Sermon For Trinity Sunday: The Holy Trinity In Ordinary Time
‘It’s the end of the festival season,’ said a friend of mine the other day.
The end, I thought? But it’s only mid-May! The mud bath that
is the Glastonbury Festival hasn’t happened yet, let alone all the other summer
Then I realised. He wasn’t talking about that kind of festival.
My friend is an Anglican priest, and he was talking about the festivals of the
Christian year. We began with Advent and Christmas, we went to Epiphany (and
Candlemas for the enthusiasts). Then it was on to Lent, followed by Easter,
then Ascension and last week Pentecost. Today is Trinity Sunday, and it’s the
end of the festival season. From now on, everything until Advent is what we
call ‘Ordinary Time’. Trinity Sunday leads us into Ordinary Time. The festivals
are over, and it’s time to live out our faith in the ordinary seasons.
And it’s that faith in the Trinity that enables us to live
the life of disciples in ‘ordinary times’, when there are no festivities or
dramatic events, when everything is reduced from saturated colours to shades of
grey. I want to do some exploring this morning of what faith in the Trinity
means for us on those plain vanilla days. I’m going to use the familiar words
of ‘The Grace’, which form the very last verse of 2 Corinthians, as a
foundation for this.
So you won’t get an explanation of the Trinity this morning.
I once took a series of sermons to scratch the surface of that! There will be
the odd hint about it, but I can recommend a book
that is not aimed at academics, if you want deeper exploration. What you will
get is some sense of the work of the Trinity, from which we deduce the
Off we go, then. I wonder if you can guess how many points
the sermon has today …
1. The grace of the
Lord Jesus Christ
A friend of mine called Colin had been a missionary in the Far East when he was
single. He had stayed with a Christian family. They had one daughter. Her name
Colin once asked if Grace had any middle names. ‘No,’
replied her parents, ‘because – as the Scripture says – grace is sufficient.’
The grace of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ is what is
sufficient for us. It is more than sufficient to bring salvation. Grace is a
gift of God. It is well summed up in the old acronym that G.R.A.C.E. stands for
‘God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense’. That is, through the suffering of Jesus, we
receive blessing upon blessing. It is more than the idea that we don’t get what
we do deserve as sinners (mercy): grace is the flip side of the coin, where we
receive many things we don’t deserve.
So grace is a gift. It is the gift of God in Christ. It is
the mercy of the Cross, the new life of the Resurrection and the power of
Pentecost. It is the generosity of the Holy Trinity, where the Father lavishes
his blessings upon us through the Son, by the Spirit.
But there is more:
‘In Paul’s usage, grace
is most characteristically action and gift … and in these words Paul prays for
a continuation and deepening of what has already been done and given in Corinth.’
Grace is an action as well as a gift. That is where it comes
into play in ‘ordinary time’. In ordinary daily life, we need grace to be
action as well as gift. As disciples of Jesus, we already know the grace of the
Lord Jesus Christ as a gift – and yes, of course, we often need reminding of
that gift. But we also need grace as action. That is, we who have received the
gift of grace in Jesus need to express it in our actions.
Corinth was a messed-up place, where the powerful threw
their weight around, discriminated against the poor and against those who didn’t
have an impressive appearance or charisma (Paul included!). Relationships were
damaged and broken as a result. They were a group of people constituted by the
fact that they had received the gift of grace. Now they needed to act in grace,
if they were to be the community Christ wanted them to be. If relationships
were to be repaired, they needed grace in action.
It’s the same for us in our ‘ordinary time’. People hurt one
another. They don’t consider one another’s feelings. One person’s ambition
means others are trampled. Somebody blows a short fuse. It’s time to turn the
gift of grace into the action of grace. It’s the call to practise the
discipline of forgiveness. And yes, I do mean discipline of forgiveness,
because much of the time we won’t feel like doing it, but we need to.
So if we have received the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ as
a gift, let us turn it into an action.
2. The love of God
To those of us used to normal Trinitarian formulae, it seems strange that Paul puts
Jesus before God. ‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ’ is followed by ‘the love
of God’. But this is important. Behind the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is
the love of God. Jesus brings grace because God is love. It is not that Jesus
has to persuade God to love us: rather, it is as Paul said earlier in 2
Corinthians, ‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself’.
And it’s more than the love of God. Why does God love us? He
loves us, because that is his nature. The most fundamental statement about God
in the whole Bible is this: ‘God is love.’ Now love is something that must be shown,
so how could God be love before he had creation to love? The answer, surely, is
that within the Trinity mutual love is expressed.
But then, love that is within a relationship has to go
beyond those in the relationship to others. In the love of man and woman in
marriage, the conventional way this happens is in children – perhaps biological
children, or adopted children, or maybe fostered children. When I prepare a
couple for marriage and I discover they do not plan to try for children
immediately, I challenge them to find a way of putting the love they have for
each other to work in serving the community, or in helping the needy. Love cannot
be turned in on itself forever.
