St Bride's: Sermons

The Present Tense

Matthew 28: 16-20

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16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.

17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.

18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

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There's a story told that during the after-service refreshments in a town church, someone suddenly cried out 'I've found a tenner!' The treasurer pricked up his ears, in anticipation of swelling the collection plate that morning, but there was no banknote. Just a slightly embarrassed stranger who'd been chatting to the choirmaster, and who added 'But I haven't sung for years.'

Most church choirs are short of tenors: even music publishers have adapted to the situation and published anthems set not for SATB but for Soprano, Alto, Men - a three part instead of a four part harmony.
That's a useful metaphor on Trinity Sunday, because although in choral music the parts may sometimes sing in unison, best of all is when they blend together in glorious harmony, which is always greater than the sum of its part.

Today, Trinity Sunday, we end the Christian year not with an event but with a doctrine, that God is both three and one. Not three Gods, but one god in three persons. It is a belief that has tested theologians down the centuries and can puzzle the ordinary Christian: it seems to underline the old saying that Christians are committed to believing impossible things before breakfast, as the White Queen said in Alice Through the Looking Glass.

In fact, the term 'Trinity' doesn't appear in the Bible. The Old Testament focus is on God as almighty Creator, the One God of the Hebrew people. But there are hints about the Son - little echoes if you like behind the main tune - in for instance, the image of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah and the Spirit is mentioned as the agent of Creation in the Book of Genesis. But in the Old Testament, it is the first person of the Trinity, God, who is the main theme.
Then in the Gospels we start to hear three distinct parts. The Holy Spirit comes upon Mary at conception, and on Jesus at his baptism, and Jesus names God as his Father and Our Father. He gives us the pattern prayer which we know as the Our Father. Then in the Gospel passage we have just heard Jesus specifically names all three persons as he commissions the disciples to carry on his work. So implicit  in the Old Testament and made progressively explicit in the New Testament is the idea of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three persons in harmony, together making the music of a loving God who creates, redeems, and inspires his world. It is, if you like, God's three-part harmony.

Trouble has arisen down the centuries because theologians and thinkers have grappled with and puzzled over the concept for centuries, instead of just enjoying the music. They have argued over the detail of the notation instead of just enjoying the tune.

In the pages of the Bible there is a simpler acceptance that these three aspects of God are related to one another, love one another and sing together, yet are still one God. We can enjoy the glorious harmony, even while we recognise that there are three lines of music in there somewhere.

Better still, we are invited to join in and make the fourth part of the harmony, as we participate in that loving fellowship, that Holy Communion, and make it a living harmony in our own daily lives. And that is the challenge of Trinity Sunday, to make God's love revealed in Christ a reality in the here and now, so that we experience God in the Trinity not as a dead piece of doctrine, but as something real in the present. As the poet and hymn writer Sidney Carter wrote in a poem called 'The Present Tense'.

Your holy hearsay
is not evidence:
give me the good news
in the present tense.

What happened
nineteen hundred years ago
may not have happened:
how am I to know?

The living truth
is what I long to see:
I cannot lean upon
what used to be.

So shut the Bible up
and show me how
the Christ you talk about
is living now.

Lord, teach us that your presence is not dependant on the complexities of doctrine but on our response to your love revealed in our daily lives, so that others may see that the Christ we talk about is living now, and we reflect in our lives the harmony and beauty of the Divine Life. Amen

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