Tag Archives: Trinity

How do you solve a problem like the Trinity…

This sermon was preached at St. Andrew’s 8am and All Saints 10:30am Eucharist’s on 31st May 2015 – Trinity Sunday. The readings were Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17 and John 3:1-17.

I have here a bag of crisps. I am a huge crisp fan – they’re kind of my Achilles heel when it comes to healthy eating. Everything in moderation…

But these didn’t really do it for me: “Tyrrells summer butter & mint flavour. According to the back they comprise “the finest spuds, a dab of butter, a snippet of mint – summer’s holy trinity.” I’ll let you tell me at the end of the service if you think they live up to the first part of that billing as we’ll share them over coffee, but isn’t the “Holy Trinity” bit interesting?

It’s funny, but across our now supposedly ‘secular’ society it’s a phrase that still gets heavily used. A few months ago a headline read “Businessman buys £3m ‘Holy Trinity’ of supercars.” The paper explained that “Paul Bailey is believed to be the first British car enthusiast to own a McLaren P1, a Ferrari LaFerrari and a Porsche 918 Spyder.” Lucky boy. A quick Google showed me people’s opinions on the holy trinity of rock, holy trinity of advertising techniques and even a Sun headline that read “Historic picture shows holy trinity of 3 Popes together” – Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, in case you were wondering.

I find this fascinating. Common parlance seems to show that a ‘holy trinity’ – note it is always a ‘holy’ or ‘unholy’ trinity, not just a trinity – is three similar things, or at least three things linked in some way – Cars, foodstuffs, pontiffs. And there is a danger when speaking of THE Holy Trinity that we Christians fall into the same trap.

It’s understandable – someone like me gets tasked every year to stand up and speak on Trinity Sunday, trying to proclaim afresh this great declaration of our faith, one we repeat every Sunday in the words of the Nicene Creed. And over the years I have heard many ideas on what the Trinity is ‘like.’ This is nothing new – St. Patrick supposedly used a shamrock in his attempts, meaning he is also Patron Saint of All-Age worship services. Some of us may have heard it explained as like an egg – shell, yolk & white yet still one egg or, and this could be my favourite, the Jaffa Cake – chocolate, sponge & smashing orangey bit.

The problem is, although analogies can be a good thing in this case they are always found wanting – and actually lead us down the well-trodden path of believing ancient heresies instead.

But it seems that we need something to hang concepts and experiences on to. When we eat unusual food we don’t say “I just had frog – it tastes of frog!” We say “It tastes a bit like chicken,” (which it does!) When Jilly Goolden tasted wine on Food & Drink – remember that? – it would be “Oh, I’m getting liquorice, I’m getting pear drops, I’m getting used petrol from a 1984 Ford Capri, I’m getting right on your nerves aren’t I?!”

Yet this is God we are talking about – the fact is nothing is truly ‘like’ God. We cannot ever truly comprehend the divine this side of heaven.

A story, credited to Edward J Yarnold, a Jesuit scholar:

St. Augustine of Hippo, the fourth century Bishop and theologian who wrote among other things the huge treatise On the Trinity, was pacing the Mediterranean shoreline of his native North Africa when he noticed a young boy scooping seawater into his small hands and carefully pouring it into a hole he had hollowed in the sand. Puzzled, Augustine watched as the bairn repeated this again and again. Eventually, curiosity piqued, he went over to introduce himself and ask the lad what he was doing. “I’m emptying the ocean into this hole,” came the reply. Augustine was dismissive – how could such a vast body of water be contained in such a small hole? The boy was equally dismissive in return – how could Augustine expect to contain the vast mystery of God in the mere words of a book…?

So, how do you solve a problem like the Trinity? Is it a leap of blind faith which we need to just accept & move on, or ignore & hope nobody asks about? Or are we approaching the whole thing from the wrong angle? If we view the Trinity, as 20th century theologian Karl Barth appears to, as an explanation of God’s revelation of Himself, we find that instead of being a problem to be solved, the Trinity becomes a framework which puts our efforts to understand something of God into a proper perspective. Rather than seeing the Trinity as a concept or idea about God, if we see it as God’s way of revealing Himself to humanity, God speaking to us, our questions move from “how do we understand the Trinity” to “what is God saying to us – to me – through His being Father, Son and Holy Spirit?”

