Sermon for Trinity Sunday, 30 May 2021
By Revd George Mwaura
God in three persons, speak to us in this space by your Spirt and shine light into our human understanding of who you are.
A family living in New Jersey in the USA narrated a hilarious experience of taking a young girl of Asian origin to church with them. The girl’s parents had travelled and left them minding the eight-year-old. It was the girl’s first exposure to Christian worship and they were a bit anxious. When they returned home, they asked her what she thought of the service. ‘I loved the singing,’ she said, ‘but I do not understand why the West Coast was left out.’ When they asked her what she meant, she said, ‘You know, what the man at the front of the church was saying: “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the whole East Coast”.’ Funny as this might sound, I can see why she was confused.
There are some elements of our faith that are difficult to understand or explain, and one of these is the Trinity. Another girl, one whose family is actually known to me here in Milton Keynes, asked her mother, her father and her Sunday School teacher what God was like and none of them gave her a suitable answer. But at least her father was honest; he said to her: go ask your mother! The little girl thought to herself: If I had lived with God for years, like my parents or our Sunday School teacher, surely, I would be able to explain to people what God is like. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is our problem. Yes, we are Christians and yes most of us have walked with God all our lives. So really, we ought to be able to tell people what God is like, should we not? But quite often, we have no clue.
Story has it that Saint Augustine was walking along the seashore one day while pondering this same issue of the Trinity, Father, Son, and the whole East coast when he thought he heard God’s voice say to him: ‘Pick up one of those large seashells by the shore.’ So, he picked it up. Then the voice said: ‘Now empty the ocean into the shell.’ He thought for a moment and said, ‘Lord, it is not possible.’ And the voice came back: ‘Of course not. In the same way, how can your limited mind ever hold and understand the mystery of the eternal, infinite, triune God? Do you get my drift?’
Many Christian churches will be celebrating Trinity Sunday today, an important truth of the Christian faith, but one which is the least understood. Like Augustine asks: how can you empty the ocean into a mere seashell? How do you explain the majesty of God to minds as limited as ours? I am not going to make a fool of myself by pretending to know everything about this mystery either, but with your permission, I will share my thoughts. So, God in three persons, what does it mean?
To begin with, it means that God is beyond the categories in which we human beings classify reality. I put it to you that most people’s problem is that they have a God who is too small, too limited. But look around you: the evidence is to the contrary. Truly, the heavens bear the evidence of the glory of God. And the glory which the heavens display is breath-taking. In 150 bc a man named Hipparchus said there were exactly 1026 stars in the universe. One thousand, five hundred years later Galileo, using the newly invented telescope, investigated the sky and saw millions and millions of stars. Today, we know there are about a hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone and do not forget there are thousands upon thousands of galaxies besides ours! So, how big is this universe then, you might ask? I will tell you: in 1987 an astronomer observed with his naked eyes the explosion of a distant super-giant star known as a supernova. But the most amazing fact of this blast is not that he saw it all, rather that the event had happened 170,000 years before. It had taken that long for the light generated by that faraway event, travelling almost six trillion miles a year, to reach earth. That is mind-boggling! That is how vast the universe is. Now, can you imagine the magnitude of a God who is bigger than all that? Can you imagine a God for whom time does not even exist? As Augustine said, God created time just as he created space. There is no tomorrow or yesterday in heaven; eternity is timeless. It is good to remember when we are impatient with God that God lives out of the time dimension. Many of us have a God who is too small, one who fits into our stereotype. But God is the Divine Other and he is beyond our imagination. I wonder, is your God big enough?
Second, this God who is beyond our understanding visited our planet in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. As Christians, we do not believe that God set the world in motion and then sailed off to a holiday destination without a forwarding address. Oh no! We believe God came to us in the life of a humble carpenter and that he is still active in the world, renewing it by the power of his Spirit. Please note that I did not say God came in the guise of a humble carpenter. I said he came in the life of a carpenter. Jesus was not God masquerading as a man. No, no, God emptied himself and became fully human when Christ was born in a manger at Bethlehem. He was a real man and yet God was in him reconciling the world unto himself and taking on him the sins of the world and the punishment we deserved. It is beyond our comprehension that the God of billions of galaxies would humble himself to become one of us and to take upon himself our weakness and our shame. He defies all human logic. That is what the doctrine of the Trinity is saying to us.
And finally, this mighty God is available to everyone here and now. That is right: the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit of God, is at work in here with us this morning! She is present and available; she is our Comforter, our Sustainer and she is our Friend. In the early 80s, Israel`s Prime Minister Menachem Begin visited James Callaghan, the then British Prime Minster and noticed three telephones with distinct colours on Callaghan`s desk. Tell me, what are those for? Callaghan said: the red one is to the White House, the blue one to the Kremlin and the gold one is a direct line to God, he joked. How much does it cost to call God? Begin asked. Ten thousand pounds a call, Callaghan replied, but it is worth every penny! A year later when Callaghan was visiting Begin in Israel, he asked the same question. What are your three phones for? Begin replied: One’s a hot line to Egypt, another is a hot line to Parliament, and the third is a hotline to God. How much does it cost to call God from here? Callaghan asked. Begin smiled and said: nothing, nothing at all: all local calls are free! Friends, you do not need a long-distance call to connect with God; God is here and everywhere: in the East Coast and yes, even the West Coast!
The confusing doctrine of the Trinity says that the same God of a billion galaxies, who emptied himself and walked the dusty roads of Galilee, is a local call away. He is here, and he is available. If we have a need, he is our Provider; if we are heartbroken, he is our comforter, and if we have wandered far away from the path of righteousness, he is our Saviour. Everything we ever need: we find in him. God in three persons; Father, Son and whole East Coast – blessed Trinity!