I wonder where your favourite place is? It may be somewhere real or perhaps a fantasy place you go to in your mind when you get stressed! Mine is a sunny beach, sloping towards a gentle surf, there is sand and rock pools. Bracken covered hills encircle the bay and a stream running off them can be made into a dam. This ideal beach really exists – we found it in mid-April in North Devon, a place called Croyde. What’s more it had something you’d never imagine by a beach – it would sound too far-fetched. It even had a National Trust café!
I say ‘we’ because I don’t think that the perfect place is somewhere I’m alone. It wouldn’t be perfect without people; family and friends. When first married, my ideal holiday was the Swiss Alps – but that doesn’t suit toddlers or wheelchairs. Now the seaside works for us and our friends– it’s their presence and enjoyment that makes the joy complete.
Of course there is value in solitude, we all need time alone to an extent. But human beings are social animals, we live and thrive in relationship. Christians believe this is because we are made in the image of God – we are God’s children, created to be like him, and he has relationship at the very core of his being.
Today, as Father’s Day and Trinity Sunday combine (with a baptism), we remember that God himself exists as one God but three persons in relationship with one another. Our affirmation of faith that we’ll say later in the service has three parts: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Although the word ‘Trinity’ is not itself used in the Bible, Scripture reveals this mysterious threefold nature of God, as in the readings, and we may also see the pattern in our experience of life.
We are asked ‘Do you believe in God the Father, source of all being and life, the one for whom we exist?’ As the Isaiah reading reminded us, God is the creator of all that is, he brought us into being out of pure love, not to meet any need or lack in himself. He is the ultimate example of Fatherhood, a perfectly loving father who cares for us.
Being a parent is a great joy. There’s nothing quite like returning home and being greeted by the smiles and hugs of the children. Sometimes you may find you need reminding of that – at something past five o’clock in the morning as two small children bounce on the bed, or that particular scream tells you that someone has pulled someone else’s hair.
That is a reminder of human brokenness. It’s part of the human condition that none of us manage to attain the ideals we set ourselves, let alone God’s perfect will for us. More seriously, many people’s experience of an earthly father has been bad so that it can be difficult for them to think of God as a ‘Father’. Our relationships with one another and with God fall short of what they could be. So our next question asks ‘Do you believe in God the Son, who took our human nature, died for us and rose again’.
There’s an old Indian saying that if you want to get alongside someone you first have to walk a mile in their shoes. That is what God did. Rather than try and help from a distance, God enters the world in Jesus, becoming one of us and sharing our life. He shows us the way to live.
Jesus also bears the pain of forgiveness. As any parent knows, love involves sacrifice. Anything worthwhile does. There is cost, in time and labour, children grow up and you have to let go. I’ve heard it said that the hardest thing is watching them make the same mistakes you made – and even if you try and advise them you may be brushed off. And inevitably there is the need to forgive. God’s love for us is freely given, but there is a cost to it. The cost of love given without limit in forgiving. We see that cost on the cross as Jesus bears human rejection and dies for our sin.
But he rose again at Easter and in the gospel reading we hear how Christ returns to God promising the Holy Spirit to those who accept him. So the final question in the affirmation of faith is ‘Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, who gives life to the people of God and makes Christ known in the world?’ God wants us to be in a relationship with him, and the Holy Spirit makes that possible. He is God present within us.
It’s an amazing thing, that God seeks relationship with us. God doesn’t want servants, or converts or our good deeds. He wants us. Sandy Millar, who was the Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton, home of the Alpha course, wrote this:
‘Some years ago I was at a conference in California. We had a wonderful evening and when it was over I went for a walk along the ocean. I was caught up with the excitement of all that lay ahead and just the thrill of the spirit of God. I was praying ‘I will give you anything you want…I will do anything you want me to do’ And I confess I was rather immodestly listing one or two of the things I thought he might want me to do.
Sandy continues: ‘I can honestly claim to have only heard the Lord speak about three times in this way, but as clearly as I have ever heard him speak, he said ‘All I want is you’.
‘All I want is you’. What can we offer God who made the universe? All he wants is you. God calls us to know him, and through us he calls others to know him. Those of us who have found God have a duty to tell others. It’s natural when we’ve found something wonderful to share it with others – as I mentioned at the beginning when thinking of the beach at Croyde.
In the gospel reading, Jesus tells us to pass on our faith which is what we’re doing today in the baptism. He tells the apostles: ‘Make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’
I just want to spend a final couple of minutes thinking about that and how we put it into practice. Jesus says ‘make disciples’ and then goes on to explain what that means. Firstly, he says ‘Baptise’ and this is important because it’s a visible commitment. Not everyone chooses to get their children baptised nowadays, I think it’s about one in five, so it’s a positive choice when a family does. Perhaps you are saying ‘This is important to me, I want my children to be brought up this way, and later on they can make their own decision.’
But let’s not just apply it to children. Is there a challenge here to adult Christians to be willing to stand up and be counted? How do we continue to live out our baptism promises today?
Secondly, Jesus says ‘Teach’. We take it for granted that children need to be taught. They might learn about Christianity at school, but I don’t think you can rely solely on that. School can only supplement home, which is the most important place for learning and living out faith. The example and teaching given by the adults in their lives are crucial – parents and godparents are vital…
Teaching is not just for children either. Adults learn throughout our lives. A disciple is always learning. Our Christian growth should not stop at confirmation, and it may be that many of us have questions we would like to ask. That’s why I’m running a Foundations course this coming Autumn for anyone who wants to find out more about faith.
Thirdly, Jesus says ‘Obey’. G K Chesterton once said ‘It’s not the parts of the Bible I can’t understand that trouble me. The parts of the Bible that trouble me are the parts I understand only too well.’ A faith that’s lived out is a faith that’s real. Faith has to make the transition from something we believe in our minds, to something which affects our hearts and is lived out. It needs to make a difference when you go out that door.
But one thing is absolutely essential: the focus on God and his love. Whether we are bringing up a child in the Christian faith after baptism, or sharing our faith with someone we know, it is about helping them to know God through Christ and the Holy Spirit. And that God is a God who wants to know them.