Holy Father, keep them in your Name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17:11)
I speak to you in the Name of the living God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Friends, you don’t need me to tell you that this time of pandemic has been challenging and difficult – and recent events south of the border and the protests ignited around the world have made it only more so. We are currently faced with many kinds of adversities*:
We’re all experiencing these various adversities in our own ways and to varying degrees, but there are commonalities in our circumstances. For one, as a church community, we’re living through the adversity of being unable to gather together for worship and for our beloved Norm Taylor’s funeral this Friday.
The word ‘adversity,’ by the way, literally means ‘turn towards.’ All these challenges and fears have turned towards us, they’re against us, pressuring us, as individuals, as families, as a church family, and as the human family.
But I must say that, for me at least, these past three months have not been altogether bad – in fact, there’ve been any number of blessings.
One of the wonderful blessings that I’ve enjoyed has been my time at home with my family - spending more time with the girls during their precious childhood years, being able to strengthen my relationships with each one of them, watching them develop as unique personalities, seeing them learn and grow every day.
Amy and the girls baked banana bread this week; and the girls were excited to help and learn by mixing the ingredients together in the bowl. It was a delight to behold.
But it almost didn’t happen because I think we got the last box of baking powder at the grocery store (We stocked up on flour a long time ago). As I’m sure you know, bread baking is all the rage now. I’ve been meaning to poll the congregation to see how many of you have been baking more - or perhaps you’ve taken up this old practice for the first time.
Despite the adversities, I love that social distancing and self-isolation have prompted people to get back to some traditional practices – baking bread is one, gardening is another (have you seen the traffic at Glen Echo lately?). And as I said last Sunday, I hope music and singing will be added to this list of rediscoveries.
Being with family, baking bread, cooking food, gardening, painting, singing and making music, story-telling or writing - fill-in-the-blank with your own favourite creative activity.
What do these have in common? I said they’re traditional, by which I mean, they’re basic and universal to human life.
But more than that, they are all ways of expressing yourself. They’re all ways of relating to something or someone in a unique way. And they all involve you making something – and whatever you make, whether it’s a relationship or food or music or what have you – you leave your own personal mark on it. It’s an expression of you – your character, your skill, your labour of love. Only your bread tastes like your bread. Only your voice sounds like your voice. Only your garden looks like your garden.
And if you make a thing like food or flowers or music and you share it with others, you bless them, you enhance your relationship, you give of yourself to serve them out of love.
Why do I mention all of this on Trinity Sunday of all occasions? Does this have anything to do with the most mystifying of all Christian doctrines? Yes. Much in every way.
Because, you see, when the true and living God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – created the world – and especially when God created human beings – God also left His mark on us. You and I - and human beings of every colour - are God’s special creation. We are the expression of God’s own self.
The Bible tells us that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:27). This means that something of God’s life is reflected in our lives; and so our purpose in life must then be to show it, to bear His image, to let it shine so others can see it. But what is it?
The Bible also says that God is love (1 John 4:16). Not just that God is loving, or performs acts of love, but that God is love. That can only mean that there is a loving relationship between persons at the very heart of God’s life. And so there is: God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ, love one another and the Holy Spirit is the love between them.
There’s more that needs to be said about the Spirit – to say that the Spirit is love might seem to imply that the Spirit is something like an energy or a force, when in fact the Spirit is a distinct person co-eternal and co-equal with the Father and the Son. But to say that the Holy Spirit is God’s love is very true and a good start.
Last Sunday at Pentecost we celebrated that God the Father has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts (Galatians 4:6), that God's love has been shed abroad and poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us (Romans 5:5). In other words, God the Holy Trinity has opened Himself to us and drawn us into the dynamic loving relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
This is made possible because God the Son, Jesus Christ, became one of us, a human being in relation to us and all people. He gave His life out of love for the world – an earthly life that began with His birth and which culminated in His death, resurrection and ascension to the right hand of the Father.
In our Gospel reading today (John 17:1-11), we listen in on the loving conversation between God the Father and God the Son. Jesus asks the Father to glorify Him, by which He means their reunion in heaven after His death, resurrection and ascension. And this glorification goes both ways: Jesus says, Father, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you. Jesus in turn glorifies the Father by giving eternal life to us. And this eternal life is to know the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.
