Tag Archives: Trinity

23 June – Eavesdropping

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Pentecost 2

Hosea 1:1-10
Psalm 85
John 16:12-15

In a sentence:
God speaks to us by speaking to others

‘The Daily Prophet’ is the news rag in the extraordinary world of wizards and witches conjured up by JK Rowling in her Harry Potter series. There it serves in the way our own newspapers do, both advancing the common good and keeping it down, subject to the politics of its editors and the fears of the people. For better or for worse, Harry Potter and his exploits are often front page headline news in ‘The Prophet’.

If we were to imagine a different ‘Daily Prophet’ in eighth century Israel which gave account not now of wizarding news but of the oracles of purported prophets of God of the day, on which page would you imagine that Hosea’s preaching might feature? For then, as now, projections from the signs of the times would have been across a very broad spectrum, each voice refracting what seemed to be happening through a theological and political lens different from the others, each coming to a different conclusion. Would Hosea have been a page one or a page five prophet?

‘The word of the Lord that came to Hosea son of Beeri, in the days of…’

As we will see over the next few months, this was a concrete and specific word in a context very different from ours. Hosea makes a lively and vital address to his people in a time swirling with prosperity, religious and moral aberration, and looming geopolitical threats. Yet part of the liveliness of his preaching is that no one knows that God speaks through him. Is his word truly headline news, or just the odd-spot? No one knows at the time, and we can’t even speak here of the need to have ‘faith’ that Hosea speaks as God’s voice, for that speech was being heard for the first time in a context of plausible contradiction.

As it happened, the events unfolded in the way Hosea said they would and so Hosea’s interpretation of those events became an authoritative reading of the history, in retrospect. More important than this, however, is that Hosea’s interpretation became an authoritative interpretation of the character of God and of the relationship between God and Israel.

And so Hosea’s voice did not fall silent with the collapse of the northern kingdom. His oracles were preserved and became a tool for interpreting the prospects and then the fate of the southern kingdom, Judah, 140 years or so later. Now Hosea’s voice is heard differently. It has the authority of the events of 722 behind it. Back then a great divorce was said to be coming, and Assyria executed the judgement. But now there is a different dynamic in reading Hosea. The question is no longer, Is Hosea correct? This is already held to be the case, given what had happened in the north. The question is now, Do Hosea’s oracles apply here and now, in Judah, in relation to the threats and opportunities of the new situation? And in what way do they apply?

Again, events affirmed that they did apply, and this is reinforced by Jeremiah, Ezekiel and others who expanded upon the work of Hosea, Amos and Isaiah a century before. We hear Hosea and the other prophetic writings today on account of this ancient Jewish affirmation, taken up without question by the early church and retained by the church ever since as ‘witness’ to God’s work in and for the world.

All of this is to say that Hosea does not now address us directly, particularly if we simply decide that, for a while, we’ll sit with him and hear what he said. Our hearing of God’s word to Israel through Hosea is more like an eavesdropping on a conversation. If what Hosea said to Israel all those years ago is a word to us today, it is indirectly so.

Yet this indirect ‘overhearing’ of what passes between God and Israel is not just a matter of our being at a bit of a distance from the action and having to do deep interpretative work to get to the heart of the matter. There is certainly going to be plenty of that but, more importantly – and to exaggerate only slightly – our overhearing another God-conversation is the only way in which God communicates with us. Our relationship with God is always a matter of being ‘caught up’ in a communication which is not, at first, one which involves us. To be ‘saved’ is to overhear something someone did not first say to us.

We touched upon this last week, although it was hardly clear at the time. There we heard – as again this morning (John 16.12-15) – that the Spirit realises for us all that is of Jesus and – in Jesus – all that is of the Father. But prior to our receiving this communication of God to us through the Spirit, another communication has already taken place between the Father and the Son: ‘All that the Father has is given to me,’ Jesus says. This exchange between the Father and the Son does not, in the first instance, involve us. The Father and the Son are ‘in communication’ whether we are in the picture or not. That is all the names Father and Son denote: that these two, in the Spirit, are oriented toward each other in giving and receiving. The gospel is that the same Spirit is given to us to make ours what was not in the first instance about us.

