‘God is like a Shamrock’ – 30th May 2021 – Trinity Sunday

The Order of Service

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21 05 30 Trinity Sunday Eucharist

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21 05 30 Trinity Sunday Eucharist

The Livestreaming Link

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The Readings

Isaiah 6.1-8

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:
‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.’
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’ Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’

John 3.1-17

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Scripture quotations are from: New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
by Kath B, a Reader at St. Mary's

I’m generally fairly oblivious about dates and special occasions. By this I mean that apart from Christmas and New Year, I tend to not realise that a particular date may be a bank holiday or festival or when we mark something or someone. In the past this has made me less than popular at home when I’ve not thought to request time off work. And it’s been the case with today because until a few weeks ago I hadn’t realised that today is Trinity Sunday. It was only in a chance conversation with my friend Joe about a month ago when I said I was preaching on the 30th May he said “Oh, Trinity Sunday” and then he indicated that it was a great opportunity to almost certainly commit some form of heresy, indeed that it would be almost impossible not to. Immediately a number of thoughts sprang into my mind and I decided that rather than tie myself in knots trying to avoid saying anything out of order, I’d jump straight in with both feet, get the potential heresy out of the way then we could all relax. So here goes!

One of the funniest descriptions of the Trinity I’ve ever come across was in a film called Nuns on the Run. If you have never seen it and you’re in need of a good laugh I would thoroughly recommend it. In it two gangsters, played by Robbie Coltrane & Eric Idle, are trying to escape from some other gangsters, from whom they have stolen some money, and in desperation they dive into a laundry that happens to be part of a convent and they don very old fashioned full length nun’s habits. They successfully evade the other gangsters but quickly get spotted by the nuns and have to pass themselves off as visitors from another convent. They’re given hospitality but also invited to teach a class of teenage girls about the Trinity. Sister Euphemia of the five wounds (Eric Idle) tells Sister Inviolata of the Immaculate Conception (Robbie Coltrane) that he knows absolutely nothing about the Trinity and has no idea what to say. Sister Inviolata, remembering what he had been taught by his old priest tells him to think of God like a shamrock with three leaves on one stem representing the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately things don’t go according to plan in the lesson and Sister Euphemia gets flustered by the girl’s questions about the Trinity and in panic he says “God is like a shamrock, small, green and split three ways. Class dismissed!” and he makes a run for it before he can be grilled any further on the topic.

Hilarious as this is, it highlights the fact that the Trinity is a very difficult concept to understand let alone explain to anyone else, even for those of us who come to church regularly. So I looked up some definitions. According to the Britannica website “Trinity, in Christian doctrine, the unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three persons in one Godhead. The doctrine of Trinity is considered to be one of the central Christian affirmations about God”. Another from The Gathering Community says “The doctrine of the Trinity means that there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct persons – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Simply stated, God is one in essence and three in person.” There is also a diagram which is rather helpful. It shows that although God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father or the Son, each is a distinct entity but all are inhabited by God. It can still sound a bit beyond us though. In fact I think the harder we try to explain it the more potential for confusion there is. To bring it down to more human terms I remember a friend telling me that the way she thought about it was that she was a daughter, a mother and a grandmother; one person with three distinct roles or aspects of herself.

In reality we all have multiple roles through which we relate to others in different ways so maybe it shouldn’t be so hard to grasp that God relates to us in different ways. It’s just a personal impression but I think there are times when we can feel closer to God as either the Father or Jesus or the Holy Spirit depending on what is going on in our lives or perhaps we as individuals are more attuned to one of these. For me personally I tend to talk to the Father most of the time but there have been times when I have felt the closer presence of Jesus. I note that some of my friends obviously sense the work of the Holy Spirit and trust that he or she will support them through life’s twists and turns.

One more snippet from the internet that made me smile and feel a bit better about not being an expert was this. “The Trinity is a controversial doctrine; many Christians admit that they don’t understand it, while many more Christians don’t understand it but think they do.” On balance, I think I’d rather admit to being one of the former.

As our reading from Isaiah seems to indicate; we may not feel worthy to be God’s messengers but by his grace we can have a role to play. Perhaps by being open and honest about finding some aspects of the Trinity hard to grasp, we may give others the courage to at least give it a hearing. Admitting that we cannot and do not know and understand everything about God is a not a weakness or a failing. Perhaps it’s a saving grace.

The Prayers
Prepared by David C.

We come boldly to the throne of grace,
praying to the almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
for mercy and grace.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Father of heaven, whose love profound
a ransom for our souls has found:
We pray for the world, created by your love,
for its nations and governments …
Extend to them your peace, pardoning love, mercy and grace.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Almighty Son, incarnate Word,
our Prophet, Priest, Redeemer, Lord:
We pray for the Church, created for your glory,
for its ministry to reflect those works of yours …
Extend to us your salvation, growth, mercy and grace.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Eternal Spirit, by whose breath
the soul is raised from sin and death:
We pray for families and individuals, created in your image,
for the lonely, the bereaved, the sick and the dying …
Breathe on them the breath of life
and bring them to your mercy and grace.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Thrice holy! Father, Spirit, Son,
Mysterious Godhead, Three in One:
We pray for ourselves,
for your Church, for all whom we remember before you.
Lord, hear us.
Lord, graciously hear us.

Bring us all to bow before your throne in heaven,
to receive life and pardon, mercy and grace for all eternity,
as we worship you, saying,
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest. Amen.

Adapted from Common Worship: Times and Seasons. Copyright © The Archbishops' Council 2006 and published by Church House Publishing.