Trinity Sunday: walking together with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Bible Text: Exodus 34.1-8, 2 Corinthians 13.11-13, Matthew 28. 16-20 | Preacher: Reverend Helen Dean | Studies show that church-goers are generally people of hope who like to fix or improve things, including themselves. We want to really live out our faith, both individually and in community, as children of God. We want to live in God’s ways. This involves turning away from what is not good and turning to what is good, a process of repentance and reconciliation. However, we are only too well aware that without God we can do nothing, so when we need help, we turn to God, to the Father, to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. It is a relationship that leads us to worship.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus gives both exhortation (Turn from this.) and reassurance (This is good.). Jesus is the one with supreme authority as from the Father. He instructs the disciples through this authority, to make more disciples and that they are on a mission from God but also with God. There is also another instruction, to obey everything that Jesus commanded and to encourage others in this also. Do the work of turning from, to free yourself for the turning to.
Finally, Jesus gives supreme reassurance. I am with you always, to the end of the age. We must trust and obey, knowing that when we walk with Jesus, he walks with us. Walking together is familiar to us. Our parish commits to walking together with Jesus to take his life into the world.
Just as the disciples walked with Jesus, Moses also walked with God.
Moses was a man of God, through and through, and Moses served God through his care and leadership of God’s people, even though sometimes they drove him to distraction. They were a bit like us. They were faithful and went astray, obedient and disobedient, worshipping and grumbling. In today’s reading, Moses has come to God for help.
The precious tablets of the Covenant, with the commandments of God graven upon them, have been destroyed. Do you remember how?
[Give me a quick silent mime of the circumstances.]
Indeed. When Moses came down from the mountain of God with the first tablets, he found the people worshipping a golden calf. This was not news to him. God had told him ahead of time. In fact, God had intimated that this sin would cut the people off from God’s favour which would now fall entirely on Moses as the only good one. Go and tell them, said God. Of course, Moses, as the good one, did not covet being the new sole beneficiary and did what good people do. He pleaded for the people and God said, OK, so be it. Truthfully, this was more than Moses persuading God to be merciful. God was already a merciful God. God was preparing Moses to face the people with a shared commitment to mercy.
Nevertheless, when Moses got there, he was so angry at what was happening that he just lost it. He threw down the stone tablets and smashed them.
It seemed as if the wonderful gift of relationship with God, engraved on stone, was gone forever. But our God is ever a God of second chances and he told Moses what to do.
Amazingly, God did not call for the people to stand up and answer for their lack of faith and trust and steadfastness. No. Moses alone would go up onto the mountain and meet God face to face.
It is like the good parent, when a child gets themselves into difficulties with other people. Instead of receiving a lecture, the child is invited to come for a drive or a hike, to do some cooking or some gardening, and the parent uses that time for an open conversation with a bit of Q and A – a shared time to build understanding and the skills to handle the problem more effectively.
And so, God has Moses come alone up onto the mountain. The first part of their conversation was to remind Moses of who God, the one who guides, was and is. The name of God, first told to Moses from the burning bush, and the nature of God, are both confirmed, not just as knowledge but as example.
The self-description of the nature of God is the exact opposite of the characteristics shown by God’s people and also by Moses himself. God is merciful, gracious, loving, forgiving, slow to anger, rich in loving kindness. This is not ignoring sin. We are accountable. God never pretends that nothing has gone wrong, but the wrongdoing is dealt with, with love and forgiveness.
Verse 7 is a challenge. In the same breath as keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, we have a seeming opposite, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.
That can sound more brutal than loving. Not like God at all. Elsewhere in the Bible we read that God does not punish one person for another person’s sin. Not the parents for the children, nor the children for the parents, so what is this? A careful reading of this and other passages is needed.
This could be a whole sermon. If you want to pursue all the Bible references, I can send them to you, but briefly, in the scriptures to be the child of someone or something or somewhere is to have the characteristics of that person or thing or place. A faithful and obedient son is the image of the father.
That tells us something about the Son of God (Jesus) and the Son of Encouragement (Barnabas) and also about those who may be children of wrongdoing. If the children show the iniquity and transgression and sin of the parents, if this is seen to be carried forward in the generations, it will be held to account in the generations. This is a warning that our wrongdoing may teach our children wrongdoing and they, as well as we, will be held to account. That is sobering, is it not? All the more reason to deal with our wrongdoing.
And then, we hear, Moses bowed his head towards the earth, and worshipped.
A restored relationship with God leads to worship.
So, Moses came down from the mountain with replacement tablets for the ones that he, Moses, broke and with a knowledge of the attitude of God towards all that happened. Sin is to be recognised and dealt with, but with an attitude that is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, forgiving, yet dealing with, not ignoring, the problem. Our sin. and the sins of others. are not necessarily a summons to be tried in court for our crimes, but rather they can be an invitation to talk to God and share our struggles. This is how God forgives.
In the Lord’s prayer, when we ask God to forgive us as we forgive others, do we hold to the same standard of how to forgive? Do we also seek to forgive as we are forgiven, with an attitude that is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, forgiving, yet dealing with, and not ignoring, the problem? It is a high standard.
Paul’s closing remarks to the Corinthians, like Jesus’ words to his disciples, include stern admonition and loving exhortation, urging reconciliation with Paul himself and with one another. Do the right thing. Strengthen your relationships with one another for the sake of your relationship with God.
Today is Trinity Sunday. The trinitarian relationship of love and grace invites us all into shared communal relationship within the trinitarian love of God.
Verse 13 is a benediction. It is the mutual blessing that we frequently use and which we call The Grace. You might like to find that verse if you have it there. 2 Corinthians 13.13
It varies just a little in different translations, particularly the shared embrace of the Holy Spirit, variously presented as communion, fellowship, presence, and we could probably offer more alternatives.
When we pronounce this benediction before others, at the very least, it means that we acknowledge God’s commitment to us and our accountability to God to be instruments of grace, love, and community among one another and within the wider world. [Matthew Skinner]
As in our other readings, relationship leads to worship.
[I invite you to unmute your microphones and to say together the grace, using either the words from your Bible or the words you know by heart.]
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. [Now and for ever. Amen]
For those who may request them
References re generational punishment:
God punishing generations: Exodus 34.6-7, Deuteronomy 5.8-10, Leviticus 26.39.
God not punishing generations: Deuteronomy 24.16, 2 Kings 14.6, Ezekiel 18.20, Jeremiah 31.30.
God punishing when generations continue in sin: Exodus 20.5, Numbers 14.18.
God forgiving generations who confess their and their fathers’ sins: Leviticus 26. 40-42.