Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord
God of Hosts
Isaiah 6:1-8; Ps. 8; 2 Cor 13:5-14; John3:1-17
Pity poor Mrs. Elizabeth Jones! She is "Mrs. Jones" to her neighbours,
and "Elizabeth" only to close friends and family, she is "Libby" or
"Betty" to the unknown Mega-Mart check-out girl, reading her name from the
credit card, "Liz" or "Beth" to the smiley minister shaking her hand
after church on Sunday, and any other combination of unwelcome nick-names, abbreviations,
and familiarities to other half-known strangers or acquaintances. It may seem
old-fashioned, or un-friendly, and perhaps it is, but surely Mrs. Jones has a certain
right to name herself to others.
Our names are given by father and mother, imprinted on us
in Baptism, and define us to ourselves and to others. In heaven we shall learn our secret
name, the true and secret relationship of God to each and every beloved soul. It is part
of our freedom and human dignity to have circles of closeness, and to give the right of
name-use depending on who we understand ourselves to more or less close to. At the inner
circle may be childhood nick-names, pet names shared between husband and wife.
But we may
be the gate-keeper over who knows or names us by any, all, or none of these ways. In the
realm of thinking about God, much ink and breath has been spilt recently telling us we
need to change the name of God: the Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are
old-fashioned, repressive, unfriendly to women, hierarchical and really quite bad. How we
survived this long is a mystery we must now tinker with the images, reflect
ourselves and our concerns more, and not be bound by the chains of Scripture, tradition,
and 2000 years of spirituality. So one leading modern hymn-writer has called the idea of
the Trinity a kind of sickness, or theological infection, adding "...the Bible's
language and imagery cannot control or restrict us..." (What Language Shall I Borrow?
Brian Wren p. 130.).
This all sounds exciting, liberating, up-to-date, and has been the
behind-the-scenes programme of too many people who call themselves Christians,
clergy, professors, in the last number of years. God, the Father, the Son, and
the Holy Spirit, and his holy name, is under attack. But what are the unintended
consequences of this way of looking at God? For if we cannot know God truly, as
he has named himself, can we really know much about God: what he is like, what
he says, what he does? We cannot then trust the Bible, apparently.
If we cannot know what he says, is, and does, what is there to believe
in, hope for, and to love? If we have nothing certain to know, hope for, and
love, do we not find ourselves precisely in the spiritual darkness of ancient
paganism or the chaos of modern emptiness, enslaved to various movements, fads,
or circumstances, looking about at the troubles of our souls, politics, the
world situation, uncertain about whether there is a God, or if he cares, or if
he or we can make any difference in the mess around us.
We find ourselves on the dark side of the garden of Eden– being as gods,
trying to puzzle out good and evil, cut off from God and one another by sin,
thinking we are the centre of things, but finding in ourselves no satisfaction,
no answers, nothing greater than ourselves to help us out of the mess we are in.
Thus the miserable modern world. What if instead we look at the doctrine of the
Holy Trinity, and think on what it has to say to us, the good news and cheer it
brings, the clarity and peace, faith, hope and love, we may have by attending to
who God is, what he has said about himself, and what that means for us. What if?
~ 2 ~
What's in a name? Fundamental to any understanding of God's name and nature is the
moment at the burning bush, when at the burning bush God names himself to the uncertain
Moses as "I AM", or "I AM THAT I AM". God is what he wants to be, he
is what he is, and he wants to be all that he is. He is perfect, complete, holy, true,
good. He is not as we are in process, unhappy with some parts of ourselves, wavering
in being, not all we want to be, nor wanting to be all that we are, or falling short of
perfection and goodness.
Note like Mrs. Jones, God names himself to us in his Word,
the Bible. Without this record, this revealing, this speaking and self-naming, we cannot
know anything about God, or in the end, about ourselves or our relation to him, or to one
another, or even who we are. God is one and three, Christ teaches us there is within
God, an interpersonal life, like that of a family, yet it is so united and perfect, it is
one life. It is a perfectly thee-fold reciprocal life: God speaks in himself and shares in
himself, the eternal Father speaks his word, the eternal Son, and the Son returns to the
Father in love and fullness of life, and the bond and fire of their eternal life is the
gift of the Holy Spirit. So what? What have the gods to do with human beings, as the
ancient pagans said these are high things, and too much for us to grasp, understand,
or share in.
Yet God comes down to us, in ways we can grasp, and in ways which capture our
minds and hearts, born a dear little child, speaking as one of us in Christ, taking our
sins and rejection upon him, yet using these very things as the means of our redemption.
So what? Well, if God has revealed himself in Christ, and named himself, then there is
redemption this ultimate reality of God is greater than we or our troubles; he calls
us into relationship with himself, and provides the means believing in his Son
that we may have friendship with God; that in Christ, our labours, our struggle
and courage, our relationships are meant to be holy and saving; that in God, we
may know and live the truth and love of God, have communion with God, have
forgiveness of sins, and a vocation in this world.
Threefold love: the very nature of reality is community, sharing,
self-giving love, overflowing joy, perfect truth in eternal light. Those who
would draw a curtain across the face of God, or deny his Three-fold name as
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, doom themselves to darkness and error, and the
world to worse and worse, to blind ignorance, despair, and greedy selfishness.
As I said in our parish paper last time, theology has lots of relevance to who
we are, and who we are to be. Christian teaching is light and nutriment for our
souls, and it is a confession of our wickedness that we do not often hunger to
draw closer, and learn more of this wonderful love, that we would make any
manner of lame excuse, and grudge any moment of time in worship, though we have
eternity to prepare for, and eternal joy or misery in the presence of God just
on the other side of a last breath or heartbeat.
Let us then ask for hearts aflame with love for God– that as we pray, we
may understand that we are in the Trinity, and he is in us: for the Son of God
kneels beside us, his hand upon us, presenting us, with himself, to God; The
Father is above us, from whom our lives descend, to whom we turn up our faces
and stretch out our hands; and the Spirit of God is within us, soul of our soul,
root of our will, inexhaustible fountain of eternal life: so we pray: "O
threefold love, one in yourself, unite your forces in me, come together in the
citadel of my conquered heart– you have loved me with a threefold love, O
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit– teach me to believe, to hope, and to love. AMEN.