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Saint Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church

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The First Sunday after Pentecost: Trinity Sunday
7 June 2009

A Sermon Preached by the Rev’d Dr Andrew C. Blume

Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity: We beseech thee that thou wouldest keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see thee in thy one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Exodus 3:1-6
Psalm 93
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-16

My doctoral supervisor used to say that the difference between scientific knowledge and the knowledge we gain in studying in the humanities is that scientific knowledge is the most fragile of all knowledge: it is absolutely right until the moment when it is absolutely wrong. Science works with equations and proofs and gets hard answers. These answers are always correct, except at the moment when there is a paradigm shift and a new discovery disproves it all.

The historian spends a lifetime unravelling the evidence, putting the pieces together. We know that something happened. We see evidence of it. We have a document or set or records or story, a building, an object or a work of art. We encounter the ultimate reality that something happened, that something was created, that people encountered each other and that they were changed in the meeting. We do not, however, have the full story and perhaps we never will. But still the historian searches and ponders how and why. We look for a fuller accounting of the story and seek to tease out lessons for us today. We do not have formulae and proofs. Rather we have our reason and our other gifts of sight and hearing, our gifts for language and other skills. This is the work of the historian: to approach the truth as best we can and to keep on at the project even though we know our answers will always be tentative and incomplete.

Much the same can be said for the theologian, and by extension for the Christian. We know from our experience, through our participation in the Sacraments and in the life of the church, from loving and being loved, that God in Christ is real and what we are doing here is important and makes sense. And yet, we have no scientific way to prove it, no scientific way to prove the existence of God, or explain how the Eucharist works, or work out the precise nature of the Trinity. We have experienced their power we know them to be true and real, but their ultimate explanation eludes us. We grasp for meaning, and we spend our lives making meaning of them. We have no formulae, we have no single test that will show us whether we are right or wrong. Many find this frustrating. Many have sought such tests and, for my part, I am glad they have not yet found one. I am glad that the ultimate realities of creation, like history, are not able to be contained and made neat and tidy. These things are bigger than you or me or this building or this moment.

This does not mean, however, that we are given license to say that we do not have to do the hard work of seeking after knowledge and understanding, seeking after deeper relationship with these occasions that we have come to style, “mysteries.” No, it is our task as Christians to work at understanding these mysteries, these realities we know to be true, but whose meaning, full meaning and explanation is elusive.

Indeed, this is a week of Mysteries. Today on this First Sunday after Pentecost we celebrate perhaps the greatest of all the Christian mysteries, the Holy Trinity. This coming Thursday, and with much ceremony and glorious music, we celebrate that other central Christian mystery, the Eucharist, that occasion in which we recognise God in Christ present with us in the bread and wine and which we take into our own bodies so we may also become the Body of Christ.

Both of these great mysteries, the Trinity and the Eucharist, are deep in the bones of Christians. They are part of our daily worship, they infuse our consciousness, and notions of the Body of Christ and Father, son, and Holy Ghost, can dance through our brains and off our tongues as essentials of our Christian identity. Through worship, through our study of scripture, through our reason and experience we encounter Trinity and Eucharist and know that they are real, know that they have power.

On this Trinity Sunday, I am reminded that we encounter the triune God in the sacramental occasions of life. We encounter the marks of the God and father of us all in his creation. We know God Incarnate in Jesus Crist and we have jsut spent a season with our risen Lord, having walked the way to Calvary. We have been blessed with the gift of the Holy Spirit that enlivens us, that gives us the very breath of life and gives us the power to make our loving God known to all peoples. We have encountered God in each of the persons of the Trinity and yet we know, too, that God is one. This knowledge is the basis of faith, the basis of our relationship and it is from this basis that we begin to make meaning of it all.

We do this work by continuing to ensure we encounter the triune God in the liturgy and Sacraments and by doing theology. Theology, Saint Anselm teaches is, is nothing more than faith—our pre-existing relationship with God, God in Christ—seeking understanding. Theology is the work of making meaning of our faith, it is the process of working out and trying to understand these mysteries that lie at the centre of the cosmos.

Making meaning of the relationship with God is a life’s work and saying that wehave to completely understand the nature of the Trinity, let’s say, before we can call ourselves Christian is absurd. We begin with faith, with connection, with relationship. We make it part of our life’s journey to understand and even if we only come to understand dimly, obliquely, imperfectly, we will have still done our work.
We begin our journey as Christians as we are called to the waters of baptism, attracted by the pull of the triune God, the pull of love, the pull of relationship (because that is what the Trinity ultimately seems to represent, perfect relationship) to the waters of baptism and we spend a lifetime making meaning of it.

Today young Master William, sitting over there, is called to the waters of Baptism. Today William enters into a new relationship with God, the Trinue God, God in Christ. Odds are he has no idea what is going on. I will hold him, pour water on his head, and baptise him in the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and in that instant which will likely be strange and confusing for him, he will begin a journey that will, we pray, lead him on paths that will help him plumb the depths of creation’s greatest mysteries. And this, my brothers and sisters, is why we will pray that God may “give him an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and persevere, a spirit to know and to love thee, and the gift of joy and wonder in all thy works.” What more can we wish for those we love? What more can we wish for our brothers and sisters in Christ that they have an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and persevere, a spirit to know and to love thee, O God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all thy works.”

Our life as Christian begins with our entering into relationship and we are called from there to a life of unravelling its meaning. And so to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, be power, dominion, and Glory, now and For ever. Amen.

Andrew C. Blume+
New York City
Trinity Sunday, 7 June 2009

©2009 Andrew Charles Blume