Trinity in Terms of Idea, Expression And Recognition

May 13, 2001

Ian Lawton

Easter 5     John 13:31-35

 

There is an old Yiddish Proverb that states, "If triangles had a God, he'd have three sides".

 

Once a year in the church we tie ourselves up in knots trying to get our heads around the three sides of God on Trinity Sunday. Being rostered to preach on Trinity Sunday is akin to drawing a preacher's short straw. In fact I had carefully put myself down for Pentecost this year and our student Helen down for Trinity; which was a fate I suffered as a theological student. Alas Helen had to do a swap. Too many assignments this week. Yeah right! I tried the same one when I was a student but my vicar was not so kind.

 

So what do we do with the three sides of God? The three persons of the Godhead, the three natures of God, the multiple personality God, or however it is you see it? My interest is in moving past pointless questions of natures of God and Jesus and who really died on the cross, and instead ask the question - what can the notion of Trinity mean for our lives today? How can it inspire us to greatness and seek the collective good of the world we live in?

 

Dorothy Sayers, who is not usually on my most mentioned list, offers this year my 'big idea' for Trinity. She equates God in 'the Mind of the Maker' with a creative artist. God's work is seen best in creation, where there are three stages- idea, expression and recognition. God the creator is the idea, or Essence of all reality. We learn about God from all of creation, yet it is only in Jesus that we have the perfect expression of the idea or essence of God. The Spirit of God, coming to fruition at Pentecost, abides inside human creatures offering them recognition of the Idea. Idea, expression and recognition.

 

I will come back and follow through these three stages with a concrete example. But first to the end; to recognition; for only there will we have reason to reflect in the idea and equate our experience with the expression. The best example I have heard of recognition was Playwright Arthur Miller. He would never relax about a play until he sat in an audience and looked in people's eyes. It was when he looked into the eyes of a viewer and saw their eyes connect with a character, lighting up as if to say- 'My God, that's me!' that he saw recognition and knew that he had succeeded.

 

Maybe you know what I mean by recognition; maybe you have seen in a character or even more profoundly in a neighbour something which has sparked for you- 'My God, that 's me!' or 'My God, that could be me! Or, "That was me," or "if only that could be me!" That in a nutshell could be called 'empathy'. It is not just empathy, but is also inspiration. Let me take an example and work backwards from recognition to the idea of God.

 

Some of you sat in this church and were transformed by the experience of hearing Nelson Mandela speak from this very pulpit. Like some of you I have only seen photos and listened to a tape of his speech. To sit in this church and hear words from that man must have been a moment of recognition for so many people. A man who had suffered so much for justice and freedom was standing here as large and as human and as free as a person could be. And if you heard Nelson Mandela speak of justice and freedom, as I know he did, would you not recognise the justice and freedom of God; the source and essence of justice and freedom. Would you not reflect on the Christlike nature of the man- living out values which Jesus suffered for. Did you not reflect on Jesus being courageously himself for the sake of freedom and justice? Jesus living perfectly the essence of freedom and justice. Maybe even privately you wondered if Nelson Mandela had attained the perfect expression of this divine essence.

 

God is the ongoing source and creator of love and goodness and hope. Jesus embodied those ideas. We now see glimpses in ourselves, in our neighbours and in our world. We have moments of recognition that drive us back to the Idea. And the real challenge - to be bold enough to acknowledge the Idea when you recognise it in yourself? To be humble enough to affirm the Idea when you recognise it in your neighbour, even in a neighbour disliked or looked down on.

 

I have spoken to you before about seeing this on the streets of Sydney and Auckland. Recently I have been visiting several refuges on the streets of Auckland and the surprising message I continually hear from the refuge workers is that they have found untold kindness in the street community. Now, like me, they also have been stabbed in the back by the street community. There is no sense in glorifying it. Yet I have been stabbed in the back many more times in the church than I have on the street.

 

Pentecost reminds us that the recognition comes in surprising places and in astounding ways. Love and goodness and respect; self determination and empowerment and justice and freedom. These are the qualities of recognition which drive us back to the Idea and perfect expression of these divine qualities.

 

The call this Trinity Sunday- to be bold enough to recognise the Idea of God in our midst.

 

The last word to Nelson- an extract from his inaugural speech

 

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. 
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
 We ask ourselves,
' Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?'
 Actually, who are you Not to be?
 You are a child of God. 
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
 There's nothing enlightened about shrinking 
so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
 We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; its in everyone. 
And as we let our own light shine
we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. 
As we are liberated from our own fear
 Our presence automatically liberates others."

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