Sunday 11 June 2017
2 Cor 13:11-end, Matt 28: 16-end
On this Trinity Sunday, may I speak this morning in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Over the last few weeks it seems that my sermon writing for Sunday has been overtaken by unforeseen events – the bombing in Manchester and, of course, the attack on London Bridge and Borough Market last week. On that subject I want to apologise if I seemed a little bit out of it last week but I think that having been there just a few hours before I was feeling an element of shock, and also just feeling a little bit worn out with it all. Sorry.
This week things are, I hope, a little different. I wrote this sermon on Thursday whilst polling in the general election was still underway. I therefore knew that by Sunday I would be overtaken hopefully not by unforeseen events but by the foreseen event of having a new government in place, albeit numbers and details unknown.
There can be no doubt that we have been through a politically turbulent few years. Most unusually this has been our second General Election in two years – it seems strange to reflect that it was only two years ago that we had a coalition government in place as it seems like ancient history now. And, of course, in between those two elections we also had the Brexit referendum, which hugely divided our country, has hugely changed it and will continue to do so in the coming years.
So we have had two general elections, a referendum and a fresh spate of terrorist attacks which, I am sorry to say, caused an outpouring of hate and racism on social media.
All this politicking in such a short space of time has created what is probably the most divisive and febrile political atmosphere I can recall for most of my life. Perhaps things were worse during the winter of discontent or during the height of the IRA bombing or the miner’s strike but this has been the strangest time for at least the last 30 years, that I can recall.
Actually it just occurred to me that I am talking about both faith and politics, the two subjects which they say should be avoided in polite society. Fortunately I ain’t polite society and I happen to think they are the two most interesting things to talk about and if you can’t talk about faith and politics from a pulpit just after a general election then when can you?
So, the question is this: How do we, as Christians, seek to deal with political divisions and to be a distinctive body in these troubled times? After all, if we can’t deal with difference here then we have no right to talk to the rest of the world.
Firstly, I would suggest that there are two equal and possibly opposite mistakes to resist. The first mistake is the assertion that faith should have nothing to do with politics – that our political views and our Christian beliefs belong not just in separate boxes but that those boxes should be locked and preferably kept in separate rooms. The reason I think that is a mistake is that Jesus didn’t simply call us to believe certain things but he also called us to take action in the world. Jesus wasn’t executed because he prayed too much rather he was executed because he represented, or he was believed to represent, a threat to the status quo of power in his time.
If we make the mistake of thinking that faith can never mix with politics then we risk not only misunderstanding our faith but also of leaving politics to those untroubled by faith, which may have other consequences.
The second, but quite different, mistake is to assume that there is only one correct political position that can be held by sincere Christians. The reality is, I am pleased to say, that there are Christians in every major political party. During the election campaign Tim Farron (leader of the Lib Dems) was,given a hard time by the press because of his faith but Theresa May was also a Vicarage child, Jonathan Bartley, the co-leader of the Green Party is also a committed Christian and the Labour Party has deep Christian roots in the social justice movement.
As followers of Christ we should not be scared of getting involved in the politics of the world, but if our faith leads us to take certain political positions we should not denigrate the faith or sincerity of our brothers and sisters in Christ who take a different view.
I recently heard it said that the Church of England consists of a bunch of Guardian readers preaching to a bunch of Telegraph readers. Whilst there is some truth in that, as it happens I do read the Guardian, and I have no doubt that some of you read the Telegraph I also know that life is more complex than that and that probably every mainstream political opinon is represented here in Church on a Sunday. We should not be ashamed of that or embarrassed to talk about it. We should be pleased that the Church is such a diverse body and that diversity does not have to mean division or divisiveness.
Perhaps our very diversity can actually make us more whole. Totalitarians and extremists are only happy when everyone thinks and acts the same but, in my humble opinion, no mono-culture is ever healthy. Perhaps by bringing our differences together and not ignoring them but being in communion despite them we actually more fully reflect the diversity of God, his creation and his plan for the world.
For today is Trinity Sunday and today we remember that God is not a totalitarian dictator sitting in splendid isolation and looking down with disapproval on his distant creation. This is what many non-Christians assume we think God is like and, if we are not careful, it can be too easy for us to take on that non-Christian thinking about God.
But, today we are expressly called to lift our eyes above our sub-conscious assumptions about the nature of God and to dwell upon the God we find revealed in scripture and in the creeds. Don’t worry, I am not now going to produce either metaphors or diagrams seeking to explain the Trinity. I am simply going to say this: in the same way that we are a diverse community so too God is a diverse community. Father, Son and Holy Spirit is not simply a formula to trip off the tongue but these are the names of the three persons who are each God, and they are each entwined in an eternal dance of love and communion.
Again it would be easy to assume that this divine, diverse, eternally-dancing community of three persons sounds a little too self-contained and exclusive to much trouble us his creation, but that would be to misunderstand not only the nature of God but the very essence of our Trinitarian faith.
As we shall hear when we recite the creed in a moment, and as we shall find as we dwell on the Bible throughout the year, we believe that the very purpose of the Trinity is to invite us to partake in that divine dance of love and to give us the means so to do.
First God the Father sent God the Son into the world in the person of Jesus. John 3:16 tells us that he did this not out of anger or wrath but out of love – “For God so loved the world that he sent his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”
In Jesus God the Son took on human flesh, he affirmed that humanity is made in the image of God and when he ascended back to the Father he made his humanity part of the divinity. When we share the body and blood of Christ we share his divine nature and make it part of our nature.
And last week we heard that after Jesus had ascended to the Father that the Father and the Son sent down God the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit baptises the church, baptises us and makes his home within us.
How about this for a thought – when we come forward to receive Holy Communion it is God the Holy Spirit who urges our spirit to meet with God the Son in flesh and blood. When we take Holy Communion we become the dwelling place of both the Holy Spirit and Jesus the Son. Two-thirds of the Trinity are present within us at Holy Communion and the whole reason that God meets with us in that way is to lift us up so that we too may be crucified to sin, transfigured, resurrected and ascended to Glory and join in with the eternal dance of the Most Blessed Trinity.
When we believe in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit then you have begun eternal life and joined in with the dance of God.
When you think about that deep enough party political differences start to pale a little in their significance.
St Paul knew a thing or two about dealing with divided communities and at the end of his second letter to the Corinthians he used the whole divine name when he gave us the words of the grace, and grace of course can cover a multitude of sins.
So let’s say those words together:
May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, now and always. Amen.