One of the former Editors of the Christian Century, John Buchanan, also a Presbyterian pastor, recounted in the pages of that publication the Sunday he baptized a 2 year old girl in front of her family and the congregation. As he did so, he said, he reminded her the truth of baptism as it is found in the Presbyterian Book of Common Worship “You are a child of God, sealed by the Spirit in your baptism, and you belong to Jesus Christ forever.” And then, quite unexpectedly, she responded, “Uh oh.”
Uh oh. Buchanan would go on to say that “was an appropriate response…a stunning theological affirmation.”
How many of us when we looked out at the smiling faces of the families last Sunday, saw the babies draped in baptismal gown finery, how many of us paused a moment and asked ourselves, what is that family getting that child into…? What are WE getting that child into? After all, we’re in this now, with them, with those children, with your children and mine, and whoever else was baptized here, or anywhere for that matter. We’ve vowed, again and again, with God’s help, to do all in our power to help these persons in their life in Christ – to be in this with them, with each other, on this crazy, scary, thrilling adventure. Remember everything Jesus did and said, what he taught and what he modeled? Feed the hungry. Tend the sick. Visit the lonely. Strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?! Seek and serve Christ in all persons loving your neighbor as yourself…?!
Maybe Nicodemus knew something of this when he came to Jesus by night. Under the cloak of dark, perhaps for fear of being found to be with Jesus, perhaps for fear of being seen, leader that he was, as not having all the answers, perhaps, my guess, because he had an inkling of what this way Jesus was on was really all about. Nicodemus comes in the dark, wondering how Jesus does the things he does, how he has the audacity to proclaims the things he says, and instead of leaving with a little knowledge, a little light in the dark, Nicodemus comes to discover that Jesus is not here to enlighten but to save, all of him. Jesus is interested in our whole selves, our body, our mind, and soul and desires nothing short than the transformation of our lives. Like the waters of baptism, Jesus marks us and claims us as his own forever. Uh oh.
Today is Trinity Sunday, and while I don’t want to spend this sermon illuminating various theologies of the Trinity, or giving a history lesson for how the doctrine of the Trinity emerged, I do want to make sure we pay close attention to the gospel given to us this morning. We have it this morning because it is one of the few places in all of the gospels where we hear Jesus discussing all three persons of the Trinity. In that discussion, a few things become apparent that might otherwise get lost – mainly that God is relational, God is active, and God is love. James Alison, in his challenging book, The Joy of Being Wrong, writes that “[t]here are only two possible modes of desire in John: hatred and love.” In the first case, hatred, is a distortion of desire as perpetrated by the world – desire as rivalry and acquisitiveness. In the second case, desire leads to love for the other, love that is self-offering, and life-giving – this kind of desire finds its source and perfection in God. As our Presiding Bishop is fond of reminding congregations whenever he preaches “Brothers and sisters, if it’s not love, then it’s not of God!”
The world operates on a desire that stems from a sense of lack or scarcity. We want what others have. We desire to protect what we believe is rightfully ours. This type of desire keeps us divided and enslaved. It is this desire that allows us to incarcerate whole segments of our society, to separate mothers from children at our borders, to exploit the land for all its resources, to claim eminent domain and build an interstate freeway right through one of the most vulnerable neighborhoods in the city. The desire of the world leads to hatred, it allows us to look at the worst criminals in our society and see them as animals, not as broken children of a loving God.
The great preacher and teacher of preachers, the Reverend Tom Long, who recounted the story of Buchanan and the little girl in this week’s lectionary reflection in the Christian Century, also wrote this about John’s gospel appointed for this morning:
“John says Jesus came because God loves the world, and not the lovable surface world of delightful music, literature, and art, the world of carefree laughter tinkling on the verandas of the privileged, but Nicodemus’s world. Though respectable on the surface, it’s still the underbelly world of night, the God-hating world of violence, torture, rebellion, and sin. Mysteriously, God loves this world…God loves the actual world, the God-despising world. God loves the world with such ferocity that God draws near to save, even to dwell among us in the flesh. “When God loves,” says [New Testament scholar John] Meier, “things happen: great things, terrible things, incarnation and cross.””
God loves the world, the worst parts of it right there with the best. God saves the world by entering into it, by joining us in our darkness. God transforms us so that we can participate in the love of God and share it with others – so that we can join others in their darkest hours and love them for who they are.
This past week, like many of you, I watched in fascination as our Presiding Bishop made the rounds to all of the networks and shows and talked about God’s love. It was quite impressive really. When pressed about the Queen’s stony face during his sermon, or when asked about American politics, or when pushed to respond about the latest hot button topic, Michael Curry never failed to bring the conversation back to Jesus, to the love of God, and to the transforming power that that love has in the world. In the past year I have watched in despair, like many of you, as the world seemed to be falling apart. Mass shootings, a rise in nationalism and racism, a continued crumbling in the political discourse, and a real lack of moral vision and leadership. In our house at least, we’ve been talking about how badly we’ve been hoping for a leader of moral conviction and courage to step up and show us the way to reclaiming our better angels as a nation. It occured to me that as Curry spoke on all the shows, like the interviewers, I was trying to find a way to see if he fit my hopes for just such a leader. Was he the one? Then my smart wife pointed out something. We keep watching Michael Curry like he’s auditioning for the role of righteous leader, when in fact, he is pointing us toward Jesus. Again and again our Presiding Bishop reminded us of the love of the Triune God, encountered in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and again and again, he invited us to claim that love as our own, and to live it in our own lives.
As he preached at the Royal Wedding,
“Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.
When love is the way, there’s plenty good room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children.
Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well… like we are actually family.
When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.”
My brothers and sisters, love is the way. God so loved the world, his way came toward us, so that we might be saved by the power of love, transformed by the power of love, and so that we might join in that love so that others would know it too. It is a daunting proposition. It might make you say “Uh oh”. But, it is a love that we share here at St. John’s. I am conscious this morning that this is my final Sunday with you for the next four months. I don’t want to sit down without saying how grateful for the love this community has shown me and my family over these past 7 years. When I first visited here, it was apparent to me, apparent to us as a family, that here was a place actively engaged in the way of love, the way of Jesus. That way and that love have only deepened. And, this morning I want you to know that I love you. It is a delight to be your rector, to be a part of the work we share, in following Jesus together in the way of love.