Crows Nest Uniting Church
Trinity • 31 May 2015


Isaiah 6:1-8
Romans 8:12-17
John 3:1-17


Rev. Chris Udy



Music in church
is a wonderful and dangerous thing.
Most of us can hardly imagine
worship without music,
and, for many of us,
the music is the worship –
music carries and expresses
both our prayers and our beliefs.
So it isn’t all that surprising
that the music we use in worship
can easily become the cause of conflict -
and our conflict isn’t confined
to whether the organ or the drum-kit
gets pride of place.
Congregations have shattered
over whether they’ll sing choruses or hymns,
and whether the songs they sing
should be read from books or projected on screens.
In some places Wesley is ‘top of the pops’,
and in others Hillsong rules –
and in some congregations
even songs that everyone likes to sing
become the source of stubborn disagreement.
 
If you take a look, for example,
at number 569 in Together in Song,
you’ll find a hymn that fractures congregations.
Not so much here,
but in many places
when the congregation stands to sing
the first line of that hymn
the congregation is divided
between those who sing what the hymn book says -
“Guide me O thou great Redeemer” -
and those who prefer to sing
what they probably learned as children -
“Guide me O thou great Jehovah”.
We should recognise right now
that it really doesn’t matter
which of those words we choose to sing -
either one works just as well as the other -
and sometimes it can be fun to hear the singing
descend into chaos, just for a moment,
before everyone comes together again
to continue with the hymn -
but when it comes to which word is right or wrong -
Jehovah or Redeemer -
it’s important to understand
that both of them have problems.
 
The word ‘Jehovah’
is meant to be the name of God -
but it’s actually a translator’s mistake -
an English translator’s mistake.
The Hebrew Bible - the Old Testament -
says Moses asked God what his name was,
and God told him -
but that name was considered so special, so sacred,
that no-one ever said it.
So when readers in Synagogue
came to the name of God in the text
they would substitute another word - ‘Adonai’ -
which means ‘Lord’.
Even now, in most of our English Bibles,
the name of God is translated ‘LORD’,
and written in capital letters,
to show that behind that word
is 4 Hebrew letters Yod - or ‘Y’, He - or ‘H’,
Vav - ‘W’ or ‘V’ and He - H again - so ‘YHWH’.
When the name of God was first written down
Hebrew writers only used consonants -
no vowels - to save space -
and because, over generations,
no-one ever said the name of God aloud
the vowels in God’s name disappeared -
they were forgotten.
Much later, when the scribes
began to write in vowels again,
as a hint and a reminder
to those who would read in Synagogue
the scribes wrote –
above and below the name of God -
the vowels for Adonai - Lord.
 
Centuries later again
Christian scribes began to translate
the Bible into English,
and when they came to the name of God
they made a mistake.
They were misled
by the vowels above and below the name of God
and they tried to put them together
into a new word - “Jehovah”.
We now think that the name of God
was something a bit like “Yahweh” -
but no-one really knows.
God’s name is like God -
no combination of letters, or sounds,
or words, or names, or pictures
will ever be able to capture, or symbolise, or define
what we mean when we talk about God,
or who God really is.
All the words - “Jehovah”, “Redeemer”,
“Adonai”, “Lord”, “God”, “Father”, “Son”, “Spirit”,
end up not quite right -
they’re all insufficient, incomplete.
 
So whenever we sing that hymn
we can sing whatever we like
at the end of that first line,
because that little moment of chaos and confusion
is probably as close as we humans can come
to saying the name of God the way we should.
 
Today is Trinity Sunday -
and today’s the day we celebrate limits
to the names we have for God.
In company with Jewish people,
and Muslim people, and almost everyone
who believes in any kind of god,
Christian faith says God is one.
There is only one God;
there is only one source of life and love and hope;
there is only one mind and heart behind creation.
The universe is not a battleground
between squabbling divinities
trying to overthrow or outdo each other -
God is one; everything comes from and lives in
the love and grace of God.
But Christians say that one God
has been and is revealed to us
as Father - or Creator, or Maker,
as Son - in Jesus, the Jewish man
who lived and died and rose again
in Palestine 2000 years ago,
and as Holy Spirit –
who inspired the Bible’s writers,
and spoke through the prophets,
who amplifies our prayers
and activates our conscience
and helps us live and love and work together.
One God – revealed in and through 3 persons -
Father, Son, and Spirit.
That’s the God we worship.
That’s the God we pray to,
and sing for, and learn from -
and already we know
the names and words we use
in our hymns and prayers and sermons
are insufficient, incomplete,
even quite misleading.
 