Eternal life is the ultimate loving relationship that can never be broken, the love that is stronger than Death. And we are brought into this eternal life because God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts. We have been brought into the life and love of the Trinity. And this is the source of all true love for us in our relationships.
In the world and in our lives, everything is what it is in relation to everything else. Human life is fundamentally relational. That is why, for example, prisoners in solitary confinement go crazy and start to doubt their own existence. That is why children who are neglected in their formative years struggle greatly to adjust to the world and adult life. They are deprived of loving relationships – and that is destructive because as persons we are created and designed to live in loving relation with other persons. That’s how we are made; and we are made that way because we are made by God the Holy Trinity, three related persons in one God. So we can see the unique stamp, signature, and trace of the Trinity in human life.
By the way, when I speak of love and loving relationships, we must be clear that love is not primarily a feeling or an emotion. Rather, to love is to will the good of another person. To love another person means to desire what is good for them and to give of yourself to bring it about. Baking bread for them, singing for them, praying for them – these and other everyday things might seem small and meagre, but with God there is no such thing as a small act. Be sure that God will bless and multiply your acts of love.
Of course, the social distancing and isolation measures of this pandemic have affected our relationships and how we can go about loving others. On the one hand, we are separated from many of our loved ones. We cannot visit them in person. Thank God for Facetime video calls and the GoToMeeting software we’re using right now, but we all know that such technology cannot replace real, in-person contact. So that’s a real adversity we’re facing in our relationships.
On the other hand, it would seem we’re being called at this time to focus on loving just the person right beside you – your spouse or your child. Or if you live alone, your neighbour. You may be separated from some of your loved ones, so then love the person who dwells beside you, with you.
Separation and indwelling – basic experiences of human life, all the more so now. And this goes to the very heart of the Trinity: The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate and distinct persons, yet they dwell with and in each other. When Jesus died on the Cross and gave up His Spirit, He was alone, forsaken, isolated and separated from the Father. But the love of God is stronger than Death; and in His resurrection and ascension, Jesus is reunited with the Father – a reunion so glorious and abundant that it spills over to us by their Spirit.
So friends, in conclusion, my practical take-home suggestion for you on this Trinity Sunday is simply to live in love. As I hope we’ve seen today, love is the inner truth of all things. So walk in love as God also loves us and gave Himself up for us (Ephesians 5:2). Give of yourself to bless and benefit another person.
And there are as many potential acts of love as there are creative human endeavours. I mentioned baking bread and other things – but find something you love to do and are passionate about, something that expresses your unique personality, and channel that to another person for their good. Spend some time thinking about what you might do this afternoon and start doing it within the next 24-48 hours.
Many people have lamented being ‘stuck at home’ during this pandemic – and I don’t want to minimize for a second the challenge of living in close proximity to others without much of a break for yourself. So yes, certainly, try to take those breaks for yourself when you can to pursue your own endeavours – that will make you more available and loving to those who dwell with you. But friends, I would also encourage you – and this is a message for myself as much as for you – try not to receive that other person who dwells with you as an intruder into your space, but rather as an opportunity to imprint yourself and your love on them.
Self-giving love. Friends, if we’re going to live in accordance with the heart of all things, we need to be available and open to others - and be willing to enter when others open to us. That’s how you can live within the eternal life of the Trinity. That’s how you can glorify God. That’s how you can be defended against the many adversities we’re currently facing.
Friends, I hope we’ve begun to see today that far from being an abstract and irrelevant old Church doctrine, the Holy Trinity is in fact the central and indispensable mystery of our faith - the very reality in whom we live, move and have our being, the source and goal of all true love.
And now to the true and living God of love, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be all glory, honor and worship, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Almighty and everlasting God, you have given us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity: keep us steadfast in this faith, that we may evermore be defended from all adversities*; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Holy Father, keep them in your Name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17:11)
Peter J. Leithart, Traces of the Trinity: Signs of God in Creation and Human Experience (Brazos, 2015).