GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD
Just as the patriarchs almost 2000 years ago established a Trinitarian formula in order to explain their understanding of God, so also today, we are searching for ways that we can understand who God is and talk about God in less patriarchal language and in more universal terms. Therefore, as we acknowledge this festival day known as Trinity Sunday, I am going to concentrate on God as the lover of this world, because as we are told in our gospel lesson for today, “God so loved the entire world.” In fact, as our scriptures tell us, “The essence of God is love.” However, for centuries, this understanding of God as love has been greatly overshadowed by our human attempts to explain a formula that has held us captive to one predominant way of ever imagining God.
As scholars have pointed out, the word “trinity” is nowhere to be found in the Bible, but love—well, every page you turn uses the word or talks about a relationship that is grounded in love. The same holds true for the hymns in our hymnal. When we were using the former green hymnbook, someone actually put together a concordance of all of the words of the hymns in our Lutheran Book of Worship. According to this concordance, the word “trinity” is used only 16 times in all of the hymns, whereas there are 7 full pages of the word “love” in this concordance for all of the times that this word is found in a hymn in this hymnal.
Likewise, when we turn to our scriptures, we hear that God is love, and that we love because God first loved us. Jesus explains this relationship later in the Gospel of John when he says, “As God has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love so that you may have love for one another.” When he was asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus replied by telling the people, “Love God with your entire being, and love your neighbors as you yourself have been loved by God.” The Apostle Paul weighs in on this matter when he talks about faith, hope, and love, and says that the greatest of these three is love.
Today we are reminded by Jesus that God has loved the whole world with agape love—the kind of love that is considered to be graciously unconditional. As much as we all would love to personalize this love and consider how much God has loved me, we are to remember that God loves everyone in the entire world in the same manner. There is no favoritism when it comes to the bounty of God’s love. Consequently, we would be doing God a disservice if we start comparing how much God loves each and every individual in this world. This temptation can only lead to what I would call the privatization of God’s love—one of the worst forms of sin that often leads people to think that the vast amount of their earthly possessions must be an indication of how much God loves them.
When we can accept that there is no quantification of God’s love, that is when we can begin to see everyone as a beloved child of God just as Jesus knew himself to be. Grounded in this self-awareness and assurance, Jesus was able to love everyone whom he encountered in his life, including those whom he would consider to be his antagonists or enemies. Even when he was criticizing them for their pride, greed, hypocrisy, and lust for power, Jesus was doing so out of love for who he knew them to be—namely, beloved children of God just as he knew himself to be.
Each and every one of us has been given this assurance in our baptism. And even if you haven’t been baptized, know this in the core of your being—that God has loved you with a love that has no beginning and no end. From the moment that you entered into this world and until the moment that you die and beyond, you are enveloped in God’s love. Such is the essence of what we often reference as eternal life. Unfortunately, too often eternal life is perceived to be something that we receive only after we die. However, if we truly believe that eternal life has no beginning and no end, then doesn’t it make sense that we already are living right now in the eternal life that God has created for us?
This gift of God’s eternal life is right here before our very eyes, but too often we cannot see this gift because we are so blinded by our own pride, fear, greed, guilt, and lust for power. As the result of putting our trust in the things of this world, rather than in the God of love who so passionately desires for everyone to know the truth about this gift of eternal life, and thereby be saved from ever doubting God’s infinite love as revealed in Jesus, we end up missing out on this gift of eternal life and the salvation or liberation of being all that we were created and called by God to be from the moment that we set our eyes on this world.
Jesus emphasizes this point in his final prayer on behalf of his disciples when he prayed to God, “And this is eternal life that they may know you, the one true God, and that they may know me as the One whom you have sent into this world to reveal your love to all humanity.” To know God is not mere head knowledge that can lead to an attitude of superiority over others. To know God is to sense the love of God in every cell of our being so that we will become creatures and children of love in a world that so desperately is in need of God’s love and gift of forgiveness.
Here is where the revelation of Jesus becomes so important because Jesus was the One who revealed to all the world God’s gracious gift of forgiveness as he faced his own imminent death on the cross. “God, forgive them,” Jesus prayed, “for they don’t know what they are doing.” All who hear and humbly receive this gift of forgiveness also are receiving in this moment God’s gift of eternal life—a life that is meant to set us free from all that we have done wrong, and a life that is meant to free us up to live according to God’s good pleasure.
That is one of the main reasons why we come to this table so often, because here is where we receive another taste of eternal life in this bread and fruit of the vine as the result of the forgiveness that God bestows upon each and every one of us. Here is where God’s love is made manifest in Jesus, and we are forever assured of the presence and power of God’s Spirit in our lives so that we might resist all kinds of temptations to sin and be able to walk daily in the newness of life—the eternal life that is meant to liberate the whole world that God so graciously loves as was revealed in Jesus, our Savior. Amen.