A Jubilee Sermon (on Trinity Sunday)
An alternative Trinity Sermon here
“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.”
So said Princess Elizabeth to the whole British Empire on her 21st birthday. The year was 1947. And as we look back on her 60 years as Queen, who can deny that her long reign has been devoted to “service.”
What an incredible marker for a monarch! Not power, or wealth, or prestige, but “service.”
The Queen is not simply Head of State, Head of the Commonwealth, the Fount of Justice, Head of the Armed Forces, the Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England. She is also patron of over 600 organisations and charities.
And, routinely, Queen Elizabeth II is referred to as this country’s greatest public servant. A sovereign who serves. What’s her motivation?
She has told us. In her Christmas message of 2000 she said this:
For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.
The Queen is following the example of Christ: the ultimate Sovereign who serves. And this evening I just want to think about that remarkable combination of sovereignty and service. Because there’s a reason we respond so positively to Sovereign Service. When our Rulers are servants they show us something very profound.
Today is not only the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations. In the Church Calendar it’s also Trinity Sunday. Today, ministers all over the world attempt to put words to the truth that our one God is Three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Trinity is the truth that God is a unity of three – a tri-unity – a Trinity.
But perhaps you’re thinking, what on earth does the doctrine of the Trinity have to do with our Jubilee Celebrations? Actually Trinity Sunday and the Queen’s Jubilee truly belong together. Because with both we are dealing with that wonderful combination of sovereignty and service. Let me explain...
John’s Gospel begins with these famous words:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
If we were in any doubt about who the “Word” is, our song has just told us. Jesus is the Word of God the Father from before the world began.
So John introduces his biography of Jesus by affirming that Jesus did not merely found a religion, He founded the universe. Jesus, “the Word”, existed before the world began, with God His Father and with the Holy Spirit. So John gives us a picture of “the beginning” that is unlike any the world has imagined.
The world’s creation myths are full of conflict, killing and chaos. They speak of wars in heaven, or cosmic storms. Powers collide and the universe is the debris. But John casts a very different vision. In the beginning, there was love.
That’s the doctrine of the Trinity in a nutshell: “In the beginning there was love.” Because in the beginning there was the loving relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Before there were people or planets or protons, there was love. Love is the one thing God didn’t need to create because God is love. The Father has always loved His eternal Son in the joy of the Holy Spirit.
And so at this Jubilee Celebration we remember that the Sovereign of Sovereigns is not a heavenly Tyrant – a distant individual, ruling in splendid isolation. Before there was anything to rule, the Father, Son and Spirit related. Their life is a life of caring, sharing, give and take, back and forth. Before God's life was a life of sovereignty over the creation, God’s life was a life of service among the Persons. The Father pours His love and life into the Son in the power of the Spirit. The Son offers up His love and life in the power of the Spirit. The very essence of our Sovereign IS service. God’s life is a life of mutual self-giving.
We have a saying don’t we: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Well apparently not. Apparently the absolute power in this world is not a corrupt Dictator, but a loving Family in which service is supreme. Do you start to see why Trinity Sunday and the Jubilee belong together?
Because of Trinity, no wonder we’re so attracted to the Queen’s humble example. The servant-heart of the sovereign is a glimpse of something holy. Because of Trinity: sovereignty and service belong together.
Now imagine if this were not the case. Imagine if God were just a solitary individual. Think of him there “in the beginning”, with no-one and nothing besides him, just his own thoughts for company. Such a god could not be a god of service. There’s no-one and nothing for this god to serve. There’s no caring or sharing. This god would be defined by supremacy, not by love.
But not with Trinity. With Trinity: service IS supreme. With Trinity: self-giving is ultimate reality. With Trinity: God is love.
And this love was too good to keep to themselves. In John 1 verse 3, we see that the God of love wanted to share. John writes:
Through the Word all things were made.
This is where we've come from. From the overflowing life of the Father, through the Word – the Lord Jesus – in the power of the Spirit, the world was born. It was as if the Father, Son and Spirit had said “This thing is too good to keep to ourselves.” And so a world is made, that we might share in their love.
What’s the meaning of life? It seems like such a bold question, but Trinity Sunday has the answer. Trinity Sunday tells you: “God is love and you’re invited.” The meaning of our lives is to be drawn into the love which both predated and produced the universe. The meaning of life is to come home to the ultimate Royal Family.
