11th June 2017 - Hugh Perry
Genesis 1: 1-2:4a
Maurice Andrew says that in this passage the earth is envisaged as being without form or void and yet in that emptiness the spirit of God is moving on the face of the waters and something creative is about to happen.
God says ‘let there be light’ and light brings day and night and with it the progress of time. ‘what we would call the environment, is a combination of space and time, with all the potential for their interaction.
Genesis 1 is therefore well grounded in science and happily sits alongside contemporary science as long as we acknowledge the power of myth and story to portray truth.
Matthew 28: 16-20
In our Gospel reading this morning the Risen Christ commissions the disciples as apostles and directs them to baptise in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, a clear Trinitarian baptismal formula. This particular reading is known in evangelical circles as ‘the great commission’ and was the proof text for the great protestant mission revival, known in Europe as pietism. That movement spread to Britain through John Wesley to become Methodism.
Although I did my Theology degree by distance I got an opportunity to go to Christology lectures in Dunedin while I was doing that paper. One of the students was understandably struggling with a concept and another student chipped in that it was easier if you had already done the paper on Trinity. Always keen to have the last word Dr Ivor Davidson quipped ‘O yes Trinity saves you from everything.’ At that point my colleague Diane Gilliam-Weeks responded, ‘Even bad grades?’
Despite Ivor’s protestation I think we were all of the opinion that the answer was ‘yes as long as we followed the party line’.
That has certainly been the response of the church over the centuries. For those who question the party line the Roman Emperor Constantine and the Cappadocian Fathers traditionally got the blame for the doctrine of the Trinity.
But as we have worked through John’s Gospel since Easter I have been aware of the Trinitarian references in Jesus’ farewell speech in that Gospel. Jesus prays to the Father, notes that the Father and he are one and finally he speaks of the spirit of truth who will guide them
‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be to be with you forever. This is the spirit of truth’. (John 14:16, 17a)
Then in verse 26 he goes on to say, ‘but the advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. (John 14: 26)
Furthermore in our Gospel reading we have the Risen Christ commissioning the apostles for mission and requiring them to ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19)
A clear Trinitarian formula before John’s Gospel and certainly well before the fourth century when The Cappadocian Fathers were credited with putting the finishing touches to the evolving doctrine of the Trinity.
The three Cappadocian Fathers were Basil the Great, who was bishop of Caesarea and his younger brother Gregory of Nyssa who was bishop of Nyssa; and their close friend, Gregory of Nazianzus who was Patriarch of Constantinople. It should also be mentioned that Basil and Gregory had an older sister called Macrina who Basil refers to as the teacher. So we can presume she also influenced the debate and obviously did more than provide the morning tea.
One of the big issues of their time was the suggestion that different images of God within the Trinity had different ranking and arrived in eternity at different times. Dispelling such ideas Gregory of Nazianzus said:.
No sooner do I conceive of the One than I am illumined by the splendour of the Three; no sooner do I distinguish Three than I am carried back into the One. When I think of any of the Three, I think of Him as the Whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that One so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the Three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.
For those of us accustomed to the brevity of Kiwi English that is convoluted language. But it is ancient argument which was important, even to ordinary people, as Christianity firmed up its place as the religion of the Roman Empire. In doing so it needed to displace the cabinet of gods with different portfolios which were part of Greek and Roman religion, as well as most other polytheistic faiths. Maori mythology for instance has a whole list with the most well known being Tānemāhuta who is god of forests and birds, the twig and twitter deity before Maggie Barry. Tangaroa, is god of the sea, on assignment in Bermuda at the moment we would hope. Bridget was the Celtic goddess of dairy and brewing who could also be useful to Fonterra and Speights.
I have long been intrigued by the fact that in a Christian context Bridget not only became human but the saint in charge of brewing and dairy. That metamorphosis illustrates the way Christian mission absorbed local tradition by promoting the Triune God above the seeming human need to have a cabinet of diverse deities to run the world.
But even without the heavenly mishaps illustrated in the Ferrero Rocher commercial the evolving Roman Empire understood the importance of a ruling faith and it was important that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were understood as one identity.