So Trinity Sunday reminds us
not to be proud or arrogant or certain
about the way we write or speak or sing about God;
God will always be much bigger,
much more subtle, much more wonderful
than any name or word or picture can ever show.
But that doesn’t mean
we shouldn’t use our names and words
to speak to God
or to speak about God to each other.
 
Over the centuries since the Bible was written
there have been some beautiful words
used to talk about God.
Saint Augustine, who was an African Bishop
and one of the greatest Christian theologians
talked about God
as “Lover, Beloved, and Love” -
the source, the object and the power of love.
Others have used symbols or images
to describe the nature of God
so some talk about God as like white light
that only reveals things truly
when red and blue and yellow come together.
Some would like to use other names
for the different persons of God -
like Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer -
partly because using the traditional words
“Father, Son and Spirit”, all the time
can make God sound very male,
when God includes and transcends all genders –
and partly because using one set of names
might give the impression
that there’s no other way
to pray or to sing or to think about God.
 
But today I’d like to introduce you
to two other ways of imaging God -
and both of them have something to do with music.
 
CS Lewis,
who wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
and the other Narnia books for children
also wrote many adult books on the Christian life.
In one that’s called Mere Christianity
he wrote this:
“In Christianity, God is not a static thing ...
but a dynamic, pulsing activity,
a life - almost a kind of drama.
Almost, if you will not think me irreverent,
a kind of dance.” (p136)
That idea of God as a dance
wasn’t new to CS Lewis though -
right back in the third century,
when Christians were having the conversations
where Trinity was first used
as a word for God,
there was another word they also used -
one you can forget
almost as soon as I say it -
perichoresis - which means ‘going around’,
or ‘circling’, or ‘dance’.
Their idea was that God is a three-person dance,
each one embracing and responding to the others,
bowing and turning, lifting and moving,
always connected, always together,
but also persons in their own right.
The word ‘Trinity’ can sound very formal -
fixed and arithmetic -
but ‘dance’ is something different;
it’s an expression of love, and life,
of joy and delight,
and also sometimes of sadness and of grief -
and it reminds us that whoever God is,
and whatever God does,
every person of God is involved and active.
 
When we think of God as perichoresis, or dance,
we remember that what’s most important to God
isn’t individual rank or rule or status,
God’s deepest truth is always found
in relationship, in networks and community.
No one person can ever represent or comprehend
the deepest truth of God -
it always needs a partnership, a family - a choir.
 
Which neatly leads to our second image for God.
There are many anthropologists who now believe
that even before we humans could speak
and communicate with words,
we were probably expressing ourselves in song,

http://www.infres.enst.fr/confs/evolang/actes/_actes65.html

and it isn’t a co-incidence
that every religious movement we can think of
relies on music to lift us up
in worship and in prayer.
Music, by the way, is full of trinities.
We use 3 notes to build a basic harmony -
the first, the third and the fifth.
We use 3 chords to support a tune -
the tonic, the dominant, and the sub-dominant.
Even single notes that are sung
or played on instruments by themselves
generate harmonics - other notes -
they play a kind of chord in that single note -
and we hear the note as full and rich and pleasant.
 
Music made by one voice,
or by a solo instrument,
can be powerful, haunting and beautiful,
but usually it’s because that one voice
reminds us of others, or hints at a harmony,
that we find the music lovely.
Music approaches perfection
when we make it together -
when we listen to each other,
and blend with each other,
when we give one part a melody
and support it with the rest.
 
The book of Revelation in the Bible suggests
that when we come to Paradise
we’ll be spending lots of time in choirs and singing -
so what we do together each Sunday
is surely a foretaste of heaven -
and there have been many teachers and preachers –
and even an organist or two -
who think that the closest we come to God
is when we’re making music.
Music not only comforts and inspires us,
it also teaches us
the disciplines we need to live by.
We learn from music
that there’s a rhythm to life -
there’s a heartbeat that holds us together.
We learn from music
that things go up and down,
sometimes loud, sometimes soft is needed,
and we need to respect the pauses.
We learn from music
that good doesn’t always mean sweet,
and that sometimes discord is needed
on the way to joyful resolution.
And most of all music teaches us
that we need to balance our contribution
to what others are bringing.
Just like God in Trinity,
we need both to listen and to sing
as our lives and the life of the world
achieve God’s harmony.
 
So next time we sing hymn 569 (probably next week)
please feel free to sing
whatever word for God you choose -
but let’s not make our choice a competition,
and as we sing, and whatever we sing,
let’s also hear, respectfully and clearly,
the words that others choose,
and give thanks
that somewhere between and within us all,
there’ll be a song and a prayer
that God delights in hearing.  Amen.