John 3:16, possibly the most famous verse of the New Testament, is bound up in Jesus revealing it takes a Trinitarian God to work out our salvation, to repair our relationship with our creator & restore in us the promise of eternal life. By being born again in the Spirit we enter the kingdom of God the Father. We are born of the Spirit by faith in Jesus, the Son sent by the Father, who dies and is raised for us, lifted up to be gazed upon in faith and trust as was the bronze serpent that saved the Israelites from earthly, physical death in Moses time.

Each of us probably feels more drawn to, more able to ‘get,’ one of the persons of the Trinity over the others. That again is human nature, and says more about us than it does about God. Hopefully we use this starting point to explore the whole of God in Trinity, not just the person of His revelation that we feel most ‘comfortable’ with, which will then deepen and strengthen our relationship with Him.

But I think if allow ourselves to believe, as the Athanasian Creed so aptly puts it:

“we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither cShield-Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-English_svgonfounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal…”

we find ourselves on the right track. Just because we cannot fully explain something does not mean it doesn’t work – I can’t explain how my laptop works but I wrote this sermon on it, so it must.

Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that

“now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”

God has chosen to reveal himself to us in Trinity. If that’s good enough for Him, it’s good enough for me.

Amen.

rublev

 

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♪ ♫ Got To Get You Into My Life ♫ ♪

This sermon was preached at St. Andrew’s 8am and All Saints 10:30am Eucharist services on 1st February 2015, as we celebrated The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The readings were Malachi 3:1-5, Hebrews 2:14-18 & Luke 2:22-40.

Nestling safely in my mam’s record collection is something a little special. Now, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you when I say ‘record,’ I mean a proper LP – I think the cool kids call them ‘vinyl’ these days. When I were younger I was flicking through to see what she had, when I came across ‘Revolver’ by The Beatles. I’m very fond of The Beatles and, in my opinion, this is one of their best albums, from the opening count in of Taxman (one…two…three…four [cough] one two three four!) to the drum and bass hook of Tomorrow Never Knows, its closing track – though some only remember it for “Yellow Submarine!”

But this particular copy is a bit different. It was recorded in ‘mono,’ not stereo. This means it’s all recorded on one audio channel, unlike a stereo recording which has more than one and can give the effect of movement between speakers or different instruments coming from different sides. Nowadays, almost all the re-releases, beatles-revolverCD’s and downloads of ‘Revolver’ use the stereo mix, so this mono recording, with different versions of some of the songs, is rarer than others available – and so worth a few quid more to those who value this kind of thing. But, apart from the word mono printed on the sleeve in not-particularly-large letters, you wouldn’t know this record was any different by just a glance. If, however, you were to spend time with somebody who knows and cares about the subject, they would help you to realise you have to look at it properly, listen to it, to discover it is actually worth more than you realised.

When I read through the Bible, especially the more narrative works like the Gospels, I like to try & take time to picture the scene, to immerse myself in what is going on around the characters at the time. And as this passage from Luke, which we revisit year after year at this time, is one of those that we could easily just let wash over us through sheer repetition if we are not careful, I think it deserves a little care & thought.

A young couple enter the temple with a six week old baby. They are poor, as Luke talks of a pair of turtle-doves or young pigeons being offered as the sacrifice, which was acceptable in place of a lamb and a pigeon in cases of hardship.

They are just one more couple among many, doing their religious duty according to the Law of Moses, apparently no different to any others there. But an old man spots them through the crowds, and something leaps inside him. He is moved by the Holy Spirit to go across to them, to take the child in his arms and some of the most wonderful words in the New Testament pour out of him – words that have since been used a great deal by the Church in both funeral services and every night in Compline, or Night Prayer, to bring comfort & blessing – the words we now call the Nunc Dimmitis.

They must be in the outer courts of the temple when they meet Simeon as women were not allowed inside, and both parents are present and stand amazed at what they hear. Some call this celebration day “Candlemas,” and it is at this point it seems a light is switched on, the amazing events of the night of Jesus birth are affirmed by Simeon & God’s love blazes into the darkness of God’s fallen world – at least to us.

