The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Parish Eucharist      11th June 2017
A Story for Trinity Sunday
Andrew Penny

A Story for Trinity Sunday
There was once, long ago, a god who created a new world. He blew and spoke and the words became sun and moon and stars, days and seasons, all sorts of plants and animals and human beings who deputised for the god in matters like what was to be called what. The human beings did not know it at the time but they were themselves endowed with godlike powers, which meant that they both had the potential to go on creating the world, making beautiful objects and buildings, words and sounds and also a capacity for reflecting on their own condition.
 This last was increasingly comforting  and necessary, as along with the ability to make beauty they also had a formidable capacity for creating ugliness and pain. These were in fact simply the consequences of their imprudence, folly and a host of other faults with which they had been endowed. They saw these faults and saw the consequences –plagues, floods, droughts etc. as punishments for their wickedness.  In fact it was that the god wouldn’t stop them from exercising their freedom, as without that freedom they would have lost the more important potential to be like the god and share his creative work.
The people did, however, recognise the god’s overwhelming power and the more sophisticated among them also saw that behind this inconceivably enormous strength, lay principles that they could recognise and which they thought should be reflected in their own society, and in how they behaved towards the world around them; principles of justice, fairness and balance- in short treating each other and the rest of creation as they would want to be treated themselves.
 Some of the people felt that they were special and that the god (their God, they called him) had made promises in particular a promise of a rich and fertile land which would be their home (because in the past they had suffered by being enslaved) Although they had reached this Promised Land, life in it had not always been rosy (there was the inconvenience, for example, that some other peoples thought the land in question was theirs and they were not very inclined to share it).
There came a time when the "promised land" was ruled by others. The special people were, however, sure that if a new leader could be found, like one of the great leaders of the past, they might regain control of their land and inaugurate a golden age.
This political ambition was in some ways also a metaphor for longing to be restored spiritually and physically. They knew that God had intended the world and life in it to be good, but they suffered from a sense of failure and guilt as they knew that it was their folly and wickedness that had put them in the position they were in. And the moral failure was echoed in physical suffering; disabilities like blindness and deafness or poverty, were the punishment for unforgiven crimes.
So although they knew that the god remained the source of all goodness and life, there was a feeling that some human agent was needed to put right the human failure and restore the world to its intended state.
It was at this time of political unrest and depression that a rather strange man did appear, wandering round a backwater province healing and preaching, but occasionally coming to the capital and upsetting the religious authorities. He talked about a Heavenly Kingdom but didn't have any social or political programme and he seemed more interested in people at an individual level, especially people marginalised from society. He didn't have much respect for form or convention; it was what one really meant that mattered. It was perhaps this, along with his criticism of the establishment that got him into very serious trouble. He was executed in a way calculated to bring disgrace on himself and whatever his movement might have been.
That would have been an end to an obscure and short life, had not his followers had the extraordinary experience of meeting him again after had died. The meetings were, naturally, mysterious, but the followers were utterly convinced that not only, somehow, he lived on but that, equally, somehow, his death had achieved that release, healing, redemption and arrival which the special people, and, they soon realised, all people longed for.
And it went further even that that, as although the meetings ceased after a close band of followers saw him float up and disappear into a cloud, he nevertheless seemed to remain with them. They felt he was there when they gathered to pray and especially when they shared a meal as he had told them to do. They felt inspired and exhilarated by him, often in unexpected ways but always with the underlying belief that in some way his spirit had entered them and they were now continuing his work, and furthermore that the spirit moving them was the same as the breath of the god which at the very beginning had commanded the world to come into being and had breathed life into the first human beings. 
During his life he had said some curious things about being the son of god. This was perhaps just a phrase as we use when we say “we are all God’s children”, but he also seemed to be claiming a special relationship with God. It was the latter view that got him into real trouble with the religious authorities (on top of everything else) and resulted in his ignominious death. Whatever he really meant, it was generally accepted that he did indeed have some close relationship with the god, at very least, and crucially, because his behaviour, what he did and said,  did seem to tell people what the god was like; in meeting him they felt they had encountered the divine.
Afterwards this led to some bitter controversy. How could he be the “son of God” but truly human as his evident mortality proclaimed and yet his subsequent reappearance denied? Scholars and even emperors debated the possibilities and came up with more or less credible and abstruse theories which they promoted with the vehemence and violence which was to become the hallmark of the new religion.
Most people, however, recognised simply that if they were to lead their lives realising the full potential of their humanity, they also needed to share in the creative force of the god and so needed to live by those primordial principles of justice and respect for creation. At the same time they found that to feel fully human, they needed to emulate the strange man who had died and come back, and who still seemed to be with them. This emulation gave them the scope for love and self-sacrifice and the release from suffering, the healing and forgiveness; in short, it made them feel truly alive. But for completeness they also knew that they needed, a bit of madness, a dose of inspiration, inexplicable and uncontrollable but driving them to places they did not realise that they could go. No one, they realised could be completely human, nor share in the divine destiny of humanity unless he or she recognised and realised these three facets of the god and understood, or just felt, that they were really facets of the same thing. No human enterprise could truly succeed unless it too took account of these three elements and managed to realise each together. The scholars could argue and theorise, but the people knew that it was this threefold inspiration that was the key to the full life for which they were destined and with which they might live happily ever after. Amen.

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