Isaiah 40:12-17, 25-end; Matthew 28:16-20
04.06.2023 St Barbara’s
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Have you noticed that some people are just a little bit clever? When I was at university I remember hearing a talk by a theologian called Alister McGrath. He had doctorates in both Chemistry and Theology. I remember him speaking of a conversation he had with a Muslim friend about the trinity (God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit). His friend had asked: “if I have one cup, and another cup and a third cup, how many cups do I have? Three. Surely you Christians believe in three gods?” To which he replied: “if you add infinity to infinity to infinity, what do you have? Infinity.” He acknowledged it wasn’t a perfect answer but the best he could come up with.
Speaking about the Trinity can sometimes lead us down innumerable rabbit holes, so it is helpful to start by just acknowledging that God is infinitely greater, more divine, than anyone or anything we can possibly comprehend. With our finite minds, even someone as clever as an Oxford professor in Chemistry and Theology, cannot even begin to grasp the infinite nature of God.
Our reading from the prophet Isaiah puts this in beautifully poetic language. Who other than God, Isaiah asks, “has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales… who brings out the stars and numbers them all by name.” How can we do anything but be in awe of a God who, as Jeremy reminded us the other week, breathes life into 10 billion living creatures in a tea-spoon of soil, or who creates the heavens where our sun is just one of 500 billion stars in the Milky Way, and where the galaxy in which we live is one of 100 billion in our universe. We are right to stand in awe before such a holy God.
And yet Isaiah hints at something equally remarkable. This God who is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, is intimately concerned with us. He gives power to the faint and strengthens the powerless, he renews the strength of those who wait on him. Here is an infinite God who longs to make himself known.
Which takes us to our reading in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus commissioning his disciples. There is something extraordinary here, which we can almost miss, so familiar are we with the practice. Matthew tells us: “When they saw Jesus, the disciples worshipped him.” We are told some doubted, which is hardly surprising. Here were good Jewish monotheists, people who had been brought up to believe that the most fundamental and essential truth in all Judaism was that the Lord your God is one, and to have no other God beside him, and yet here they are worshipping Jesus as God. They had come to believe that Jesus was God. And Jesus adds to the wonder: “Go into all the nations”, he says, “and baptise in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Here is God, three in one.
Over the centuries Christians have found that both Scripture and experience affirm that understanding of God. That the God who has made the earth and the heavens has made himself known through his Son, who lived, and died and rose from the dead for our salvation, and who continues to dwell in us, transforming life and empowering us, through his holy spirit.
Over the centuries, the church has often drifted towards two opposing dangers. One danger is to believe that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are just roles, just like a single actor may assume different parts at different times in a play. If so, we are no closer to knowing the true God, the God beneath these different roles. The opposite danger has been to believe that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are quite separate and independent, three distinct gods. But this goes against Scripture and Jesus’ commands to worship one God alone.
The church has instead held that God is indeed one – that no part of the Trinity ever acts independently of the other – and yet one member of the Trinity takes a lead. And so the Father leads in the act of creation, forming and shaping the world, but as the beginning of John’s gospel tells us, he does it through the Word, the Son, and the Spirit hovers over the waters of creation as He does so. Jesus, the Son, leads on the task of our salvation – it is he who becomes like us and dies for us, and yet he does so in response to the call and love of his father and empowered and sustained by the Spirit. And it is the Spirit who leads on equipping and empowering the Church to be none other than the body of Christ, that is brought into relationship with the Father. The work of the Trinity is distinct yet inseparable.
Why this matters is that we begin to catch a glimpse into the nature of God: total unity within perfect community. We see in the Trinity God’s perpetual self-giving, other serving love. Just as Son and Spirit support and enable the Father in the work of creation; so Father and Spirit strengthen the Son in the work of our salvation; and the Son and Father are the means by which the Spirit empowers and envisions the church. God is love, expressed at the very heart of his nature, in this community of serving and giving. Augustine called it a “society of love”.
But how does the Trinity shape us practically? What difference does it make? Three things.
Firstly, God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is worthy of our worship. Those words from Isaiah inspire us to fall down in awe before a God who is infinitely greater than anything or anyone we can comprehend. He is a God who creates the heavens and the earth. He is the God who is the source of all life. He is the God who saves and redeems the world; who overcomes death and sin. He is the God who renews and reinvigorates all creation, including his body the church. Just as the disciples worshipped on that mountain, so we are called to worship too. It is the only response that makes sense when we contemplate God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Secondly, God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reach out to us, longing to make their love known and for us to love in return. In that famous icon painted by Rublev of the trinity, there is a space open at the table, a space for each of us, to participate in the community, the fellowship, of God himself. Isaiah reminds us that those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength; Jesus tells the disciples “I will be with you to the end of the age.” God welcomes us into his extraordinary, life-giving presence. The invitation is there. How will we respond? If one response to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is worship; then a second response must be to desire to spend time in His presence, in the fellowship of the Trinity.
And thirdly, the relationship of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, shows us what it is to be truly human. We are made in the image of God, and we become all that we are truly meant to be as we become more like Him. And that means becoming people of community, who are self-giving, other-affirming; who delight in the gifts and actions of others and seek to encourage and support them. It means not being individualistic, championing my rights and needs above everyone else’s, but instead, looking out for the needs of others. And at a wider level, it means doing our part in shaping a society where there is the just sharing of resources, and where there is equality, honour and respect for all people. In Augustine’s words, a society of love.
Our God calls us to worship Him, to accept his invitation to enter into his presence, and to go out into the world, to share his love in his wonderful name, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.