A sermon based on Psalm 8 and 1 John 4:7-21 preached on May 22nd, 2016
Today we celebrate a God, and a doctrine about God, that we can barely comprehend, but yet confess with with our whole being. It’s Trinity Sunday. We can ask many questions about the Trinity, but most of them come down to a problem with numbers. How is God both 1 and 3? The question could be asked skeptically or wondrously. I’ve certainly asked it both ways myself.
There was a scientist who asked that question of a theologian friend of his, and instead of coming back with an answer or an explanation full of 5-syllable words, the theologian answered with another quandary:
Explain black holes for me.
he said. His scientist friend replied,
I can’t really. Nobody quite understands what they are.
The theologian asked a follow-up question,
But even though you don’t understand them, you do believe they’re real, do you not?
His scientist friend understood the point. There are some mysteries out there that are too amazing for us to comprehend—big things and small things—and we are left only to step back from our telescopes or microscopes, stop trying to make sense of what or why they are, and simply stand astonished.
This is what we do on most Sundays. Astonishment is the heart of worship. But on this Trinity Sunday, rather than hurting our brains with thoughts too big for us, bending over backwards, trying to comprehend the incomprehensible Triune God, it is best and wise to simply stand back and say, God is one, but somehow also three, and let that carry us away into wonder and wow.
Today, we revel in the ancient and mysterious Christian confession that God is both one and three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But let’s not stop there. We are also asked to take part in what our Triune God is still doing among His people. We are challenged this day to be the visible presence of our invisible God—to take this God who exists in Three Persons—all of them bound together in community with one another by love and mutual purpose, and find in the relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the way we can also be the beloved community in and for our world. And that may be the toughest part of all. In a world that, rightly or wrongly, sees the Church as those who define their faith by what they are opposed to, who only speak of their faith through messages of intolerance, judgment, hatred, fear, and narrow-mindedness, our task as the people of Jesus, is to tell another story, the story of God’s love and God’s dream of having all of his people bound to one another in beloved community.
We live in culture dominated by fear. Everyone with a microphone, including many preachers and politicians, love to intimidate us by telling us what or who we should fear next. Many do so in the name of their Christian faith. Our entire culture is steeped in warnings about the next threat coming our way.
In my time as a hospital chaplain back in 2006, I would make visits to the Psych Ward. Thankfully, they weren’t that frequent. I had no idea how to give care to people who were so carried away by fear. Mental wards are full of terrified people. Fear undo’s us. The more we fear, the more we unravel, and the less of ourselves we become. Fear distorts our humanity. It distorts the Imago Dei, the image of God inside of us. It could be that the image of God inside of us is our humanity. Fear makes us sick. The more we fear, the farther away we get from the Imago Dei given to us at our birth, the further we get from living out God’s purpose for life, the sicker we get. Our current culture is acutely sick from fear.
There’s a story of a 3-year-old boy who gets a Jack-in-the-box for his birthday. He was tickled to find that when he turned the metal crank on the side of the box, music began to play. So, he turned the crank over and over, and to his dismay, at the end of such a delightful song, he got the surprise of his very short life: a clown came violently popping out of the top. The boy began crying, and had to be held by his mother for a time.
After he calmed down, the boy reached for the Jack-in-the-box again. Maybe he could hear the song without the scary clown popping out of the top. Or maybe, at least this time, it wouldn’t catch him completely by surprise. But at the end of the song, the clown jumped out of the box just as urgently as it did the first time, and more tears flowed. After the second bout of tears, the boy did something unexpected. He leaned down and looked into the face of the clown bobbing back and forth in that box, and he kissed it on its face. And from that moment on, the Jack-in-the-box never scared the little boy again.
See, when we take the chance to confront what we’re most afraid of, what or who we do not understand, and give it our attention, understanding, and love, when we look at it in the eyes, our fear begins to dissolve. God wants us to love until there’s nothing left to be afraid of!
Perfect love drives out fear.
