What sort of a Christian are you?
I don’t mean are you a good Christian – you know in church every Sunday, helping others every day or a half hearted Christian – here occasionally and every so often you possibly give God a passing thought and think maybe you should put a £1 in the Christian Aid envelope. No I don’t want you to delve around into your conscience and assess how well you put your faith into action; no, I ask the question in terms of what is your faith actually like – what do you believe, how do visualise or encounter God? How did you become a Christian – if indeed you are at the point yet where that is how you would describe yourself?
When do you have your moments of faith?
I’ve picked up that phrase from David Lodge’s novel “Paradise News”. In this book, set in Hawaii, Yolande, one of the characters experiences the scattering of ashes on the sea of her friend Ursula. She describes it like this.
“When we were through the breakers, the soldier who was steering the boat switched off the engine and we drifted for a while. Father McPhee opened the casket with Ursula’s ashes in it and trailed it in the wake of the boat, letting the sea take the ashes. They stained the water for a moment, then disappeared. He said a short prayer, I can’t remember the words exactly, about committing her remains to the deep, and then suggested that we had a couple of minute’s silence. It’s funny, this dying business, when you’re close to it. I always thought of myself as an atheist, a materialist, that this life is all we have and we had better make the most of it; but that evening it seemed hard to believe that Ursula was totally extinct, gone for ever. I suppose everybody has these moments of doubt – or should I say, faith?”
When do you have your moments of faith?
To believe in God the Father, the creator, to believe in Jesus as Son of God and to believe in the Holy Spirit, who gives life to the people of God takes some faith. It’s difficult to explain – although perhaps our most recent confirmation candidates can give a really good account of the Trinity.
I suspect most of us leapfrog from one moment of faith to another. Our moments of clarity, when we know what we believe, why we believe or we experience something of God’s presence are like lily pads of faith floating on a lake of doubt.
Trinity Sunday can often sink us into the lake of doubt – we sit through explanations of the Godhead being like a three leafed clover or like H20 – God is water, steam and ice. I remember sitting through a family service talk where the preacher got the kettle out and switched it on to boil, poured water from a jug into a glass and finally got the ice cubes out of his cool bag. So much to go wrong there – I spent the sermon wondering what he would do if the ice had already melted when he took it out and at the end I felt no nearer to understanding the mystery of the Trinity.
So instead of approaching it terms of explanation this morning I want us to delve for ourselves into our moments of faith. We were presented this morning with three stunning readings. If you fell asleep or were mentally doing your shopping list or redesigning your garden during the readings, I’m just going to recap. The first was the call of Isaiah. A glorious vision of God, high and lifted up, angels in attendance singing Holy, holy, holy. The glory of God spilling over from heaven to earth. Then we had Paul in his letter to that Romans talking about the spirit within us and that wonderful verse “When we cry, Abba, Father! It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God”. And then the Gospel – how I love John’s gospel – difficult at times but so glorious. Nicodemus who comes by night to speak to Jesus and Nicodemus questions and doesn’t get the clearest of answers – he is left with a puzzle, but the Evangelist treats us to probably the most famous verse in the Bible “for God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
We had a feast this morning in our readings. And I hope somewhere in them something sprang out at you. There was something you could relate to. That there was a little moment of faith.
We may be an Isaiah vision person. My grandfather was one of those. Never happier than when worshipping somewhere like All Saints Margaret Street or St Bartholomew’s Brighton, where there was a feast for the eyes in the architecture and glory of the high altar, and a feast for the ears in the singing of a Mozart or Haydn Mass. Worship that transcends our everyday life, takes us into the presence of an almighty God and gives us a touch of heaven. We can have the same experience on a dark night looking at the canopy of the stars or sitting on a deserted beach watching the waves roll in. God the Father, the Creator, at his most resplendent.
As we listened to the readings this morning it may have been the Epistle that spoke to us. There is something about that phrase “when we cry, abba Father” – this is getting God the Father right down off his throne- this is daddy – and we cry to him. Cry – this is perhaps that prayer of desperation when we never normally pray. Someone we love is ill and out of the blue prayer comes – please God – we cry Abba, Father from the depths of our being – we don’t know why – it comes – it is a moment of faith – not to be dismissed – you know what we might do – she’s only come to church because her father’s ill – they never think of God, but now of course when they need him – never dismiss those moments of desperate prayer – they are the Holy Spirit at work bearing witness with our spirit that we are all children of God.
And then in the Gospel, Nicodemus encounters Jesus. The story as we have it is inconclusive. Is Nicodemus converted? The last thing Nicodemus says in his conversation with Jesus is “How can these things be?” He is confused about this talk of being born again, born from above – being born of water and spirit. We think he came to faith in Jesus because in Chapter 7 he reappears and defends Jesus against his fellow Pharisees, and of course at the end of Jesus’s life on earth it is Nicodemus who with Joseph of Arimathea takes Jesus body and prepares it for burial. Nicodemus, often referred to as the patron saint of seekers. He comes to Jesus at night when he won’t be seen – like the person who creeps in at the back of church – just interested. Maybe someone who wants to ask questions – wants to get this Christianity sorted out in their head – it’s important it makes sense. That’s a Nicodemus.
And because we have Jesus – we can imagine him, we can hear him through the gospel passages – we can have a conversation – either struggling along with Nicodemus to understand those answers Jesus gives, or in our imaginations asking questions of our own – finding God in the person of Jesus – the uniqueness of Christianity that God came in human form and therefore we can engage with a person who shows us what God is like. Maybe your moments of faith are moments when you encounter Jesus – in the gospels, in your imagination or in the bread and wine of Eucharist.
The Trinity – God as Father, Creator; God as Son, Redeemer – Saviour; God as Spirit, inspirer, sustainer, sanctifier – whatever the names, whatever the theological explanations, in the end they are ways that we experience the divine, God. And the three intertwine as in the best Celtic pattern. Paul talks of the Spirit within, which is the Spirit of Christ, and cries out to the Father, Abba. John’s Jesus talks of being born of the Spirit and of the wind of the Spirit that blows where it chooses, and of the Son, whom God the Father gives to the world because he loves the world so much.
The Christian faith is so rich – to have one God who is three in one gives rich possibilities for our moments of faith.
Let us pray that however many of those moments we may have had in the past, our life ahead is further enriched by our encounter with the living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and pray too that we do not resist that encounter but allow ourselves to be born again and again and again.