So with God: the love within the Trinity burst out in the
loving act of creation. Then, in the light of sin and brokenness, the love of
God became salvation – ultimately, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If the love of the Trinitarian God is like this, what does
it mean for us in the ordinary time of routine life? It surely means that if God’s love is shared
among us, it cannot be contained within us. The church or Christians who experience
God’s love will share God’s love.
Does that mean doing something scary or dramatic, like
travelling to fearsome places to show the love of God? It will for some. In the
meantime, we need to start where we are. Where has God placed us? Those are where
we begin to share the love of God. For Debbie and me, the location of our manse
and the ages of our children place us at particular school and pre-school
gates. There we are available to people. Unconditionally, we help anyone in
need if we can. It may be the family split apart by alcoholism, or the little
girl whose mother’s behaviour towards her is deeply worrying. We hope and pray
people will realise we do this because of God’s love, and that the
opportunities will come to share just how much more God has done for them in
Where has God placed you? That is the location to begin
showing the love of God beyond the boundaries of the church.
3. The fellowship of
the Holy Spirit
Paul’s final prayer here amounts to this:
‘Paul wishes for his readers a ‘continuing and deepening’ of
their participation in the Holy Spirit.’
This is tricky. Participation in the Holy Spirit is a
slippery thing. Why? Because one thing we learn about the Holy Spirit in
Scripture is that the Spirit never points to himself,
but to Jesus. The Holy Spirit is the self-effacing Person of the Godhead.
If that is the case, then participating in the Holy Spirit
isn’t just about welcoming all the ways in which the Spirit works. It is also
about the manner in which we immerse ourselves in the Holy Spirit.
What does this mean? I think it means we welcome all the
gifts the Holy Spirit wants to give us. Anything from God is good. But how do
we use them? We cannot use spiritual gifts to enhance our own name or reputation.
If we truly are deeper and deeper in the Holy Spirit, our passion will be the
name of Jesus. There are times I have had this right in my life, and other
times when I have had it badly wrong.
One time I got it wrong was in 1997. I had been invited to
be a seminar speaker at Spring Harvest. It was the fulfilment of a prophetic
word given to me in 1980 that I would speak at conferences. The speakers that
week (including one Nicky Gumbel, by the way –yes, I have laid hands on him in
prayer, not that he would remember me!) could gather in a team lounge when not
on speaking duty. We would be expected to attend one of the evening celebration
meetings. One night, I was asked if for the rest of the week I would be
seconded from the one I attended to a children and family celebration that
friends of mine were running. I agreed.
A day or two later, I heard that in the team lounge while I was
at the family celebration, the Spring Harvest leadership had announced some
social evenings after the celebrations each night that the speakers could go
to. This would be a chance to mingle with the great and good of the evangelical
world. Hearing it second-hand later, I asked the people who hosted the team lounge.
‘No, it isn’t for you,’ they said. So I never went.
On the penultimate day, I discovered they were wrong. They had
mistaken me for someone else. I could have gone, but now the social evenings had
finished. My chance to get to know these people – and get known myself – was gone.
Then I realised that my motives were all wrong. When I had
heard about the social evenings, I had been too concerned to promote my name,
and not that of Jesus. I wonder whether that was why God allowed the
misunderstanding so that I didn’t go.
The next year, I had learned my lesson. I was running a Saturday
conference at a church for people involved in contemporary styles of worship. At
the evening worship celebration, an elderly man from one of my churches hadn’t
been able to attend. But two women from that church who did make it felt such a
fire in their hands during prayer that they were sure the Holy Spirit wanted
them to go and see this man after the meeting and lay hands on him. When they
did, he was healed. The next morning, he was in church, giving his testimony to
what happened the night before at a baptism service with many non-Christians
I circulated the story on an email list on the Internet.
Back came a reply: ‘David, you mighty man of God!’ it said. (I mean, honestly,
you could tell he didn’t know me!) I was quick to reply and say it wasn’t I who
had laid hands on the man, but the two particular women, and in any case, it
was the work of God. That, I believe, is to participate more deeply in the Holy
Spirit – to welcome his gifts and make sure God gets the glory and no one else.
Maybe those two stories don’t easily qualify as mundane ‘ordinary
time’. But the principle remains. The gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit are
for everyday, not just Sunday, for the street as much as the church. In all the ways we participate in the Holy Spirit’s
ministry, our part is to ensure the glory goes to the God of love whose grace
is made known in Jesus Christ. If we do, then we will imitate that God by
acting in grace to heal the wounds of the world, and showing God’s love to
those beyond our spiritual family. May the Holy Spirit enable us to do so, to
the glory of God.
should that be herself? Can anyone remember the N T Wright comment from about
twenty years ago, where (in a Bible study at General Synod?) he said there was
a feminine personal pronoun in Romans 8 referencing the Spirit?