Sermon preached at Gorbals Parish Church, May 30th on Trinity Sunday
Since today is Trinity Sunday in the Christian year, I thought it would be interesting if we looked at the development of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity from the Great Commission in Matthew 28 to the fourth century dispute between the Council of Nicaea and the Arians. Now wouldn’t that be exciting?
Actually, I am very aware of the sleep inducing quality of such a sermon, so instead I thought we would approach this from a totally different angle. The idea came to me on Thursday morning around 3.30am, when I woke up to the awful screams of a bird somewhere behind our house. Now at this point I should tell you that my 6 year old son Marcus is really scared of birds. He wouldn’t go in his room if the window is open out of fear that the birds would somehow find their way inside.
Now when I heard this bird screaming, I began to realize why he was so scared. The sound was just horrible; something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. There is no way of describing it really. I could almost hear the creepy music in the background and I remember thinking: “What kind of horrible bird is this? It must be laying a huge egg or something!”
With these slightly amusing thoughts in my mind I made my way to my son’s bedroom and of course I found him hidden under his duvet, completely covered. I pulled the duvet away from his head and asked him if he’s scared. He nodded, of course, so I asked him if he wants me to stay with him for awhile. The smile on his face was so inviting, so I snuggled with him, wrapping my arms around him and holding him tight. He was all smiles and almost fell asleep again while the bird was still screaming its feathers off.
After about 15 minutes, the bird finally stopped, probably because the egg must have finally materialized. I stayed with Marcus for awhile and then asked him if he’s going to be alright. He smiled and told me he will be fine, so I was free to go back to my bed.
But I couldn’t sleep anymore. I felt stirred inside and the idea of God as Father became very real and emotional to me. To those of you who have had the privilege of being fathers or mothers, you know what I am talking about. There is a deep emotional connection between parents and children. I mentioned before what I felt the first time I saw my daughter in the post-natal ward, a few hours after she was born. It was a feeling like nothing else in the world. It cannot be described. It can only be experienced first-hand.
Now, going back to Marcus, the joy of being there for my child in his time of fear is indescribable. And immediately I realized how much this speaks of the love our Heavenly Father has for all of us, his children. I love what Jesus says in the Gospel according to Matthew:
“Which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Mat. 7:9-11)
You see, this kind of experience between father and son spoke to me more about who God is than any doctrine ever could. And that is because God not only speaks to our minds, but to the whole of our beings; he speaks to our emotions, to our souls as well. Our everyday experiences in our families speak volumes of the love that God the Father has for us.
I realize I was fortunate to be born in a loving family, with a mother and a father who loved God and loved me and my sister, never giving us a cause to doubt their love for us. But I know there are many people who were not as fortunate as I was. Their experience of growing up with parents was not as positive as mine. And I also know there are many people who grew up without the presence of a mother or father to love and cherish them.
But I believe there is a longing in all of us to be loved and protected by our parents. And having a Father in God who loves us beyond our capacity to understand is what draws us constantly to him. That is why it is so important to understand God as our Father. That is why Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father in heaven…”
And we must not get caught up in the male image of the father. God is also described in feminine terms in the Bible. The image of the mothering God is so vibrant when God is described as a hen who gathers her chicks under her wings. Often times, the love and dedication of a mother for her children speak much more of the love of God for us than a male image. The images and names of God in the Bible are there to reveal to us who God is, and how he relates to us.
But without the Son of God, without Jesus, we would not have known anything about the fatherly love of God. We needed a brother, a friend, someone who would walk among us, someone who would speak our language and sing our songs. Someone who would join in our celebrations and our pain, someone who would walk the roads we walk, and experience the weaknesses we experience.
I’m sure all of us have had at least one best friend in our lives. Someone you could trust deeply. Someone you could share the deepest secrets with. Someone who would understand you like nobody else could. I remember many of my best-friends, and I remember there were things I could never talk to my father about, but I could talk to them. And what I most remember was having a friend who did not judge me. Every human being should have the experience of a best-friend who is non-judgemental. We need that experience as we need air and water.
But growing up in a very strict religious environment it never occurred to me that Jesus is that kind of friend to all of us. He walks alongside us every day. He understands us like nobody else can. He knows why we do the good things we do, and why we do the bad things we do. And knowing all these things, he still did not come to judge, but to show mercy, acceptance and understanding.
Can you imagine a life of prayer where we speak to Jesus as we would speak to our best friend in utmost confidence, knowing that we are not judged, but rather loved and accepted? But this is who the Son of God is for us: he is our friend, our brother, our companion. These are all powerful images to describe who God is for us: he is our Father, and he is our Brother as well.
Of course you may ask how we can really experience God in this way, when we do not see the Father or the Son face to face. We hear about them in church, we read about them in the Bible, but how can we have that experience, that encounter with the Father and the Son in the ways I just described?
This is what our Gospel passage reveals to us. Last week the celebrated the Feast of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and inspired them to preach the good news to the people of different nationalities gathered in Jerusalem. God is not only revealed to us as Father and Son, but also as the Spirit of Truth, the Friend, the Comforter, the Advocate, the Breath of God.
Through the Holy Spirit, God is present with us every day of our lives. We are never alone. Through the Holy Spirit we are inspired to experience God as our Father, and also as our Brother. Our gospel passage tells us the Spirit does not draw attention to himself, but rather helps us to makes sense out of our lives.
We would not be able to know and experience God as our Father without the work of the Holy Spirit. We would not be able to know and experience God as our Brother without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit moves among us as we speak, inspiring us, stirring our hearts, communicating God’s love, disturbing the depths of our souls to the injustices in the world. Because through the Holy Spirit we are connected to the very heart of God. Through the Holy Spirit we are becoming more like Jesus every day, as we grow and develop to reach our potential as human beings, created and loved by God.
May God’s name be praised forever, Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Amen!