For all around them, as Simeon sings praises and blesses the Holy couple people go about their business, oblivious to the long-promised Messiah being cradled in their midst. Anybody who had taken the time to listen, to take a proper look, may have discovered the truth. As it is, it seems only one other person does – an old Prophetess called Anna, who comes over to praise God, then spends the rest of her life in the temple “speak[ing] about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

What an amazing sight to behold – the old man & old woman, a life searching for the coming King now fulfilled, the young married couple, just beginning their new lives together and not knowing what to expect from the amazing gift they have been given, and the baby Jesus, the light of the world holding them all together. Four very different people, all united by God’s Son.

So I wonder – as we read this story, as we think about this passage, where do we place ourselves?

As Mary or Joseph, nervously standing in the outer section of the temple, plucking up the courage to take the next steps in our journey with Jesus, to move closer to God?

As Anna, already trying to be as close as can be to God, always in the temple, in fasting and prayer, ready to set eyes on the promised Messiah and tell those we meet about Him?

As Simeon, long in the service of the Lord and continually on the lookout for signs of His kingdom, looking through the eyes of the Holy Spirit at all who we come into contact with and ready to offer blessing and praise to even the poorest and most different of strangers?

Now, there is a chance that some of us may feel more like those wandering around, visiting the temple as they felt compelled to do or out of a sense of duty but completely missing the Son of God in their midst. That’s my biggest fear – that I get so caught up trying to do things ‘properly’ that I miss the Spirit’s prompt to seize the opportunity to experience the living God in our midst. Kind of a Martha/Mary situation, if you will.

So I think the challenge for all of us is to study Simeon & Anna and try to emulate their devotion to the seeking of God’s Kingdom. Because there appears to be no great secret to what they did to spot Jesus amongst all that was going on. By spending time with God the Father & God the Holy Spirit, they recognised God the Son incarnate – Jesus Christ. By spending time in prayerful communion with this amazing mysterious Trinitarian God of ours, Three Persons yet One God, we will find ourselves more able than ever to see the light of God blazing in all who we meet – in the stranger, the outcast and the oppressed, and in the friend, neighbour or, dare I say it, enemy – or, at least, difficult challenging person – closer to home.

This closeness to God can be scary, painful even – as we heard in Malachi the Lord “is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.” We may need to make changes in our own life, be reshaped by our creator, have some of the things that have no place in our walk with him or our dealings with others burned away or scrubbed clean.

But as we break bread and pour wine in remembrance of Jesus, we are reminded of the great hope His life, death and resurrection has brought us.

 “Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

We do not do any of this in our own strength, but fully assisted by He who knows us better than anyone, and who gave His life out of love for us. As I said at the start, sometimes – with the help of an expert – we have to look at something properly, listen to it carefully, to discover it is actually worth more than we realised.

By taking the time to see through the eyes of God’s all empowering, all-encompassing love poured out for each one of us, we can love as we are truly loved, value others as we ourselves are valued, and change the world one person at a time – even if the first person changed is ourselves.

Amen

Presentation Christ 2

Fertile Soil & Stubborn Clods

This sermon was delivered at the 8am Eucharist and 6pm Evening Prayer services at St Andrew’s on the 13th July 2014. The reading was Matthew 13: 1-9; 18-23.

The Parable of the Sower is, of course, one of the best known of Jesus’ parables. So familiar, possibly from childhood for most of us. Quite often at Baptism services here at St Andrew’s I feel a bit like the farmer in the parable asking God to help me as I throw out as much seed as possible to the sometimes hundreds of people in front of me in the hope that some of the good news of Jesus might land in at least some receptive hearts.

I suppose the question might be: is it a relevant parable for us here in church? Surely, we must be like the seed which fell on good soil? We are here, after all, aren’t we? Surely that means that God’s seed is bearing fruit in our lives. And I’d like to say straightaway: Yes, of course. That is true. We are here because in some way – unique to each of us – we have responded to God’s call. We know our need of his help. Something of his strength. His peace. His wisdom. His grace. His forgiveness. In our best moments – maybe more readily seen by others than ourselves – our lives resemble something of Jesus himself. Proof positive that the Holy Spirit is getting to work in our lives. That God’s seed has fallen on good soil in our lives.

But – and I don’t know about you – as I re-read this parable it occurs to me that there are times in my life when the seeds seem to fall in the other places, and which don’t grow, don’t become fruitful, in perhaps the way that God hopes.

How often am I just too slow to understand – somehow not ready, not prepared – for what God is offering to me and somehow it is snatched away before the goodness of God can get to work in my heart and life. Just like the birds with the seeds on the path.

