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.
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.
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