The Revd Robin Sims-Williams
I remember one spring when I was just 5, growing up in Canada where the Winter was very cold. Observing that the weather was getting warmer and people were wearing fewer layers I asked a friend - so when it gets to summer it's warmer, so do people just walk around naked?
In a way it was my first attempt to use a kind of scientific method - admittedly in a messy social science setting. I had observed the temperature was getting warmer and that people were wearing less in reaction to that. My hypothesis was that this process would continue until nobody was wearing anything at all. The great thing about the scientific method, and experimental science in particular, is that there is no such thing as a failed experiment, disproving your hypothesis only meant you had learned something you hadn’t expected - the assumptions were wrong.
When people find out that I used to be an Engineer I get a number of different responses. My hope is that people think - ok, so he can’t be completely crazy. People note how significant a change in career I’ve taken. When pressed they explain that, of course, I’ve had to suspend all reason. Well, they don’t say that in as many words, but it is clearly what they are getting at. In reality, it’s the opposite, becoming a priest for me has been about applying reason thoroughly to my beliefs. My faith is not in spite of the part of me that judges thing by reason, but because of it. I feel that the Christian narrative it is eminently reasonable. And that reason, that wisdom, is there from the very earliest parts of the Jewish faith in scripture, if we can only see through the emotional humans who've recorded it.
It seems to me eminently reasonable that loving somebody can lead to sacrificing oneself for those you love. It seems eminently reasonable that giving somebody the opportunity to be redeemed means there is potential for that person to seek redemption - it’s when we give up on people that their potential for good is lost.
This Sunday, the culmination of the Resurrection at Easter, the Ascension and then the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost is when we celebrate the Holy Undivided Trinity. Three in One and One in Three.
Lets go back to Easter - the disciples were good Jewish boys. Following the instruction of the book of Deuteronomy they would have had the words of the Shema - “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” ringing in their ears. These are the word that lead into the first great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” - so familiar to followers of Jesus. Entering a Jewish house today you may find that these very words are fixed to the doorframe in a small rectangular case because they are supposed to be recited when you come and go, when you lie down and when you rise.
The disciples would know with certainty that God was one. Then they are confronted with Jesus’ resurrection and Ascension. It would make more sense for them to simply decide that Jesus was favoured by God - but they decide Jesus is God, the son of God.
Then the spirit comes at Pentecost. Sure great, undeniable, but where does that fit in. Que centuries of debate, councils, philosophy, reason, questions, heresies, debunking and debates. Trying to consolidate what was known about God already with the experience of these stories we’ve heard over the last 57 days since Easter.
The reality is that God is unknown - there is still mystery - we are only ever told we can know God by knowing Jesus - there is still lots of mystery. Which is why our creeds give us the no go zones, but don’t actually try to define what God is. Like nuclear physics saying an electron is probably found somewhere in this space around the nucleus - without being able to say where it is exactly.
But we are left with this idea of the Trinity, a singular plural centre to our faith. A sense of community in the creation. A sense of a God being stretched out around us all by the Holy Spirit being sent to us, and of us being drawn into the centre by Jesus’ return to the Father. It poses challenges to any sense of individualism, or any sense of isolation. And it creates this wonderful sense of being made at home in God. Reason gives us the chance to explore the meaning of the faith we profess. But it doesn’t give us the ability to shut down one another’s reasonable exploration of that faith.
I remember finding my faith challenged at University. Not because my I didn’t have any Christian friends, but because their faith seemed so contradictory to my own. It can be particularly frustrating when you see intelligent people forgetting to question and challenge when it came to a question of beliefs.
I have a similar frustration with politics which is never about the facts, but about winning people over. The argument is more successful when it tugs on the emotions rather than reason of the audience. I think both sides of the debate on the EU referendum have a tendency to engage with this type of politics, making the determining of facts, or even reasonable scenarios, incredibly difficult, and not the basis by which most people will vote.
I remember when I was going for selection for training for ministry feeling really nervous about my lack of reason. I knew what I believed, but didn’t know if I could justify it. I knew there were lots of very confident Christians and Atheists out there who felt that aspects of what I believed were dead wrong. But in training I found that I wasn’t alone in holding my beliefs, and that there was some sense to the reason behind my beliefs. I had already, before writing any essays or reading any books about the Trinity.
You see, we clergy stand here and talk as if we are the ones who know. And yes, we know some things. But we are the ones who stand up here talking because we have a responsibility to think about what our faith might say about our life to consider how our experiences and your experiences might demand we assess our faith, or how our faith might demand we assess our experiences - not so you don’t have to - but so you can think more deeply. So you can join us in being drawn into a deeper understanding of the God which is reaching out to us all.