ST EDWARD'S HILTON - TRINITY SUNDAY, 19 JUNE 2011
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Revd Julie Barrett-Lennard
I said to my beloved during the week:
What are you saying about the Trinity on Sunday?
That it’s a mystery.
The Lord be with you.
And sit down!
Why we struggle to explain the concept of the Trinity each year I’m not sure – because ultimately any
explanation is inadequate. And yet not to is to deny ourselves the opportunity to look at something
wonderful - although mysterious - in a new way and perhaps see something we haven’t seen before.
So whilst I acknowledge the Trinity is ultimately a mystery – I’ll say a little bit more before I sit down!
And I’m going to pick up those few short verses from the end of 2 Corinthians Trevor read. I’ll
complicate things right away by saying they aren’t in fact explicitly Trinitarian. Although Paul names the
three persons of the Godhead – it was not an attempt by Paul to explain the Trinity per se. That concept
hadn’t yet been born. And in fact, Paul doesn’t use what has become the accepted Trinitarian formula of
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He actually mentions Jesus first, then God and then the Holy Spirit.
Could Paul have ever imagined how his words would add to the furor and confusion of the later debate
and discussion on how to formulate a doctrine of the Trinity – eventually later expressed through the
Paul’s reference to the three persons of the Godhead had an entirely different intent though – which
becomes clear when we consider the context of both his letters to the Corinthians. Throughout these
letters we learn of quite a multi faceted relationship between Paul and the people at Corinth. On the one
hand there is a strong spiritual bond – but on the other the relationship is at times very strained as Paul
gets frustrated about some of their behaviours – how easily they succumbed to false teachers, immorality,
their squabbling amongst themselves.
And so Paul concludes his second letter with the word – fare well. Not farewell in the sense we say
goodbye – see ya – but in the truest sense of faring well. Doing well. Some translations do in fact use the
word “rejoice” – which was certainly a common greeting in the Greek culture and written language – and
a word frequently used by Paul. Maybe rejoice is what Paul meant – given that it would support what he
writes elsewhere about rejoicing no matter the circumstances. Here it would mean to rejoice in the fact
that – despite their wayward behaviour – God still loves them – and in the strength of God they have the
power to change their errant ways – if they chose to. This is not a high spiritedness or joie-de-vie rejoice
- but rather a kind of peaceful sense that God is with them – supporting and caring and empowering.
However, there can be no two ways about what Paul writes next. “Put things in order”. In other words –
get yourselves sorted out! Agree with – literally “exhort” – one another and live in peace. Not that
everyone had to think the same and/or be all lovey dovey. Rather, Paul was urging them to sort out what
was wrong in their life and fix it.
“Listen to my appeal” writes Paul. Or again, could be translated “encourage one another”. The message
though is – live in peace. Living in peace is to live in the love of God – which is the source and motivator
for us to live in peace and harmony with each other. It is about finding the common basis on which to
build Christian community. Status – power – etc play have no place in a community of believers because
they cause dissension.
Paul writes to the Corinthians that if they do strive for this kind of positive relationship, then:
…the God of love and peace will be with you.
This is the agapē type of love. Unconditional. Sacrificial. It is the same word for love that Paul uses in
1 Corinthians 13 when he speaks of love. A loved based on one wanting the best for another rather than a
physical love. It is not even a sisterly or brotherly kind of love – there is another Greek word for that.
It is this love – Paul promises the people at Corinth - that will constantly empower and enable them to
carry out his wishes. That is, to live in harmony and follow only Jesus Christ.
Verse 11 then really draws together all that Paul has been writing about to the Church at Corinth. He has
such a passionate desire for the Christian Church to be a united Church – not the same – but united in
diversity – as we talked about last week. That is only possible through the grace of our Lord Jesus and
the love of God, and the communion possible through the Holy Spirit – as Paul goes on to conclude.
And this benediction does allow us to reflect on how God acts in various ways in the world. How deeply
and intimately he is engaged – involved – with human beings.
The irony is perhaps is that even though Paul didn’t mean to be caught up in a Trinitarian debate, he
actually provides more insight into the nature of the Trinity than some of the NT passages that allude to it.
