Trinity Sunday: God is Love
“God is Love.” We hear that a lot, maybe so much that we don’t really spend much time thinking about it and what it means. As today is Trinity Sunday, which traditionally calls on the preacher to expound upon the nature of the triune God, I think we’ll give it a shot.
What do we know about God? What can we say convincingly? You will find a lot of people have opinions about this. In fact some will be more than happy to tell you exactly what God’s opinion is on a wide range of subjects. Apparently God also agrees with them on those things too.
Yet even those people who claim to be speaking on behalf of God would be hard pressed to put into words almost anything about the nature of the godhead. What exactly is God?
This isn’t an idle question. For thousands of years debates have raged about this. First among the Hebrews and then later among Christians. Some of the greatest wars and schisms in the church have been caused directly by differences of view on the nature of God’s divinity.
Chrisitians, for the most part, generally agree on the basics, God is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Right? Good.
As Christians, what we know about God the Father comes mostly from Jesus’ teachings to his disciples recorded in the Gospels. One aspect of what Jesus taught that stood out from what other religious teachers of the time would have said was that Jesus taught about a relationship with the Father that was intimate, loving, supportive.
“Abba”, a word that Jesus used to describe the Father, is an Aramaic word that means father but carries with it a meaning of personal intimacy and deep relationship. It has been said that a useful comparison in English is the word “daddy.” “Father” is much less personal. When we think about our relationship with God, how often do we realise this, that our relationship is close and personal?
What we know about the Son is a bit more complicated, since it combines both the historical teachings of the Jesus movement from the first century, much of which comes from the Christian Scriptures together with a Christian understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. For Christians, Jesus was not only Christ, God’s son, but God’s Word made flesh, incarnate, physically present in the world and living among us.
Understanding what we mean by God’s Word is also a bit difficult to translate into English because, like Father and daddy, there are subtle nuances that can be lost along the way. In this case “word” doesn’t only mean something that is said, or written. In addition it also carries the meaning of what we’d be saying if we said that we are giving our word to someone. I give you my word that this is the truth.
It is also much more again. The Word of God is also a powerful force in creation called the Logos. In the bible, God’s Word actually causes the creation of the universe and everything in it. “Let there be light” didn’t tell someone else to go and do it, it made it happen.
Finally, the Holy Spirit. Gosh. For theologians this is sometimes the most difficult of the three. Last week we celebrated Pentecost, which some regard as being an account of the birth of the Christian church. I quite like that idea myself.
In our Gospel reading today, which is very short so you can look at it yourself in the pew bulletin in front of you right now, Jesus says “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” so it is clear that God’s Word was still needed, our understanding was still incomplete.
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” Our understanding of the truth of God can only be completed with the help of the Holy Spirit of God that has been sent to us. To me, this is one of the most vitally important revelations that all Christians need to understand.
Those people who would tell you what God’s opinion is on a variety of matters, which as I said before seems to always coincidentally agree with their own opinion on a topic, will often justify their opinion on the basis of one thing only. A single sentence taken out of context in the bible for example. Yet we are told right here that without the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit anything else we think we know is still incomplete.
In the Hebrew scriptures, Christians understand the Holy Spirit as being Sophia, a word that means the manifestation of the Wisdom of God. As Christ is God’s Word, so the Holy Spirit is God’s Wisdom.
Our understanding of God’s Word is only complete with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Wisdom about God doesn’t come from arguments about what the bible says, God’s wisdom comes through the ongoing action of God’s Holy Spirit who “declares to you the things that are to come.”
Since those times a great many new things have come into our world. Earlier in chapter 14 of John, Jesus says “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” This entire section of John’s Gospel again and again has Jesus telling his disciples about changes that will come in the future, and assures them that with the guidance of the Holy Spirit we will come to understand what truth God wants us to see in them.
“God is love” is how I began this sermon, and this is why. As we’ve already seen, our language of “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” doesn’t come close to describing the meaning of the words, “Abba, Logos, Sophia.” So I find it helpful to instead talk about God using a term we understand from our everyday lives, something that we have personal experience with and that we encounter every day. Love.
Since God is Love, our encounters with love are encounters with God, and when we love we are bringing forth God’s love into the world. When we experience love that is intimate, close, personal, we are learning something about the nature of God. When we experience love that comes from what we know and believe, that can also teach us something about the nature of God. When we experience love that comes from truth and wisdom, we learn even more about God.
Love is the nature of God, and we best know that we are experiencing God’s love when we have a response to it that also loves. If we are loved, and within us it creates even more love in the world, then that is the love of God. “They will know we are Christians by our love” is not just saying that we’re nice to people, it is a deep theological observation on the nature of God, and how God works in our lives.
I invite you to reflect upon this as we say the creed very soon. We believe in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe in love that is both many things and also one thing, God. Amen.
Sermon delivered by The Rev’d Grant Sparks at Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton, on Trinity Sunday, the 12th of June 2022.