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John Davies – Notes From a Small Vicar

Trinity Sunday: Things Come in Threes

2 Corinthians 13.11-13Matthew 28.16-20

Queen Camel, Corton Denham, West Camel, Weston Bampfylde, 

Trinity Sunday, 15 June 2014

A joker once said this: “There are three types of people in the world. Those who can count, and those who can’t.” …

Have you noticed how often

Things come in threes?

Things come in threes in religion:

  • the Father the Son and the Spirit,
  • the amount of times the cock crowed,
  • Shadrach, Mesach and Abednigo.

Things come in threes when you’re shopping:

  • Small, medium and large
  • Buy two get one free
  • Three good meals a day

Things come in threes in your life story:

  • past
  • present and
  • future

Things come in threes on your calendar:

  • yesterday
  • today and
  • tomorrow

Things come in threes at school:

where you learn your A B C ‘s

Things come in threes when you’re celebrating:

Hip hip hooray!, hip hip hooray!, hip hip hooray!

 Blondes, Brunettes and Redheads could tell you,

The Three Musketeers would let you know,

Every Tom, Dick and Harry express this:

Things come in threes.

Mark Twain once made up a saying about the three key things in life:

  • ‘Work like you don’t need the money.
  • Dance like no one is watching.
  • And love like you’ve never been hurt’, he said.

There’s this quote from Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”

 And Fred Flintstone says things in threes: “Yabba, dabba, do!”

 Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again: our faith says that

Things come in threes.

 ‘Who is the third who always walks beside you?’

asked the poet TS Eliot, thinking about the men on the Emmaus Road.

 And ‘Ho ho ho!’ says Santa, expressing the jollity of Christmas.

Up, down, and sideways,

with a hop, a skip and a jump,

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera:

 Things come in threes.

 When you’ve been waiting for ages for a bus:

you know that three will come along all together.

 When someone starts telling you a joke in a pub:

you know it’ll have an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman in it.

 If someone tells you they never go to church, they probably will, three times:

for a baptism, a marriage and a funeral.

 A man I once visited told me about the last days of his old mum’s life. This lady, in her younger days, had loved playing darts in the pub team while her husband was over on the snooker table. Her son told me that the very last thing she did before she slipped away into unconsciousness was this: she took a piece of tissue paper and rolled it up between her fingers, and then she threw it like this (dart-throw motion). Then she did the same thing again. And again, a third time. Her son told me what he thought she was doing: she was going through the motions of playing darts again, remembering the best times she had had in her life.

Saint Thomas Aquinas said,

 “Three things are necessary for the salvation of man:

to know what he ought to believe;

to know what he ought to desire;

and to know what he ought to do”.

 “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die”, many people say, just slightly misquoting scripture.

And we all know what the three wise monkeys say: “I see no evil, I speak no evil, I hear no evil”.

 There’s The Andrews Sisters;

There’s ITV, Sky and the BBC;

There’s the Three Bears who met with Goldilocks:

 Things come in threes.

 There’s the triple jump,

There’s the stumps on a cricket wicket,

There’s the lines on a bingo card:

Things come in threes.

 Notice how poor England face three in Football’s World Cup: Italy, Uruguay, and Costa Rica.

 And God comes in threes, as we well know by now. And today on Trinity Sunday we celebrate the way that our lives are blessed by the Father, our creator, the Son, our Saviour, and the Spirit, who is with us now connecting us to God.

 Jesus taught his disciples three things they should do to spread the good news to others:

 Go and make disciples of all nations,

Baptise them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

and teach them to obey everything that he commanded.

 And Saint Paul taught the Corinthian believers three things they should do to live the right way together:

Put things in order,

agree with one another,

live in peace;

and the God of love and peace will be with you.

 Now Trinity Sunday is day which some preachers worry about, because they find it hard to know how to describe the Trinity. They think it’s something that other people will never understand. A complex doctrine beyond the theologically untrained. If I ever get that arrogant or ignorant, fire me.

Because God has ordained that

Things come in threes.

And most of the time that helps us, comforts us, pleases us. We get it. We understand what that’s about.

Now I have to admit, I’ve preached this sermon a few times before. But it changes after every time. Last time I  did it, people came up to me afterwards and said I could have mentioned the Three Wise Men, or Three Blind Mice; and one man told me that he had realised for the first time ever, that behind the altar in his church, there are three windows, each a with picture illustrating one person of the Trinity – Father, Son and Spirit.

And best of all in a tiny Dartmoor chapel, a sage old joiner and funeral director George Heathman smiled wryly throughout my talk and later told me nonchalantly that just a week before he’d had a triple heart bypass operation…

There are signs of the Trinity everywhere in our lives, in the world, if we are tuned in to seeing them.

If we understand threes then we understand God.

If we understand God then we understand threes.

 I think we all do, actually. I think we are wired to understand that when we and another person are in a room, there is God with us too.

I think that when a Scotsman raises a toast to us using these words –

Never above you

Never below you

always beside you

 – we intuitively get what he means.

 I certainly think we understand the Trinity in the words of The Grace, and if you agree than you might join in with me in saying them:

 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, 

the love of God, 

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit 

– be with us all, evermore. Amen


[1] Thanks for help and inspiration to The Book of Threes.

[2] I’ve previously preached versions of this in Liverpool and West Devon. See blog here for links.

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