What do you think God is like?
God is most often portrayed as sitting in the clouds, separate and distant from humanity. A sort of wizard (Gandalf, perhaps, from The Lord of the Rings), with a long, flowing white beard.
Or do you think of God as something different from that rather unhelpful image – something more approachable, perhaps?
In many ways, when we are asked to reflect upon the identity and nature of God, we are given an impossible task. How can we possibly hope to describe God, the creator and redeemer of all, the maker of heaven and earth?
But today we are challenged to do just that because today is Trinity Sunday.
Today we are encouraged to reflect on God as being three in one – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – or, in other words, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
As a musician I might compare the Trinity to a fugue.
When you hear a fugue you will encounter a recurring melody that keeps coming back again and again. This melody is likely to be short – sometimes just a few notes long – but it will stay essentially the same throughout the whole composition.
- Sometimes that little melody will get faster, and sometimes slower.
- Sometimes it will be in a different key, so that it might sound happy or sad, triumphant or melancholy.
- Sometimes it may be surprising – almost unrecognisable even – but its essential elements will continue to be there, recurring over and over again.
This is how you might describe the trinitarian God – a God in whom there is difference, movement and activity – but, at heart, remains fundamentally one and the same.
When we talk about a trinitarian God we realize that in God there is a relationship.
In 2007, a Canadian author, William P Young, published a book entitled The Shack. That book is the story of a young man called Mack who is broken-hearted following the violent death of his daughter.
Mack meets God, who first appears as a large, beautiful, beaming African-American woman, and he feels the very presence of love. She is hospitable, welcoming, open and engaging with him.
He also meets Jesus, who is more typically portrayed as a young working man.
And in amongst the two of them there is another woman who is forever moving – always dynamic – she represents the Holy Spirit.
The three are one – several times they try to explain to Mack how they live in relationship together.
A third of the way through the book we read:
Thoughts tumbled over each other as Mack struggled to figure out what to do.
Was one of these people God?
What if they were hallucinations, or angels, or God was coming later?
That could be embarrassing.
Since there are three of them, maybe this was a Trinity sort of thing.
He knew his mind was rambling, so he focused on the one question he most wanted answered.
‘Then,’ Mack struggled to ask, ‘Which one of you is God?’
‘I am,’ said all three in unison.
Mack looked from one to the next, and even though he couldn’t begin to grasp what he was seeing and hearing, he somehow believed them.’
Within the very nature of God there is relationship, and there is community.
The concept of God as community has existed from the beginning of time. In chapter 1 of Genesis we read –
Then God said, ‘Let US make humankind in OUR image, according to OUR likeness.
The language is plural – God as community.
Within God there is diversity, and there is room for difference.
It is within the power of a loving, mutual relationship that creation is possible.
Because in God there is relationship, we are called to live in relationship with each other, and with him.
We are made in the image of God – therefore, we reflect something of the very likeness of God.
This suggests that all human beings are of value – all of us are important, no matter who or what we may be.
And, because we are made in God’s image, we too are called into relationships of dignity, of equality, and of respect for each other – that is, into a creative relationship with God.
We are called to build communities together, not to restrict God, or make him conform to our image – but to allow the opposite to happen, to allow our communities to reflect the full diversity and breadth of human experience.
In these challenging times, this is a particularly important message for us to understand – and for some it will be a challenge. Things have changed and things will continue to change.
The challenge to us, is how we respond to that change.
In our communities there is clear evidence that people are working together and supporting each other in new ways. How will that continue in the future – or will it just become part of the nostalgic folk-history of our villages?
In our communities new people are encountering the mission and the love of the Church – will that continue?
Or, more to the point how can WE in the community of faith help that to continue – and grow? Because within God there is community, there is also creativity, movement and change.
In today’s gospel reading we heard The Great Commission. We heard Jesus sending his disciples out to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This commission is about going beyond expected boundaries – about building relationships in the communities in which we live and work.
Throughout history, many people have heard and responded to the Great Commission. They have taken the gospel to the people, rather than waiting for them to come to the established church community. Indeed, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism (and, incidentally, an Anglican priest) is famous for saying: The world is my parish – not the confines of a beautiful medieval building!
It is our responsibility, as members of a trinitarian church, to get out there (in whatever way we can) and spread the good news in the most unexpected (and, perhaps, uninviting) sections of the community.
So, when we reflect on God in Trinity – that is, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit –
we meet a God of relationship;
we meet a God who has different modes of being;
we meet a God, who in his very self, reflects community and diversity.
Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
We talk of the Spirit that moves over and through the waters;
we talk of the Holy Spirit as a dove that encircles the world;
we talk of the Spirit that mediates between God and creation.
We, who are made in this image, are called to live in relationship too – in relationship with the God who came to meet us in Jesus – but also with each other!
We are called to respect all people –
to allow for diversity and difference –
to be open to a whole range of cultures and ideas.
This message gives hope for the future – hope that derives from a relationship with this intimate, loving Father, Son and Spirit who is unafraid of change, or movement, or challenge.
As we listen to words from this morning’s New Testament reading again, let us reflect on that trinitarian God of community and diversity:
Brothers and sisters,
put things in order, listen to my appeal,
agree with one another,
live in peace;
and the God of love and peace will be with you.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all.