Sunday 11 June - Holy Trinity - Evensong - Tony Bryer

(Ephesians 4:1 – 16, John 1:1 - 18)

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4 – 6)

The Trinity is absolutely foundational to Christianity because it reveals the heart of the nature of God. And yet as Karl Rahner, a leading 20th century Roman Catholic theologian, pointed out, it has made almost no difference in the lives of the vast majority of Christians.

Compare that to what Paul says in this amazing statement in Ephesians 4! Now, Paul, like the rest of the New Testament, has no developed doctrine of God as Trinity; indeed, it took the early church at least three centuries to come to a reasonably settled mind on the issue. Nevertheless, this passage suggests the beginning of language and the kind of thinking that would eventually lead to the formal doctrine in the 4th century.

But – and it’s a big but – these verses are not just about doctrine. In the passage they follow on from Paul’s call to practical Christian living in both the church community and the wider world, and so have the purpose of demonstrating how such practice is rooted in the reality of the church, the sacraments and God’s own being as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How, in fact, the problem Rahner speaks of can be addressed and potentially overcome.

In these three verses, Paul uses ‘one’ seven times, to speak of the one Spirit who makes us one body in Christ, and is the pledge of our one hope of the coming Kingdom of God; to speak of the one baptism by which the Spirit brings us into the one body of Christ, the community of the church, and unites us in the one faith of Christ; and of the one God, who is Father of all. It’s no wonder that unity – or oneness – is at the heart of this passage, for earlier Paul has spoken of how Christ has brought unity out of division and hostility (2:14). How we live as Christians is to demonstrate that unity in diversity which God’s own being manifests.

So far, what Paul has said is similar to what we proclaimed earlier in the Apostles’ Creed; but he goes on to explore and expand on that phrase ‘one God and Father of all’. The word in Greek for ‘all’ could mean all people (not just the church) or all things; so in explaining God as ‘above all, through all, in all’, you could say there is no one in whom God is not present, nothing in creation in which God is not at work. The church is the sign of God’s presence in, and engagement with, the world – but it is not the extent of it!

For me this is very significant: there is nothing I do, nowhere I can be, and no meeting I have with anyone, where God is not present. It was central to my ministry in workplace chaplaincy; but more than that, I believe it is the only foundation for the church’s mission, which is to share in what God is already doing in the world. For when we grasp, and are grasped by, the Christian belief in God as Trinity (not just assent to it), then all of life can be transformed. For all of life is where we meet God, serve God and know God.

Your work, your home and family, your community and your neighbours, the stranger you meet on the bus or the train; all of these and more, are the places and the situations in which you encounter God in other people, events and experiences. It’s what Ignatian spirituality calls ‘finding God in all things’, and as we practice this way of living and looking at life we can begin to find an increasing integration between our faith and daily living, and between all the disparate parts of our lives. There is less of the either/or in the situations we encounter and more of the both/and. We find that by leading ‘a life worthy of the calling’, following Jesus in the ways of humility, gentleness and patience, that God can work more freely in us and through us.

Paul called the Christians of Ephesus to live out in their lives the mystery of God, encountered through Jesus and the Spirit, because it is at the heart of Christian faith and life. This Trinity Sunday let that mystery transform our lives, work and witness too.