Tag Archives: identity

A sermon for Trinity Sunday

On this Trinity Sunday, I’m going to ask some questions… but not necessarily give any answers……

…… because “it is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”, as Churchill said (in another context).

It’s convoluted, complex, difficult to get to grips with, because we mere human beings can never comprehend the mind nor nature of God…….

……apart from the fact that we believe in the fact that God is love revealed to us in his son, Jesus, and we are guided to Christ, to our Father God, through his Holy Spirit.

So, I’m going to ask questions, but I’m not necessarily going to reach any conclusive answer.

But if, when you go home and think and pray and ponder on these things, you may just get an inkling as to what this may be about.

Let’s start with a story:

Once, during the Great War, a soldier got separated from his comrades. He was wandering about, stunned and aimlessly, when an Officer found him. The poor Tommy couldn’t tell him who he was nor where he had come from.


collect pix paul lewis; world war one welch fusiliers.. pilken ridge, belgium july 1917

The Officer had an idea. There was to be a boxing match in a few days time – for a bit of r & r for the troops, away from the horrors of conflict.

He invited the soldier to come along, and, on the day of the match, invited him into the ring.

“Does anybody know this man?” he asked the crowd.


Then the lost Tommy shouted, “For the love of God, please tell me who I am!!!”

Who am I? A question perhaps a lot of us ask of ourselves. Who am I?

It’s that plaintive cry for meaning, purpose, knowledge, understanding, relationships…. and whatever gives us identity.

Who am I? And, you know, in my case, I don’t really know. I fill a space…..

…..but I can give you some facts; but it’s really data or statistics.

I’m 69 years old in October.

I’ve been an ordained minister for 42 years

I will have been a widower since June 2012.

I have two sons, two granddaughters, and twa dugs.

I’m male – with a 45 year old beard (you know, there’s a name for people who don’t have whiskers….. women ….. on the other hand…no!)

Oh, there are lots of other things about me, if you delve farther

Here’s one that I wear as a badge of honour, even after 60 years or so: at the age of 8 or 9, I was expelled from the Cubs… for bad behaviour

I’ve settled down now….well, a wee bit!

But who am I? Who are you?

We only see a reflection in a mirror, for example, or in a photo or video ….. but, all in all, that’s not the whole story.

What about all the complexities that lie beneath the skin or in the brain. The bulk of us is INSIDE us – veins, blood, arteries, organs and the like?



Sometimes, we may get a glimpse into who and what a person is.

This is an old way of looking at this, but bear with me:

I want you to imagine a man who is a medical doctor.

What kind of person – generally speaking – do you picture in your mind’s eye?

Someone who is caring, skilful, perspective, educated to a very high level

How about an academic?

Well, let’s picture a scholar as someone analytical, insightful, intelligent. Look at him poring over his books, writing an esoteric paper which only his peers will probably understand.

Lastly, picture a very gifted and talented musician – a professional – classically trained – a maestro in his field. Entertaining, enlightening, even uplifting his audience.

OK – a doctor, a scholar, a musician…… three kinds of people….

….. but they all came together in one brilliant man: Albert Schweitzer who dedicated his life to helping the poor in Africa, teaching them the Gospel, being like a father to them.



But that somewhat hackneyed comparison doesn’t even scratch the surface of the One in Three, and Three in One.

The concept of the Holy Trinity is an artificial, man-made construct.

Should we not just be happy with “God” in whatever shape, form, or person?

Should we not just put theology to one side and concentrate on living the best kind of life we can, living in the light of God, living in the Spirit of God, following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ?

Let’s perceive God as the Son who redeems us;

as the Father who loves us;

as the Spirit who guides us…….

…..all at the same time.

It’s complex.

I started off by saying that I would pose questions – but not necessarily come up with cast-iron unambiguous answers.

Complex, yes – but sometimes isn’t it the case that simple faith, simple hope, and simple faith are all we often really need.

Let me close with a story – it’s a bit obscure, and I’ve read it over many times in its full form, and I think I know what it’s getting at.

It’s a story about three hermits – it’s based on an old Russian tale, adapted by Leo Tolstoy.

Here’s an abbreviated version of it:
A Bishop was once sailing from Archangel to the Solovétsk Monastery, when he heard members of the crew talk of a small island, where certain hermits – holy men – lived.

The Bishop – intrigued – asked to be taken there.

The old men bowed to him, and he gave them his blessing, at which they bowed still lower. Then the Bishop began to speak to them.

