I remember being informed by one of my tutors at Theology College that no one likes to preach on Trinity Sunday because of the complexity and potential challenges of the subject matter. Since that day, I can tell you that I have found myself called to speak on that very subject every year.
There is a story of St Augustine walking along the beach considering the mysteries of the Holy Trinity when he came upon a young boy filling a small hole in the sand with a bucket of water. When the bucket was empty he filled it again and emptied into the hole. ‘What are you doing?’ he asked – ‘I’m going to pour the entire ocean into this hole’. ‘That’s impossible’ said Augustine ‘It will not fit’. ‘No more so than you trying to fit the reality of the Trinity into your tiny brain’, the boy replied and then he disappeared.
Trying to explain the Trinity can be like trying to empty the ocean with a small bucket, but perhaps that’s because God is not interested in us explaining it. He wants us to experience it.
As Christians we should be on a constant learning curve of understanding and experiencing more and more of who God is so that we might know the wonder, majesty and joy of God in our lives. Jesus spoke of us accepting the Kingdom of God like a child; that means in wide eyed wonder. Children do not understand all the wonders of the world and they know that they do not. They accept the situation as it is and long to know more. The modern western world can vaccinate us into a sterile rationalism that demands explanations to support belief. Knowledge is an amazing thing, but let’s not allow it to lead us into losing our sense of awe and wonder. God in His amazing love for us is far more interested in us experiencing who He is rather than explaining who He is. There is nothing wrong with saying to a child, or anyone else for that matter, that you cannot fully explain something, because that’s just how big and mysterious God is and isn’t that fantastic! Searching for explanations can lead us to spend time looking in the wrong direction. Nicodemus had been doing that all his life and Jesus directs him to a fundamental truth, that to know God we must be born from above. Nicodemus struggles with the concept so Jesus explains further, but for Jesus it’s a simple matter of experiencing the truth.
There are two kinds of misunderstanding: the first is due to the reality that we haven’t yet reached that place of understanding, whereas the second is due to us being unwilling to accept that understanding. I was reminded of this during the teaching given by the American Bishop at the wedding service of Prince Harry and Megan Markle last week. As he developed his exposition on God’s love, some in the hall began to heckle him and demand that he shut up. A natural human response is to recoil from a light that shines on our ignorance. Just because we cannot explain something does not mean that it is not true or that it does not exist.
Within the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we see a perfect unity. God’s deepest desire is that we might experience that unity with Him in our lives. It’s a decision to be made. To respond to the love of God that sent Jesus to the whole world that we might be united with Him.
Before he returned to the glory of heaven, it was Jesus’ prayer that we should receive God’s power. He wanted to ensure that his disciples were equipped for the task that lay ahead. His desire and hope is still the same today.
When our children were still at home we had many camping trips together and I acquired a reputation for having things with me, ‘just in case’. I was always packing more than was immediately required … I still do .. ‘just in case’. You never know when you might need them. It’s a sound enough principle, but often results in over packed cars, trailers and rucksacks and I end up burdened with more goods than I need. It’s a scriptural truth that whenever God sets a task he always ensures that those involved are appropriately equipped to carry it out. Our heavenly Father knows precisely what we need and in this prayer of Jesus we see those needs specifically identified. Jesus prays for unity, for joy, for victory and for sanctification.
Jesus prays for Unity that his disciples would be one. Where there is division, exclusiveness or competition, then unity is bruised and broken. Jesus prayed that we would be one as he and his father are one. In total agreement and understanding. Of one mind and purpose. Focussed. There is perhaps no other prayer of Jesus that has been so hindered by individual Christians or churches than this one with ‘My will be done’ and not ‘Thy will be done.’ To be in unity is to understand the will of Father God by abiding, resting and remaining in Him. Spending time with Him as Jesus did.
Jesus prays for Joy. Jesus desires our lives to be full of joy. There is a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is like a thermometer in that it registers the conditions in which we are living, whereas joy is like a thermostat; it sets the conditions in which we are living. ‘The joy of the Lord is your strength.’[i] It is God’s plan that our lives be full and blessed and attractive to others, no matter what our circumstances, that others may also encounter the joy of knowing Jesus.
Jesus prays for victory. Note that Jesus did not ask his father to remove his disciples from the world. How will others see the saving power of God if that took place? No. What he asks for is victory over the problems and dangers they will face from the ‘evil one’. There is direct opposition to God from evil. No good denying it or ignoring it for both responses do the evil ones work for him. There is an ‘evil one’ and we need to be aware of his lies, deception and disruption, but in Jesus we need not fear him. John, in his letter reminds us, and Jesus himself speaks of the power that is in His name. Power to overcome all evil and all that would seek to thwart Gods will.
Jesus prays for sanctification. That we might be ‘set apart’, ‘made different’, ‘made Holy’ by the truth of God’s word in order that we can become involved in changing the world. To do that we need the power of the Holy Spirit who brings unity, joy and victory over every situation and circumstance that would seek to restrict us, steal our joy or prevent the blessing that God has assigned through His church. In his love, Father God does not impose anything upon us, so, we need to ask for the Holy Spirit. It’s a decision to be made, but why would anyone want to be without that blessing in their lives? As we approach the celebration of Pentecost I encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit to empower you, fill you and bless you in order that you can be fully equipped as Jesus intended you to be.
With the Lord’s blessing
[i] Nehemiah 8:10
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale