This morning we celebrate the Trintarian nature of the Christian God and as such it is always a challenge to say something meaningful and sensible in the context of this belief. A Triune God. One God 3 persons is a truth which has been difficult to unpick throughout the centuries by far better brains and far better orators than me.
So I thought what the heck and decided to make life even more complicated by taking on another complicated and difficult subject in the context of an already challenging theme. So this morning I’m thinking about the Trinity and Gender pronouns. So bear with me if I tie myself up in knots a little bit.
On reflection I do believe it is important to talk about these things in church because no matter how difficult we find it we need to engage with wider society as believers and for wider society it is a big topic. This month is being celebrated in various countries including our own as Pride month. A month where gender and sexuality are at the forefront of many people’s conversations and experiences. The use of gender pronouns are a big part of this conversation and if we as Christians are to have a part in the conversation within our society and offer our thoughts and beliefs we need to be open to talking about these things. This year the Church of England published its current thinking around how questions about identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage fit within the bigger picture of the good news of Jesus Christ? All of these things are difficult but important to talk about in an ever changing society and world. If you have children, grandchildren, nieces, neighbours or friends in the early lives and if you want those relationships to flourish you will need to reflect on and talk about these things.
So what could be easier than the Trinity and gender pronouns in one sermon.?
I should say a bit about Gender pronouns because some of you may not know very much about the conversation taking place. It first came upon my radar when I attended a conference about 18 months ago and was asked what gender pronoun I used so it could be written on my name label. I looked blank and said I didn’t know what that meant. And of course it was explained to me that to be respectful people need to be asked whether they identify with the pronoun he, she, or they (or in fact a variation of many other pronouns). The assumption is that you can’t tell another person’s gender just by looking at them. And so when first faced with this question it seemed really confusing. But we must accept that something confusing is not to be rejected out of hand. I imagine when Christians first try and engage people from outside the faith with the idea of the Trinity . one God with 3 persons .. people are confused.
So here is our first lesson for this morning in relation to Trinity and gender pronouns .. just because something is confusing or seems problematic does not mean a Christian or anyone else should dismiss it from their conversation or thoughts. We ask people to engage with some quite difficult and confusing ideas and we must be respectful enough to offer the same engagement to difficult ideas outside our own conversations.
Having begun the journey of engaging with this issue I slowly came to what I think is a rather funny conclusion that God is the first being in history to use the gender pronoun they/them! The idea that God is One and identifies as father Son and Holy Spirit means we can refer to this one God as they/them! That perhaps if we are made in God’s image .. both male and female .. then God’s gender pronoun must be they/them! In fact it might be much more useful in our understanding of the Doctrine of the Trinity which we celebrate this morning to say in passages such as Colossians 1 v 16 and 17 God is them! In our Bibles the passage reads:
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
But for a better appreciation of a Triune God would we no be better reading it:
For in them all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through them and for them . They are before all things, and in them all things hold together.
This gender pronoun is a much better means of teaching a Trinitarian faith.
The point I would want to make is that this … that the discussion of gender pronouns can be a productive as well as a confusing journey for Christians. At its heart there are some themes which will help us think more clearly about what it means for God to be Triune and for both man and woman to be created in God’s image.
So to reiterate our first 2 thoughts on Trinity and gender pronouns.. wrestling with confusing ideas is important for Christians to engage with and gender pronouns might help us explore what the Bible says about god more fully.
One final thought .. which I know leaves lots unsaid in relation to these ideas .. but we can’t stay here all day. A final thought on the fact that the way in which we understand ourselves, our lives, our Bible, our faith is always changing. So if we consider our scripture reading today the Gospel reading uses the pronoun ‘he’ to refer to the Holy Spirit ..the Spirit of God. This use of ‘he’ in the Gospel of John reflects a particular culture and attitude. We know this because in the Old Testament in the Jewish world the Spirit of God was always referred to as ‘she’. In Job and Proverbs and Chronicles and throughout the wisdom tradition of the Old Testament .. the Holy Spirit is ‘she’. This pronoun is changed to ‘he’ in the New Testament which was written in the more dominant Greek culture where female gender was considered to hold a position below male. For something as important as God to have a female pronoun was not considered acceptable in this world it seems.
So we must accept that our engagement with wider culture has an influence on how we view the Triune God who we worship and trust in. And this being the case we are on a journey which always requires us to evaluate and reflect and converse with those around us. I believe that the conversations during Pride month around gender and pronouns should be embraced and not shied away from. I want to encourage you to talk to your children and friends and grandchildren about their experiences because we might find we come to understand our own faith a little better through these conversations.
Finally let us believe and trust that engaging with these conversations in love and listening and kindness will produces the kind of character and hope which St Paul asks the Roman church to aim at in their faith. Indeed he argues that the fruit of the Spirit which inhabits our lives should be love , joy, peace, patience, kindness , goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control. What better way to display these fruits than to engage with things which confuse and stretch us and to do so with grace and love.
May the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit lead us and guide us in our world.