Sermon for Trinity Sunday: God who was, and is and will be – preached at the Eucharist, Sherborne Abbey, on Sunday, 5 June 2023 by The Reverend Robert Green. (Isaiah Ch 40: v 12 – 17, 27 – end; Matthew Ch 28: v 16 – end)
I want to begin by telling a story about the first hymn we sang this morning, ‘Lift high the Cross’, and my reason for choosing it. When I was asked to consider my second move from my first parish in Kent in 1979, I was being asked to follow my predecessor twice. When I went to see the Bishop he agreed with me that it was unusual, but he felt that it was right, and having sworn obedience to my Bishop, I prepared for the move. At that time I was attending an ecumenical prayer group, and knowing that I would be moving, a lovely Pentecostal lady prayed for me, that’ the Cross might be lifted high’ above the village I was moving to. Little did she know that I had already chosen the Hymn ‘Lift high the Cross’ as the opening hymn for the Induction Service. It was a wonderful confirmation that this was God’s will for me, even though I was following my predecessor twice! This hymn has become very special for me.
Here in our county of Dorset we live in a most beautiful area with its rolling hills, picturesque villages, glorious beaches, a Giant just down the road, although he may not be as old as was originally thought, and some spectacular cliffs. It is those spectacular cliffs, part of the Jurassic Coast, that are specially interesting as the cliffs are not stable, and from time to time there are major falls of rock revealing hidden treasure, not gold or silver, but fossils. These fossils as my grandchildren will tell me are millions of years old, and the creatures they depict were on this earth long before any humans. In fact these fossils are as old as 150 million years, and this makes us think about time, and the vastness of our planet’s story, and the smallness of humanity’s place in it. For some this is evidence of the non-existence of God, or is it further evidence of a God who is so much greater than our minds can comprehend?
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus promises the disciples that he will be with them “always, to the very end of the age.” In St. John’s Gospel he speaks of the Spirit who is sent by God the Father, and who is as much God as the Father and Jesus himself. So it is that on this Sunday we celebrate the only Sunday named after a doctrine; the Trinity. We are invited to get our minds around the idea that God, the only power in the universe, can also be spoken of, and known as three distinct persons. This is as mind-blowing as thinking about life millions of years ago, and certainly illogical. Theologians have grappled down the centuries with ways of defining the Trinity that makes any sense, but perhaps logic is not the point.
To return to our fossils, and those millions of years of existence that they lived without human beings, we realise that the mysterious creatures fossilised in our Dorset cliffs were part of an ecosystem that was here long before us, and we begin to feel small and insignificant. In the grand scheme of things, we have not been on this planet very long, and it is possible we may disappear from it. But God, the Creator was not only there before us, but also there before the dinosaurs, and before the earth itself. We heard in Isaiah, the prophet asking; “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?” The answer to his question is; “The Lord, the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” This God who was there before the Earth, who made it and the rest of the universe, is for Isaiah the Lord the God of Israel. This power beyond all powers is known in a personal relationship by a particular people, and that relationship becomes even more intimate and personal as on a particular day in a particular place, Nazareth, a teenage girl, Mary, has a spiritual experience that changes her whole life as she is to be the mother of God’s Son. Jesus is born in a particular place, Bethlehem, at a particular time, and shares a human life, teaching and telling stories until his death on a Cross, and that is not the end, for by his Resurrection he shows us that death is not the end of the story. Even though Jesus goes away. God does not, and is still present in our world, and indeed the whole universe.
The doctrine of the Trinity tells us that God is not encountered in only one way, but is present in as many ways as we need. This does not appeal to our logical minds, but to our spirits and emotions. This is our God, who is too ancient and vast, but gentle and human, and beyond human, to be spoken of as one person.
God is not limited to one time or place. God is there in all time and eternity. God saw the creatures we know only as fossils when they swam, crawled, lived and died. God was there before the beginning, and will be there after the end. It is the same God that we see in Jesus and know through his Spirit in our daily lives. A God who has a plan for each of us, and will show us the way our lives should take- even which parish to minister in.
Lord God of the vastness of time and space, we thank you for the assurance that you are present with each of us and hear our prayers, Give us a faith and courage always to trust in you. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.