Some of you, I’m sure have met the Queen. Some of you have been honoured by the Queen. One of her titles is “The Fount of Honours”. For one thing, she writes to those who make it to 100 and to 105. She also congratulates subjects on their diamond wedding anniversaries, as well as 65th and 70th anniversaries. I won’t ask any of you if you’ve been so honoured. But I can only imagine how proud a person must feel to appear on the New Years Honours List or the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
Yet however wonderful that is, there’s something much greater. The Queen can bestow honours on you, she can even make you a Lord or a Baron or a Knight. But she can’t make you her child. She can’t give you her inheritance. She won’t adopt you into her family and take you home to the Palace. That’s not how it works.
But with Jesus, there’s an honour that is out of this world. He can and He does invite us home. This is the meaning of our lives – not simply to be honoured by Jesus but to be adopted by Him INTO His loving Family life.
John chapter 1 verse 10 says this:
10 Christ was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-
The Son of God offers Himself to us. All who receive Him are invited into His life. We receive His Father as our Father and His Spirit as our Spirit. God is love and Jesus invites us INTO the God of love.
Did you think Trinity was a dry, academic doctrine? Did you think it was a tortuous logical problem? Did you think it was something impossible to understand? No. Trinity is the good news that God is love; that the ultimate sovereignty is self-giving service; and that we exist to find our place in their love.
Do you know how it happens? It happens through the meekness of the Monarch.
Famously, John chapter 1 verse 14 says:
The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, we have seen His glory, the glory of the only begotten Son who came from the Father full of grace and truth.
How do we enter into Christ’s life? He entered into ours. The Word became flesh. Our Maker became a man. A member of the Trinity became a member of the human race.
It’s the ultimate riches to rags story. We all know the fairytales of Princes becoming paupers. Well the myth is a reality. The true Monarch did empty Himself. As Philippians chapter 2 says “Christ Jesus made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross!”
We love to hear stories of Royals who climb down off their thrones. Apparently on V-E Day, Elizabeth and Margaret escaped out into the celebrations in London. They wandered around anonymously, enjoying the moment along with the rest of the people. The Queen still likes to get out anonymously – sometimes visiting a West End show with Prince Philip. Only rarely are they spotted.
We like to hear about our Royals moving among us as commoners. But what about the ultimate Royal becoming the ultimate commoner. Incredible!
From heaven to earth, and not just to earth, He became a single cell in Mary’s womb. And then a wriggling baby on the straw. And then a defenceless refugee, on the run from Herod. And then a builder’s labourer. And then a penniless preacher. A homeless dissident. A stooping servant. Yet He descends even further to be a victim of cruelty and injustice. And finally a human sacrifice – dying a godforsaken death on the cross. Never has anyone so Mighty become so meek. Here is our Ultimate Sovereign – the ultimate Servant.
And because this is Trinity Sunday we see the true nature of Christ’s sacrifice. Trinity Sunday tells us: Jesus is not just an example of human service. He is God the Son. He is our Maker. His arms outstretched to the world are God’s arms – and they are opened for you.
What does Majesty look like? When we think Majesty, we think Palaces and Crowns and Thrones. Christ traded His palace for a manger. His crown was made of thorns. His throne was His cross. The Great Prince became a Pauper. More than a Pauper – a Bleeding Sacrifice. And He did it for you.
For almost 2000 years the church has used a simple phrase to describe the Christian message. It just says this: He became what we are, so that we might become what He is.
He – the Son of God – became flesh. He entered into our predicament with all our sufferings and sins. But He didn’t flinch. He entered in and became what we are. Why did He do it? So that we might become what He is – a child of God. The Son of God became human so that we humans can become children of God.
These are the Royal Honours that Jesus wants to bestow. He is the true 'Fount of Honours' and He can bring you in to the ultimate Royal Family.
But His invitation requires a response. It means a reality check for each of us. We must realize that we live in a broken world with broken hearts and broken lives. We need to acknowledge that our lives, naturally, are estranged from God’s Family. That we need the forgiveness which Christ offers through His death. We need Jesus in order to be reconnected to the love of God. Do you recognize that need?
It’s something the Queen articulated so beautifully last Christmas. Her televised message was, surely, the greatest Christmas sermon preached that day. Perhaps you heard it. She spoke of our need for Jesus - our need for forgiveness. She said this:
Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves - from our recklessness or our greed.
God sent into the world a unique person - neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.
Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God's love.
In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, there's a prayer:
O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin
And enter in.
Be born in us today.
It is my prayer that on this [Christmas] day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.
What a preacher our Queen is! Do you have room in your life for the love of God through Christ our Lord? He is offered to you, to forgive all your sins, to reconnect you to the Father, to give you His Spirit, to adopt you into the life and love of God.
The Ultimate Sovereign became the Ultimate Servant for you. Our Queen trusts Him as her Saviour. Do you?
To all who receive Jesus, to those who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)