Love Happens

A Sermon for Sunday May 26, 2013, Romans 5:1-5

trinityLast month, I preached a sermon on how we talk about God and the various names and characteristics we ascribe to God.

This morning, I want to focus on a particular way of understanding God that has been a central Christian teaching for centuries:

God as Holy Trinity

We will not be alone in our ponderings, for millions of Christians in the Western World observe this day of worship as Trinity Sunday—a time in which believers celebrate the profound mystery of our faith in the one, eternal, incomprehensible God who is…

the Creator that formed the universe

The skies and the heavens are marked by the work of God’s hands. [1]

the Christ who redeemed the world by conquering death

Nothing can separate us from God’s love that surrounds us.[2]

the Spirit that descended on the newly born church at Pentecost

The Spirit gives us our daily bread, forgives our sins and delivers us from evil so that we may work for the glory of God’s kingdom.[3]

In his letter to the early church living in Rome—the center of a world-dominating Empire that paid allegiance to Caesar—the apostle Paul wrote these encouraging words to followers about this one God in three persons:

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained accessto this grace in which we stand; and weboast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but wealso boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

Paul’s message is one of many biblical passages that our Church ancestors in the 4th Century drew upon to develop a better understanding of God.  After much debate and argument, they devised what has been known through the ages as the doctrine of the Trinity.

This particular set of beliefs affirms that there is but one God who has three distinct ways of being and acting as God. My seminary theology professor, the late Shirley Guthrie, put it this way[4]:

The works of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are indivisible. We may distinguish between God’s work as Creator and Ruler of the world; as Reconciler, Liberator and Savior of needy, sinful human beings; and as Renewer and Transformer of the life of human beings and all creation. But the will and work of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit cannot be separated or set over against each other. They can be understood only in light of each other and in their agreement with each other, for Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one God.

In plain terms, the Trinity does not function as a hierarchal relationship where God the Creator is on the “top” as the person in charge and Jesus and the Spirit are on the “bottom” as subordinate or lesser divine beings.  But instead, all three are equal to one another in spite of the different works or roles we associate with them. Creator, Christ and Spirit are all God, working in unity to create, liberate, judge, redeem, restore, heal, forgive, inspire, feed and love the whole of creation.

Make sense?

If you’re still confused and ready to tear out your hair, that’s ok.

Although the doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most efficient ways to comprehend who God is and what God does, Trinitarian language is still insufficient because God is a great mystery that can never be fully grasped.

In other words, the Trinity doesn’t solve the mystery of God. But the Trinity does point us toward the mystery of God that is beyond us, among us and within us.  As prolific author and Presbyterian pastor Frederick Buechner wrote[5]:

 (The) Trinity is a way of saying something about us and the way we experience God. … a way of saying something about God and God’s inner nature; that is God does not need the creation in order to have something to love because within God’s being, love happens. In other words, the love God is, is love…as a verb.

This active love of God that is constantly being poured into our hearts, according to Paul’s message, is precisely why we are able to endure suffering and still have hope that God will never forsake us or creation. This active love of God is what allows us to embrace the mystery of God during times of immense pain.

Just consider for a moment the major news events that occurred this past week. After viewing numerous articles, blog posts and videos, I am convinced more than ever before (as I think many of you will be) that even in the midst of tragedy, the active love of the triune God happens.

 Love happens

…………………………

130521120140-ap-23-oklahoma-city-tornado-0520-b-horizontal-galleryMonday afternoon A 2-mile wide tornado with winds up to 200 mph ripped through Moore, Oklahoma, killing 24 people including 9 elementary school children. [6]

As the twister barreled through schools in its path, teachers shielded the bodies of their students from the parts of the building that were crumbling around them.

“I was on top of six kids,” a middle school teacher told reporters as she worked her away across the rubble. “I was lying on top. All of mine are OK.”[7]

Upon seeing the tornado heading toward her school, a first-grade teacher began to move the desks around, telling the kids they were playing “worms who had to stay in their tunnels.” The teacher then grabbed all of the musical instruments in the classroom and asked her students to play and sing as loud as they could.  “They could scream if they were scared,” she said after the storm. “But just don’t stop singing.”[8]

Love happens

…………………………

Woolwich street attackWednesday afternoon 25-year-old Lee Rigby, a British soldier who had previously served in Afghanistan, was walking down the street near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, a working class neighborhood in southeast London when the unthinkable happened.

Two madmen, self-proclaimed Jihadists hit Rigby with their blue sports car, crushing him against a metal street sign. Then the terrorists—armed with meat cleavers, knives and hatchets—got out of their car and butchered the military recruiter and father on the populated street. As the blood covered monsters strolled around shouting that they killed the man out of revenge, something else unexpected occurred.

A woman and her mother, who witnessed the murder as they walked up the street, approached the Jihadists and asked, “Can I help him?” The terrorists told the women that the soldier was dead but that they could come near the body.  One of the women then kneeled down by Rigby’s side to comfort him. According to eyewitnesses, she held his hand and began praying.[9]

A third woman, Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, a Cub Scout leader, former teacher and divorced mom of two, was peering out the window of the No. 53 bus when she saw the crashed blue car and Rigby’s body laying on the ground.  Thinking that she could help, Loyau-Kennett got off the bus and hurried toward the scene.  “When I approached the body, there was a lady cradling him,” she would later tell reporters.

Realizing that Rigby was dead, Loyau-Kennett looked around and noticed the two men walking back and forth, bragging about the killing. And then she did the unimaginable. She spoke to one of them:

906275-woman-confronts-attacker“I thought I had better start talking to him before he starts attacking somebody else. I thought these people usually have a message, so I said, ‘what do you want?”

As the man ranted about Jihad, Loyau-Kennett patiently listened, never once showing an ounce of anxiety or fear. After a couple of minutes, she said calmly, “Now it is only you versus many people, you are going to lose. What would you like to do?”  The terrorist said he wanted to fight the police when they arrived and then he walked away. Composed and undeterred, Loyau-Kennett attempted to engage the other terrorist, asking “Well, what about you? Would you like to give me what you have in your hands?”

Loyau-Kennett, whose efforts delayed the terrorists long enough for police to arrive, said she asked for the weapon because “I thought it was better having them aimed on one person like me than everybody there. Children were starting to leave school as well.”[10]

Love happens

 …………………………

o-HELEN-MIRREN-THE-QUEEN-OLIVER-BURTON-570Earlier Wednesday afternoon. In London’s West End, 10-year-old Oliver Burton, born with Down Syndrome and battling terminal cancer, completed the number one item on his bucket list—a visit with Queen Elizabeth II.

Well, to be honest, it was actually famed actress Helen Mirren who won an Oscar in 2006 for her portrayal as the monarch in the film The Queen.

When Oliver’s dying request to meet Queen Elizabeth was rejected by The Royal Family, a charity worker who heard about the boy’s plight, contacted Mirren who was delighted to fill “the royal shoes.”

Mirren invited the family to attend her play on the West End where she was reprising her role as the Queen. Afterwards, Mirren continued to play the part as she visited with Oliver and his family. She even knighting the boy and declared that everyone should call him Sir Oliver. “She stayed in character for the whole thing,” the boy’s dad told news outlets. “Oliver thought she was the real Queen, and well, that’s good enough for us.”[11]

Love happens

Regardless of the evil, the suffering, the insensitive responses to tragedy, apathy toward those in need, or harsh dismissals of people’s prayers to God,

Love happens

Even when we honestly admit during moments of frustration and anger that crap happens,

Love happens MORE!

At this exact moment, that love is being poured into our hearts by the one triune God who calls each of us to help mend a broken world with mercy and compassion.

Through the faithful ministries of this church and its people and through acts of selfless good committed elsewhere by the religious, the spiritual and the atheists,[12]

And in times in which suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces a hope that does not disappoint,

Love is happening.

Let us forever be an active part of it.

Amen.


[1] Reference to Call to Worship based on Psalm 8 used in PHPC Worship for May 26
[2] Reference to the hymn “God, Be the Love to Search and Keep Me” and Pastoral Prayer for Memorial Day by Mark Koenig of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, used in PHPC Worship for May 26
[3] Reference to The Lord’s Prayer used in PHPC Worship for May 26
[4] Christian Doctrine by Shirley C. Guthrie Jr., Westminster John Knox Press. Revised 1994.
[5] Beyond Words: Daily Readings in The ABC’s of Faith by Frederick Buechner, HarperOne Press. 2004.
[6] “We Will Come Back Stronger, Governor Avows” CNN Breaking News Blog, Tuesday May 21, 2013, http://news.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/21/live-tornado-devastates-oklahoma-city-area/?iref=allsearch
[7] “Terrified children, teachers’ heroics, no shelter: Inside a tornado-ravaged school,” by Josh Levs, CNN, Wednesday May 22, 2013 http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/21/us/oklahoma-tornado-school/index.html?iref=allsearch
[8] “Oklahoma teacher used music to calm kids” by CNN, Wednesday May 22, 2013, http://schoolsofthought.blogs.cnn.com/2013/05/22/oklahoma-teacher-used-music-to-calm-kids/?iref=allsearch
[9] “He Said It Was A War” blog post by Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish, Wednesday May 22, 2013, http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2013/05/22/he-said-it-was-a-war/

[10] “Cub Scout Leader, ex-teacher confronted terrorist” by Ahsley Fantz, CNN, Friday May 24, 2013, http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/23/world/europe/uk-woman-terrorists/index.html?iref=allsearch;

‘You are going to lose’: Incredible photo captures moment London mom stands up to knife-wielding terrorist” by Claire Duffin, The Telegraph/National Post, Thursday May 23, 2013, http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/05/23/i-asked-him-if-he-did-it-and-he-said-yes-british-mom-declared-hero-for-confronting-knife-wielding-fanatic-moments-after-he-slaughtered-soldier/;

“Fearless London woman describes the moment she confronted terrorists and became a national hero” by Sarah Rainey, The Telegraph/National Post, Thursday May 23, 2013, http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/05/23/national-hero/

[11] “Helen Mirren Steps in for the Queen to Grand Dying Boy’s Wish” by Luchina Fisher, ABC News, Wednesday May 22, 2013, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/entertainment/2013/05/helen-mirren-steps-in-for-queen-to-grant-dying-boys-wish/
[12] A special nod to Pope Francis who defended atheists while giving a sermon on Wednesday May 22, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/05/23/pope-francis-atheists/2355935/
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