GOD3 – Trinity Sunday
Notes on the Sunday address by Rev Ric Holland, 11 June 2017
The doctrine of the Trinity is not in the bible and not in any of the teaching of Jesus. The Early Church had no understanding of the Trinity.
Over a few hundred years a small group of Christians started speaking about how the Father Son and Holy Spirit were one but yet distinct. It was a counter reaction to Paganism which had many gods. At the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD the Trinity was presented as a minority theory. The Emperor Constantine a worshipper of the Sun God oversaw the council for political reasons. He squashed the majority opinion that God and Jesus were separate entities and laid the foundation for the Trinity becoming an essential doctrine.
The deal was done and at yet another council 56 years later in Constantinople where due to key members either resigning or falling ill, a popular city senator who just happened to not be a Xian was put in charge of the Council of Constantinople where the Trinity became the church’s official teaching on the nature of God.
Now all these years later we are left with a nonsense doctrine that even has its own Sunday. It is on this day that for centuries the church has been compelled to repeat the Athanasian creed. A huge and totally unintelligible creed. Here’s a sample: “Whosoever will be saved before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholic Faith, which faith except everyone do keep whole and undefiled without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the Catholic Faith is this: that we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in unity; neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son and another of the Holy Ghost, the Father uncreate, the Son uncreate and the Holy Ghost uncreate. The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, and the Holy Ghost incomprehensible. There are not three incomprehensible, nor three uncreated, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible….he therefore that will be saved must think of the Trinity.”
Many I think will be unsaved, whatever that means, for few thus think of the Trinity.
What this totally unintelligible definition tells us is trying to define god is a totally pointless exercise. We cannot hope to understand the nature of God.
The Trinity is a human definition of God and since the human mind can never fully embrace the mystery and wonder of God. To literalize a human definition is absurd. To then worship their own definition or creation of God is the essence of idolatry.
It’s far more important to have a relationship with our God than to understand man made definitions about God.
The God whom people tried to capture in the creeds with the doctrine of the Trinity is too small. God is not a person. God is not a being. God is being itself. This God who is being is not the Father of Life. This God IS Life!
Stick this God in creeds and formulas and everything is left out. That is why in the creeds there is no mention of life, no mention of the teachings of Jesus, no mention of the Kingdom of God being present in our bodies and soul, no mention of God as the ground of life.
These creedal formulas have given us a God who caused the death of his son, the damnation of disbelievers, the subordination of women, the bloody massacres of the crusades, the terror of judgement, the wrath towards homosexual people, the justification of slavery……the Father Almighty in the creeds is the deity who chooses some of the world’s children while rejecting others. He is Father who needs a blood sacrifice, the Father of wrath, the Father of patriarchal marriage, the Father of male ordination and female submission, the Father of heterosexual privilege, the Father of slavery. These Trinitarian creeds take us to a place where we do not want to be. Even John Wesley at a time when theology was still undeveloped believed that belief in the Trinity was not necessary for Christian belief. “I do not insist upon anyone using the word Trinity or person when speaking of God”.
The church remains unwilling to revisit long established doctrines, choosing instead to insist that we simply believe because what was good for grandma ought to be good enough for us.
Well it’s not good enough for us and we throw the creeds and the Trinitarian doctrine out of the window and we let daylight and fresh air permeate our faith and our future.
So without accepting the Trinitarian mumbo jumbo let me just use three concepts which work for me:
- The God who is being itself. Not some distant Punch and Judy man, pulling the strings on his plaything, the world. My God is both life and the source of life.
My daughter Primrose has this wonderful passion for the whole of life. When I was driving back from the bus stop having picked her up from the school bus. She yelled at the top of her voice to stop. I did and then she proceeded to get out of the car and very gently usher an ant across the dirt road. The ant went on its merry way knowing nothing of me nor my car; having no understanding of me, my daughter, the school bus or anything which was a normal part of my daily life. For us to even begin to contemplate the nature of what we call god is as impossible as it was for that ant to contemplate me. Trying to understand the very nature of God is a real arrogant thing for simple creatures such as we are.
And that is why what we do is, like that ant, it is an experience rather than an understanding. We know as little of the vast, far reaching sources of life as that ant knows about me, let alone about the wider life of the world. How can we mere insects on a wayside planet which is itself of no real significance, amid a million galaxies that baffle the imagination put a tiny tape of words around this unimaginable being. We know that there are at least 100,000 million stars per galaxy and as far as we know there are 100,000 million galaxies. It’s pretty likely that within those never ending universes there are at least a million planets inhabited. Our own Venus, astronomers tell us, may be in the condition that earth was once in and the mist around it may be caused by a cooling process similar to what earth has now. Life similar to our own may develop on it in another 500 million years.