‘Tell me,’ said the Bishop, ‘what you are doing to save your souls, and how you serve God on this island.’

‘We do not know how to serve God. We only serve and support ourselves, servant of God.’

‘But how do you pray to God?’ asked the Bishop.

‘We pray in this way,’ replied the hermit. ‘Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us.’

And when the old man said this, all three raised their eyes to heaven, and repeated:

‘Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us!’

The Bishop smiled.

‘You have evidently heard something about the Holy Trinity,’ said he. ‘But you do not pray aright. to Him.’

And then the Bishop began explaining to the hermits how God had revealed Himself to men; telling them of God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.

‘God the Son came down on earth,’ said he, ‘to save men, and this is how He taught us all to pray. Listen and repeat after me: “Our Father.”‘

And the first old man repeated after him, ‘Our Father,’ and the second said, ‘Our Father,’ and the third said, ‘Our Father.’

‘Which art in heaven,’ continued the Bishop.
And they laboriously echoed his words.
And all day long the Bishop laboured, saying a word twenty, thirty, a hundred times over, and the old men repeated it after him. They blundered, and he corrected them, and made them begin again.

Eventually, it was time to leave, and the Bishop said his farewells.



As his ship sailed away, something strange happened…….the three hermits running upon the water, all gleaming white, their grey beards shining, and approaching the ship at some speed.

The hermits were running after them on the water as though it were dry land.

Before the ship could be stopped, the hermits had reached it, and raising their heads, all three as with one voice, began to say:

‘We have forgotten your teaching, servant of God.We can remember nothing of it. Teach us again.’

The Bishop crossed himself, and leaning over the ship’s side, said:

‘Your own prayer will reach the Lord, men of God. It is not for me to teach you. Pray for us sinners.

And the Bishop bowed low before the old men; and they turned and went back across the sea to their little island.

‘Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us!’
Make of that what you will.

I’ve been an ordained minister since 1974 and have been wrestling with this doctrine of the Trinity for over 40 years, and, you know, as long as we live in this wonderful world of creation, as long as we can interrelate with one another in a good and Godly way, then there is God, and there is the Spirit who binds us together, through our common devotion to Jesus Christ.

The Holy Trinity – complex…. yet, in so many respects so simple that it’s startling in its claim


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the vicar’s wife (article in the Guardian)

What I’m really thinking: the vicar’s wife

‘Inside I’m seething, and wish I could tell everyone to eff off, from the sniping parishioners to the controlling bishops’
The Guardian, Saturday 12 April 2014

vicars wife illustration

Illustration: Lo Cole for the Guardian

I didn’t sign up for this. When I married my husband, he wasn’t a vicar. And frankly I’m fed up with being known as a vicar’s wife. At first I fought against my image of smiley compassion and small talk, but I’ve accepted it now and even learned to bake bread. Inside I’m seething, and wish I could tell everyone to eff off, from the sniping parishioners to the controlling bishops.

My husband is becoming bitter and demoralised. He is an incredibly gifted, spiritual man, but the reason he joined the church is becoming less and less clear, to him and to me. You joke that Sunday is his busiest day, but he works from 6am to 10pm every day. There are no leisurely weekend breakfasts for us. All week he’s breaking his back, and for what? A tiny congregation of retired lieutenant colonels that dwindles each time he buries one.

Perhaps you are going this Easter. You might wonder aloud why you don’t go to church more often. The vicar is charming and it gives you a sense of wellbeing. But this is soon forgotten. You won’t be back till Christmas. By then the vicar will have spent hours on sermons few will hear, prayed alone in a cold church on frosty mornings, and wondered over and again what he is doing wrong. For 363 days a year he feels a failure, and if numbers are any indicator, he is. When you need him to marry you, baptise you or bury your loved ones, he’s always there, but why don’t you ever stop and consider that he needs you, too?


The Meenister says: much of this is very true.  When I left Parish Ministry after 25 years to take up a post in full-time healthcare chaplaincy, my wife said to me: “Thank you for giving me back my identity”

And what old-fashioned expectations there must be for working spouses: teachers, doctors, lawyers etc.  What too is expected of the husband of a minister who is female?

Once, when an interim-moderator at a neighbouring vacant church, the search committee was discussing what the new “minister’s wife” (note that: they assumed it would be a male clergyman that would be called) would do – be president of the Guild, run the creche, be the flower arranging convener, perhaps take a Sunday School class……” hey, wait a minute!   how many stipends will you be paying?”, I asked.  End of discussion.