Only God loves perfectly. We can try to love perfectly, but human love has limits and failures. We who follow Jesus can only work to perfect our love for God and for one another. After Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, just hours before He would be arrested and crucified, He left His disciples with only one commandment, the greatest of all commandments:
Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you must love each other.” He said. This is how everyone will know you are my disciples, when you love each other.
Christian perfection isn’t achieved through having a high moral character, it isn’t accomplished through knowing your bible backwards and forwards, it isn’t attained through praying all the right prayers or knowing all the right things to say in a Sunday School class or a Bible Study. Christian perfection is attained through loving others—no matter who they are or how different they may be from us; we are called to love. And the reason we show love to others isn’t because they’re nice, or because they deserve it. It isn’t because they’re like us, or for any other selfish reason like that. The reason we show love to others, even to those who are unlovable, is because God through Jesus Christ loved us when we were unlovable. The only litmus test of our faith is our ability to love others.
And the sort of love that Jesus commands us to give isn’t a feeling, it’s not an emotion. It’s a dare. The boy with the Jack-in-the-box kissed the face of the very thing that scared him because when it comes down to it, love is first and foremost an act of courage. Perhaps the greatest act of courage—the one that changed the course of history—was when God took the chance to take on flesh and become one of us in the person of Jesus Christ.
Think of that! The God of the cosmos, the One who created it all, who stands outside of space and time, lowered Himself and became a part of Creation, coming to us with skin on. The Creator God subjected Himself to the same limitations we live with as the created. Jesus is perfect love who came down in the form of an infant. God needed a mother to care for Him. God grew up with body that could fail Him (and one day would). What wondrous love is this!
And on Pentecost, the risen Jesus breathes upon His lost and lonely disciples and empowers them with Holy Spirit, and forever more She promises to be present with, and breathe life into, everyone who calls on the name of Jesus. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; these three are one. Perfect and whole.
Love in its perfect form may only exist within God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but we have been invited to mirror that love. We have been challenged, even commanded, to reflect the love that exists perfectly within the Triune God. We are asked to show it forth so that others might see. We will never comprehend the bond of love between the 3 persons of the Trinity, nor never we ever live up to such a wondrous love, but we can choose to reflect it. Our task is to be mirrors.
The opposite of love isn’t hate. It’s fear. Perhaps the most counter-cultural thing that the Church can do is oppose the monster of fear than has pervaded and paralyzed our culture. We are all somewhat predisposed to fear. We have been taught to distrust whatever and whoever is unlike us in any way—to dismiss whatever is different from us as evil or less than, to call whoever is different from us the “other.” But in God’s sight, there is no less than, no “other,” for there is no one who is unknown to, or unloved by, God. God’s grace reaches much farther than our willingness to include. Thanks be to God for that! But, God’s grace does teach us to overcome our culture’s predisposition toward fear by practicing love—to stand in the way of fear whenever we see it arise, to confront fear whenever its claws hold us back from being agents of God’s love and grace. And by God’s love and grace, we are challenged to recognize God’s face in the face of those who look, and love, and belief, and live differently than we do. For, it is only by loving that we will show others that being Christian isn’t synonymous with timidity and fear. And if we take that dare, if we lean over to kiss the face of the Jack-in-the-box, then fear doesn’t stand a chance! And maybe the world will start paying attention to the reason why we’ve taken that chance.
Maybe through our loving action, we can turn the Church into a community of bold lovers, people who are willing to risk their cultural reputations in pursuit of a greater reward! Then, maybe, we can be windows through which others can see that God’s true character is love—a daring and courageous love!
We are mirrors. We are windows. So, what do others see in us? In you and me? When we’re out and about, what’s the message we send? Is it love or is it fear? See, whether we like it or not, we are witnesses of the Gospel. That is to say, the world is watching intently. What will we choose? The worldly way of fear? Or the Gospel way of love?God wants us to love until there’s nothing left to be afraid of!
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!