Sermon for Trinity Sunday – 04.06.23

Gospel MATTHEW 28.16-20

Don’t you just love today’s Gospel passage?  The disciples met Jesus up on a Galilean mountain and it was a joyful reunion.  Then Jesus gave them their marching orders – to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit—some of the most familiar verses in the entire New Testament—what we’ve come to call The Great Commission.

And Matthew includes three little words that make it all make sense:

But some doubted.

Devout Jews that the disciples were, they would have known, from the time they could talk, the most important prayer in Judaism, the Shema which begins: “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord our God is one God!”  As Jews, the disciples knew this truth about God inside and out.

And yet here they were, gazing at this one they’d experienced as human, like them, but had come to believe, in some undeniable way, was divine.  And there he was, talking about sending them something called “the Spirit.

Even for those who may not have been as mathematically gifted as Matthew (the former tax collector), it was easy to figure out that totals three, not one.

And so, understandably . . . some doubted.

Today is Trinity Sunday, and on this day in the church’s year we are challenged to consider what can be a very difficult teaching of the church: the Doctrine of the Trinity. You know, that God is three in one, but really one, even though God is also three.

And while preparing this sermon, my hopes for making this easy for us to understand were not buoyed up when I opened the first biblical  commentary and read the opening sentence: “There are some themes for preaching that are both daunting for the preacher and puzzling for the congregation.

Or, even when I turned to the timeless writings of Church fathers, like Saint Augustine, who wrote in his great, though somewhat cumbersome work, The City of God, these helpful statements: “The Father is God.  The Son is God.  The Holy Spirit is God.  The Son is not the Father.  The Father is not the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is not the Son.”  And, finally: “There is Only One God.

And some doubted. And you can see why.

You see, as Episcopalians, like most other Christians, we believe in a three-in-one God, but the word “trinity” does not occur anywhere in holy scripture, and while there are texts that hint at some kind of Trinitarian doctrine, there’s nothing in all of the old and new testaments that defines this essence of God.

It was an early leader of the church named Tertullian, who was one of the first to start using the word “trinity” and describing the formula we’ve come to understand as our best bet for explaining what that means: three persons, one substance.

But did you know that before we all agreed on a Christian doctrine of the Trinity, the first church had to argue.  And argue and argue and argue, for hundreds of years, to even be able to articulate anything even resembling a unified doctrine.

After Tertullian had made his big pronouncement about trinity, everybody got confused.  Nobody could decide what status to assign to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit . . . who came first and who was made out of what? So here’s a quick summary of the good, the bad and the ugly:

The first Ecumenical council of the church was held in 325 AD in Nicea.  The question up for debate was whether or not Jesus was divine or was he human, and in the end the church affirmed Jesus’ divinity and wrote the Nicene Creed, you know: “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth . . . .

Then, about 50 years later in Constantinople, the gang got together again, this time to talk about the nature of Christ and the person of the Holy Spirit.  Some people were teaching that Jesus was totally divine and not human, but that argument ended at this meeting when Jesus was voted 100% human.  And people were wondering about the relevance and the reality of the Holy Spirit, so the Trinity was defined and affirmed again, you know: three persons, one substance.

And . . . that settled that, until about 50 more years, in 431 AD, when the pendulum swung back and people were concerned that some were taking the “Christ as human” thing too far, forgetting that he was God.  So, they all decided at this meeting, the Council of Ephesus, that Jesus was, in addition to being 100% human, also 100% divine.

Well then, you guessed it, about 20 years later, in 451 AD, they all had to gather again, this time in Chalcedon, to argue about whether Jesus was, in fact, fully divine and fully human, or whether that assertion made him something else altogether. And so it went on and on – more u-turns (that weren’t u-turns) than modern day politicians! These meetings sound humorous to us now, but believe me, they were no joke.  People were kicked out of the church (sometimes quite literally) and labeled heretics. 

Fancy theological words were created to define the essence of the different parts of the Trinity.  Words like homooseious! Here’s a challenge – Why not Look up the meaning of the word homooseious and try to wind it in to your day to day conversation at some point this week!

All of this is one really long way of saying that we do not do a very good job at defining an essential doctrine of our faith: the Trinity.  When we’re not fighting over miniscule shades of grey regarding the essence of God, we’re either shrugging our shoulders in surrender or throwing our hands up in frustration.  We don’t do the Trinity well and as a result . . ., as we heard in our gospel passage some doubted.

