by Bill Carroll
Since many of us have listened to it—and the rest of us should—I want to begin with some words from our Presiding Bishop’s sermon at the royal wedding. Toward the very beginning, he quoted from Martin Luther King: “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way.”
As many others have noted, this was not the first time our Presiding Bishop has preached about love. The wedding sermon so many of us heard is a relatively short and tame example of what the Presiding Bishop is saying whenever he gets a chance. All his preaching is about God and Jesus Christ, as well as the Holy Spirit and the power of love. Love can change the world, because God is love.
In his royal wedding sermon, the Presiding Bishop got specific when he invited us and millions of others to imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine, he asked us, our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine our neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine our governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way. Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
As followers of Jesus, we know the GOD who is LOVE. God is Christ-like, self-giving love. God IS love without remainder. God is love, and the power of love can change the world. Everything about the ministry of Jesus shows us this love. Jesus does not just tell us about God’s love. He shows it to us and lives it out with everyone he meets. Just look at how he is with other people. From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus lives for others and shares God’s love. He lives and dies for US ALL.
Last week, on the Day of Pentecost, we saw Jesus pour out his Spirit on all flesh. The Spirit lives in us, and with the Spirit, Jesus himself and the One he called “Abba, Father,” (there may be other names) live in us. Jesus dwells in us, and with him all the other persons of the Trinity. He dwells in us, and we in him. The Trinity is all about a set of relationships, in which we (to borrow a phrase from Rowan Williams) have been “gracefully entangled.”
The Holy Trinity has to do with the priority of relationships over individual existence. At a fundamental level, God just is a series of loving, ordered, communal relationships among the three persons. Each person has life only in relationship with all the others. Each of the persons embodies the fullness of the divine life and all of the divine perfections. Each is absolute, holy mystery. Each is love and perfect justice. Each is absence of violence and discord and perfect peace. Each is sovereign goodness and deathless life. Each is generous with boundless generosity. Each is unselfish, self-giving, and oriented toward the good of others.
And yet, as the Athanasian Creed reminds us, within the Godhead, none of the persons is “afore or after other.” And so, there is perfect equality. And there are not three Gods, but one God. Not three Lords but one Lord. Not three Highest Goods, but a single, supreme and ever-expansive goodness that embraces us all in a single communion of love.
In the embrace of such a God, we are offered a fresh start and a new life, and the opportunity to change our world as we follow a new and better Way.
Ultimately, the Trinity is our way of talking about the fact that God is LOVE. Before creation was—from before time and forever–God is always, already love.
The Trinity, then, is about the mystery of God’s own character as a living community of persons, within which there is perfect equality and complete sharing in the one divine life. The word “communion,” koinonia in Greek, refers to things held in common. It is about a shared life in response to the gifts of God’s grace, the sharing of gifts and burdens among friends or in a marriage.
And it’s here, I think, that we catch a glimpse of the real implications of God as Trinity. In the end, the mystery of the Holy Trinity points us to the Christian way of living in the world. A way in which we are called to collaborate with those of other faiths, or of no particular faith, in seeking the common good and changing the world. A way of self-giving love modeled on the life of Jesus. A way in which the Spirit leads us into the fullness of truth and love and right relationship. In the power of the Spirit, Jesus calls us to become a community of brothers and sisters. He calls us to live, in the power of that same Spirit, as beloved children of God. He calls us to live lives modeled on his own self-giving, sacrificial, redemptive love, which is the very same love who made the world and everyone in it.
This love, which we have seen in Jesus Christ and in which we share through the Holy Spirit, can change our world. As St. Irenaeus of Lyons once said, “The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” If you want to know what a human being looks like, once all the sin and violence and injustice are stripped away, look at Jesus. If you want to help other human beings come to life, follow Jesus and do whatever he tells you. In his embrace of all sorts and conditions of people, we encounter the very love of God.
As in the ministry of Jesus, so it is with the gift of God’s Spirit. The wideness in God’s mercy is scandalous. God gives his Spirit away indiscriminately, paying no attention to the divisions we create among ourselves. God gives his Spirit to young and old alike, to Jews and Gentiles alike. To men and women, saints and sinners, to all tribes and races and languages and nations. All of us. ALL of us together caught up in the work of the Spirit and the communion of the Holy Trinity, so we become one Body, with one mission, changing lives in the love of Jesus.
Brothers and sisters, God’s love can change our world. One community at a time, one nation at a time, one person at a time, love can change our world. The Love is the Way of Jesus. Jesus has called us to follow his way. All his ways are ways of love. He himself is the way. Love is the only way.
The Rev. Canon Bill Carroll serves as Canon for Clergy Transitions and Congregational Life in the Diocese of Oklahoma. He has served as a parish priest in Oklahoma, as a parish priest and college chaplain in Southern Ohio, and as a member of a seminary faculty. In 2005, he earned his Ph.D. in Christian theology from the University of Chicago Divinity School.
image: Nicolas Castro from lightstock.com