Sermon preached on 30 May 2010

Here is what I said yesterday for Trinity. Text below.

Ah, Trinity Sunday – every preacher’s favourite.

How are we to understand it, is always the cry.

Well, as usual, if that’s the cry, the sermon is unlikely to provide an adequate answer. However, Trinity Sunday is an invitation to think about the nature of God.

The person who first taught me about preaching to congregations used to describe what he called, The Classic Scottish Sermon. He described it thus: three points, a poem and death bed scene.

I don’t know whether that is true of my sermons generally –  I suspect it isn’t, but this week, guess how many points the sermon has this Trinity Sunday?

How could it be anything other than three. I don’t know about a death bed scene, but I guess we will have a bit of poetry on the way.

Now, here are the three points, just in case you fall into … meditation before the end.

  1. You can’t understand the Trinity and that’s OK
  2. we need to look out for images of God which surprise us
  3. its more like poetry than prose anyway

Let us see how we get on with them.

Firstly, if you think that you’ve understood the Holy and Undivided Trinity then you probably haven’t. Doctrine is not always there to be understood. The doctrine of the trinity is a neat way of summing up the fact that after thousands of years of attempting to pin God down, describing the totality of what God is like is

As soon as you think you’ve got a handle on it, it moves beyond you anyway. I remember when I was newly ordained getting to preach on Trinity Sunday. (Curates often seem to get given Trinity Sunday, funnily enough). And I frankly, with my head full of lovely new theology, I thought I did a rather good job.

Until someone came up to me at the end and said in an exasperated and bewildered tone, “Yes, but why three? Why not four or two or seven?” And I had to confess that I did not in fact know the inner being and doings of the godhead at all.

Trinity is important for it reminds us that there is more to God that we can possibly conceive anyway.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have fun trying, and that leads me onto point number two, about images of God which challenge or surprise us.

Let us be enriched by the classic definition of the trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But let us not rest content there. Let us look for other pictures, images, models. Let us search the scriptures for more.

Quite a number of people are struck when they visit us here at St Mary’s and find us using the threefold Trinitarian and thoroughly biblical Gloria which goes, “Glory to God, Source of All Being, Eternal Word and Holy Spirit”.

This kind of thing can help us to realise that God is not a static thing that we can neatly sum up in words. The words are not enough. The images are never clearly focused enough. The biblical writers add layer upon layer to their understanding of God by using as many metaphors and images and descriptions of God as they can.

That’s a game we can play.

I know a theologian who plays with the idea of God as Mother, Lover and Friend – all biblical images for God and endlessly interesting to mull over. And its the same when a preacher uses the formula – In the name of God, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier. Concepts, images,  names descriptions.

Play the game this week – that’s the spiritual exercise I invite you to join in with this week in your prayers. How many images of God can you think up. How many do you recognise from the scriptures.

Make a list. Pray through your images. They don’t have to come in threes, though that can be part of the game too.

Father, Son, Holy Spirit, mother-hen, beloved-one, holy wisdom. Lion of Judah, Lilly of the Valley, Bright morning star.

Pray through your list of names or attributes of God. Recite them one after another. Think about why people conceived of God in those terms.

And then give thanks that you’ve discovered a new spiritual disciple in doing so. And give thanks for your Muslim brothers and sisters, for whom meditating on the names of God is part of their spiritual practise. And then go one step beyond and find a Muslim brother or sister and ask them what images they use for the being of all that is holy and all that is true.

Play the game. Pray the prayers. See where it gets you.

And then fall silent and remember the third of the points that I want to get over this morning – that we are walking resolutely and confidently through the land of poetry when we speak about the Trinity and much else about God. We don’t have to stick to the well trodden and narrow path of prose or explanation alone.

I think that to make much headway in trying to encounter the living God, we need to face facts full on right at the beginning and acknowledge that facts will not get us all the way we choose to go. Imagination, creativity and poetry will be our guides in this journey and they may take us skipping joyfully away from time to time from the twin pathways of literal truth and narrow fundamentalism.

There you go then. Three points.

  1. You can’t understand the Trinity and that’s OK
  2. we need to look out for images of God which surprise us
  3. its more like poetry than prose anyway

You are not getting a death bed scene to end with for life is too short to indulge gloomy preachers.

But we’ll end with a snatch of poetry, all the same, and sing it later on before we break bread.

I bind unto myself the name,

The strong name of the Trinity;

By invocation of the same,

The Three in One and One in three.

In the name of the God who loves us and loves us and loves us.


Here is what I said yesterday for Trinity Sunday. It seems like a while since I preached on the Trinity. Text below.


  1. I like those – especially the lion/lily/star approach from left field.

    There’s also the expression “God who loves us, and loves us, and loves us”.

    (A sermon, remembered years later, from a blogged transcript! Fear ye, etc. 🙂

  2. agatha says

    We had jaffa cakes at church as a symbol of the Trinity. Works for me!

  3. Melissa says

    On Sunday afternoon I did wonder, what did Provost Kelvin say on Trinity Sunday? No, I thought, he will have got someone else to do it – I think last year there was a Baptism or something.

    So thanks for this wonderful surprise today.

    Lil has spent the morning building a Lego village – I have heard the quiet conversations of all the lego people – and thought to myself how good it is to imagine other worlds, other places and other people.

    And now that imagination should lead all of us to encounter God.

    Again, heartfelt thanks for these ideas –

Speak Your Mind