I want to introduce you to the fourth person of the trinity. Unlike Douglas Adams, who we forgive for the subtitle of his fifth book of three ‘the increasingly inaccurately titled “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy”’, there is some difficulty in adding to the Holy Trinity, one might assume, however, as A.A. Milne should have said, bear with me. In order to do this I need to enlist the help of the fifth century Russian Orthodox iconographer Andre Rublev and his Icon, ‘The hospitality of Abraham’. Abraham and Sarah are visited by three strangers who they offer hospitality to. During Abraham’s discussions with the visitors, Sarah is heard to laugh at the suggestion that she will bear a child at her great age. The visitors are said to be angels, and they have been called the Old Testament Trinity. Andre Rublev uses this image to depict the Holy Trinity. It is arguably one of the greatest and most spiritually effective Icons ever painted because of the way it draws you in to the picture.
I grew up in a church culture which believed it was wrong to doubt faith. The opposite of faith is not doubt it is certainty, for if everything is certain then there is no need for faith. It seemed that we ought to believe what the minister said was infallible! There were some who didn’t listen to a word the ministers said, pity, for they probably often had a good word. These were honest and good folks, but there was a sense that no-one was ever doing it right, everyone was unworthy and it became a bit of a contest to become the most worthy and so very holy. This, it seemed to me, was achieved by singing songs that claimed it was all about Jesus, sung with much gusto ad nauseum. It took a long time to get over it and as this sermon is reflecting on it perhaps I’m still not there yet. There is a good deal of sarcasm in that description, flavoured with a bit of a caricature. In some ways these are the scars that never leave, but make us who we are. A few years ago I found out that it wasn’t only me. I had the delight to encounter an American Franciscan Friar and Roman Catholic Priest Richard Rohr as I drove him back to his hotel after his speaking engagement at the Greenbelt Festival. He confirmed for me something that I suspected, but had not looked into all that much – that the church, by and large, gets by with very little usable, understandable theology. And when it comes to the trinity, we don’t understand it – so we leave it on a shelf, let alone use it as a tool for evangelism. How would that conversation go? Well, there is God, but three different parts are really only one part, and we are lost in a mathematical problem of proofs which convinces no-one.
So what we did in effect, largely because we couldn’t cope with the idea of trinity, was to extract Jesus and hold him up and then it became a bit of a contest to try and win the favour of God. That’s not what the bible teaches and certainly not what Jesus himself taught. And we took Jesus and said that he is in the bread at the Eucharist, and you can have this bread, but only if you are good enough. You can have access to Jesus and to God, in the bread which is kept in the tabernacle in the church, but this only happens when the Priest is doing the liturgy right, and if we are doing it right. There is an old tradition that suggests if something is said wrong at mass, because it had to be perfect, then we have to begin again, I’m not sure we would ever get to the end, which for me is the most important part – the sending out. When, in our best moments, we try and say God is everywhere, in effect God ends up being almost nowhere because we have tried to control the experience. Constantly we are being told we are not good enough which is so untrue. There is no contest, there is nothing to earn. We have it already, it is given to us freely and all we need to do is recognise it. Our minds, which deal in black and white, right and wrong, are great for everyday life for distinguishing between carrots and parsnips, but a mind like this shuts down at the notion of the trinity. And now, today I’m inviting you to see the fourth person of the trinity. For there is a wholeness in God in which there is room for everything. I’m told a circle is am Infinite number of straight lines. In an unbroken and perfect circle, there is room for all. Everything belongs to God, which is so far from the message we often receive from christianity which says only some can get in, and only then if you are doing it right. To me it seems so unnecessary to make it difficult. What were we afraid of in Christian history? What was there of God that we felt we had to own or control as if we could own or control God, but we tried and sadly we even went to war in his name to protect him from others. The fourth person of the trinity, will become another impossibility in our minds unless we are able to begin to see differently. Andre Rublev as well as being a master Iconographer was also great at geometry. If you draw a circle with a pair of compasses centred on the bowl on the table, encompassing the three figures, you will notice that it goes outside of the image, and draws in the one standing looking at the image. This is a clever device, but important for the Icon as it is inviting us to sit at that table. The table is laid for us. The beautiful inconsistency in which God revels in for there is only one extra place laid at the table, and yet we are all invited. We are all invited to join the hospitality of God and to join in the general dance, such is the beauty of the trinity.
Some words from ‘Eager to Love’ Richard Rohr’s Book which inspired the above.
Seek grace not instruction, desire not understanding.
Seek the groaning of prayer over diligent reading.
Seek the spouse more than the teacher,
Seek God not man, darkness not clarity,
Not light, but the fire itself.
Unless we are able to view things in terms of how they originate, how they are to return to their end and how God shines forth in them, we will not understand