In the Name

Sermon for Trinity Sunday

Matthew 28.16-20

It’s 3 o’clock in the morning. You hear a loud knock-knock-knock on your door. A loud voice cries: “Open up in the name of the law!”

What do you do? Would you open up?

Or, it’s 3 o’clock in the morning. You hear a loud knock-knock-knock on your door. A loud voice cries: “Open up in the name of God!”

What do you do? Would you open up?

Or, it’s 3 o’clock in the morning. You hear a loud knock-knock-knock on your door. A loud voice cries: “Open up in the name of Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!”

What do you do? Would you open up?

If someone knocked on my door in the name of the law, I’d open it and peer around. Very nervously. I wouldn’t want to run foul of the law’s authority.

If someone knocked on my door in the name of God, I’d assume they were in dire straits. I’d open the door expecting to meet someone in great need.

If someone knocked on my door in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, I’d wonder what on earth was going on. I’d wonder it was a cross between the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Vicar of Dibley outside. I’d sneak a look around the curtains before I opened my door. (Or maybe I’d send my wife out…!)

It’s a strange name, “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” It sounds like it should be three names, but it’s not. It’s just the one name—the Father, Son and Spirit have one name between them.

The name makes a difference. In William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, it’s Juliet who says, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”—but that’s not altogether true. 

In fact, it wasn’t true at all for people who lived in biblical times. When she returns from Moab to Judah, Naomi announces that her name is no longer ‘Naomi’—that is, pleasant—but now it is ‘Mara’, or bitter.

When in that strange story from the Book of Genesis Jacob wrestles with God in the night time, his name is changed from ‘Jacob’—he takes over—to ‘Israel’—the one who strives with God. And he asks God’s name, which God does not tell. 

Later, God does tell Moses his name—sort of. God’s name is I am who I am, or I am what I am, or I will be what I will be. That’s a Clayton’s name, the name you have when you don’t have a name. In our Old Testament, it is translated as Lord, all in capital letters.

Even in our casual day, names retain some of their importance. We no longer address one another as Mr Jenkins, or Mrs Pettigrew, it’s Bill and Betty; but many of us baulk at letting other people know our middle name. There are people we have known for some time, people we are good friends with, who just do not know our middle name. For many of us still, that’s information for our inner circle alone. (Sorry, Michelle—you had no choice today!)

Even if you’d think twice before opening your door to someone who knocks in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, we baptised Michelle, Kiana and Nicholas into that name earlier in the service. 

The Christian Church has a shorthand way of naming the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: that shorthand is ‘Trinity’. We could say ‘Trinity’ is another Clayton’s name for God, the name you have when you don’t have a name.

Why does the Christian Church believe in God as Trinity? Why do we sing, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity”? After all, there are those who criticise us for believing in the Trinity. Moslems say we believe in three gods. Feminists remind us that we can’t stay satisfied with names for God that exclude the feminine. They rightly encourage us to explore feminine images for God. We began our service with these words:

Blessed is the Holy Trinity of love,

Father, Son, Holy Spirit,

One God, mothering all creation…

As God’s faithful people, we can say that and more besides. But when we baptise, we use ‘Father’, ‘Son’, ‘Holy Spirit’. What might it mean to be baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit?

It doesn’t mean that we have a male god. God is not a boy. But it does mean this: the name of the Trinity shows us that God is not simply alone in his—or her—‘godness’. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. ‘Godness’ belongs to all three equally. ‘Godness’ means the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being in a relationship of perfect love and life and giving and receiving from all eternity. 

We are called to share in this relationship. Jesus the Son of God shows us the way to the Father. God the Holy Spirit moves us and illuminates us from within. So God is beyond us, God walks with us, God is within us.

To be baptised in the Name of this God gives us a place in God—we are invited to take our place in this perfect relationship that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit eternally share. 

To be baptised in the Name of this God is to be reminded that we are not Christians alone. If the loving relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit makes God ‘God’, then we are called into loving relationships with one another. When we are baptised, we are baptised into the life of the Christian community. It becomes our responsibility to make the Church a place that shows God’s love to others. Baptised people can’t speak of the Church as though it’s someone else. It is us, you and me.

The name makes a difference. What’s in a name? A heck of the lot. In the end, the Name of the Trinity is love. Believing in God as the Holy Trinity means that God walks with us, and lives within us, and draws us into the eternal relationship that Father, Son and Spirit rejoice in.

Why would we not want to be part of this? Why would we not want to give ourselves to this wonderful, amazing God?

There’s so much more that we could say about God, so many names that we can give God. The true names of God speak to us of the limitless and unconfined love God has for us. We’re going to sing of some of those names now, with the contemporary hymn, Bring Many Names:

 

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