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      Sermon      St. Margaret of Scotland          Galiano  

                        Trinity Sunday    May 26, 2024


       Isaiah:6: 1-8;  Psalm 29;   Romans 8:12-17;    John 3: 1-17


 When I was younger, I tried to “understand” the Trinity.  You know, 3 petals on a clover leaf, or ...the 3 components of an egg: shell, white, yolk;  ...or Water, as Liquid, Steam, Ice....

       I wasn't helped.


  I tried to find images in literature or psychology, what we know about the patterns of relationship between people ~ to find insight into the mysterious Three-In-One of our God.


 Sometimes in life, you can feel so "close" to another person as to identify with them ~ almost as though they were part of you, and you were part of them.  .   Fans of some celebrities seem to do this (particularly the “Swifties” ~ fans of Taylor Swift) They feel so identified with the singer that they mimic her ~ wearing similar clothes, following her interests and actions, keeping up with her tweets and blog-posts, as well as her songs, and all the celebrity gossip.


Could a better insight into the Trinity come from the closeness within a marriage... (or not?) (or are we as men and women an even bigger mystery to one another??)  How about the closeness of parent and child.....??    It seems all these illustrations fall short, leaving me on the outside of the deep connection I want with our mysterious Trinity-God.   


On the other hand, there are many things I don't understand ~ like the inner workings of a computer ~ but even though I don't understand how a computer works... I can still use it to bring me information, insight, even a feeling of connection with others.    Is God the Trinity a strange mathematical puzzle I need to solve, in order to grow in faith?


I used to say that I don't understand how very tiny seeds planted in the dirt turn into bright orange carrots over a few summer months ~ but that doesn't keep me from eating them! 

We benefit every day from human endeavour we may or may not understand.  Jesus himself said (John 3) that being born again is like hearing or seeing the impact of the wind, but not knowing where it comes from or where it is going.


 There are also different kinds of “knowing”....   In French,  the word "savoir", means to know something, to understand how to do a thing; while the word "connaitre" means to know a person.    One has to do with "objective" understanding of experience and concepts, perhaps so you can master a task; while the other has to do with interpersonal relationship, involving humility and vulnerability, as well as boldness, risk, loss, even sacrifice, as well as the exultation of love.   


Someone once said that the study of Religion involves learning the details of a particular path of belief ~ objectively ~ as in any other field of study;   by contrast,  Spirituality is the subjective experience of following a path, in relationship with the One ~ God ~ who reveals himself to us.  It involves humility and boldness, deeper personal risk and potential reward.  


  Perhaps there are ways in which how we relate to one another reflect our relationship with God, or through which we can gain insight into that human-divine relationship.  But could it be a category mistake to imagine that the creature ~ you or I ~ could not only try to relate to our Creator, our relatable God, but also to "comprehend" God, in the same way some people are able to understand trigonometry....?    Could it be that we are simply not designed to be able to “understand” God?  ~ at least not in the same way that we understand other things?


Certainly we can know God as he makes himself known to us~ responding to his initiative.  But no matter how close we come, isn't there still a "gap" between us and the One who created the ever-expanding universe, who threw the stars into space, and then took time to blow the breath of life into a handful of dust to make you or me?!    Could the Mystery of God (or the God of Mystery) outstrip our mind's grasp, just like we might feel dizzy to hear an astrophysicist attempt to describe the mind-boggling size of the known universe? 


Yet the Lord does invite us to know him, to enter into a reciprocal relationship with him in response to his initiative in creating us in his image ~ can we learn to “know” God, as he seems to know us?   Could the call be to fall in love with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?



When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, Jesus taught them the Lord's prayer.  Jesus is the one who told us to say “Our Father” ~ in a sense inviting us into his relationship with the father (Luke 11).  A little later (Luke 12:32) Jesus encourages us all with these words: “Fear not... for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom”   This kingdom of God is not a place as much as it is the empowering presence and authority of the Creator.   Where God's will is accomplished, God's reign and rule (i.e. God's “Kingdom”) is present.  For Jesus, faith in God the Father is not a passive mental assent ~ It is an expression of practical loyalty in response God's presence, and allowing God's will to be accomplished through our words and actions. 


The great puzzle of the Trinity is not “solved” by metaphysical speculation or ingenious creative insight, the way physicists have come to know the workings of quantum gravity.

Rather, people come to know Jesus through responding to his invitation to follow him.  And he is the one who invites us into his relationship with the One he called “Abba” Father (“Papa”). 


Consider Paul's response to Jesus.  He identified himself as a good Pharisee, “as to the law, blameless”.   Yet through his blinding light experience of being confronted by Jesus on the way to Damascus, Paul came to identify Jesus as Divine.   In 1Cor8:6, seeming to reflect on the Jewish “Shema” prayer said at least 3 times daily by all Jews, Paul expresses boldly his insight that Jesus and the Father are One:  “There is One God, the Father from whom are all things, and for whom we exist... and One Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we exist.” 


In other words, the experience of Jesus revealing himself to Paul convinced Paul that his concept of God was too small, and that the interpersonal reality of God was forcing him to expand his language about God to express the “three-in-one” as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  


Paul linked the experience of others in response to Jesus with the challenge of an expanding relationship with the One Jesus called “Father”.  In Romans 8(:14) Paul says  “All who are led by the Spirit of God are children (sons) of God.  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of beloved children(“sonship”) When we cry “Abba!~ Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs ~ heirs of God, and fellow-heirs with Christ...” 


