Sermon given at the Sung Eucharist on Trinity Sunday 2021
God is for us, God is with us, and God is ahead of us.
The Venerable Tricia Hillas Canon Steward and Archdeacon of Westminster
Sunday, 30th May 2021 at 11.15 AM
We learned this past week that an international team of researchers has created the most expansive and detailed map showing the distribution of so-called dark matter across the universe. Dark matter being an invisible substance that permeates space and which is thought to account for 80% of all matter.
It’s noteworthy that these discoveries seem to raise questions about the existing theories about the nature of the universe. Little wonder then, that these results have been greeted with a mixture of excitement and nervousness.
Professor Carlos Frenk, one of the scientists whose own work is built on the work of Einstein and others, said he had mixed emotions on hearing the news: “I spent my life working on this theory and my heart tells me I don't want to see it collapse. But my brain tells me that the measurements were correct, and we have to look at the possibility of new physics … Then my stomach cringes, because we have no solid grounds to explore because we have no theory of physics to guide us. It makes me very nervous and fearful, because we are entering a completely unknown domain and who knows what we are going to find.”
I find all this talk of the nature of the universe mesmerising—not least because of the reminder that we are constantly learning and revising and are ever faced with the pressing reality of how much we don’t yet know.
The prophet Isaiah, faced with a vision of God’s awesome, fearful majesty, would understand this dilemma. How can we speak of an unspeakable God? God who cannot be contained within our limited words, nor by the limits of human minds, even the most able of them. “Woe is me!” cries Isaiah, capturing our justifiable sense that before this God, we, with our unclean lips, would do well to fall silent, prostrate.
Yet even in this visionary Holy of Holies, the most sacred of places, amidst smoke and as the very thresholds were shaken, comes a startling revelation of grace. An invitation to be present and a commission to speak.
Perhaps then the answer to our dilemma of how to speak of the incomprehensible God begins with recognising that whatever we do say, in our human frailty, may be true but can never be the whole truth. And secondly that anything we can truthfully say is made possible because of God’s own self-revelation.
It is God’s intervention which compels and directs Isaiah to speak. And, we, what are we to say? What are you compelled to say of God?
Inspired by something Rob Bell has written, what I feel compelled to say of God is this: that God is for us, God is with us, and God is ahead of us.
God is FOR us.
Let that sink in for a moment. The awesome, majestic God of Isaiah is also the one who has made us children and heirs, enabled to cry, to whisper, ‘Abba’, ‘Father’. For many the revelation that God is for us, is shocking. Too often we have been led to believe the opposite. Yet God is for us, for our wholeness, our good.
- For those of us who have believed the false rumours that God is against us because of who we are or what we have done.
- God for those of us who are tired of striving in our own strength to be better, more spiritual, more religious. For us whose faith has calcified into distanced duty or a struggle to succeed in some kind of merit-based system which God never intended.
So, as we speak of God let us let us hear this: God, Abba, Father, is for us.
And let us also say this: God is WITH us.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’. Jesus—God with us. Jesus whose coming challenges the view that God is only with some. He came amongst us, we who are rich, we who are poor, those seen to be of high standing and those whom others regard with distain.
His poverty and vulnerability of birth, his sharing in the range of human life; celebrations at a wedding, sorrowing beside a grave, the weary day of many demands, the glad sharing of food: God with us. God in the great and glorious, in the danger and depths, in the power and in the failure. God with us in laughter, lament, betrayal and even abandonment. God with us who were sold the lie of an indifferent deity.
As we speak of God, let us hear this: God, the Son, the Word made flesh with us, always.
And let us also say this: God, Father-like, who is for us; Jesus, God the Son who came to be with us, is also God who is ahead of us; God the Spirit, giver of life and breath, who woos, inspires, and leads us forward, opening up God’s good intentions for us and for all creation. God who searches the secrets of our hearts, who exposes evil and injustice, not with the intention of condemning the world, but saving it. God whose transformative, liberating, renewing vision is always far more than we alone could ever imagine, for ourselves and for the world. God ahead of us.
So, on this Trinity Sunday, we hold these things in joyful tension: the challenge of saying anything using human language and understanding which does any justice to the fullness of whom God is, and, once we have encountered God, the impossibility of refraining from speaking of the One who is for us, with us and ahead of us; Father, Son and Spirit.
Now, what do you find compelling, what are you compelled to say of God? How is this shaping you? The response of Isaiah, with lips touched by divine fire, was to say: ‘Here am I; send me’.