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How atheists became the most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet

By Brendan O’Neill Last updated: August 14th, 2013

Article in the Telegraph


When did atheists become so teeth-gratingly annoying? Surely non-believers in God weren’t always the colossal pains in the collective backside that they are today? Surely there was a time when you could say to someone “I am an atheist” without them instantly assuming you were a smug, self-righteous loather of dumb hicks given to making pseudo-clever statements like, “Well, Leviticus also frowns upon having unkempt hair, did you know that?” Things are now so bad that I tend to keep my atheism to myself, and instead mumble something about being a very lapsed Catholic if I’m put on the spot, for fear that uttering the A-word will make people think I’m a Dawkins drone with a mammoth superiority complex and a hives-like allergy to nurses wearing crucifixes.

These days, barely a week passes without the emergence of yet more evidence that atheists are the most irritating people on Earth. Last week we had the spectacle of Dawkins and his slavish Twitter followers (whose adherence to Dawkins’ diktats makes those Kool-Aid-drinking Jonestown folk seem level-headed in comparison) boring on about how stupid Muslims are. This week we’ve been treated to new scientific researchclaiming to show that atheists are cleverer than religious people. I say scientific. I say research. It is of course neither; it’s just a pre-existing belief dolled up in rags snatched from various reports and stories. Not unlike the Bible. But that hasn’t stopped the atheistic blogosphere and Twitterati from effectively saying, “See? Told you we were brainier than you Bible-reading numbskulls.”

Atheists online are forever sharing memes about how stupid religious people are. I know this because some of my best Facebook friends are atheists. There’s even a website called Atheist Meme Base, whose most popular tags tell you everything you need to know about it and about the kind of people who borrow its memes to proselytise about godlessness to the ignorant: “indoctrination”, “Christians”, “funny”, “hell”, “misogyny”, “scumbag God”, “logic”. Atheists in the public sphere spend their every tragic waking hour doing little more than mocking the faithful. In the words of Robin Wright, they seem determined “to make it not just uncool to believe, but cool to ridicule believers”. To that end if you ever have the misfortune, as I once did, to step foot into an atheistic get-together, which are now common occurrences in the Western world, patronised by people afflicted with repetitive strain injury from so furiously patting themselves on the back for being clever, you will witness unprecedented levels of intellectual smugness and hostility towards hoi polloi.

So, what’s gone wrong with atheism? The problem isn’t atheism itself, of course, which is just non-belief, a nothing, a lack of something. Rather it is the transformation of this nothing into an identity, into the basis of one’s outlook on life, which gives rise to today’s monumentally annoying atheism. The problem with today’s campaigning atheists is that they have turned their absence of belief in God into the be-all and end-all of their personality. Which is bizarre. Atheism merely signals what you don’t believe in, not what you do believe in. It’s a negative. And therefore, basing your entire worldview on it is bound to generate immense amounts of negativity. Where earlier generations of the Godless viewed their atheism as a pretty minor part of their personality, or at most as the starting point of their broader identity as socialists or humanists or whatever, today’s ostentatiously Godless folk constantly declare “I am an atheist!” as if that tells you everything you need to know about a person, when it doesn’t. The utter hollowness of this transformation of a nothing into an identity is summed up by the fact that some American atheists now refer to themselves as “Nones” – that is, their response to the question “What is your religious affiliation?” is “None”. Okay, big deal, you don’t believe in God, well done. But what do you believe in?

Today’s atheism-as-identity is really about absolving oneself of the tough task of explaining what one is for, what one loves, what one has faith in, in favour of the far easier and fun pastime of saying what one is against and what one hates. An identity based on a nothing will inevitably be a quite hostile identity, sometimes viciously so, particularly towards opposite identities that are based on a something – in this case on a belief in God. There is a very thin line between being a None and a nihilist; after all, if your whole identity is based on not believing in something, then why give a damn about anything?



September 4, 2013 · 14:56


The Independent

Judge refuses to allow defendant to plead while wearing burka

Chloe Hamilton Friday 23 August 2013

 A judge has refused to allow a Muslim woman to enter a plea in court until she removed her burka, claiming he could not confirm the woman’s identity without seeing her face.

The 21-year-old woman from Hackney in east London, who is accused of witness intimidation, had refused to take off the full-length veil and reveal her face at Blackfriars Crown Court, the Judicial Office confirmed.

Judge Peter Murphy said there was a risk that a different person could pretend to be the defendant in the dock, and argued that the principle of open justice was more important than the woman’s religious beliefs.