And some still doubt.

The Fact of the matter is, we don’t have a nice way of explaining everything, something we can print up in a brochure and pass out for easy reference. In fact, it turns out that we’ve spent all this time trying to define God, to “make God in our own image,” as it were, using a metaphor—the Trinity—that helps a little but certainly doesn’t give us any easy answers. As Christians, we live with the tension of trying in vain to explain something that is, in essence, pure mystery.

On this Trinity Sunday I don’t think it is our job to explain the essence of God, a mystery if ever there was one.  Instead, it’s our job to learn the essence of the one in whose image we are created, and then live with brave abandon into the essence of who we are meant to be.

And who we’re meant to be, according to the little picture of God we can see, the little picture we’ve decided to call “the Trinity,” is a people whose basic character is defined by our relationships with one another. If you think about it, the very essence of the Trinity is the reminder that God is expressed to us in different ways, but each of those ways exists in powerful relationship with the others.

Just think:

God is to us a divine being, holy beyond our understanding, who dictates rules for living and sets expectations far beyond what we could ever achieve. And yet we also know God to be intimately human, a God who has walked a mile in our shoes, who knows the pain of being human, who understands our inability to meet divine standards and who has felt the frustration of grief and failure and brokenness.

And we also know God as the Spirit of new life, breathing into our world and into our lives, offering us possibilities we could never have imagined and sparking new life and energy when rules and expectations of faith begin to weigh us down.

And with all these expressions of God, some that seem more real to us at different times in our lives, we understand the truth that Saint Augustine articulated: There is only one God.  Creator, redeemer, sustainer, a God who relates to our world in many different ways and at the same time is, in essence, the very embodiment of loving relationship.

Characteristics that seem in conflict, instead exist in creative community, divine presence, three in one, offering us the challenge of taking all the beautiful parts of who we are as diverse and multi-faceted expressions of God’s creation, somehow recognising the very essence of God imprinted on each one of us and living with courage into the kind of community God models for us. 

That is living out the image of God, in which each one of us, different as we are, was lovingly made. Each one of us is created with the image of God indelibly imprinted on our  souls, so that, in some miraculous and inexplicable way, the diverse expressions of God that are you and you and you and me all come together to illustrate the mystery, to live together in community as we do our best to display for the world all the possibilities that the divine imprint on all of us could mean.

If we started to live into the mystery of the trinity, then it might just be possible for us to look at each other and see, not all the differences about how we look or speak or see the world, but rather an intricate relationship, a curious community, created in the image of God and living out the possibility for unity, even in our diversity.  Can you imagine? 

Some have their doubts that this could ever really happen.  Some are still doubting – but they have always done so.

And some doubted.

Today, on this Trinity Sunday, we are invited to prove them wrong, to live boldly into the dream of the Trinity, the dream of everything we can be together.  After all, we are, each one of us, created in the very image of God.


Fr Simon


Our church family celebrated with Eric Dawson as he reached his 100th birthday this week. With a special cake following the service last Sunday and another cake at a special gathering on Monday (Eric’s actual birthday) we marked this very special birthday of a very special man who we all hold dearly in our hearts. The Lord Lieutenant of Sutherland came along to our gathering on Monday to present Eric with his card from the King and Queen Consort and the gathering sang to Eric and shared tea and cakes. Happy Birthday Eric!

New Convener for Church in Society Committee


The Reverend Simon Scott has taken up the role of Convener of the Church in Society Committee. Fr Simon is Priest-in-Charge at St Finnbarr’s SEC, Dornoch in the United Diocese of Moray, Ross and Caithness. He is a self-supporting minister who has a career in primary education. Having been a primary head teacher for almost twenty years, Fr Simon now works as a senior education officer for Highland Council.

On taking up the position of Convener, Fr Simon said: As a priest who is employed in a ‘secular position’’ I have a particular passion for the role that the church has in walking alongside others to shape and guide the structures in our society in a way that promotes peace, equity and justice for all.

“I believe ‘the church’ can be a key player in helping to make sure these principles are considered and upheld by those who make the important decisions that affect the lives of everyone in our country, and in particular those decisions which affect the lives of the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised.”

Fr Simon has a background in expressive arts and enjoys singing with choirs and taking part in other musical activities.

He is also a regular contributor to the Northern Times newspaper, via the title’s ‘Food For Thought’ column.

