Sermon: Trinity and Environment
Preached on 7th June 2009
by The Venerable Ian Jagger
I have to confess that Trinity Sunday is my favourite of all Sundays. The amazement of Christmas, even the deep joy of Easter, are eclipsed in my imagination by the contemplation of the holy and undivided, the glorious and ever-loving Trinity. But the Archbishop of Canterbury is urging us to observe this Sunday also as Environment Sunday. "How can these things be?" says Nicodemus in our gospel today.
Last week, the MP of Hartlepool and I opened a new church and housing development on the Rift House estate. A couple of years ago I led the final service in a church which had been built only in the seventies. The heating system was broken and as I celebrated that final Eucharist the only incense we needed was our breath rising before God as we puffed out the hymns and prayers. Defiantly, they chose "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord" and we marched out to it, struggling between smiles and tears. And then it was demolished. It didn't take much. Working with a housing developer, the Council and Social Services we have built a new church wrapped around with flats. There are units for people with learning difficulties and their resident carers, drive-in flats for wheelchairs, and ordinary low-cost flats. The church itself is a square, light, airy space, designed for worship and for community use, with various ancillary rooms. This has been a journey from isolation towards community, from a large and inflexible church in which 15 elderly people struggled to do their own thing, to a shared space of mutual support and inter-connectedness. It was very encouraging to see the people, who had wept their way out of the old building, trying out the new kitchen and thinking of all they could do with this new home to welcome others in; and to hear the MP and the community speak of the Church now being at the heart of this community.
Clearly, this vision has to be lived out and it is fragile, as all human activity is. But, as a movement from isolation towards community, it is a good vision for Trinity Sunday. Most of the year we address God as ‘he' and think of him in the singular. We associate Jesus with ‘him' and we do not, in my view, think often enough of the Holy Spirit. But there is a huge difference between praying to God as a single person and praying to them as a community of persons. Even more so, there is a huge difference between having a one-to-one with God, and being drawn into a dance of love already going on between three persons. I want to be orthodox and confess "three persons in one God" and to worship the mystery, but on Trinity Sunday we are called to contemplate the community, or communion, at the heart of God. Visual representations are always dangerous because they isolate some elements of the mystery at the expense of others, but the Rublev icon captures something of what this Sunday is about for many people. For years we have placed it in the entrance hall of our house to remind us, and any visitors who might be interested, that this human home and family is to be a reflection of, and energised by, that eternal home into which we are drawn with endless love and generosity. You remember that it shows three figures seated round a small table on which stands, perhaps, a chalice. They manage to convey a sense of harmonious relationship, but as we look in on the circle there is space for us to be drawn in. It is not a closed circle. We are very good at creating closed circles of conversation, sometimes by accident. But the paradox of the Trinity is in conveying both a perfection of relationship and an openness which makes us believe we are wanted there, in that circle.
Of course, we all have our personality types; some of us get energised by other people and some by our interior lives of thought and imagination, and each of us can find ourselves within God, however we are. But the move from isolation towards community, which that new church in Hartlepool represents, is an act of faith in God who is community, a community of love, energy and beauty. Now, the challenge for those Christians, is the challenge put to us all in the readings for today, that the life which is flowing within God between the three persons of the blessed Trinity, should be the very same life flowing through us as we inhabit our churches, flats and Cathedrals. When they open their new church and community centre to the community, do people encounter in them the same welcome we see when we contemplate the Rublev icon? For it is not community, per se, which saves, as if every form of community were life-giving. I can think very easily of community experiences which are deadly. It is the quality of that love which flows between the divine persons which draws us in, heals us and makes us sing with all the beauty we know is in us if only someone will draw it out of us. Only love can do this. "You must be born from above", says Jesus to Nicodemus. "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." The life of this Trinity can energise and give its flavour to our lives, and through us draw others to its saving community. "All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God", says St Paul, "you have received a spirit of adoption". So, when we say "Father" in our prayers we are behaving as if we are in that circle, where the eternal Son addresses the Father, and our prayers are like the movement of that Spirit which flows between them. But there is also, in that unclosed circle, a powerful movement to reach out and engage with what has gone wrong and to heal it. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son", we hear in those familiar words from the gospel today, "in order that the world might be saved through him". The community of God is not closed in on itself. There is a movement outwards to create and to redeem, as well as an attraction inwards to welcome and restore.
This theme of creation and rescue shines through the Hartlepool story in another way. As we toured round the buildings we were shown many of the environmentally friendly features of the development, from insulation and heat storage to recycling and water capture. They will be cheap to heat and kind to the planet, and this brings us back to the Archbishop. Just as, a couple of years ago, we put pressure on governments around the Make Poverty History agenda so we are being asked to do the same surrounding the UN Climate Change conference in Copenhagen later this year. The Archbishop is calling Christians and people of all faiths to take a lead in praying and campaigning for action. A new deal at the UN summit could directly improve the lives of the world's poor whose living conditions are most affected by climate change. On behalf of the Diocese I am going to Lambeth this next week for a consultation on how churches can improve our response to this issue, and to help shape the contribution we shall be invited to make at Copenhagen as, for the first time, an official part of the programme.
There is a huge amount we could say about climate change, the environment and creation, and you will be relieved to know that, having spoken for so long about the Holy Trinity, I am not now going to begin an environment sermon. As a Cathedral we have an environmental policy and a committee to implement it, difficult though that is in a recession. If you know of anyone who might help us with the capital investment needed to change our heating systems to make us more sustainable please let me know. It is not the will that holds us back. The Diocese has done an energy audit on all our vicarages and is now targeting energy measures to improve them. Church buildings remain amongst the most challenging, from an energy point of view, often huge spaces heated for occupation for two hours a week. And then, for all of us, there are life-style choices. Through a huge amount of regular media coverage, we know what the choices are: the question is about how we answer to God for the life of his creation and of our fellow human beings, with whom we are in community, who are also his children. A couple of degrees warmer in the North East might be quite attractive, but of course, globally the effects are felt by those who live on the edge, for example, in the Ganges delta, who are least able to survive it.
There are two familiar responses, which are variations on that well known Dads Army phrase "We're doomed." First is, ‘we're doomed - let's rush around and try to save ourselves' and the second is ‘we're doomed - eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die'. But a Christian response comes from the heart of God, the Holy Trinity, and has three strands. The first is that we inhabit a creation God has made and sustains, and for that reason we are to live in it reverently: it is not ours, it is his handiwork. The second is that we are to care for the poor and vulnerable of the world for which the Father was content to send the Son who was content to die - what a price this is within the heart of the Trinity. In terms of global warming those who will suffer the worst effects are generally not those producing the CO2 and the other pollution. If I can use a rather horrid analogy, we smoke the cigarettes: they get the cancer. 2 million children die every year through drinking polluted water. The same God into whose Trinitarian love we wish to be welcomed sees and suffers this, and like injustices. Does that motivate us to live reverently in God's creation, and to care for the poor and vulnerable? But thirdly, we are to do what we can and trust God. The little things each of us can do to reduce climate change will not, in themselves, save the world. But they will save us. If we can live with God in faithfulness and integrity, he can be trusted with the world. We may have lost confidence in our politicians recently, but we still have to use the democratic power we have to help them to do the right things. That is why the Archbishop is calling us to prepare for Copenhagen.
As the year unfolds there will be more chance to think and act. Today, the whole climate change anxiety sits within our contemplation of a Trinitarian God who creates and redeems, and calls us lovingly to communion with them, the three divine persons, with each other and with all they have made and love.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.