Trinity Sunday Sermon.
In the wake of the killing of George Floyd there have been civil disturbances across the USA.
Many Primary schools re-opened last week for reception class and year one and year 6 pupils. Parents are divided as to the wisdom of this. Teachers are fearful. At the weekend people who have been shielding were suddenly told that they could go out. There are stories in the media about the dangers of abuse for those trapped at home.
The whole world is being affected by the pandemic and there is mass anxiety about an international recession, which has already begun.
Record temperatures have reminded us that a virus and racism are not the only threats.
I am reminded again of WH Auden’s words about the human condition in his celebrated poem September 1939 written when World War Two began. He wrote all of us are…
‘Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.’
We can divert ourselves with activity and entertainment but we are all currently living in a world of shadows.
Of course, it could be argued that Auden over stated the case. We are still witnessing goodness and kindness and experiencing happiness in all sorts of small everyday things, but I think it is not possible to entirely disagree with him about our underlying predicament.
The declaration of World War 2 for him and our current situation are both moments which are likely to magnify our sense of vulnerability and culpability. Lost in a haunted wood we might be but we can’t help asking how did we get here, and is there a way home?
It is Trinity Sunday today.
That might seem like a completely random leap. What on earth connects this day in the Church Calendar with those questions? You will have heard so many tortuous explanations of the Trinity that It must seem like suggesting that a starving child can be fed with a quadratic equation!
But what if I said that the lost and the afraid in the wood were given a torch and a map?
And rather improbably, at first glance, the Trinity provides both?
I want to go back to the situation in the US but as someone who sits on an advisory group for the Met police and previously have been a monitor of stop and search, I am well aware that we as a country have no right to be smug when it comes to racial discrimination.
We are both countries built substantially on slavery.
When African slaves were forcibly taken to work on plantations in the New World they were converted to Christianity.
The brand was mainly evangelical and it tended to legitimise their ill treatment by proffering the future hope of heaven in exchange for obedience now.
But such indoctrination did not always work. The story of Exodus was one story that burst out from the propaganda straight jacket. Slaves noticed that God was a God who set people free not one who doomed them to servitude.
This rethink was the birth of what has become known as Black Theology. Historically it informed the vision of Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu, and it is shaping much of the protests happening at the moment.
From the perspective of the experience of prejudice it refocused on clear biblical teaching about justice.
Black theology hit on the absolute contradiction between believing in a saviour who died on a tree to liberate the world and believing that God could sanction lynchings.
We are using the Apostle’s Creed today not only because it is very ancient part of our tradition but for two other reasons.
Firstly it, being less elaborate than the Nicene Creed the centrality to it of the Trinity is unavoidable. There is no escaping our commitment to a God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit- Creator, Redeemer and Inspirer, whenever we say it. Secondly its simplicity makes it easier to use it to remind ourselves what creeds were for and still are. They are a way of trying to put into words what Christians have come to believe are the most important messages of the bible.
And here I have to use a word which is not that common, so here it comes. The creeds are not about itemising information about God, they are performative.
That means that they are like the words in the marriage service when each partner replies ‘I do ‘to the invitation to marry. They are like a promise or a pledge, a commitment to a vision and a way of life.
So when we say’ I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth’ I mean more than what that bare information conveys.
I mean I want my life to be centred on the God who upholds everything that is , out of love, and the one revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures who desires justice and charity and embraces liberation.
When I say I believe in the Holy Spirit I am declaring that God is with me, with us, in prayer and that whenever our lives are transformed for good, and we are inspired to ask afresh what we are to do when lost the wood at night and we can find answers and a way home.
When I say I believe in Jesus Christ, I am not just saying he existed and was real, but that I have a navigator and companion every step of the way. Whose heart is revealed in the writings of the New Testament.
Which brings me back to how we might respond to the situations we face, whatever our context.
The Trinity is a nudge to continually point us back to God in all His fullness and the full scope our church traditions and scriptures wherever we happen to be, whatever we have to endure and face. Our circumstances are ever changing but the same resources remain available to us and by the grace of God, Our creator, saviour and inspirer we will be able to find a path through the dark wood in our search for home.