A little basement window for the double month. Here are a few items of news and comment.
The terrible events in the past few weeks, both deliberate and accidental, make for harrowing reading and viewing. Thank God for the outpouring of human-kindness in the face of adversity.
The decision taken by the Scottish Episcopal Church to allow same-sex couples to marry in church. Goodness knows what effect this is going to have on the Church of England. (The SEC is a branch of the C of E north of the border, to put it simply and slightly wrongly.) I would argue that the C of E’s acceptance of the remarriage of divorcees, together with the acceptance of contraception, has paved the way for this decision. The C of E can only follow suit – as it eventually did when The Episcopal Church (A branch of the C of E in the USA!) went ahead with the ordination of women to the priesthood.
Several stalwarts of the Church have gone to Abraham’s bosom in the past few weeks. Rita Brown from Holy Trinity, Doreen Redgate from S. Werburgh’s, Ruth Walker’s husband, Fred, from Salem Methodist Church, Smallthorne, Glenys McIntyre from S. Saviour’s. Please keep them and their families in your prayers.
Trinity Sunday was celebrated in style. Some of the S. Cecilia singers came to give us a hand – and stayed to share in the splendid lunch. Those who got it together know who they are. A big THANK YOU to all of you – and to the visiting singers, who sent a note of appreciation. Father Ron’s sermon is reprinted below. Thank you, father, for helping us to understand the mystery!
Wonderful worship at Christ Church Tunstall for Corpus Christi and, on a quieter note, at Holy Trinity the following day. Good to be with Christian brothers and sisters for whom the feast days are a source of joy and celebration.
Have a good holiday – if you haven’t been already.
SERMON FROM TRINITY SUNDAY BY FATHER RON WHITTINGHAM
What is God Like? Who is he?
That’s a question that has been asked since the earliest days of human history. The earliest religions often thought of many gods, spirits of the natural world – sun, moon and stars, sea and sky, spirits of mountains and rivers and great trees.
Abraham was the first person known to have worshipped one God, the creator of all. But it was Moses who taught the Hebrew slaves escaped from Egypt a faith in this One God, with laws governing the worship and conduct of a community. This was a mysterious God who lived at the summit of Mount Sinai and came down in a cloud of light, or in wind and storm and lightning fire. a God who was found in wind or spirit or breath – just one word in Hebrew.
In our First Reading we heard of an encounter between God and Moses. God descends in a cloud. Moses calls his name – the name God had revealed to him earlier: a Name which is represented in the Hebrew Scriptures by 4 Consonants represented in our alphabet as YHWH. When they saw these letters, the Holy Name of God, they would not, perhaps could not, pronounce them, so they said Adonai, which translates in to Greek as Kyrios,and English as THE LORD. The Name means something like I AM – or I am who I am or I will be who I will be. We could call that simply BEING. In this reading God reveals himself as The Lord, a God tender, compassionate, slow to anger, rich in kindness and faithfulness. The Old Testament prophets explored this revelation of God over more than a thousand years of relationship between God and his people Israel who over and over again rejected his commandments and chose to follow the more colourful gods of their pagan neighbours. Only a minority faithfully kept his commandments.
The question “What is God like” was finally revealed when he sent his Son Jesus the Messiah to reveal him fully and to save his people – not just the people of Israel, but all people who would accept him as Lord and God.
Jesus, in our Gospel Reading, speaks of himself as the Son of the God whose love is so great that he sends his Son to save the world. Again in these words of Jesus it is the Name we are asked to believe in, the Name of Jesus, which in Hebrew means God Saves, Jesus who is The Lord and God. Elsewhere in S. John’s Gospel he says” Before Abraham existed I AM” and “He who has seen me has seen the Father” He speaks of God as a loving Father for all, one whom we can approach in familiar terms as Abba, Daddy. Jesus reveals the true nature of God in his own life and death and resurrection. On the Eve of his death on the cross as a willing sacrifice to save the world he promised his disciples he would come back to them; he would send the Holy Spirit as a Counsellor, an Advocate. On Resurrection Day he breathed on his apostles and said” Receive the Holy Spirit”. On the Day of Pentecost the Spirit came to them in wind and fire. So the revelation to Moses in the desert came to fullness through the Crucified and Risen Christ.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit; this was how the Apostles and other disciples, among them Mary, the Mother of The Lord, experienced God.
But how were they to explain this? As Jews they had been taught “The Lord your God is one “ Then, as today, there were those who accused Christians of having three gods. During my ministry in Leicester some Muslims would say to us” We have One God; you have three.” But the Apostles were convinced, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God, three ways in which God has revealed himself to us. So St. Paul, in one of the earliest single verses linking Father , Son and Holy Spirit, speaks of the love of God the Father, the grace of Jesus Christ the Lord, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. He and others came to understand that these three revelations of God were One Being in relationship together, the Spirit binding the three in unity, a bond of love.
The Holy Trinity is a mystery; yet a mystery revealed. God is love. Love is relational. You cannot have love where there is no relationship. In the best human relationships love between lover and loved is mutual. So it should not surprise us that God, who is pure Being, should be not a simple unity – One is One and all alone, as Jews and Muslims believe, but a complex union of Three-in-One. For three centuries believers struggled to define the Trinity, not least because it was questioned by a large breakaway group within the Church ,the Arians, who said, “There was a time when the Son did not exist” Eventually a Council of Bishops at Nicaea adopted a definition and a Creed which we will shortly recite. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, Begotten not made, consubstantial with the Father. This Creed was further improved at a later Council at Constantinople to reach the version we use today at Mass The Athanasian Creed summarises and develops this Faith. . One of my theology lecturers at Oxford, Dr. Kelly, began a lecture on it “The Athanasian Creed is not a Creed, nor is it by S. Athanasius.” Athanasius, then a Deacon, drafted the Nicene Creed. He was later Archbishop of Alexandria in Egypt.
The Trinity defines us as Christians, different from other religions. But in the end it is a revelation from God who is not so much to be understood as to be worshipped in all his mysterious glory, the glory of love revealed in creation and resurrection, but above all on the cross. God is love, kind, compassionate , suffering love. He does not need us, his creation, but he gives himself to us endlessly as Father Creator, Saviour Son and Guiding Spirit, the Holy Trinity.
So what does this mean for a Parish whose Church is dedicated in honour of the Most Holy Trinity?
First, we bear witness here to the glory of God who is to be worshipped and adored. He loves us and that love must be returned in prayer and praise and obedience to his will and commands. Here we learn to worship, to pray, and through the reading and preaching of the Word to know him better, then to receive Him into our lives in His Son Jesus Christ as we take and eat and drink his Body and Blood.. It is through the action of the Holy Spirit that bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, and it is the Spirit who binds us together as Communicants, sharers, in His Body the Church.
Then we, who are baptised in His Name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are sent out to proclaim our faith and share it with others so that they may come with us to God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit and themselves be baptised in His Name. Thirdly because God is a God of loving relationship we are encouraged by reflecting on the Holy Trinity to become a loving fellowship, caring for one another, welcoming strangers, showing to them and to our local community, our Parish, the love of a compassionate, tender, faithful, forgiving God. Worship, mission, service in His Holy Name -that is our calling and privilege as his loving and beloved children.