Faithlife
Faithlife

DIY Trinity

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At home in St Peters, when it comes to sermon time, the preacher climbs up into the pulpit and begins with an ascription, as I have just done: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The congregation sits and the sermon begins. I must say that I can happily live with that ascription. I never used, because I never cared for, the ascription which says, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to thee, O Lord... It sounds to me too much like an excuse, and particularly if it’s followed by an internet sermon it would need to be a big excuse. May the words of the internet... Better to claim the authority of God in whose name we speak: in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Some preachers at St Peters change it. They say, In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer and giver of Life - and even though I don’t say it I quite like the thought, it keeps the Trinity and takes away the sexist language of the Father and the Son. Why do we say it at all? Why not jump straight in to the sermon? The reason is that most of the important activities we do are done in the name of the Trinity. As St Patrick said, I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity. We baptise in the name of the Trinity, we bless in the name of the Trinity, and we preach in the name of the Trinity. In other words we do our ministry of word and sacrament and care in the name of the Trinity.

Now that I am retired I am discovering all the tricks that you have known for 50 years. At sermon time you sit up straight and look intelligent, but what you are really doing is to examine the hymn numbers to see how many of them are prime numbers, that is divisible only by themselves. It may take five minutes to do that. What do you do for the next 10 minutes? Well, I think up names for the Trinity. Once upon a time you would not think of the Trinity in any other way but Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Recently we come across the Trinity as Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life; it’s a carefully thought out alternative, for God the Father is the Creator, the maker of heaven and earth. God the Son is the Redeemer, and God the Holy Spirit is the giver of life, a phrase which is taken from the Nicene Creed. But that’s too easy. Someone has already worked it out and thought it up. I’d like to think up my own original Trinity, and perhaps I might get to be famous. Now, you’ve got to say, that’s a very worthy objective for sermon time.

As it happens things are going along quite well on the Trinity front. Towards the beginning of the year as I was just beginning to grapple with the problem of what to say before the sermon the first term came to me: God the originator. God the originator. I quite like that. It’s not sexist, an originator could be male or female. It has a particularly pleasing theological ring to it; an originator is someone who lays a foundation, or devises a plan for some complex piece of machinery, some activity, especially some kind of dynamic activity. You might be sitting down one winter’s night playing poker with your friends, and you say, I wonder who originated this game. Or you look around to see why the room should be so cosy and you say expectantly to your wife, knowing that she is the fount of knowledge, Who originated the heat pump? You don’t ask who made the heat pump because the answer might be Mr Panasonic, and you don’t ask who created the heat pump, because creating is what we do for works of art; complex processes like the earth, like life, like the universe, like heat pumps we originate. So I like the first part of my Trinity: God the originator.

The third part of my Trinity fell into place a couple of Sundays later. It came to me that the term I would use for the Holy Spirit is God the achiever. If God the originator devises a universe, God the achiever brings it to fulfilment and completion. That’s exactly what we conceive the work of the Holy Spirit to be. The Holy Spirit works in the minds and hearts of people to achieve the result that God intended. There should be, for instance, harmony between people, so Paul speaks of the fellowship or communion of the Holy Spirit. Or we think of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to the church enabling people to fulfil the various tasks of preaching and teaching and caring. Or think also of the fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, temperance, self-control - are they not the fulfilment of human relationships, the quality for which we are always striving? That’s why I would label the Holy Spirit as God the achiever, because in and through the Holy Spirit God’s purposes come to fulfilment and fruition.

You can see the sequence beginning to build. In the name of God, the Originator, the Something, the Achiever. I am making a movement, from beginning to end, from start to climax. I now need the middle term in that sequence, I need the right term for Jesus the Son. I sit in church, and when it comes to sermon time I forget about prime numbers and the praying mantis walking up the side of the communion table. I’m worrying away at my expression of the Trinity - what’s the word for Jesus if I start with the Originator and end with the Achiever. I think of Jesus showing us how life should be: is there a word somewhere in that? I think of the self-giving of Jesus, who emptied himself of all but love and bled for Adam’s helpless race: is there a word somewhere in that? I remember Jesus welcoming the children, accepting lepers, patiently guiding the disciples: is there a word somewhere in that open heart and hand? One day I will discover the missing word, but it hasn’t come to me yet.

For all I know there may be some among you who are sceptical, who don’t come to church to grapple with the Trinity, who only wish to analyse the hymn numbers. Why do I ponder the Originator, the Achiever, the missing term for Jesus? Well, I’m struggling with one of the hardest things for a human to do: to work at the name and nature of God. In one sense I’m doing nothing original, nothing that hasn’t been done before. Christians believe in a Triune God, one God in three persons, because that is how their experience of God comes to them. It’s not imposed on us by church hierarchy, it comes out of our own understanding of God. God was experienced well before Jesus. The world with its complexity of life in humans, animals, fish, birds, plants gives voice to God. While I am wondering what are the right words for God, God is wondering about how to make a red kiwi fruit with a sky blue inside. Anything God can do with parrots God can do with kiwi fruit. God was certainly experienced in Christ, in that remarkable love, in that restoration of brokenness, in keeping the faith, in dying and rising. God comes in the Holy Spirit whom we experience stirring the pot at a church meeting, giving unlikely people a voice, daubing colour upon our worship. We know the Triune God who comes as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as Creator, Redeemer, Giver of life, as Originator, Unfolder, Achiever. We work at the Trinity because anything less will not do justice to God.

If you grapple with the Trinity, you might take the technological approach I talked about last week in connection with the Holy Spirit. Someone has suggested the Trinity is like a book: there’s the idea or plot in the mind of the writer, there’s the finished book upon your bookshelves, there’s the reading of the book and its impact upon the reader. My Pye Vidmatic from last week is trinitarian, too. The voice that comes to us is the Father speaking to us as to the prophets, calling Moses, or Samuel or Elijah by name. There is the picture or synchronization of the picture or image to the sound so we can see what the sound has been saying; this is the Son, the picture, the image of the invisible God. There is colour, the Holy Spirit making sound and picture real, anchoring it in our familiar world. You have one TV set at home and when you watch you have three: sound, picture, colour: three in one and one in three.

Of course, I am not going to get up next Sunday at sermon time as and say, in the name of God, sound, picture and colour. Nor am I going to say Originator, Unfolder, Achiever. I don’t think I will say Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life. I will probably use the traditional formulae: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God, for me, is personal; who, in whatever way I know him, thinks, responds, listens, plans, cares and gives. But you should know that in the cracks I’m working at the Triune God. Why don’t you have a go: I challenge you to a Do it Yourself Trinity - it’s not only good for your soul, its actually fun.

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