In May 2009, I was summoned, one evening, to the General Synod Office in Edinburgh for what has been called ‘trial by buffet’. The format is simple. A group of candidates for ministry eat supper with four ‘selectors’ and everyone tries to be friendly and relaxed, but no-one succeeds. The selectors have the onerous job of trying to discern God’s call in the lives of the candidates and the candidates are just terrified.
After supper, the each candidate is interviewed twice for 30 minutes at a time by two of the selectors (one lay and the other ordained) working together taking it in turns to ask questions. At the second of these interviews with just two minutes to go, one of the selectors said: “Sunday is Trinity Sunday, how would you explain the Trinity to one of your Egyptian (Muslim) friends, who would probably think that Christians worship three Gods?” My reply was along the lines of “Do you think that I can explain probably the most difficult of Christian doctrines in just two minutes.” And then having bought some time, I waffled for the remaining minute.
What did Jesus say to his disciples in today’s Gospel?
“There are things that are essential to your faith, but I can’t speak about them because you wouldn’t be able to understand. They are far too complicated and way over your head.”
The Trinity is an inadequate human attempt to describe what we believe God;s like and to reflect the ways we might encounter God (or perhaps more accurately) that God might encounter us. It underlines that God should be seen not as a creature or object but as a spiritual experience whose mystery inspires awe, but who can’t be understood or explained logically. In other words it brings us face to face with the mystery of God, and helps us to recognise the God that we meet in the Bible, in history and in own lives.
Poetry and hymns often capture an idea better than anything else, so let me share with you this poem by Canadian Anglican Priest – Bill Countryman:
Going to God with the Shepherds.
If you want to go to God, go without your certainties.
Take your graces. Leave your certainties behind.
If you go looking for a Triangle inside a Trefoil inside a Conundrum,
you’ll miss the greatest sight of all,
the Holy Trinity playing children’s games on the lawns of heaven.
If you only look for the Virgin of the Window,
you’ll walk right past Our Lady,
laughing and telling stories with a group of friends.
The disciples knew not the Lord Jesus in his resurrection flesh.
They were expecting someone else,
someone they knew for certain.
And this was like, but was it he?
They knew him only when he handed them their bread.
Go to God, then,
taking in the hand of memory the silken light of a clear dawn after wet weather
and say, with tears if need be,
‘You made this.’
Take the name of your beloved and say,
‘You made him and in him you remade me.‘
Take the goodness of your life.
And take some moment of uncertain and life-giving hope,
ike an angel whispering or – sometimes – trumpeting in your ear.
These are your guides.
And so go with the shepherds on their angelic quest.
Go to that hick town that David left as soon as he got the chance,
go to the stable, see what you never expected to see,
the doors to God opening in that manger against all certainty.
And then return to find anew the tracks of grace:L. William Countryman
the beauty of men, the beauty of women, the delight of children,
the running of a swift dog, the flight of birds,
the sweetness of a pear, hands held in quiet.
If you want to go to God, leave your certainties behind.
But be sure to take your graces.
Today in Arpafeelie we have the wonderful opportunity to welcome Poppy into our community in baptism and we’ll all make promises to her. Her parents and Godparents will make their specific promises, and then as a congregation we’ll say that we welcome Poppy into our family, the Body of Christ and will share with her the gift of God’s love revealed in Christ.
In faith, we’re invited to learn the value of inter-dependence. Where I need you, and you need me and together we’re stronger. Where as a community we can support and encourage one another, sharing both our sadness and our joy – in funerals, in weddings and as today in baptism.
As Christians we’re not perfect, we’re as capable of being thoughtless, of as the next person, we’re after all works in progress, but we need to learn to make space for God to work in us.
Baptism, or christening is a starting point for this learning. It’s a way of saying, for us and on behalf of Poppy, that we’ll commit to feeding her spiritual needs and growth in faith,
And Communion, which we share, serves as a reminder and reinforcement of this commitment. We eat bread, made special because of the way Jesus taught us to share it and in doing so be aware of the love of God poured out for us. We share with one another, with the wider community of faith and with the Blessed and Holy Trinity.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”