Though Hosea would have little notion of what we call the Trinity, when we confess in the Creed that the Holy Spirit has ‘spoken through the prophets,’ this speaking does not in any way precede or go around the cross and all that Jesus’ ministry brings, even though Jesus comes after the prophets. The tension in Hosea between Israel being now ‘my people’, now ‘not my people’ (Hosea 1) and promised again to become ‘my people’ is the same tension in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus. The old prophets do not only suffer – in some cases, at least – as Jesus later did, they proclaim him and his suffering.

To listen to the prophets, then, is to listen to what is happening in the very heart of God. What is happening in God preceded us and so is something which doesn’t need us. Yet, because of what love is, that divine discourse of love creates and embraces in a single motion – creates and embraces even us.

It will take us some time to come to a fuller account of what this means, and this is one of the strengths of working in detail through a text as we will do over the next couple of months.

But for today it is enough to understand that we are here – that we are created – because there is already a conversation going on which is worth hearing. Our lives are a matter of tuning into that exchange – connecting into God by connecting into God’s conversation with those who went before us – and becoming ourselves a conversation which others will need to overhear.

Let us, then, in the weeks to come with Hosea, open ourselves to the word of the Lord which came to him, that we might learn the word which will come to us today, and the word which God will make of us. Amen.

16 June – The simple Trinity

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Romans 5:1-5
Psalm 8
John 16:12-15

In a sentence:
Trinitarian faith expresses what God must be like if love is to be possible.

Despite the fact that Christian trinitarian doctrine has not often lent itself to comprehensive expression in less than several hundred pages, John’s gospel this morning puts all of the ‘dynamic’ of that doctrine into just a few words.

John can put it so briefly because is concerned only with the ‘What’ of the dynamic of salvation which eventually becomes fully developed and defended ‘doctrine’. Argued doctrine is usually about the ‘How’ of what is believed – how to make sense of God-things. This involves intersecting such simple statements as the New Testament makes about God with the vast and complex theories we bring with us about what the world is and what a god could be. In this way we sometimes seek to ‘prove’ trinitarian doctrine.

But we will stay with the simple What this morning: the Spirit will glorify Jesus by taking all that Jesus has – which is all that the Father has – and giving it to the disciples. To borrow from a chapter or so back: to see Jesus is to see the Father (John 14.9), and the Spirit makes it possible for us to see Jesus.

This pretty much sums up the church’s interest in trinitarian doctrine. Without Jesus there is nothing to look at, without the Father there is nothing to see, and without the Spirit we wouldn’t know what we were looking at in the first place.

In itself, this is straightforward as a set of connections, whether we believe it all or not. The question then becomes, what does it mean to believe it?

Believing, here, cannot mean simply reciting the creed happily as a set of things to which we give assent, agreement. This is because ‘the things of the Father’ which Jesus brings are not a series of beliefs. What Jesus has is the Father. This, then, is what we have.

Yet having this is not clearly relevant to every other thing we have, until we place flesh on those connections – our own flesh.

One way of doing this is to consider the Eucharist. Here we pray for the gift of the Spirit, that the elements of bread and wine might be for us ‘the body and the blood’ of Jesus. That is, we pray for what Jesus describes in our reading: when the Spirit comes, it will bring me. The prayer for the Spirit – for the ‘Remembrancer divine’, as we’ll sing later – is a prayer that the Spirit will ‘declare’ Jesus to us, make him and his benefits present to us through these elements and through our consuming of them together.

But there is one more thing to add to this. Eating the Eucharist does not ‘save’ us in the narrow sense that the elements might be a kind of medicine. Rather we eat and drink, as the prayer goes, that ‘he may evermore dwell in us, and we in him’. The ‘in him’ is the clincher. Clearly Jesus is ‘in us’ because we have eaten and drunk of him, if even in only a figurative sense. But this does not account for our being ‘in him’. To be ‘in him’ at this point is to speak of the effect of his being in us: ‘in him’ means becoming as he is.