Christmas Generosity

A huge thank you to all who came along to support The Children’s Society at our Christingle Service at St Finnbarr’s last Sunday. The sight of everyone’s faces aglow in the candlelight was extremely special. Our four part guest choir sang unaccompanied so beautifully, as did our trio of boys who sang Away in a Manger for us.

The special collection for The Children’s Society totaled £301.86. Thanks to all our readers, congregants, our organist and those who gave but could not make it to the service. Our contribution will I am sure make a difference!

In related news – we received the following in an email from Tain Food Bank – again, thanks to all you generous, lovely people.

Just a short email to say ‘thankyou’ to you and all at St Finnbarrs for the very generous donation of food and money for the food bank today. 

The weight of the food came to 27.2kg and the £100 will be used to either buy food that we get short of or to help people out who find themselves in fuel poverty.

I cannot tell you in simple words the difference this donation will make to many lives this Christmas time and into the New Year.

Please pass on our sincerest thanks to all concerned.

Every Blessing 

Mandy & the food bank team 

Food Bank – Collection for the Festive Season

As we approach the festive season, St Finnbarr’s Dornoch are organising a collection for our local Food Bank. If you would like to support us, please bring donations to the church on Sunday 4th or Sunday 11th December between 10.30am and 11am or on Wednesday 7th December 10am to 10.30am. We are collecting the usual standard food and toiletry items to support people through the holiday period and you might like to include a few seasonal treats. The Food Bank is particularly short of coffee, sugar and biscuits.  Please can you make sure any perishable items such as prepacked ham or spreads have a long date and it would be helpful to pack these separately so that they can be kept refrigerated. The Food Bank is currently experiencing increased demand, so your support would be much appreciated. Don’t forget that you can also donate money if you feel you would like to help in this way. We know not everyone will feel they can contribute, but thank you in advance for supporting our neighbours most in need.

Looking forwards – Christingle Celebration!

On Sunday 18th December at 4.30pm St Finnbarr’s Dornoch will hold a Christingle Celebration Service in aid of The Children’s Society.

If you’ve never been to a Christingle before, please do come along to this very special, informal service which includes lots of carols and a simple all age Christmas message.

We know there is still a wee while to go before this happens, but wanted to let you know well in advance because part of the service includes making an offering to The Children’s Society. In the next couple of weeks special collecting candles and /or envelopes (like the ones below) will be available for you to collect from church and then slowly fill up during advent to then bring along as your offering to support some of our most vulnerable children and young people.

We look forward to welcoming you and presenting you with your very own Christingle to take home!

The Spirit of Ukraine!

Earlier this week we were delighted to welcome Oleksii and Igor to St Finnbarr’s Dornoch. Our Ukrainian friends have been regular visitors, performing the most wonderful concerts for us – with a wide variety of music all played on the accordion! Oleksii and Igor were granted special visas to leave Ukraine and enter the UK in order to continue the vital work they do in raising money for the mother’s of Chernobyl (and this year for wider causes supporting the children of Ukraine). Given the ongoing occupation and invasion of Ukraine, the event held a special poignancy for us all. We describe the performance as an act of defiance, showing that the spirit of the people of Ukraine will not be destroyed! The photograph above shows our audience applauding that spirit!

God Bless you Aleksi and Igor as you and your country continue the struggle!

Transfiguration Activity Day

On August 6th our young episcopalians celebrated The Transfiguration with a day full of crafts, games, den building and other activities at St Trolla’s Church at The Crask Inn. We learned about the story of The Transfiguration of Jesus and explored what the story was saying about Him. Special thanks to Beatrice, Elizabeth and Peter who came along to help us. Take a look at the gallery below to see what we got up to!

Community Award!

Our heartiest congratulations to Marian Swanson – a member of our congregation and vestry at St Finnbarr’s Dornoch – as she receives a special community award from the Dornoch Community Council. This prestigious award is presented annually to individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to our local community. Jerry Bishop made the presentation on behalf of the Community Council. Many of you will know that Marian is a key player in running St Finnbarr’s Charities Shop, Market stalls and online sales. Marian has supported, led and helped develop many other local initiatives too, but really doesn’t like to be in the limelight. However, given this well deserved award which recognises all that she is and all that she does, we wanted to raise a glass with her – God bless you Marian and may He uphold you in all that you do!