Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Trinity Sunday Sermon.

Here is a copy of my sermon for Sunday, with apologies to John Donne for plagiarising his 'Sermon XV' in the last few lines.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Sometimes I like to go into Manchester for lunch or for a drink in the evening. I often go to the pubs in the Northern Quarter, which specialise in real ales, some of which produce their own beers in small plants at the back of the pub. If I go, I like to look in at a shop nearby called St Denys’ which many of you may know. It is an Anglican shop, selling books, candles, cards and much of the stuff of faith, the physical bits and bats which we use from week to week and for which we collect money every Epiphany. At the bottom of the stairs is a noticeboard, advertising all manner of events. Being Anglican, the good ladies who run the shop do not like to be judgemental as to what goes on it, so all sorts of funny Churches advertise. This country is full of such places, such people and it is a tradition which stretches back to a man called Arnold Harris Mathew in the Victorian time, who, like so many after him, did not get what he wanted in the Church he was in, so he set up his own. Alas, there ventures are doomed to failure.

There are other Christian bookshops and emporia in Manchester, of course. There is Wesley Owen on Deansgate for the Evangelicals and there is the Catholic Truth Society, or CTS, on Lincoln Square. The CTS has leaflets on a noticeboard as well, but they are all carefully vetted for error, as indeed are the customers! Once when I went in to buy some candles for the Church I was informed that they are for Catholic Churches, when I replied that I was under the distinct impression that the Church of England is part of the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church I consider myself lucky to have managed to leave with my head intact. Thus is the defensiveness with which we can guard our ‘patch’ of faith and it is to Doctrine which most people turn when their faith is challenged and it is to Doctrine which I was tempted to turn when writing this sermon before I realised that this was not going to interest me or anybody else.

Let us turn, instead, to our first reading, to Moses bearing the tablets of the law in his hands. He walked up the Holy Mountain to speak to God, to the place where God dwelt, as he dwells here. He stood there and called on god and said ‘we accept your ten commandments and we consider them to be a good way to live, now, we are on the move, we are a pilgrim people but we would like it if you were to come with us. We will honour you and love you if you come with us. Will our path be your path’? ‘True, we are a headstrong people, but forgive us our faults and our sins and adopt us as your people’. God, of course, as he does for you and me, said ‘Yes’, and they became His people. Now, as everyone knows, there have been Gods beforehand. Since the dawn of time, men have been set aside to minister in the temples of Baal, of the Sun God, of the Emperors but here is Moses, recognising the one true God and asking for forgiveness and protection, on behalf of the emerging world. It is as though there has been darkness and now, in the middle of the desert, on the holy mountain, the dawn begins to break.

We know the story from now on, and eventually the love that God developed for these people is made manifest in the Son, made human so that we can become divine, that we might have life in full, which is life in the heavenly kingdom with God. After the journey through the desert, after the people of Qumran, the Essenes sensed the coming of Christ, after His death and resurrection, came the descent of the Holy Ghost which we celebrated last week and after that came the building of the Church and after that came the reformation and then the second Vatican Council and then here we are, living in the light of the love of God, still bearing His commandments and still under his protection and the promise of His love thousands upon thousands of years on, in the same way as Moses and his people were when he stood in front of the Lord and made his promise. God has echoed that promise to us throughout all time ‘I am with you and no one who believes in me will be condemned’.

There has been great strife along the way, the persecution of the Jewish people, the death of Christ, the persecutions of countless Christians under the Roman Empire, splits in the Church which splits, cracks and reforms again before bursting into a thousand pieces only to be rebuilt by a better hand, by the hand of God and people will still claim supremacy, still claim that God is closer to us than you, closer to them than those ones. Almost as soon as the Holy Ghost came down at Pentecost, and before as Jesus walked by the lakeside, there were arguments over Church governance and the meaning of the trinity and of the nature of God. Arguments which led to splits between East and West which we still feel today, no one has the only, one, truth. St Paul knew that when he wrote his second letter to his friends in Corinth and he said ‘help one another, live in peace and God will be with you!’ even in Corinth, that place of sin where you are trying to start the Church which will give life to the world, surrounded by the bustle of a great trading port and all that comes with that, split in factions over the manner of the celebration of the Eucharist or love-meal – to you, peace! To you, the love of God calls! Be happy for God is still with us, as the father who guided our forebears, as Christ who we saw and who led us up the Holy Mountain again and was transfigured and who commanded us to love, as the Holy Ghost, the fire which burns in our hearts and anoints our hands, in this, rejoice and be glad.

Be glad for that trinity of one God is still with us, God in three voices but one equal light, three voices singing and echoing through one story. A united authority that gives us the authority for our belief and gives voice to our praise and worship, together. For God is community, three in one and in our many numbered community, in each of us is the Father to guide, the Son to forgive and the Spirit to burn and lead us on, up the Holy Mountain until we awake as Jacob did, and say as Jacob said ‘surely the Lord is in this place, and this is none other but the house of God, the gate of Heaven’ and into that gate we shall enter, and in that house we shall dwell, where there shall be no cloud nor sun, no darkness nor dazzling, but one equal light. No noise nor silence, but one equal music, no fears nor hopes, but one equal possession, no foes nor friends, but an equal communion and identity, no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity which has been purchased for us through the faith of Moses, the teachings of Paul, the love of the Father, the blood of the Son and the fire of the Holy Ghost.