And how often, when one of God’s seeds of blessing comes my way – something he is trying to teach me, help me to understand and live by – I am not sufficiently prayerful or careful to nurture it and allow it to take root within my heart – just like the seed on the rocky ground – for it to begin to shape my life to be more Christlike.

And how often do daily distractions and anxieties – just like the weeds in the parable – somehow get in the way: strangle and choke the potential of good growth of spiritual fruit in my life – of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control”, as Paul writes in his letter to the Galatians? How many of these things never get started because of some distraction, worry or whatever?

And yes, there are times when I know that the seed of God’s good Word has taken root, brought blessings to me and to others. When by his good grace I have somehow been open and able to receive all that he has to give. And no, as I say, none of us would be here this morning if that wasn’t the case for each of us.

I’d guess you’d readily agree that none of us is perfect and in our normal wobbly humanity the seeds of God’s word don’t always find themselves in the good soil God hopes for and that we would wish.

How to do it better? For God, in his amazing grace will, whenever the seeds of his word fall in those other places and don’t bear fruit, will continue throwing them anyway – I just need to get a bit better at being prepared for them. Perhaps another clue from agriculture might help, remembering how a farmer keeps the soil of his fields well nourished; well watered; turned over with the hard clods broken down; rested, too, to be as ready as possible for the seed to be sown when the time comes.

If our hearts are well nourished with the words of Scripture: if we absorb them deeply so they can get to work within us; if we drink deeply from the Living Water that is Jesus Christ – in other words, trust him in all things and come back time and again to receive his grace, forgiveness and his Spirit’s power.

If, with the help and strength of Jesus with us, we can get to work on those stubborn clods in our hearts – of pride, bad habits, or whatever – get them broken down and softened. And yes, make sure we have times of stillness, rest, go to places which we know give us spiritual refreshment. Then, I believe much more often the seed of God’s good Word will have a good chance of taking root, growing and bearing much fruit in our hearts and lives.

Amen.

Eyes On The Prize

This sermon was preached on 21st June 2014. (Trinity 1) at St Andrew’s 8am and All Saints’ 10.30am Eucharists. The readings were Genesis 21: 8-21, Romans 6: 1b-11 & Matthew 10: 24-39.

A few years ago I took a funeral service at St Luke’s in Pallion. After the service, as we drove to Bishopwearmouth Cemetery we approached the Kayll Road/Hilton Road junction as the traffic lights were turning to amber. The hearse and the limousine carrying the family slipped through but the lights changed to red as I got there and I had to stop.

I was stuck. With the hearse fast disappearing up the Hylton Road bound for who knew which of the several entrances into the cemetery. You may know Bishopwearmouth Cemetery: vast, with various roads and pathways running in different directions. I had, by now, learned either to hitch a lift with the funeral director or stick to the cortege like glue. otherwise you’d become hopelessly lost. I visualised an embarrassing scene: everybody waiting expectantly at the graveside for the vicar who never arrived.

After an age the lights turned green and I tore up the Hylton Road. The cortège was nowhere to be seen. I turned into the second entrance to the cemetery – as good a guess as any – and scanned the horizon for a sign of the hearse. Not a sign to be seen. I carried on looking desperately left and right over the neat rows of gravestones for my errant funeral party. Not a sausage.

I drove to where I thought the burial would take place, took a wrong turn and began to reverse. Only then did I realise that about a dozen other cars – the other mourners – had been following me around the cemetery! Feeling a bit like the Pied Piper I set off again with the great convoy following behind.

At last, over the distant horizon appeared a black hearse. Muttering a quick prayer that it was the right one, I drove towards it. Only to find that it turned right and covered the precise ground we had just driven along! So round we went again for the second time. We did all eventually arrive at the right place and the burial proceeded without further incident. Although I noticed that everyone was careful not to follow me out of the cemetery afterwards.

Well, losing sight of that hearse got me into a bit of a mess. I was relying on it to show me exactly where I needed to go. When it disappeared I was on my own. Not only did I get myself into a muddle, but everyone who was relying on me as well.

Well, something like that was happening in Old Testament reading, only rather more serious. Abraham and Sarah had lost sight of God’s loving promise – the promise that he would give them, even in their old age, a son, through whom a whole new nation – a spiritual people of God – would come.