This is the truly confronting thing of Christian faith. Cut apart from what Jesus promises with the Spirit, trinitarian doctrine looks quite foolish and unnecessary.

But there is something much more foolish at that heart of the matter, which is that the Word did not just become flesh – a couple of thousand years ago, around Christmas. It becomes flesh – our very flesh – here and now. The foolishness of faith is in the notion that God might lift human beings to such heights, for how could mere mortals as us be crowned with such honour, as our psalmist today wondered (Cf. Psalm 8)?

It is not only in the Eucharist that we encounter this understanding but the Eucharist is especially rich in language and symbol which make the point. We pray that the Spirit make Christ present to us in the elements, and we speak of becoming what we eat – Christ’s Body. This ‘Christ’s Body’ is ‘Word made flesh’, but now our very ordinary flesh lifted up, filled out. We become here what we have prayed for: an ‘on earth’ which is ‘as it is heaven’.

Jesus says, ‘When the Spirit comes it will announce to you all that I am. And I will be yours, and all that is the Father’s will be yours, in me’. This is not information about God. It is the promise of transformation of our bodies into the body of God in the world.

Now that is a foolish and even dangerous thing to say. And so it must seem that it cannot be true. And yet it is.

The only safeguard in place is the consequence of such a claim for those of whom it is said – for us. It is not for nothing that John – the evangelist who most encourages this kind of problematic thought – is the one who states most explicitly and pointedly the ethic which corresponds to such thinking: Love one another. Why? Not because love is good. But so that ‘the world may know’. And may know what? That God has sent the Son, that we might find ourselves in him.

We don’t need several hundred pages of theological ‘How’ and all the necessary political and ethical qualifications to prove the gospel’s bold assertion about God’s trinitarian presence to the world in the Body of such bodies as ours. The proof of the gospel of God is in the love God’s body manifests. Trinitarian is a question to us as much as it is a statement we might make: Is there love here?

What leads to trinitarian thinking is the experience of that divine love which crowns even us with glory and honour. What flows from trinitarian thinking is an answering love which receives God’s embrace and, as the body of God, extends it towards others.

‘When the Spirit comes, it will declare to you all which is mine, which is all which is the Father’s. And your joy will be complete. And love will be the only response which can make sense of it all.’

Let us, then, strive ever more earnestly to prove what we confess, in love which startles, as God is startling.

By the grace of God, Amen.

27 May – The three-in-one God

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Trinity Sunday

1 John 4:13-17, 5:3-5
Psalm 29
John 3:1-17

Sermon preached by Rev. Dr Rob Gallacher

“God so loved the world” John 3:16 is such a gift to the preacher that You’ll all be expecting me to wax strong on love, like Bishop Michael Curry at the royal wedding of Harry and Meghan.

But I am going to direct your attention to the next verse:

“God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  John 3:17

“Not to condemn… but to save” We can find plenty of things in this world to condemn – the behaviour of the banks, the treatment of asylum seekers, the slaughter of Palestinians, domestic violence, – the list goes on.      It’s not that God approves of such things, but God’s nature is not to condemn but to save.     These tragedies we condemn are a rejection of God’s saving way and produce their own dire reward.     God sent the Son to offer us an alternative.

There are three points to be drawn from this.

  1. The WORLD, the whole world, with all its freedom and folly, is within the embrace of the one God whose nature is to save.
  2. THROUGH HIM – in order that the world might be saved through him. The saving God is not some ephemeral distant spirit, but in Jesus becomes flesh and blood, visible, tangible, and in our worship that physical, substantial presence is manifest in the consecrated elements of bread and wine.
  3. We PARTICIPATE in that saving life of God. In the language of 1 John 4:13 “We know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.   And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent the Son as the Saviour of the world.”    Or John 3:21:   Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.   To be saved is to believe in the Son and through him to participate in the life of God.

Now I want to see how these three points are expressed in the icon of the Trinity.

