Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come!


God is Love
May 31, 2015, 4:37 pm
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A sermon for Trinity Sunday, 31st May 2015, at All Hallows, Easton

How are we to think about the Trinity? When I have told friends and colleagues that I am preaching on Trinity Sunday, they tend to look sympathetic and say, “Poor you!” But I don’t feel “Poor me” at all, I think this is a lovely topic to preach on, because it goes to the very heart of our faith. It goes to the heart in more ways than one, because I believe the best place to start our thoughts about God is with the very well-known text, from St John, “God is love.” He adds, “and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” So let’s begin by thinking what we can possibly mean by “God is love.”

What is our human experience of love? Hopefully, the first experience anyone has, or at least ought to have, is of their mother’s love, feeding them, and keeping them warm and safe. It is a love the child experiences and takes for granted long before it can reflect on it. It comes naturally to such a child to respond in the same way, to return love. Hopefully, love for Daddy is not too far behind, but mother-love begins even in the womb. The love of a mother for her child, ideally, is marked by generosity and selflessness. Those of you who remember the Harry Potter books know that Harry’s mother gave her life to save his, and her love has protected him ever since.

What does this have to do with God, with the Holy Trinity? Well, you can’t have love without persons. Love is something one person gives to another. If God IS love, of his very nature, then God must somehow be a person who loves, a person who is loved (and loves in return), as well as being the actual love which joins them. It is fundamental to Christianity, as it is to Judaism and Islam, that there is only one God. Jews are supposed to recite every day, morning and evening, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is one LORD.” They add, “and you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Similarly, the Muslim muezzin, calling the faithful to prayer, reminds them that “There is no god but God,” who is Compassionate and Merciful. We say each Sunday “We believe in one God.” Yet we say also that this one God holds within himself the distinction between Lover, Beloved and Love. He does not have to create the world, and human beings, in order to have someone or something to love.

It is because God himself is love, with all that that implies, that the first and greatest commandment is that we should love him, with all our heart and mind and strength. It is because he is compassionate and merciful that we, who are made in his image, should be compassionate and merciful ourselves. “Beloved,” says St John, “if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” At the last Supper, our Lord said to his chosen disciples, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you… You are my friends if you do what I command you.” This is clear enough: our friendship with Jesus is linked to our love for one another, and our love for one another must be modelled on Christ’s love for us. Friendship is simply love.

Christians have wasted a lot of time and energy arguing about “three” and “one” (and, sadly, fighting about it), when they should have been obeying the commandment to love one another. We are commanded by our Lord to love even those who do not love us. We should desire their true welfare and happiness, even if they do not desire ours, or even if they desire our harm. But friendship is reciprocal, friends love one another.

One can say of true friendship what St Paul says of love: it is patient and kind, not jealous or boastful. It does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It never ends.

Friends seek each other’s welfare and happiness, rather than their own. Friends are happy in each other’s company. Whatever they are doing, whether walking in the park, listening to music, washing up the dishes, saying their prayers, just sitting silently- what makes the difference is that they are doing it together: and for Christians, that they are doing these things within the all-embracing love of God, of Christ, our First Friend.

The doctrine of the Trinity is about how God himself is Love, Lover and Beloved in a single being. Our calling is to imitate that generosity in our human communities, families, churches, villages, towns or cities, nations. “Where two or three are gathered in my name,” says our Lord, “I am in their midst.” Where the Lord is, there is his Spirit, the Love that binds Father and Son together, and binds each one of us to each other one.

The Father is the God who loves, the Origin of love; and the Son is God as Beloved. But let’s stop there a moment. Another way of speaking of the Son is as the Image of God, his Reflection. (Don’t ask, “What in?” This is just my way of trying to explain how one God can somehow be two. When we look at our own reflections, we know that it is ourselves that we are seeing, although someone else looking at both us and the reflection might imagine two beings.) This Image of God is the Pattern from which God can make everything else: every thing in the universe reflects God in some way or other- especially human beings, made in the image and likeness of God.

It is really impossible for us to imagine God as he really is: immortal, invisible, whom no eye has seen, no ear heard, and so on. And because we cannot imagine God, it is difficult for us to love him as we should. God has solved this problem by sending his Image, his “Son”, into the world in our likeness. In Jesus, we see the true Image of God, which is actually God himself. We love God in Jesus. Jesus has told us, “the Father and I are One; whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” So Jesus is indeed the Mediator, the One in the middle. We love the Father in Jesus; AND THE FATHER LOVES US IN JESUS. We regularly say “We are the Body of Christ.” We are each of us, baptised into Christ, further images of Christ and so of God. As we unite ourselves in love to Jesus, so we become the objects of the Father’s love. Wonderful!

And of course, the Holy Spirit is God’s Love itself, his life-breath, uniting Father and Son, and uniting us with Father and Son, and with one another! “Beloved,” says St John, “Let us love one another, for love is of God.” When we truly love one another, for no selfish reason but simply because we see the Image of God in one another (sadly defaced though it may sometimes be), we are sharing in the life of the Holy Trinity. If we act always in the same Spirit that Jesus acts in, we are experiencing the Holy Spirit in our lives.

We are all brothers and sisters of Jesus, by God’s grace (another word for the Holy Spirit) and so brothers and sisters of one another. I will let you draw your own conclusions!

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