported for eating.
Wonder of wonders, the fish arrived in perfect condition.
The effort they had to take to avoid the predator, the pressure they were under, just trying to avoid being eaten, kept those fish in great shape.
This God of ours, doesn’t put hardship in our way deliberately, but that hardship reveals something about God that we might otherwise never know; and that is his steadfastness, his faithfulness and his grace, when we are in dire need.
As the man Jesus walked with those who suffered, God the Creator, walks with us in our suffering, and reveals Himself by the Spirit, which, as Jesus tells us, brings to us, all truth.
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
One God, three persons.
The Holy Trinity.