Knowing God

Sermon at St James, Trinity Sunday, 12 June 2022

To listen to the recording of the sermon as you read:

We have all surely been to a conference or a discussion group when we have been assembled into a small number and the leader asks us all to introduce ourselves – “We’ll go round the room and would you each give your name, where you live and why you are here.”  So you say “My name is Mary and I come from Colwall and I am here because I want to know more about the Impressionists.” Your neighbour says he’s John and comes from Worcester and he too is interested in art. And so on.

But then there is a slightly more testing way that you might be asked to introduce yourselves.  The leader asks everyone to introduce themselves using just three to five words.  So Mary might say that she is a wife, a mother, a painter and a business woman and John might describe himself as a husband, a gardener and a pianist.  These introductions are more revealing than the first, of course, although they can never entirely sum up a complex, mature human being.

So how do we manage when we try to describe God?  Can he be described at all?  Isn’t God beyond words and therefore should we not leave as a mystery the one whom we worship and in whose presence we want to live?

Today, Trinity Sunday, we have this dilemma put in front of us.  God as three in one and one in three.  

One way that many use when faced with this issue is to say that they see three aspects of God as they can see aspects of their fellow men.  God is then our father with all that that entails and was and is seen in Jesus his son and is revealed through history by the Holy Spirit.  Three aspects – father, son, and spirit. Simple and easy.

The trouble is that that does not do justice to what our Lord said and did because on several occasions he prayed to God as his Father and as a separate being and he also spoke of the Holy Spirit as the Comforter – again as a separate being.

And St Paul gave us a form of words, which we all know, and which summarises the Trinity, when he wrote in his second letter to Corinth: “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Saints and mystics from Moses, Isaiah through to Paul, St Francis, Julian of Norwich, and Padre Pio, to name a tiny few of a cast of thousands, have all said that they have been in the presence of God and the common theme is that God transcends everything – “My thoughts are not your thoughts nor are your ways my ways.”  God is beyond us as well as being the ground of our being within us and impossible to describe.

We cannot know God unless God chooses to make himself known and the great joy of our Christian faith is that God has reached across eternity to this imperfect and fallen world where we exist and has made himself known – God so loved the world that he gave his only son and Jesus reveals the nature of God, what God’s love looks like in a world of men and women. The Jesus of history as portrayed in the Gospels and the Jesus of today in our spiritual lives embodies the nature of God as far as we can understand it.

The Holy Spirit then becomes the power of God continuing Jesus’ mission in his followers, working through those first disciples and now through you and me.  We are vehicles for the Spirit as we are for God and his Son.  Just as God gave power to those first disciples at Pentecost so that they put all their fears and inhibitions to one side and broadcast the good news of Jesus, so God’s power is there for us to show what God’s love looks like.

Three persons or three aspects – does it actually matter?  It’s impossible to know God fully, so why tangle ourselves up in knots attempting to make sense of the Trinity? Some people argue that to try to understand the Trinity could seriously endanger your mental health. Much better perhaps to leave the puzzle as a mystery and to meditate on it instead.

Teach us to know the Father, Son
And thee of both, to be but one
That through the ages all along
This may be our endless song
Praise to thine eternal merit
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen