When my grandma got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toe nails anymore. So my grandpa does it for her now all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love. – Rebecca – age 8
Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on shaving cologne and they go out and smell each other. – Kari – age 5
Love is when you tell a guy you like his shirt, then he wears it every day. – Noelle – age 7
Love is… I remember when my grandparents were older. My granny was wearing a shirt and a yellow sweater over it. She got hot while cooking, so without a word, my granddaddy got up and helped her get the sweater off so that in doing so she wouldn’t mess up her hair. That may sound silly to some, but for what ever reason I still remember it to this day. I remember being almost embarrassed in seeing it, because it seemed so intimate.
In Love’s Labour’s Lost, Shakespeare wrote, “When Love speaks, the voice of all the gods make heaven drowsy with harmony.” Maybe that’s what I saw with my grandparents. Harmony. Unity. After sixty some years of marriage, the two had truly become one.
But with us, love doesn’t always last. There was a group of women at a seminar on how to live in a loving relationship with your husband. The women were asked, ‘How many of you love your husbands?’ All women raised their hands. Then they were asked, ‘When was the last time you told your husband you loved him?’ Some women answered today, some yesterday, some didn’t remember. The women were then told to take their phones and send the following text: ‘I love you, sweetheart.’ Then the women were told to exchange phones and read the responding text messages. For the record, the roles could have been switched, the husband could have been the ones sending the messages and the replies may have been different, but the sentiment would have been the same. In response to, “I love you, sweetheart,” some husbands wrote back, “I love you, too.” Others wrote back with:
– Who is this?
– Eh, mother of my children, are you sick?
– I don’t understand what you mean?
– What did you do now? I won’t forgive you this time.
– Don’t beat about the bush, just tell me how much you need?
– Am I dreaming?
– If you don’t tell me who this message is actually for, someone will die.
– I asked you not to drink anymore. I’ll leave if you are tired of me.
Now that’s enough to put a damper on your Sunday morning. What we think about love when we are children is different than how we view it as adults. As children, we’ll crawl up into the lap of a perfect stranger and tell them all about our day. By the time we are adults, we often don’t even share our feelings with those we hold most dear.
There are of course exceptions, but for you and I, love and our understanding of it is fluid, ever moving and changing. It is determined by everything from past experiences and the movies we watch to whether or not the sun is shining and are we having a good hair day. I’m not sure why, but when I get overly hungry, I get angry. Janie has labeled it “hangry.” When I’m hangry, I don’t loves nobody!
Now don’t go thinking I’m a cynic when it comes to love. I’m not at all, but my point – Yes, Fr. John, the point please – my point is that love for us is inconsistent. It may last, it may not. It may burn like the noonday sun and end in a whimper or age like fine wine.
So, why all this talk about love? Today is Trinity Sunday, the day we celebrate the three persons of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I call this day Heresy Sunday, because it is the day that more heresies are spouted from the pulpit than on any other Sunday. If you add anything to the sentence that begins, “The Holy Trinity is like…,” then there is a 99.999% chance you will commit heresy. Was that heresy intentional? Most likely not, but even St. Patrick’s explanation of the Trinity as a three-leaf clover can be viewed as heretical. That, however, hasn’t stopped folks from trying. From St. Augustine and his great work De Trinitate to William Young who in his novel The Shack attempts to define the Holy Trinity, portraying Jesus as a carpenter, the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman named Sarayu, and God the Father as a large black woman named “Papa,” all are an attempt by mortal sinful man to explain that which is immortal and unexplainable.
So, how do we explain the Holy Trinity? The only safe bet is to read the Creed of St. Athanasius, which can be found in the historical documents in the back of The Book of Common Prayer: “The Catholic Faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the Substance.” It goes on from there, but the bottom line is that if you don’t believe it, you burn in hell. There you have it. End of sermon. Let’s go home. Maybe not.
The Holy Trinity is truly a Divine Mystery. Your salvation is not dependent upon knowing how it works. That 14th century monk and my good friend, Thomas à Kempis, states: “What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God? Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone.”
The Holy Trinity is Divine Mystery, but there are things we can know about its nature, and the characteristic that is perhaps the most significant and the one we can know with all certainty: “God is love.” The trouble with hearing this is that we take our understanding of love with all its inconsistencies, variables, memories, moods, and whatever else, and apply it to how we view God as love. I get hangry, so God must get hangry, too. However, unlike our human love with all of its inconsistencies, God’s love is unchanging and unchangeable. God “is the same yesterday and today and forever.” God does not have bad hair days. God may get angry and, as we learned last week, send his people into exile, but God does not ever stop loving his people. “God is love.” That cannot change.
So, God is love and that love is perfect. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” The love of God is perfect. Where this love is present there is life. Where it is absent, only death. Nothing can exist outside of it. This perfect love of God exists in the Holy Trinity. Richard of St. Victor wrote that it was this perfect love that bound the Trinity together – probably a heresy – but here is the part that should pickle your brain and bring you to your knees: the perfect love of God that exists in the Holy Trinity is directed at you. You are the object of God’s perfect love.
“For God so loved the world….” That is not a cliché or some catchy snippet you’ll find on a Valentine’s Day card. That is the love song of the One who spoke all of creation into being, and it is sung for you.
This love of God is relentless in its pursuit of you. Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden and when they heard God walking in the garden, they hid, and God called to them, “Where are you?” From that point on, God’s love has pursued His people so that they might return to Him and have eternal life.
George Herbert is one of the greatest Anglican poets. He wrote a poem with a very simple title: Love.
LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
‘A guest,’ I answer’d, ‘worthy to be here:’
Love said, ‘You shall be he.’
‘I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on Thee.’
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
‘Who made the eyes but I?’
‘Truth, Lord; but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.’
‘And know you not,’ says Love, ‘Who bore the blame?’
‘My dear, then I will serve.
‘You must sit down,’ says Love, ‘and taste my meat.’
So I did sit and eat.
You don’t have to understand the workings of the Holy Trinity. Your salvation is not dependent upon it. You must only understand that Love has bade you welcome. From there you must decide whether or not you will accept the invitation. By accepting, by coming to the table, sitting, and eating, you become a child of God and an heir to the very Kingdom of Heaven with Christ Jesus.
Taste and see that the Lord is good!
One Reply to “Sermon: Trinity Sunday RCL B – “Love bade me welcome…””
Good Fr John. Good.