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Trinity Sunday Sermon

[Shared with a list I’m on]:



Exodus 34:1-8 2 Cor 13:11-13 Matt 28:16-20

Lord, I offer these my words to you, that you may use them for your greater glory. Amen.

Today is a “crazy, mixed-up” day. We have at the same time, by the vagaries of the church calendar, the celebration of the Feast of the Holy Trinity – one of the most abstract of Christian mysteries – which is always celebrated the week after Pentecost, and at the other extreme we have the observance of the secular world’s Sorry Day, which brings us in touch with the more sordid and less happy realities of our political and social history.

Trying to bridge the gap between such disparate concepts gave me not a little trouble, and I want to acknowledge the link made in a hint from the American Jesuit theologian Larry Gillick.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

26 May 1998 was the first National Sorry Day. You may remember the “sea of hands”, the “journey of healing”, or the “sorry books” at street stalls, town halls, and other places, where a million individual Australians signed their name and put messages of sympathy and sorrow for the damage suffered by indigenous people.

That damage started with the arrival of white men, who took over tracts of the land for their own exclusive use. Then the white men who occupied the land defended their new territory by killing many of the black men who had been there before. And the white men brought diseases unknown before, against which there was little defence. And alcohol.

The white men’s governments eventually noticed the black men sitting around on the edges of the white men’s towns and cities, and started to devise policies so that the “native problem” could be better managed.

Now, one of the damages done by the white men was the taking of black women: sometimes in marriage, but most often without. It followed, nature being what it is, that there were many children who had mixed blood.

The policy makers thought that the white men collectively should take some responsibility for these children. There began a policy of taking these children away from their mothers, and putting them in homes or institutions where they would be fed, clothed, and educated in the white men’s way, and given the social advantages that would follow. And the white man saw, that it was good.

This policy, begun at the end of the 1800s, continued until the 1970s.

At the start of the 1990s, a Royal Commission, into Black Deaths in Custody, found that of 100 young black men who had committed suicide in gaol, 43 had been removed from their mothers during that policy. And so the inquiry began that resulted in the “Stolen Generations” report: called “Bringing them home”.

What the policy makers had failed to see, good as their intentions may have been, was that children need to know their roots – all adopted children feel the same way. Where am I from? Who is my mother? Who are my people? What values really belong to me? Who am I?

And so Sorry Day was born. A day on which we, the children of the policymakers, can turn to our brothers and sisters and say, “our parents did these things to your parents; though we did it not ourselves, we say sorry on behalf of our parents, and we want to share your pain.”

This is why Sorry Day is observed in churches throughout Australia. Partly because church-run orphanages were involved, but also because sharing the pain of the outcast and dispossessed is truly something done in the spirit of Christ. It is one of the paradoxes of life, that when you truly love, you open yourself to the full experience of the other’s pain.

– – – – – – – – – –

Now, the Trinity.

The feast of Holy Trinity is one of the oldest feasts of the church, though it was not part of the official church calendar until 1334. It can be traced to the reaction to the Arian heresy, and is linked with the Nicene Creed of 325. It was especially popular in the English church, possibly because of its association with St. Thomas a Becket, who was consecrated bishop on Trinity Sunday in 1162. Explaining the origin of Trinity Sunday is easy. Explaining the doctrine of the Trinity itself is less easy.

Although it was not spelled out until the fourth century, the notion of the Trinity is implicit in the Gospels. Jesus said (in the Gospel we read last time I spoke), “I go to the Father, and he will send you the Paraclete”: thus, three persons. And again, in today’s Gospel, the identity of two of those is established: “I will be with you always”.

Someone (I don’t recall who) claimed that Anglicans are like the Duchess in “Alice through the looking-glass”. We make a practice of believing three contradictory things before breakfast every day. (Lewis Carroll was, after all, an Anglican cleric.) Trying to reconcile intellectually the concept of God as one and three at the same time is a futile exercise. It helps, perhaps, to remember that the word “persons” is not the same as the word “people”, but the mystery remains. Embracing the doctrine of the Trinity is ultimately the domain of faith, not of rational belief.

Larry Gillick, in a meditation on the meaning of today’s feast in our lives, puts it this way:

“[From Pentecost and] the descent of the Holy Spirit, we move to the celebration of the central mystery of a Three-Person but one God. … The One God does one thing and the closest experience we have to what this God does is our word, “love”.

“You and I can love and not love at the same time: but that is the one thing God cannot do. Love is part of our makeup, but God’s being is simple, having no parts and thus God is and can only be, infinite love. The wonderful reality of love is that it wants to move out of itself, reveal and be known as loving. Somehow the Trinity is a love relationship in which we are involved by being created and loved.”

It is easy to dismiss today’s Old Testament reading as just a small part of the whole Moses – Exodus story. But look at it as a story about this same loving God we have just talked about. Moses has smashed the tablets God gave him, in very human anger and frustration at his people’s being so “stiff-necked” [I love that word!]. But God gently calls him back up the mountain to rewrite the tablets. God’s love stays faithful to its first gesture. And if the writers of the Old Testament sometimes attribute to God the human propensity to rage, petulance, and the like, the real story of the Old Testament is about a constant loving God who always remains true to the love-covenant He made with His people.

Larry Gillick says, “we will not be changed much by what we learn from the readings and homily this weekend. We will grow in faith by our experiencing human love, forgiveness, faithfulness, and communication in our own lives.” Or, to quote the concluding line from that musical parable about redemptive love, “Les Miserables”, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Let me develop that thought in the context of Sorry Day: it is as we – the people of God – reach out to our brothers and sisters who suffer the pain of our shared history, that we bring God – that love relationship which is the Trinity – into the heart of our troubled land.

In doing so, we become a part of another triad manifesting love, which inter-connects with the triad of the Trinity: God Himself, we the people of God, and the dispossessed and suffering. For we are the medium through which God has chosen to reach out and show His love to the dispossessed.

Love has no discretion. It just is. As God’s love works in us, we are incapable of doing other than reaching out and sharing the pain of the bruised and outcast.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ray Cotsell 24th May, 2002


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