Is our God or source of life restricted to our tiny little speck of dust of a planet. I doubt it.
We rejoice in the vastness of creation and the intricacy of a tiny leaf, the first smile on the face of a new born baby, the adoring eyes of a dog as he licks your hand, the hug of love from a friend or partner….these and millions and millions of other things are all sources of life. We honour and respect creation of which we are just one humble part. We can’t define it, but we know it’s there.
If you come into my office you will see my fish tank. There are some beautiful fish in there all with names …even one named after our own Heather. It was a tiny fish without a name when Heather visited me. It’s now got a name…but more of that next week. I have 3 worm-like fish. I bought them about 4 years ago and they promptly buried themselves in the gravel. Never to be seen again ‘till a couple of months ago when I moved the tank into my office here. Of course I had to empty the tank catch the fish and transfer. It was the first time I’d seen them for four years. I dutifully put them into my newly relocated St Michael’s office and within seconds they’d buried themselves again. Not very good value for money you might say. Even when I saw them once every four years they didn’t look much.
The source of life is all around us and we don’t often see it. Today we rejoice in it and if you want to identify it with the old concept of Father God, then do so.
- My God is the ultimate depth of life, deeper than our own breath. This is the Spirit of God.
This is what we celebrated last week on the day of Pentecost.
You may remember from last week. It is the Spirit which gives us courage, power, leadership, the search for truth, connectivity with each other and affirmation.
But in addition to all those wonderful things there are times when we can feel it very very close. This is what our Mingary Centre is about…providing people amidst the hustle and bustle of the city with an opportunity to listen to that quiet small voice of the spirit. It can happen to us anytime. In the midst of a piece of music, whilst being moved by a story, whilst reading or just contemplating. It’s the touch of the Spirit which gives depth to our life…you can’t explain or define it in a creed, but you know it’s there.
There is a saying in the Jewish tradition that in the birth of every child there were 3 partners, the Mother, the Father and the Spirit of God.
Today we rejoice in it and this is what for centuries has been described as the Holy Spirit.
My God is there in the experience of human life.
We experience God everyday through the lives of others. This is the message and example of Jesus. We all know some very special people out of whom shines the Spirit of God. People who reach out to you and touch your soul.
When you stand alongside these people you are sure that the Kingdom of God is not coming in the future…it’s already here. Jesus’ God is a God who is present in human life, not a distant hope. God is as close as the human heart.
Jesus himself claims it is within you and around you….it is near but people do not see it.
Our task as followers of Jesus is to recognise the signs of the Kingdom in the world around us and reveal them. They may be generous, random acts of kindness or generosity of spirit that we witness in the lives of people we come into contact with, revealing the sacred activity we call God. I have seen this as I reached out and touched the life of a Muslim Imam…Imam Nur. If there was anybody with the Spirit of God inside his soul it’s this young Muslim Cleric. I will be introducing him to you soon.
I have seen this as I saw a tiny disabled young woman appealing to me to work with me with the Glasgow street gangs and I saw it in her when she in turn reached out and touched the lives of these often violent young men……still children of God. And the way these young men responded to her was electric.
Standing alongside Jesus in our normal lives is also a message about the presence of God in that it is not an interventionist one from a powerful distant deity, but a collaborative one. This is what the theologian Don Crossan describes as “The companionship of empowerment”. We empower each other through inclusion, unconditional acceptance and positive regard… which are the fruits that give power to the sacredness we call God. The God Spirit we experience alongside Jesus is empowering, not judgemental.
This empowering God, like Jesus did with his disciples, implores us to live out the Kingdom of God…to discern sacredness not only in our own lives but also in the lives of people we encounter. The Kingdom comes (as in the Lord’s Prayer) when we are able to empower each other to live fully.
Here let me quote Bishop John Spong:” For one to abide in love is to abide in God, for one to give love away is to give God away, hence his commission to all of us is to “love wastefully and be all that we are capable of being”’.
So we use this day. This Trinity Sunday. Not to recite lines of unintelligible word, nor to try to squeeze an unwilling God into a totally confusing and ridiculous formula, BUT to remind ourselves that our God is
Both life and the source of life,
The depth of life,
And in our relationships in human life.
I conclude with a quote from Augustine a 4th Century Bishop:
God is: Lover, Beloved and Love Itself.