Puppies and Heresy
Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2016
Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
I have to make a confession: I’ve fallen – head over heels.
We met through a friend. It was love at first sight, and it promised to be life-changing. He’s really handsome. He has dark brown hair and deep hazelnut eyes. He’s younger than me, playful, and yet he will happily cuddle up on the sofa. Sure, it’ll take time and effort, and no doubt well have our moments, but I’m confident it’ll be worth it. He’s moving in with me next week.
Before I take this too far, though, let me clarify… I’m getting a puppy. A sprocker spaniel called Oswald. You can check back in a few weeks time after I’ve been dealing with 4am wee stops as to whether my rose tinted glasses remain intact!
Now you’re probably wondering already what on earth that has to do with Trinity Sunday.
Well, basically this: traditionally, preachers approach Trinity Sunday with fear and trembling; it’s a hard gig! And the best piece of advice I received this week was that the only way to avoid preaching heresy about the Trinity is to talk about kittens or puppies. So puppies it is…
Trinity Sunday is the one Sunday of the year whose title is given over specifically to something that’s not explicitly mentioned in the Bible at all, but instead to a concept that’s part of our doctrine – that is, the Christian system of beliefs. So on Trinity Sunday we might easily expect that to spend time reflecting on different ways we might think about the Trinity. For example, we could try The Athanasian creed. It says:
“Now the catholic Faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity; neither confusing the persons, nor dividing the substance. For there is one Person of the father, another of the Son; another of the Holy Ghost; But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one, the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal. Such as the Father is, such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated; the Holy Ghost uncreated. The Father infinite, the Son infinite, the Holy Ghost infinite. The Father eternal, the Son eternal; the Holy Ghost eternal… And yet there are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated, nor three infinites, but one infinite and one uncreated…” (Scottish Prayer Book, 1929)
Are you still with me? I’m not even with me! And it goes on for another 16 lines. My brain circuitry started to melt at about line 2. I’ll spare you the rest. Meanwhile, at the other end of the complexity spectrum, we might want to say simply that God is One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Whichever way we look at it, though, we’re likely to end up asking “Yes, but what does that mean?”
The problem is that when we try to pin a definition of God down in black and white, our desire to use intellect and reason to explain the Trinity as a concept, tends to become an attempt to pin down and describe God as a thing: inert, finite, and able to be packed down into a box of our making. And this is misplaced. For God is not inert, finite or a mere something – but a someONE – who knows us and loves us and with whom we’re created to live in relationship. It’s a matter not only of the head, but of the heart.
Scripture does not give us a rigid doctrinal formula to constrain the Trinity, but instead tells us stories that are creative and productive, about ways in which God’s work in the world might be experienced, so that we might begin to identify and name our own experiences of the divine here and now. And so it is with this morning’s scriptures – each points us to different images of ways in which we may experience God’s existence: as Creator, as Redeemer and as Sustainer.
In Proverbs we’re reminded of Lady Wisdom, described by Samuel Terrien as the Mediatrix of God’s presence. She is with God at creation, and her presence permeates it. Wherever we see the world in its right order, flowing as it should, we see God using her in his creative work, and she calls us to attend to the magnificence of God’s creation. Perhaps we see the stars… ocean… or the intricacy of a flower-head… or perhaps we hear a word of sage advice, spoken clear as a bell, affirming what is right and good. In all of this, Wisdom calls on us to see and experience the presence of the Creator God, at work in our midst.
Meanwhile, in the letter to the Romans, Paul’s attention is on lived experience, and his focus on redemption. He points straight to Jesus Christ – to the reality of experiencing God as Redeemer. He reminds us that to place our faith in Jesus, who died for our sins and rose again, is to be made right with God. He says it brings a peace. Yet it’s also intimately connected with the painful reality of human existence. He warns of suffering and is at pains to demonstrate that there too, God can be experienced, since suffering produces endurance, endurance character, and character hope, which does not disappoint, because we’ve received God’s love. As we hit hardships – as we all will – and as we endure them, even, or maybe especially, God the Redeemer is at work there, offering hope.
And in John’s Gospel we have Jesus in the Farewell Discourses, Jesus addresses the disciples’ questions. “Where are you going?” they want to know. “How can we know the way?”
Jesus reassures them. He says that he can’t answer all their questions now – there isn’t time and anyway, they’re not ready to hear the answers. But the Holy Spirit is coming, who will glorify Jesus, declare the Gospel and guide the disciples, making things known to them at the right time. We may say, with the disciples, that we don’t understand. We may have questions that are unanswered… And we might be lost. But perhaps we have, too, moments of revelation, when what has been opaque suddenly becomes clear. Or moments where in the midst of the fog we somehow just know, somehow, we’re not alone… and in these we experience God the Sustainer.
Our experience of God, then, is not easily cast in black and white. I for one think that’s actually rather wonderful, because the God we experience is far more amazing than I could ever put into words. Scripture encourages us to go with that, making creative connections between the ancients’ and our own lived experience of God.
This Trinity Sunday, perhaps we might spend a few quiet moments attending to the nature and diversity of our experience. As we do so, may we be renewed in our sense of the reality, as well as the wonder and mystery of who God is, all God has made, and how God encounters us. May we savour and rejoice in our experience of the One God: Father, Son and Spirit; Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.