Earlier on in the Book of Genesis – in Chapter 15 – Abraham suggests to God that Eliezer, his oldest and most trusted servant would become his heir as was the custom when couples were childless. But God replied, in verse 4: “This man will not be your heir, but a son, coming from your own body will be your heir”.

God took Abraham outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them”. Then God said to Abraham, “So shall your offspring be”. Abraham believed the Lord, and God was pleased at his faith and trust.

But as time passed Abraham’s faith began to falter. Surely God could not mean that a son – a baby boy – would literally be born to him and his wife, Sarah. After all, they were both nearly a hundred years old. Could God really do something like that? Surely not. He must have meant something different.

So they both began to take their eyes off what God had promised. What he had said quite clearly. Just as effectively as that red traffic light on Hylton Road brought me to a halt, Abraham and Sarah’s doubts stopped them in their tracks and they allowed God’s promise to slip out of view. They were now on their own and that is where the trouble began.

Sarah, perhaps impatient that God’s promise didn’t seem to be taking immediate effect took matters into her own hands and suggested to Abraham that – as was the custom for childless couples at that time – she would give her servant Hagar to him to conceive a son on her behalf. Any child would legally be regarded as Sarah’s. Abraham agreed and a son, Ishmael, was born.

But this wasn’t the child which God had promised – the biological son of Abraham and Sarah. And, although God did bless Ishmael, Abraham and Sarah had stored up trouble for themselves – and for Hagar. And that trouble is what we heard about today.

What we heard today was several years later and we have moved on a couple of chapters. During this time, God in his infinite patience and love repeated his promise to Abraham and Sarah and a son was born them, Isaac.

But family tensions had clearly been brewing for some time and this morning we heard how Sarah, perhaps feeling threatened by the presence of Hagar and this sturdy little boy, Ishmael, her husband’s other, older son, told Abraham: “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son, Isaac”. The son God had, in his grace, given her. The situation which she had manipulated and brought about by her own selfishness and lack of faith, Sarah now totally disowned. This slave woman’s child was nothing to do with her and must go.

And Abraham, although reassured by God that he would care for Hagar and Ishmael, sent Hagar and his first born son into the baking, sun-scorched desert of Beersheba with a little food and a skin of water. Poor Hagar was faced with the probability of her own death and – even worse for her – the almost certain death of her son. After the food and drink had run out she left him under a bush and sat down a little distance away, to being unable to bear the sight of him dying.

What is it about we human beings and the mess we get ourselves into? Hagar could be any number of young, anguished, dispossessed parents in Syria today. Or Iraq. Or South Sudan. Or Northern Uganda. In agony over the fate of their children. Because of the hardness of human hearts. Because we, as humanity, will insist on taking our eyes off God. On wanting to do it our own way; and simply finding we cannot without disaster.

Forgetting God’s generosity and love. Forgetting that he longs to give us all that we need: peace; courage; joy; healing and inner strength.

Abraham and Sarah took their eyes off God’s promise even after he had miraculously given them Isaac, a son of their own.

Hagar lifted up her voice and wept. And God, in his love and compassion, provided life-giving water for her and for Ishmael. A well, springing up in the the desert by which they were able to quench their thirst and live.

As he offers the whole world – despite the mess; the muddle; the mistakes we make – the living water that is Jesus Christ. Full of grace. The grace which continued to bless Abraham and Sarah despite everything. And which blesses all who are faithful to him, day by day, so that we, too, as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “might walk in newness of life”.

So let’s determine always to fix our eyes on Jesus. Never to lose sight of him. To hold on to him come what may. Through all the twists and turns, the ups and the downs of life. Let’s be wary of our own tendency to jealousy, pride and insensitivity towards others and ask God’s help with these things.

And let us, as well, always have compassion on those on the margins. The Hagars and the Ishmaels of today. Those who find that there is no place for them in society. Those without hope. Who cry out for help. Might it be that God is asking us to be Jesus for them? To allow his love to flow through us by practical action and service?

And let’s pray that the whole world will come, one day, to have eyes that see him as Lord and Saviour. Jesus, our living water, who quenches all our thirsts.

Amen.

Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.

Here’s the sermon for 15th June 2014 (Trinity Sunday) from St Andrew’s Eucharist.

The readings were Isaiah 40:12-17, 27-end, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-end and Matthew 28: 16-20.

