Sunday, 27 May 2018


John 3.1-17, Isaiah 6.1-8, Romans 8.12-17 Trinity Sunday It’s always interesting when preaching and attempts to make the bible relevant spark a reaction. Bishop Michael Curry Reading from his iPad, waving his arms in the air, smiling, raising his voice in tone and volume had the impact that he did largely due to the stark contrast of the solemn, monotone, stationary announcements that preceded him. Quoting from Martin Luther King to begin and end the speech he brought African American vigour and challenge to a congregation and onlookers expecting something much more mundane, and shorter. For many it was a refreshing highlight of energy and passion in an otherwise formulaic ceremony, for some it was unexpected intervention to hear about God on their Disney like day out and they thought he’d never end pointing out that even when he said ‘and with this I’ll sit down, we got to get y’all married’, he went on for another 3 of his 14 minutes. Perhaps Bishop Curry simply focuses on talking of what he knows to be true of God’s love without worrying too much whether his style suits the perceived reserved style expected by the British establishment. In our Gospel reading there’s a sense of this in the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. Nicodemus compliments Jesus on his teaching while at the same time pointing out that he is someone who can recognise God. It feels like an attempt to seek affirmation of his rather limited view of God but Jesus is having none of it he simply speaks what he knows to be true regardless of the fact this won’t suit Nicodemus whose version of God’s love is limited, sensible and fits neatly with rules and systems. The God Jesus speaks of offers a love without limits or preconditions, expressed in God as Father, Son and Spirit. Paul in his letter to the Romans encourages us to be open to the Spirit, to look beyond the physical and logical in order that we might know something greater. In my experience it’s essential that we stay open to God as Father, Son and Spirit and that in doing so we may experience heavenly surprises at times. This was highlighted when some of us were recently looking at ways to pray creating an open space within us for God through quiet, imagination, creative play and repetition. We may all find God in different ways as individuals but we need an open mind willing to explore, experiment and also be prepared to sometimes experience apparent nothingness, yet still persist. Think of all the different ways we might encounter God outside of this building, all the materials, tools, media, apps and technology which make the bible, preaching and teaching more accessible than ever. Many who read sermons and other material from this church may never worship here with us yet we are all connected through God’s love and our desire to experience, find, share and give thanks for it. Some people have even admitted to reading sermons on their mobile device whilst sitting on the toilet. Others still prefer to have a paper copy. Particularly in respect of my own work I prefer not to consider whether the two activities are connected! Getting back to the detail of Jesus conversation with Nicodemus there’s a sense that he’s asked a question but is unwilling to explore a possible answer. He doesn’t want to openly engage in an exploration of Jesus reply simply pointing out that one cannot enter a mother’s womb for a second time. So when Jesus talks of being born of water and spirit to Nicodemus he’s referring to baptism in water started by John the Baptist and baptism in the spirit being the new life that he’s come to offer the people. He’s telling Nicodemus that the family of God is thrown wide open to absolutely everyone and this is very much distinct from enjoying privileges which come with being born in the right place, the right time or the right family. You couldn’t blame Jesus if he had said to Nicodemus why have you come to ask questions with a closed mind, unwilling to invest time or thought in my explanation? He’d come to Jesus under cover of darkness looking for neat replies which would allow him to return without being seen by his fellow Pharisees but he would go away with much more to contemplate if he chose to do so. Trinity Sunday is challenging for me, I’m someone who struggles to think of the Trinity let alone explain it. I’m grateful for God as Father, Son and Spirit and open to all but feel that we are in danger of being a bit like the Pharisees ourselves by labelling them as Trinity, it feels to me that we are trying to control God, even limit him to Trinitarian ways. The word ‘Trinity’ never appears in the Bible. It would be possible to find other people’s explanation of what the trinity is and share those, to talk of overlapping circles and clover leaves but I’d be doing so without conviction. Talking of all the places we can encounter God this is the second time the bathroom has come up, it is possible to find God in many other places, even in church sometimes of course! I have a radio in my bathroom and happened to hear someone criticising ‘thought for the day’. The accusation was of forced links of contemporary news items with stories from the bible. One example given was of the Maundy Thursday thought of how the Aussie cricket team, after being exposed as cheats started to fall apart among suspicion and betrayal a bit like the disciples at the last supper. Another less credible example claimed that Gordon Ramsay ranting in the kitchen quickly led to a thought about Jesus as a guest for dinner. If we are being kind it maybe that these events chimed with the relevant scripture for those expounding their thoughts and there is always a danger of being ridiculed for finding God in the days news. The same could be said of offering trite explanations of the trinity that I can’t fully own. Why are you preaching about it then you may ask? Because it’s good to struggle with stuff about God which makes us uncomfortable, stuff we can’t neatly resolve and put away in the back of our minds I might reply, to my own question. Having said that I struggle with the neatness of this systematic theological term doesn’t mean that there’s nothing found worth sharing. For a start the concept of trinity reminds us of relationship with God in different ways and that this is really important. The church throughout the world and this church we are part of must seek positive relations with each other and those we encounter outside the church otherwise we become self-serving, self affirming people unwilling to step outside our comfort zone. It’s a sobering thought that God seeks relationship with others through us. The relationship part of God is inconvenient to all who seek to limit God only for those like themselves, it makes a mockery of everyone who seek to exclude others from a fair share of all the earth has to offer as if God doesn’t want an equally valuable relationship with all. So even though I can’t start to offer an explanation of the trinity I can see that it matters to us as Christians, that it really influences the way we live our lives, derive our values and relate to each other through our common humanity. There’s been a lot of talk about race in the light of Harry and Meghan’s recent marriage but the most helpful comment I heard was that there’s only one race that matters, and that’s the human race. Looking to Jesus for an explanation of the trinity is likely to take us back a step to think of how we approach the challenge. Christ himself would pray alone before he taught and then it was usually followed by a parable or story rather than offering a neat technical explanation. Surely this tells us something, that through Christ and the Spirit God reveals enough for us, perhaps as much as we can cope with, hardly a systematic approach. The collage of God, a book by Revd. Mark Oakley is one I’ve found helpful. In one part he points out that many of us may find different meaning and experience in the same piece of scripture. The subsequent debate and discussion is healthy but whilst our understanding can sometimes divide us we should be united in our agreement that the bible offers us places of shared sacred encounter. So if we are to take anything away from today’s readings, for me we need to think about whether we are truly open to and prepared to give quality time to hear and understand God’s message of love and we mustn’t come to God with questions if we are not sometimes prepared to learn uncomfortable truths that may require us to change. Ultimately it’s all about relationship with God and each other. If we are prepared to try and play our part in all this then we can echo the words of Isaiah ‘Here I am; send me’. Kevin Bright 27 May 2018

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