  1. The WORLD is within the embrace of the one God whose nature is to save.

      (Place circle around the 3 figures in the icon)

The outer line of the three figures form a perfect circle   – eternal for a circle has no end, and also inclusive of all that goes on within it.     The hand of the Holy Spirit indicates the rectangle in the table.    This is the four corners of the earth, the world.   See how small it is in relation to the life of God.   Whatever catastrophes we create we cannot shake the being of God.    As the profligate actions of the prodigal son do not change the nature of the father.   Somehow, in ways we cannot fully grasp, God holds together all the dualism – light and darkness, life and death, spirit and flesh, good and evil – and is constantly offering to all saving grace, eternal love.

The life of God is community within oneness, as each submits to the other with an inclination of the head.    Each is equal in power, as all carry the same sceptre, and all are the same size indicating they are equally important.    When one is present all are present.

  1. THROUGH HIM. Notice that Christ is painted in solid, substantial colour, whereas the Father is more mystical, and the Spirit is a bit of both.    The Son is the one sent into the world, the physical presence, God incarnate, the one we see.    The red indicates his humanity, the blue, divinity.   When I was painting the inner garment, I looked to see if there was anywhere else I could use the paint I had on the brush.   There is one spot, in the chalice.  And Christ’s hand is blessing it!    This led to long prayerful contemplation.   What is the substantial visible presence of Christ in our world today?   It is his body in the sacrament, and through our consuming of the elements, it is through Christ in us.

  (Place the marked-out chalice over the inner lines of the Father and the Spirit)

Now look at this.   The inside lines of the Father and the Spirit make a chalice, and Christ himself is in that chalice.     Superimposed over the table and chalice is the larger picture, real presence of Christ.     Uniting Church people would do well to contemplate the real presence of Christ in the sacrament more deeply.     Receiving the elements means participating in the one whom God sent to save the world.     It’s not some airy-fairy spirituality, nor is just imaginary symbolism, it is being the body of Christ in the world, solid, physical, substantial, actual.    Sacrament and incarnation are inextricably linked in the story of salvation.

  1. That the world might be saved. When we live in Christ and he in us, the whole world looks different.   That’s what the dialogue with Nicodemus is all about.    You are born into a different world.     You still have to go out and live in the old world, but you see it differently when you abide in Christ.     I John speaks of abiding in all the first four chapters.   God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God.  1 John 4:15.   And the gospel talks of abiding in the vine, (ch 15) or dwelling in God’s house (ch 14)

See how the icon expresses this abiding

(place cut out on the lines of the footstools)

The lines of the footstools are in inverse perspective.     The lines meet outside the picture.     They activate the space in front of the picture and the space beyond it.     (i)  It’s as though, you, the viewer, are looking out through a window into an ever-expanding but unseen reality which is God.   There is much to contemplate prayerfully in this, but that’s for another day.      (ii)   When you look at the icon in this way it draws you in.    The lines are like arms, drawing you in.   Notice that there is a space at the table, a place for you.    It is sometimes called The Hospitality Icon, taking its origin from the three angels that visited Abraham under the oaks at Mamre.     If Abraham had not invited the strangers to stay salvation history would be altogether different.    So too the triune God invites you in, to be part of the life of God, to take your place in the life of the divine community that is unshakeable and eternal and exists for the sake of the world.   That’s what is real.   The outside world, the old world, is only a shadow of what can be.   But it can be saved, through him

I hope that by picking out the artistic devices that I have not turned the icon into a diagram.     The whole is to be contemplated all at once.     It is a living entity, opening for you the life and saving power of Father, Son and Spirit.       There is a lot more that can be seen in this icon.   This is only the way I see it in relation to today’s text.   But I hope it is enough for today, to confirm you in your faith.

