18 May 2008

"...O Lord, do come along..."

Most Holy Trinity: Exo 34.4-6, 8-9; 2 Cor 13.11-13; John 3.16-18
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation & St Paul Hospital

Imagine my delight this morning to discover that Moses was a southern gentleman! Having climbed Mt Sinai as God had commanded him, Moses hears the Lord say, “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” Moses does the only thing he could do with such an announcement from the Lord Himself: he bows down in worship! But then he does the perfect southern thing; he says, “O Lord, do come along in our company.” God knocks and Moses invites Him in for a visit—a visit that will take Moses and his people on a forty-year trek across the desert, leading them to the land promised by God. Forty-years visiting! That’s a whole lotta iced tea and pecan pie. But that’s what God does: He promises, He abides, and He makes all things right. For His people then and for us now, our Lord is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, and rich in kindness and fidelity. And what’s more: He loves us despite our stiff-necks, our wickedness, and our sins. He receives us as His own, loving us so much “that He gave [us] His only Son so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” That’s not a friendly visit. That’s family moving in for good!

We might expect on this Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity that the gospel would be something more philosophical, something a little more esoteric than John 3.16—“For God so loved the world…” Maybe one of the traditional Easter readings from John would be more appropriate, something like “I am in You and You in me and they in me and so also in You”—you know, one of those passages you need to diagram in order to follow, all pronouns and prepositions. But what we have is this elegantly simple teaching on the nature of God’s love for us and the consequences of believing or disbelieving “in the name of the only Son of God.” Three verses that state in unambiguous language why God sent the Son to us and what happens to us when we believe or fail to believe. What does this straightforward, plain-spoken passage have to do with the intricacies of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity? Absolutely everything!

Here’s how. In all of the passages this morning—Exodus, 2 Corinthians, John—we read how God reveals Himself to His people. First, He reveals Himself to Moses before giving Moses His Ten Commandments as a voice declaring His divine nature (mercy, fidelity, kindness). Then He reveals Himself to the Corinthians as a family both human and divine, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, admonishing them to mend their ways and live in peace with one another. And then He reveals His final plan to whole world as the Word Incarnate, Jesus Christ, His Son sent for our eternal lives. In each case, what is revealed is the nature of the Blessed Trinity—Father, Son, Holy Spirit. In each case, who is revealed is God Himself—persons, actions, intentions, and goals. And in each case, why He reveals Himself is made clear—to receive us as His own. Despite our sins, He makes us His.

Moses says to God, “…O Lord, do come along in our company.” Walk with us. Talk with us. Eat and drink with us. Be with us everyday and always. Teach us. Admonish us. Show us the Way. Die for us. And then, despite our sins, bring us to You to live with You forever. Moses could have said something entirely different. He could have said, “…O Lord, until we are pure, until we are worthy, leave us alone, walk apart and away so that we might earn your love.” He could have said, “…O Lord, we are filthy sinners, punish us severely!” He could have said, “…O Lord, we know best, we know what is good for us, You go your way and we will go ours. Oh, and thanks for that whole Red Sea thing; oh, and the manna.” In other words, Moses could have said what we are tempted to say everyday in word and deed: “O Lord, thanks but no thanks for the offer of Your love…ya know, I’m good as is.” And what does God take this to mean? John writes, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but whoever does not believe has already been condemned…” Therefore, we say, along with Moses the Southern Gentleman, “…O Lord, do come along in our company!”

I noted earlier that all of our readings this morning reveal something to us about the nature of God and His purposes. Of course, we are eager to have God along with us. Our presence here this morning is the surest indication that we hunger for God, that we thirst for His love. But do we love the The Blessed Trinity, The Hypostatic Union of Three Divine Persons? Yes and no. Yes, we love God; but no, we rarely think to love this cumbersome notion of Divine-Threeness-in-Divine-Oneness. Too abstract, too distant, too intellectual. So, who is this Love that we desire to love? Who is this Love that loves the world so much that He sacrifices His only Son for it? We are tempted in this age of pop-psycho-prattle to limit love to the human affection of “being nice” or “being kind.” We are tempted to understand and to practice love as a sort of “live and let live.” The peace that love brings is the peace and quiet of being left alone to do as I will. But here’s the real kicker about Divine Love: divine love is not a passive flood of God’s sweet affection for us; no, divine love is the active working of the Trinity in His creation, in His creatures. God loves us to change us, to re-form us, to shape us again into the perfect creatures He made us to be.

We say “God is Love.” True enough. But we also say “God became Man so that Man might become God.” Think about the implications of this notion! Are we saying here that God sacrificed his only Son on the cross so that we might be nice to one another, merely kind to one another? Hardly. Are we saying that Christ suffered a bloody death, an ignoble public execution so that we might come to understand that we need to be sweet to one another? Again, hardly. Divine Love is our rescue and our anchor, our reach and our goal. We are made in the likeness and image of Love Himself so that we might be perfected as Love. Stiff-necked, wicked, and sinful, we are made perfect in Love so that we can love. And there is nothing sweet or kind about being reshaped, about being twisted back into the creatures we are made to be. It hurts! We know that this process works through medicinal pain. And yet, we are tempted to make Divine Love into a grandmotherly affection, into a cute and cuddly infatuation. What a loss for us when we do.

Now that we know Who Love Is, let’s remind ourselves of what Love does. Love is always the True and Good. Love seduces us to charity, seduces us to always speak the truth and do the good merely for the sake of Truth and Goodness. Love never worships at the altar of Man, of creation, making that which is made into a god. Love does not lie, cheat, steal, murder, or abuse its divine gifts. When we love in Love Himself, we love rightly, even if imperfectly now, we love in righteousness and fidelity. Our love for one another forgives offenses as God forgives us and though Love makes us want to forgive sin, Love does not blind us to sin, ours or anyone else’s. Rather Love sharpens our sight so that we might see more clearly His work ahead of us. Finally, and most importantly, Love perfects in us He Who Loves us most.

So, yes, of course, imitate our Father in father, Moses, and be the good Southern Lady or Gentleman and invite God to keep company with you. But know that the Blessed Trinity is no benign houseguest. He comes as family. He comes to re-create the world, and He will start with you.