Passages like today’s Gospel - where Jesus tells his disciples to go baptise in the name of the Father, Son
and Holy Spirit – don’t actually tell us much about the essence of theTrinity.
But Paul actually describes how the relationships are intertwined although their purpose is different.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ – that is, the unmerited favour of Jesus – the gift that Jesus brought to
the world. His compassion, humility and servanthood – and ultimately his life, death and resurrection.
Grace is both an action and a gift. Some argue Paul mentioned Jesus first because it was through the
Cross that the fullness of God’s love came to be experienced and people were therefore led to a life in the
Spirit (see Ralph P Martin, World Biblical Commentary: 2 Corinthians, 1986, p.504).
The love of God – probably expressing similar sentiments to what I’ve just mentioned – and linking back
to v.11 and the promise that the love and peace of God would be with the people at Corinth. We see this
love expressed most fully through God sending his Son into the world, and leaving us the love and power
of the Spirit.
The communion of the Holy Spirit – or the fellowship of the Holy Spirit – or even participation of the
Holy Spirit. Could even be translated from the Greek (koinōnia) as belonging to the Spirit – or the gift of
the Spirit. The Holy Spirit sort of keeps the work of the Father and Son together. And so, the grace of
Christ and the love of God are present in our lives through the participation or gift of the Holy Spirit
The intertwining of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is through love – because God is love – and it is the
love relationships between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit that makes them One.
When people are married, the language of “becoming one” is often used. And indeed, we pray in our
Anglican marriage service for “all who are made one in marriage”. In Galatians 3 (28) Jews, Greeks,
slaves, free, male and female are “one in Christ”.
Now of course, these are not examples of people sort of melting into one person – or even taking on the
same identity. They remain individuals – but in community – participants in a relationship – made
possible through the unification of love. Agapé love.
God the Father – God the Son – God the Holy Spirit have separate identities but remain in community
through the unification of love. Agapé love.
The difference with this relationship is that neither of the three persons can leave the relationship. Now
wouldn’t we be in a pickle if one did. Unlike our human communities where someone may leave and the
community can still exist and function – if any person of the Trinity did not exist then the communion of
that relationship would disintegrate.
But then – why would one person of the Trinity leave? They have been One since forever. There has
never been a time when God the Father was without - or was not - the Son and the Holy Spirit. This is
captured in the Nicene Creed.
We sometimes wonder if God was ever lonely before human beings came into existence. How could God
be because God always was three in one – and one in three – where love always existed. Existing
together – and loving as one – is not what they do. It is who they are. This is affirmed in 1 John (4:8)
where we are told that “God is love”. It is hard to get our minds around this – but God does not just love
– God is love.
And in the Trinitarian nature of God - life and energy and passion flow from one to the other in a dance of
And this is how God is able to love those whom we see as unloveable. Forgive those we believe are
So would you like to join this dance? Because it is really only through joining the dance of divine love
that we can come anywhere near understanding the Triune nature of God. It is not something that can be
explained mathematically or scientifically. It can only be experienced – through the divine love flowing
So what does the Trinity mean for St Edward’s on the day it has its Annual Meeting? One could argue
“not much”. But maybe there’s something there for us.
I’m sure it is not by accident that Paul concludes his letter with reference to God the Father, Son and Holy
Spirit. Because Paul constantly pointed people to the source of their faith and through whom they were to
have life. In other words – Paul always drew people back to the centre – despite all the frustrations and
disappointments that he endured in trying to bring people to Christ.
We too must never stop going to the centre of what we believe. If any gathering Christians is to have
unity in diversity – we must constantly take ourselves back to the centre of our faith – where we will find
the God of love and peace that will only ever show us how to want the best for each other.
And then the grace of Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit – will enable us to
give honour to our relationships as we strive to be a community that reflects those qualities of God.
And yes, St Edward’s would still function if one or two left – disappointing and all as that would be. But
more so – our strength is in our unity and our dancing together in love to be the people God wants us to
be. Where the steps to the dance are grace, love, communion.
There is little more I can say about the Trinity.
Other than ultimately - it is a mystery.
So – the Lord be with you.
And now I’ll sit down.