The Pentecost episode in Acts mentions proselytes illustrating the interest in a faith with one God. Such interest also meant disenchantment with the Greco-Roman multiplicity of gods. Even ordinary citizens probably saw stability in one emperor who was not God but guided by one God.
So even though accepting that the doctrine of the trinity was important to the development of the church we may well ask if is it also important for us. Many contemporary Christians would say no.
Robin Meyers, who I hold in high regard, suggests that we should stop worshiping Christ and follow Jesus. I can agree with that to a point but when he said that, my friend and colleague Rilma Sands said she preferred to follow Jesus and worship Christ.
I can certainly appreciate that but I would add that when I am worshiping Christ I am worshiping God.
Worship can be defined as ‘the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity’
The first two bullet statements on our vision statement read: Our vision is to keep worship as the heart of our life. From worship we will interact creatively and seek partnerships with community groups and the communities among whom we are set.
That has been well thought out. Worship is the heart of our life and we come each week to worship. My observation is that there seems to be an anthropological need for worship that binds a community together.
There is an idea that we worship because God needs to be worshiped. That is understandable because people in positions of wealth and power, from TV presenters to presidents and kings, often seem to need to be worshiped. By contrast people with real talent sometimes don’t.
I remember talking with John Clark’s sister a long time ago and she said that her brother was once asked to accept an award under our honours system. She told us John’s answer was simply that he was busy that day.
In one of my favourite verses of the Bible the prophet Micah tells us that God is not impressed with worship either. The chapter asks questions about all sorts of complicated forms of worship then in true Jewish fashion answers with a question.
He has told you, o mortal, what is good; and what does Yahweh require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)
However our own vision statement makes it clear that worship is the heart of our life, it is important to us. It is important in binding us together as a community of Christ. The next bullet point goes on to say how being a community allows us to meet the divine requirement that Micah spells out so clearly. From worship we will interact creatively and seek partnerships with community groups and the communities among whom we are set. It is our life as a worshiping community that drives us and supports us as we strive to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. Worship is practically helpful with the command to walk humbly with our God. Converting that comment to the brevity of our Pakeha language we might simply say ‘don’t think you’re smart’.
To follow that requirement we have to be sure that when we are worshiping we are worshiping the awe-inspiring mystery at the centre of everything we can imagine and beyond. Otherwise we might find that we are worshiping ourselves, or just being smart.
The Creative mystery is beyond our imagination but Trinity helps us focus on such a God. The doctrine of Trinity tells us of God in three persons.
It helps our understanding to know that the word person comes from the masks used in Greek theatre that allowed an actor to be several different characters.
In the Indian Ink Theatre Company production of Krishnan’s Dairy one actor used masks to be both the dairy owner and his wife. Each mask was a different persona but it needed both masks to tell the story and the actor remained a mystery.
We can know about God through what we can learn about Jesus and as Robin Meyers suggests we can follow Jesus’ example in the way we live our lives. But as Rilma wisely pointed out that doesn’t stop us worshiping. Rilma also differentiated between Jesus and the Risen Christ. She said she follows Jesus and worships Christ. We can’t know Jesus like his first disciples knew Jesus because the Romans executed him. So to pretend that we are friends with Jesus is imagination or delusion. But like those first disciples discovered after Jesus’ death we can feel the presence of the Risen Christ. To feel the presence of Christ is a Spiritual experience and to feel God guiding and inspiring our lives is also a Spiritual experience.
Our test that we are being guided by the Holy Spirit, and not by our fondest hopes or delusions, is that the guidance of God’s Spirit fits our knowledge of the way of Jesus.
The doctrine of Trinity gives us three personas of one God. None of the personas or masks are God but all are God and God is still the ultimate indefinable mystery.
We can better worship and serve God because we have images to focus on. We can testify to Jesus being fully human and fully divine as an image that our minds can cope with.
In Krishnan’s Dairy the masks define the characters but also give us a glimpse of the mind and sense of humour of the writer and the actor.
Worship is the centre of our life as a faith community and our worship is focused on the Triune image of one God.
We envision God as Creator, Christ and Spirit therefore our worship drives us into the community around us to walk humbly with our God and do justice, and to love kindness.
 Maurice Andrew The Old Testament in Aotearoa New Zealand (Wellington: DEFT 1999) p.16