If you don’t mind I’m going to begin with a brief alternative reading for Trinity Sunday. In the Authorised Version of course.

Jesus said, “Whom do men say that I am?”

And his disciples answered and said, “Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead; others say Elias, or other of the old prophets”.

And Jesus answered and said, “But whom do you say that I am?”

Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Logos, existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and interpenetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination within God, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple.”

And Jesus answering, said, “What?”

I used to think that Trinity Sunday was the time when we all had to struggle with a difficult doctrine – and the Sunday when the curate mysteriously found himself on the rota to preach. Paul, no fool, has taken today off. Actually, although the Holy Trinity is something we’ll never fully understand: one in three, three in one, all that – at its heart is the most practical demonstration of love.

Mind boggling aside for a moment the Holy Trinity is a relationship of three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Creator – the one who made the universe and all that is, has ever been and ever will be: including you and me. The Redeemer: God’s person shown in the perfect human form of Jesus, showing us how life should be lived and most importantly coming into the world to save us from ourselves by his death and Resurrection.

And the Sustainer. The Holy Spirit – God’s own Spirit breathed into our hearts and lives to give us strength, peace, purpose. But all God. All God. And in the mystery that is God providing all we need to become once again the people he made us to be.

All through the Bible if we look deeply and long enough we see the Trinity at work. Each year on Trinity Sunday we have three different readings from different parts of the Bible, as we have today – from the Old and New Testaments – as examples, although the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is there through all of Scripture. And what we see is perfect harmony. Mutual, self-giving love. Perfectly shared purpose. And, as in a perfect love relationship always moving outwards.

There is a prayer in the Marriage Service for the newlywed couple which includes the words: “may their love overflow to neighbours in need and embrace those in distress”. A reminder that authentic love is not contained; not self-absorbed, obsessive or inward looking: somehow insulated from the rest of the world. It is always moving outwards; growing, sharing; touching and transforming the lives of others.

Perhaps like the primary school song:

Love is something if you give it away,

Give it away, give it away.

Love is something if you give it away,

You end up having more.

It’s just like a magic penny,

Hold it tight and you won’t have any.

Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many

They’ll roll all over the floor.

For love is something if you give it away,

Give it away, give it away.

Love is something if you give it away,

You end up having more.

True love can’t help itself. It is thrown outwards. When I was about ten my mum and dad bought me a gyroscope and I would spend hours pulling the string which set the central wheel spinning, fascinated by the centrifugal force which set its balance on its end. This little masterpiece of engineering given life through the outward force at work.

Or like the funfair ride – not quite a ride, I suppose – that I saw once at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. A large barrel spun round faster and faster with people stuck to the insides so securely by the centrifugal force that the floor could safely be removed.

The love of God – in the perfect harmony which is the Trinity, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, although we might not fully understand it – is, like a piece of wonderful music, or the sun rising on a perfect morning, when gradually the light spreads and spreads; like ripples on a pond when an object is “plopped” into it, moving ever outwards with gentle but unstoppable purpose.

Over the last few weeks of the Easter Season the Gospel readings have all been about Jesus sending his disciples out. Breathing upon them his Holy Spirit they become part of this great outward movement of the love of God the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – to the world. Caught up in the centrifugal force of God’s love and saving grace for the whole of creation.

In this morning’s Gospel reading from Matthew, often known as “the Great Commission”, Jesus puts it plainly: “Go therefore and make disciples….baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you”. Move outwards. This is not for yourselves alone. But for everyone you encounter.

And not only the disciples. As we heard in the Pentecost reading from Acts last week many from all over the place who happened to be in Jerusalem at the time had the extraordinary experience of the Holy Spirit like flames of fire, a rushing wind, giving them the ability to be able to be understood even by people of different languages.

This was God’s unequivocal demonstration of his spilling outwards and outwards his gift of transformative love to the whole world. Something which those people gathered there would take with them to which ever part of the known world they had come from.

So how do we – how do you, how do I – how does the Church go about this in our own day? What does the loving relationship of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – help us to learn? Well firstly that we must, must love one another.

So often in the past, still today, the Church, God’s own people is rendered ineffective by division, factions, envy and suspicion of great and of seemingly inconsequential proportions. We must guard against this with our lives. It is the strongest possible deterrent to any potential new believer looking at us to see if there is something different, something distinctive about us.

