The Mystery of the Fatherless Father’s Day
Sermon for Trinity Sunday – 16 June 2019 – St John the Baptist, Felixstowe
Text: John 16.12-15
‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
God give you peace my sisters and brothers.
When Thomas Cranmer compiled the Book of Common Prayer many, many centuries ago he broke the mould of liturgy and the tradionals names that were used for God. Not too radically, after all you didn’t want to lose your head over what me be seen as just semantics, and not at all frequently either. In fact on only one Sunday a year, today, Trinity Sunday.
The rubric for the preface to the Eucharistic Prayer reads
*These words [Holy Father] must be omitted on Trinity Sunday
Admittedly he goes on to use the names for all three members of the Trinity in the Proper Preface (which also may only be used today)
Upon the Feast of Trinity only.
WHO art one God, one Lord; not one only Person, but three Persons in one Substance. For that which we believe of the glory of the Father, the same we believe of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, without any difference or inequality. Therefore with Angels, &c.
An interesting change to our language about God on the same day we call Fathers Day as well as Trinity Sunday. Today we are faced with the mystery of the Fatherless Fathers Day. Could it be, as we try to unravel the Mystery of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, that this Fatherless Fathers Day might help us come to a deeper understanding of the nature and the mission of the God we worship?
In our everyday world we all too frequently proclaim special days; Mothers Day, Grandparents Day, Secretaries Day, and my personal favourite, International Buy a Priest a Beer Day (it’s on 9 September of you would like to make a note in your diary…). We do this so that family members and hard-working community servants, who may be easily taken for granted, are given some recognition, rest, chocolates and perhaps even a pint of ale 🙂
Today however, our lectionary tells us on Fathers Day to not look at the Father. To not give a special focus on one person of the Trinity over the other. To not proclaim that one of them is more important than the other. To do this neither in the work they do, nor in the way they add to our redemption, nor the amount of love, care, and provision they bestow upon the whole of creation.
Above all else there are two lessons we learn from the Trinity that we are called to imitate in our lives and in our churches – equality and diversity.
In the Trinity there is no room for the ‘me first’ Christian or even the false modesty of the ‘me last’ very ‘umblenes of the Uriah Heeps of this world. There is only the joy of the dance of an equal love and care for the whole of creation. The Godhead knows no hierarchy. In a similar way as that of the ‘First Speaker’ in Isaac Asimov’s epic tale of the Foundation, the Father may have the first word in the act of creation but this word is primus inter pares, with the words of the Word made Flesh, and the gentle whispers of the Holy Spirit (who has called our friend May to be baptised during our worship this morning). Welcome to the family sister!
This is so different to our workaday world that all too easily polarises equality. We see this with cries for ‘Straight’ Pride as a supposed antidote for ‘Gay Pride’ and the introduction of an ‘International Men’s Day’ in response to the worldwide recognition given to the often hidden work, love, and sacrifice of women on 8 March each year.
Within the Godhead there is no competition but only the harmony that comes with unity. Would that the Church Jesus founded would heed the words of today’s Gospel reading and learn that the Spirit speaks only of that which the Son has received from the Father? Would that the Church would learn to be guided by the gentle whispering of the truth-bearing Spirit instead of the urgent cries of the ‘Listen to me’ brigade that have populated pulpits from Acts Chapter 15 onwards!
The Trinity majors on equality, not one person of the Godhead steps forward before the other as if of right or entitlement, but each speaks only in harmony with the others and all of them make love their aim.
Yet in the middle of this harmony there is not an obsessive uniformity of identity but instead a grand diversity of purpose.
God knows, literally and figuratively, that each of us is created in God’s own image yet each of us is unique.
I thank God that in my journey of faith thus far I can point to definite times when God being like a loving caring Father was what held me close to the faith. There have been times when the rushing wind of the Spirit of Pentecost has blown through my life and called me onwards to say ‘yes’ despite my fears for the future and my failings of the past. And each day I walk and talk, as the old Sunday School song taught me, alongside my brother Jesus as He reminds me to follow His way, regardless of the diversions and lay-bys of life. Day by day He calls me to walk at His pace, despite my thinking that sometimes He slows me down or demands that my unfit body and soul move faster than is comfortable.
This is the diversity of the Godhead.
God knows me, God knows each of us, God knows that we are fickle human beings who want to do good yet who all too easily turn towards the bad if not indulging in downright evil (Romans 7v19). The Apostle Paul cries out with us ‘Wretched man, wretched people, that we are! Who will rescue us from this body of death? (Romans 7v24).
In the middle of our confusion and despair God comes to us not once with only one voice but three times. God come with the gentle words of The One who Made us and knows our purpose, with the sympathy of The One who Redeems us and knows our frailty and with the empowerment of The One who Enables us to fulfil our destiny as people made in the image and likeness of the Living God.
As the old hymn proclaims ‘Alleluia! What a Saviour!’
The Godhead, overflowing with equality and diversity, is able to meet our every need for all the seasons of our life, and calls us to be a church and a people who imitate The One we worship, The One who redeemed us, and The One who Guides us on the journey homeward.
In proclaiming that we come to see that our Church motto ‘Open to God, Open to All’ is as much a Creed as the lengthy doctrinal statement composed by St Athanasius which, as faithful members of this Church of England, we will all read before we lay ourselves to rest this night on this Fatherless Fathers Day…
Rejoice my sisters and brothers, that today we celebrate the joy of the Holy Trinity in which the Godhead refuses to value one Person more than another and recognises that the fullness of love requires more than one partner in the dance.
Rejoice my sisters and brothers, that today we celebrate that our God is an intimate God who comes to us as Creator and Redeemer and Sustainer, ever calling us toward the light and love of the life after life.
Rejoice my sisters and brothers, that today we celebrate that we have been given a share in the mission of the Holy and Undivided Trinity as we commit ourselves to live lives that are ‘Open to God and Open to All’ and choose to build a church wherein all are welcome within the great love of God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
[This blog ‘The Mystery of the Fatherless Fathers Day’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2019]