I’ve been thinking about names.

I was baptised “Margaret Mary”. As I grew up, my sisters called me Margie. Our housekeeper, who was Malay, called me “Get”, because they shorten names to the last syllable, so “Marget” became “Get”. Then when I was 9 years old, I read Louisa M Alcott’s Little Women, which is about a family of four girls, the oldest of whom, Margaret, is called Meg. So I insisted that I be called Meg, and I wasn’t going to talk to the family unless they called me Meg. It was the name I chose for myself. These days, people assume that Meg is short for Megan, and some people try to call me Megan, which is just not right.

Margaret means pearl – it comes from the Greek. It is the word that Jesus uses in the story about the pearl of great price, and I love that connection.

And it’s the same for you – different people know you by different names. The names carry different associations for you and those who know you. And your name has meaning, sometimes several meanings.

Names matter. It’s how people know you. Your name says something about you. It’s part of who you are. Have you noticed how you love some names because you once knew someone with that name and they meant a lot to you? And the opposite also applies – you hate some names because someone with that name was horrible to you as a child?

Today is Trinity Sunday, which is our annual challenge to think about who God is to us. Traditionally, we know God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Are these names for God? Or are they a way of trying to use our human words to understand something about God? Words can help us, but they don’t always get to the truth of who God is, because our human words are so inadequate.

What does it mean to you when we talk about God as Father? It may depend, to some extent, on how you experienced your own human father and how you related to him. If you had a good, loving father, then it’s easy to relate to God as a good, loving father. But what if your father was absent or cruel or abusive? When we talk about God as Father, he is the best kind of father, even when human fathers don’t make the grade, the kind of father we want and long for, even when we don’t experience it. For some people, it is more appropriate to think of God as a loving parent or a Mother. Jesus himself calls his Father “Abba”, which is like saying “Dad”, and he invited us to call God “Abba” when he taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer.

God the Son is easier for us because we have all those stories about Jesus in the Gospels. They are very vivid in showing us what Jesus is like as a man, and what he was like as Christ, the Son of God, part of who God is. And over the next few weeks, we will be listening to and exploring the stories about Jesus in the Gospel according to Mark: Jesus who was compassionate and cared about people, healing them, teaching them about the kingdom of God, opening their eyes to see the glory of God, and then dying for them on the cross and rising again. Every story shows us something about what God is like as Son and Saviour.

God the Holy Spirit is more mysterious. The Spirit is like fire. The Spirit is like wind and breath. The Spirit is inspiration and love. The Spirit is conscience and insight, guidance and inner prompting. The Spirit is dangerous. We can’t control it. The Spirit gives us great gifts, and then demands that we use them in God’s service. Some people have a very vivid experience of the Holy Spirit filling them with power and love and energy. For others, the Spirit is remote and unreal.

People have tried to explore what God is like using other names, other words, in prayers and poems. For example, this prayer by Jim Cotter uses many different ways of understanding God, all in sets of three:

Great praise and everlasting glory be to God,

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier,

Lover, Beloved, and the Love between,

Giver of life, Bearer of pain, Maker of love,

Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. [1]

All of these ways of talking about God can help us think about God in different ways. Every word gives us another picture of God, which adds to the Person that we know in God:

  • God who creates and goes on creating; Christ who redeems us by dying on the cross; The Sanctifier who breathes through us and helps to make us holy.
  • God who loves us like a passionate lover; Jesus the beloved son; The Spirit who is like the love between the Lover and the Beloved.
  • God who gives us life; Jesus who bore our pain on the cross; the Spirit who is love and makes love happen.

The alternative names for the Trinity are good and helpful. They enable us to explore who God is a little deeper. I have included this part of the prayer on the notice sheet so that you can look at it during the week and use it to help you think about who God is for you.

As I’ve hinted, people often relate more closely to one person of the Trinity than to others. For some people, the best picture of God is loving Father, Creator, Giver of Life. For others, it is the person of Jesus, God come among us in human form, doing amazing things and then dying and rising. And some people are blown away by the Holy Spirit. But all three persons are God. There is one God. And who God is to you matters, because it shapes all your beliefs and worship and behaviour. Ask yourselves this week – who is God for you?

[1] Jim Cotter, Prayer in the Morning, p370