And this whole business of the outward movement of the love of God to the world. It strikes me time and again – in Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet and in his countless acts of loving service – miraculous and in other ways – and perhaps most especially in the stark, basic images of a man on a cross and an empty tomb – that God is saying “I am a God who serves you, because I love you. I am a God who serves you because I love you”.

At no point does he seem to expect, still less demand, a response. How, indeed could that be truly love? Love does not expect to gain in return. It merely gives out. Yes, God longs for a response, longs to woo us, win us round, hopes that we will see. He does everything he can – gives his all. But there is no force. No requirement. No guarantee for God. That he will be understood. That he will be responded to. That he will even be noticed.

Extraordinary? I think so. What on earth have I done to be served in such a way by the maker of the universe? I am totally, utterly undeserving, of course. I find so profoundly moving the words in Jarrod Cooper’s “King of Kings”: “Your majesty, I can but bow, I lay my all before you now. In royal robes I don’t deserve I live to serve your majesty”.

Maybe I catch a glimpse sometimes of what God has done for me in Jesus. But I know that he goes on serving me in ways I am not aware of, sometimes barely notice and perhaps will never know. Because that is what love – real love is. Outward moving. Not expecting results – a response – primarily, but doing, being love because love – real love – can do no other.

I think the Church today, in its anxiety to reverse recent numerical decline, to get people through the doors, in its emphasis on the need to grow – which incidentally I wholeheartedly support and the need to look at every way to encourage this – the Church – and I mean all of us – does, at the same time need to have a little more faith and catch again the vision which God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, gives time and again through Scripture and though the lives of countless millions, that love lives to give. Not to get, or to gain.

People might not come through the doors in great numbers – although we are expecting a couple of hundred in an hour or so’s time! The Church might indeed continue to grow smaller in the coming years. Now the reverse may happen and that would be wonderful. But either way our primary concern is not about that.

The best way, the very best way, surely, to win people to the amazing love of God – and this is where I am convinced our energies need to be – is to show people what he is like. And what he is like is shown in Jesus, the one who serves. And whose ultimate act of service, at the moment he gave it, drew a response of a few women and one lone disciple, none of whom really understood just then that they were receiving the

greatest gift of all.

Service. It’s hard work. Especially when we don’t get a response. Recognition for what we have done. If it seems people have barely noticed. Perhaps that might help us to think how God feels. Then again, perhaps that is a good indication that we are being caught up in an authentic God-love for the world.

But, you know, perhaps more people recognise and respond to the authentic ever-outward moving God-love through his people, the Church: us, than we realise and that should give us encouragement.

Last week, following that wonderful Pentecost service – and I can say this because I had nothing to do with the planning or leading: it was entirely Phil and Paul, the Music Group and Junior Church – but following that wonderful Pentecost service as I disappeared from my pew at the back two young families I had never seen before told me how welcomed they felt and how moved by the service.

And a few days before as we were tidying things away following the terrific performance right here of “Into the Woods” by young people from Sunderland University, one of them said with warmth and emotion, and thanking us for providing them with food, “people aren’t normally so nice to us”.

And on Tuesday this week, one of the young staff at Centrepoint – who has said previously, commenting on the welcome and generosity of our three churches that he has experienced over the past few months: “I didn’t know church was like this”, again repeated an offer for the young people and staff at Centrepoint to organise and put on a 1960’s style evening for our congregation, “to give something back. To say ‘thank you'” as he put it.

Maybe we are being caught up by the outward movement of the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit more than we think. Maybe we need to be encouraged by these sorts of responses to keep on doing it. Keep on looking for those opportunities to serve. Not hoping for or expecting a response – that’s not the purpose of authentic love – but finding, if a response does come – and, from time to time it will – something better than we ever expected and that we are sharing something of the delight of God himself.

You know that sort of thing gives the most profound blessing. A sort of energy of the Holy Spirit which renews us to go on serving in a Christlike and joyful way. Which can bring to new life the dry old bones of the Church – like the vision given in Ezekiel 36.

I think it’s something along the lines of what Isaiah meant in our Old Testament reading this morning: “He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless… Those who wait for The Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings, like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint”.

That’s what God, the Holy Trinity is all about.

Love is something if you give it away,

Give it away, give it away.

Love is something if you give it away,

You end up having more.

Amen.