     Do you see how the experience of the disciples, interpreted through Paul's words, laid the foundation for what eventually became “the Doctrine of the Trinity”?   Practical experience of those caught up in following Jesus, and trying to make sense of their everyday struggles, breakthroughs, and insights ~ this is where faith in God as Three-in-One, Father, Son and Holy Spirit ~ first as a lived experience ~ became an intellectual concept.  


The disciples' experience of Jesus opened them to identify Jesus as more than mere human ~ his intimacy with the Father, his words and actions, embodied elements of the age-old Jewish longing for what only the Messiah could be.   Their concept of God was changed because they experienced the divine in Jesus, and through him, the One he called “Father”.


Similarly it was Jesus who told the disciples after he rose from the dead that they should wait in Jerusalem until they were “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49)  Before the day of Pentecost, Jesus told the disciples that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you ~ and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8) 


Our mission ~ following in the path of the disciples and millions of others who have been drawn to Jesus, is to throw our lot in with God's mission to rescue the earth from darkness and evil and death.  Just as God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt because he heard their crying, and knew their suffering, and promised to “save” them, we are to get our hands dirty with God's work in the world.  Sometimes western Christianity has perpetuated the idea that “to be saved” is to be whisked away from this broken and sinful world into a beyond we call ..“heaven”...; NO ~ Jesus' call is to save us first for THIS WORLD, which He is rescuing.  As members of the body of Christ we are to live in active love as an expression of the Father's will, to be a holy presence here on earth, by the power of the Spirit, in the name of Jesus.  This is what we pray in the Lord' prayer: “Thy Kingdom come on earth...” 


In other words, God is the one responsible for expanding human insight into the character and the mystery of the divine in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  As the Lord God has revealed more of himself through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, our categories have been stretched, our hearts and minds and spirits have grown.   Whether we think we can “understand” Trinitarian theology, or “simply” follow Jesus in faith, hope and love, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are becoming a reflection of God's presence on earth through the power of the Spirit, in Jesus.  This is God's purpose, that the “kingdom” be us!



One Trinity Sunday some years ago, I was walking through a large beautiful garden cemetery in Vancouver on the way to church, where I was to lead worship and preach.

I was again feeling overwhelmed by how little I understood this spiritual life "in Christ" which we share, and struggling to find ways to encourage others.


I was so deep in the puzzlement of my mind, and the struggles of my heart, that I almost didn't notice the blossoms on the trees, the singing of birds in the early morning quiet, the sweet breeze and warm sunshine, with all the flowers amid the exploding greens of springtime.   My attention was more inwardly focused, but as I walked and began to give thanks for the beauty of the early morning, and the quiet of the cemetery on that Sunday ~

my eyes fell upon a loonie, on the path in front of me!    Picking it up, I wondered who might have lost it.   But then a few steps further, I found another!     That caught my attention!     ....And then I found a third loonie!  I walked back and forth, wondering if there were more.... but No, there were 3 loonies, not more, nor less.  Suddenly remembering what Sunday it was, I laughed to myself and smiled when I realized that I “found” 3 loonies on the One day when we celebrate and speak about the mystery of our Tri-Une God ~ On Trinity Sunday ~  !


 Was the Holy Spirit teasing me, the way my 4 year-old grand-daughter likes to tease me, with a twinkle in her eye, trying to provoke a reaction from me that will be Fun for her....   Would the Lord God, Creator of the Universe, be so silly?        What if I say yes?           

            .....Does the Lord like to have fun with us?       


       This reminded me of one of the most challenging questions I was ever asked, very gently by a Spiritual Director:   "What do you do to allow God to enjoy you?"    


Was God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, pulling my attention away from intellectual wrestling about the Trinity, so I could just lean into the The Presence of the God of Mystery, in love? 



A Sonnet for Trinity Sunday   By Malcolm Guite, from the book  Sounding the Seasons


            In the Beginning, not in time or space,          

            But in the quick before both space and time,

            In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,            

            In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,

            In music, in the whole creation story,             

            In His own image, His imagination,

            The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,        

            And makes us each the other’s inspiration.

            He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance, 

            To improvise a music of our own,

            To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,  

            Three notes resounding from a single tone,

            To sing the End in whom we all begin;           

            Our God beyond, beside us and within.







                        The Gifts of the Three      

                         Spirit, give me of Thine abundance,
                        Father, give me of Thy wisdom,
                        Son, give me in my need,
                        Jesus beneath the shelter of Thy shield.

                        I lie down tonight,
                        With the Triune of my strength,
                        With the Father, with Jesus,
                        With the Spirit of might.

Originally from the  “Carmina Gadelica” I, 75    (Ancient Gaelic Songs and Prayers)         Esther de Waal, editor,  The Celtic Vision(Liguori, MO: Liguori/Triumph, 1988, 2001), p.163

NOTE: For sixty years the folklorist Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912) traversed Scotland's Outer Hebrides isles collecting and translating the traditions of its Gaelic-Celtic people. His eventual trove contained a little of everything — their ballads, prayers, proverbs, hymns, charms, incantations, runes, poems, tales and songs. Carmichael's labor of love was published in six volumes across seventy years as Carmina Gadelica ("Hymns of the Gael") Hymns and Incantations, With Illustrative Notes on Words, Rites, and Customs, Dying and Obsolete: Orally Collected in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Carmichael published the first two volumes in 1900. His daughter Ella continued the project. Volumes 3 and 4 were published by his grandson, James Watson, in 1940–1941. Volumes 5 and 6 were published by Angus Matheson in 1954 and 1971.




                                                                                                            Eric Stephanson