Choral Evensong 11th June 2017
The work of the Spirit
Readings: Isaiah 6.1-10; John 16.5-15
This evening we reflect on the work of the Holy Spirit on Trinity Sunday. The Church has always been adept at finding concepts and symbols to express its Truth: the belief in one God alone, yet one God in three persons: co-equal, co-eternal and consubstantial. "Each is God, whole and entire". A doctrine which Christians in the early Church were prepared to die for. To us a conundrum, a riddle impossible to solve. An unnecessary riddle perhaps? The early Church Fathers indeed, took well over three hundred years themselves to finalise the concept of the absolute equality of the three persons of the Godhead. It is the logical outworking of the concluding words of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ sending forth of his disciples:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”
Logical conclusion - even if for us it is not logical at all.
Though we may never get our heads around the metaphysics, the metaphysics is not what matters. What is vital to our living, to the communities human beings create and build, is this revelation: that God is one but not unitary, not a ‘solo’ reality, God top of the pyramid. When we celebrate - as we do today, that the Christian revelation of God is God as one and God as three, this tells us succinctly some very important things about God - and helps us to remember them.
We reach out after understanding but God is always more than, much more than the bits of understanding that dawn upon us all through our lives as we continue our Christian journey, as the Spirit of Jesus leads us into all Truth. Jesus declares:
“When the Spirit comes, he will prove the world wrong
about sin and righteousness and judgement”
Ancient archaeological remains suggest most early communities operated on the basis of hierarchies. The burial of the very few with luxury grave goods suggests that some, the select, had special places of honour. Monarch, royal family, aristocracy. And down the millennia this how we too, every society, instinctively operates. And it’s how we instinctively view God. As those ancient Greek philosophers viewed God: omniscient and impassible - impervious to suffering that is. Untouchable by the longings - and the disasters, of our puny lives.
This basis of society, in social science the so-called ‘domination system’, seen at its peak in the Roman Empire, this basis of society is what Paul names in his letter to the Corinthians, ‘the wisdom of this world’. This is the basis of the first law code of Hammurabi dating back 1750 years BC - which offered regulations for the ordering of society based on hierarchy. Imperial Roman theology declared the emperor divine, the Son of God, Prince of Peace, in the order established through victory in war, victory over enemies who threaten that order - the defeat of men such as Jesus of Nazareth. And indeed, our world talks admiringly of Pax Romana.
In Christ crucified - a punishment reserved for sedition - in Christ risen from the dead, God has shown this wisdom to be foolishness. The world is wrong about sin - wrong in its faith in hierarchical Pax Romana sustained by violence. Hierarchy is not the righteousness - the justice - of God. The justice of God is equality between all people: slave and free, Jew and gentile, male and female. The ‘world’ saw Jesus as a convicted criminal, deserving of death. The resurrection of Christ in the power of the Spirit is God’s victory over the sins of injustice and exploitation. Jesus’ ascension demonstrates the victory of God’s justice. The Spirit will reveal to us how wrong our judgement is when we stand in awe of the power and dominance of the Roman Empire and perceive it as God’s will and purpose for humanity. Rather the ruler of this world has been condemned.
In the time of Isaiah, Jerusalem’s society was also established, built on the structures of the domination system. The prophet Samuel had warned the people of Israel of the dangers of asking God for a king - as other nations - to rule over them. Their understanding of God was an evolving one, and indeed, in the story of God’s calling of Isaiah, we still have an understanding of God as overwhelming unitary power, reflecting the hierarchy of monarchical systems. Astonishing account of God in his Temple that Isaiah chapter six is, this is not the God who is Father, revealed in God who is Son in the power of the Spirit. God incomprehensible to the subjects of king Uzziah in eighth century BC Judah.
Baptised into Christ we die to our old lives and rise to new life transformed and empowered by the Holy Spirit.The Spirit now offered universally to all in Christ, the Spirit who will lead us into all truth - truth that we also, have not yet fully comprehended.
Richard Rohr, renowned Franciscan priest and Christian mystic, his latest book is all about the Trinity - ‘The Divine Dance’. In it he speaks of the vital significance of God as Trinity. God as Trinity tells us that God exists only in relationship - non-exclusive relationships. Three, Trinity, existing in mutual co-operation, mutual empowerment of one another, actively engaging together. An understanding which transforms our thinking and our lives. Here is a book of deep spirituality well worth the read!
Rohr points out that while our liturgy continually asserts the Trinity, we have a tendency to fall back in our living to a notion of God as single unity - all powerful - wrathful - monarchy.Either God as Trinity is mistaken - or we need to be working on opening our hearts and minds to what faith in the Trinity really means for our daily living. That is, an end to the ‘domination system’ as structure for society. And for Christians in our life together, a transformation away from fear and competition, to life where each Christian seeks the honour, the success, of the other above our own. How different might our lives be if we truly embraced the Trinity?
How different might our international relationships be if we sought each other’s good as well as our own? Amen.
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