He also refused a request from the woman’s barrister for a female police officer or prison guard to confirm that she was the same person as in police arrest pictures.

The judge reportedly told the woman: “I can’t, as a circuit judge, accept a plea from a person whose identity I am unable to ascertain.”

A Judicial Office spokeswoman said: “There was an issue with the judge asking to confirm the identity of the woman and he has adjourned the case until September 12, when he may hear legal argument about the issue.”

The defendant is alleged to have intimidated a witness in Finsbury Park, north London, in June.

Official guidelines were issued to judges in 2009 suggesting a “range of different possible approaches” to the matter of women wearing a burka or niqab in court, but stating that “the interests of justice remain paramount”.

The guidelines state: “For a witness or defendant a sensitive request to remove a veil, with no sense of obligation or pressure, may be appropriate, but careful thought must be given to such a request.

“The very fact of appearing in a court or tribunal will be quite traumatic for many, and additional pressure may well have an adverse impact on the quality of evidence given.”

While there is no ban on Islamic dress in public places in the UK, schools have been allowed to forge their own dress codes after a 2007 directive which followed several high-profile court cases.

The controversial garment has been the subject of an attempted ban within Parliament, however, with Tory MPs listing “ban the burka” as a proposed Private Members Bill earlier this year, alongside bringing back the death penalty and abolishing the position of Deputy Prime Minister.

The UK Independence Party, which argues that the burka is a sign of an “increasingly divided Britain”, has long supported a public ban, claiming the religious veils pose a potential security risk.

Ukip became the first British party to call for a total ban in January 2010. Both France and Belgium have banned the full-face veil from public places.

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An eight-year-old was asked to write a homework essay with the title ‘Explain God’ This is what he wrote:

One of God’s main jobs is making people.  He makes them to replace the ones that die so there be enough people to take care of things on earth.

He doesn’t make grown-ups, just babies.  I think because they are smaller and easier to make.  That way, he doesn’t have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk.  He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.

God’s second most important job is listening to prayers.  An awful lot of this goes on, since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times besides bedtime.

God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this.  Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears, unless he has thought of a way to turn it off.

God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere, which keeps him pretty busy.  So you shouldn’t go wasting his time by going over your mum and dad’s head asking for something they said you couldn’t have.

Jesus is God’s son.  He used to do all the hard work like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn’t want to learn about God.  They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him.

But he was good and kind like his father and he told his father that they didn’t know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said OK.

His dad (God) appreciated everything that he had done and all his hard work on earth, so he told him he didn’t have to go out on the road anymore.  He could stay in heaven. So he did.  And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which

are important for God to take care of – and which ones he can take care of himself, without having to bother God.  Like a secretary – only more important.

That’s an eight year old’s perception of who God and Jesus are and what they are like.

 It’s a misconstrued perception, but, sadly, such warped descriptions aren’t restricted to children.

 Many adults too have a false impression of who Jesus is.

 Jesus once asked his disciples who people think he is.  He was testing public opinion.

The answers ranged from John the Baptist to Elijah and Jeremiah or some other prophet.

But Peter, when asked, was able to give the answer to the puzzle of Jesus’ identity – and his answer should be ours also –  ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’

Jesus is Emanuel, God with us, the head of dominion in whom is full salvation and access to God.

He comes from God, is one with God, reveals his purpose, and leads humanity back to him.  He is what God intends humankind to become.

Jesus is about love and reconciliation.  He’s about broken lives and putting them back together again.

Jesus is about everything that is good and pure.

He looks at us as he did the disciples that day and says, “Who do YOU say I am?”

Jesus is not someone, who is easily defined, but when, with Peter, we acknowledge him to be the Messiah or Christ, we confess him as we have experienced him.

As we have experienced his compassion and his love.

For Jesus is love.

The real Jesus is someone who cares for us, who has compassion on us, who loves with a love divine all loves excelling; a love that made him sacrifice himself for the likes of us – yes, us, loveless and imperfect as we all are. 

When we have experienced that wondrous love, then we truly know who he is – “the Messiah or Christ, the Son of the Living God”

Who is the real Jesus?  Someone who loves us far more than we will ever understand.

As the old Hymn puts it –

Jesus loves me this I know

For the Bible tells me so

Little ones to him belong

They are weak, but he is strong

Yes, Jesus loves me

Yes, Jesus loves me

Yes, Jesus loves me

The Bible tells me so

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