Of all the Sundays in the year, Trinity Sunday is perhaps the one on which we look most deeply into the being of God, what God is. What we encounter, unsurprisingly, is a mystery that is properly beyond us. We should not expect to understand God.
We might imagine it would be easier to understand each other, but at this moment in our history that, too, is difficult. Some of us are mystified by the now widespread refusal to observe social distancing, while others may be puzzled by why things cannot return more quickly to normal. Much more seriously, it is impossible to understand the actions of Derek Chauvin in kneeling on George Floyd’s neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds, thus causing Floyd’s death and setting in chain a sequence of events whose ultimate outcome is impossible to foresee.
At St Nicholas Church we have staked a great deal on our belief that every human person is created and loved by God, with no exceptions, no limitations, no reservations. This is an important time to re-affirm that. The loss of any human life to violence and hatred is a moral catastrophe. Each of us must find our own way of affirming this fundamental and richly Christian commitment. I hope, and I hope that you hope, that we will continue to be resolute about this in our Church community and in our individual Christian lives.
But there is something else that we believe to be true of every human person. We believe that everyone is in need of God’s grace to become the person that God intends them to be. Yes, God created us. Yes, God loves us. But that doesn’t mean that we’re fine as we are. We need God to make us ‘fit for heaven’. We need, to use more theological language, to be sanctified, made holy by God’s Holy Spirit.
The temptation at times like this, when we are mystified by the actions of our fellow human beings, is to forget this other part of our basic identity. Instead, we may start to imagine that the human world divides tidily into good people and bad people, by which we far too often mean people like us and people not like us.
And although the definition of ‘people like us’ may vary, and the horror of the outworking may be different from case to case, as soon as we start to imagine that prejudice, hatred and violence are aberrations in other people we’ve risked cloning in ourselves the very sin that we sought to stamp on.
Social psychologists have known for a long time that human beings are strongly predisposed to perceive the human world as made up of In-Groups and Out-Groups. The violent prejudice recently witnessed is an abhorrent expression of this. But it is too easy to respond by drawing new boundaries, by creating a new In-Group of people who think and feel as we do and allowing ourselves to hate and fear those who do not. None of this is to say that we should not challenge behaviour we know to be wrong – we should and we must. Nor should we be frightened to draw attention to the hate-filled motives that are evidenced by them. But that is not the same as succumbing to a pattern of thinking in which ‘they’ are somehow a different category of being from ‘us’.
Alice helpfully draws this out in her sermon for e-Church this morning. The identity of God is both plural and singular, one and three. In our adoration of God as Holy Trinity, we catch a glimpse of a deeply counter-intuitive truth – that love perfects bothdifference and unity, both distinctiveness and union. In a relationship of perfect love it is meaningless to ask whether there are one or many.
And this insight, in turn, tells us what direction our sanctification ought to be taking – away from dividing the world up into those who belong and those who don’t, and towards the redemptive flow in which each individual person finds their perfect distinctiveness and their perfect union in relationship with God.
It is natural to hate and fear those who are different from ourselves; natural, but not in a good way. The redemption of our fallen nature calls us out of our silos, our bunkers, our trenches, and asks us to discover how all are one, just as all are wonderfully and uniquely themselves, in Christ.
May God bless you all,