LitBit Commentary – James K A Smith on Worship 1

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LitBitChristian worship is nothing less than an invitation to participate in the life of the triune God…Worship is not for me – it’s not primarily meant to be an experience that ‘meets my felt needs,’ … rather, worship is about and for God. […T]he triune God is both the audience and the agent of worship: it is to and for God, and God is active in worship in the Word and sacraments. It is this emphasis on action, and particularly God’s action in worship, that Wolterstorff distills as the ‘genius’ of Reformed worship. ‘The liturgy as the Reformers understood and practiced it consists of God acting and us responding through the work of the Spirit.’ As such, ‘the Reformers saw the liturgy as God’s action and our faithful reception of that action. The governing idea of the Reformed liturgy is thus twofold: the conviction that to participate in the liturgy is to enter the sphere of God’s acting, not just of God’s presence, plus the conviction that we are to appropriate God’s action in faith ‘and gratitude through the work of the Spirit. . . . The liturgy is a meeting between God and God’s people, a meeting in which both parties act, but in which God initiates and we respond’.

James K. A. Smith Desiring the Kingdom, p.149f

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LitBit Commentary – The Basis of Union on the Congregation

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LitBit: The Congregation is the embodiment in one place of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, worshipping, witnessing and serving as a fellowship of the Spirit in Christ. Its members meet regularly to hear God’s Word, to celebrate the sacraments, to build one another up in love, to share in the wider responsibilities of the Church, and to serve the world.

The Basis of Union


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LitBit Commentary – Gordon Lathrop on Preaching 2

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Preaching is a trinitarian event: enlivened by the Spirit, the words of the preacher draw the hearer into the truth of our need, into the encounter with the Crucified-Risen One and so into faith and hope in God, into the communal life that flows from the presence of the life-giving Trinity. The preacher articulates, in the terms of the texts, what God has done and is doing in the cross and resurrection of Jesus, in Baptism and Eucharist, and in the faith that these things sustain.

Gordon Lathrop, The Pastor, p. 50


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BasisBits – Paragraph 9: Creeds


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The Uniting Church enters into unity with the Church throughout the ages by its use of the confessions known as the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. The Uniting Church receives these as authoritative statements of the Catholic Faith, framed in the language of their day and used by Christians in many days, to declare and to guard the right understanding of that faith. The Uniting Church commits its ministers and instructors to careful study of these creeds and to the discipline of interpreting their teaching in a later age. It commends to ministers and congregations their use for instruction in the faith, and their use in worship as acts of allegiance to the Holy Trinity.

From Paragraph 9 of the Basis of Union (1992)


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BasisBits are intended particularly for congregations of the Uniting Church in Australia but could be easily adapted for general use by congregations of other denominations. The suggested use of BasisBits is as items in the “news” section of your Sunday pew sheets or regular congregational publications; some would lend themselves to incorporation into your liturgy order itself.

LitBit Commentary – David Tripp on the Eucharist

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LitBit: When we take part in the Eucharist, our individuality is affirmed but also lifted into a corporate richness in which the individual is saved progressively from individualism. The model for this manifold transformation, and the power that enables and bestows it, is the life of the triune God, in whom “person” is not a closed and self-defending private world but an openness that knows no limit to giving and a shared life that reaches out in shared sacrifice. Growing into trinitarian life includes a new vision of hope for the whole human community, as well as for the church.

David Tripp, “How often should United Methodists commune?”


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LitBit Commentary – Gordon Lathrop on the Lord’s Prayer 1

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LitBit: The ecclesiology of the Lord’s prayer is this: the assembly is the community given this prayer, taught it in baptism, repeating it at Eucharist, invited to stand articulately with humanity—indeed, with all things—where Christ is amid the loss and fear. The assembly is made up of ordinary people, people themselves in need but also people willing to stand with the need of others. The assembly is also the community which, by the power of the Spirit and the presence of the Risen One, is given now, as an earnest-gift of all that God intends for the world, the bread and forgiveness that the world needs. The assembly is the community, therefore, that confesses the enfolding presence of the triune God and is called to practice the word of forgiveness and the meal of resurrection.

Gordon Lathrop, The Pastor, p.34alt


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LitBit Commentary – Alexander Schmemann on Prayer

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We pray in Christ, and he, through his Holy Spirit, prays in us, who are gathered in his name. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Galatians 4.6). We can add nothing to this prayer, but according to his will, according to his love, we have become members of his body, we are one with him and have participation in his protection and intercession for the world.

Alexander Schmemann, The Eucharist, p.54


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