Written for St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Franklin, TN + Trinity Sunday + May 27, 2018
Reading: John 3:1-17
So today is Holy Trinity Sunday. But I have a lot of things to say in this sermon, and while those things do relate to the Trinity, it would be complicated to keep explaining throughout the sermon how all these things I feel called to say today are also connected to this idea of God being One-in-Three and Three-in-One, even though they really do have a lot to do with that. So I’m just going to do it all here at the beginning.
First — why read John 3 on Trinity Sunday? Well, I figure it’s because it mentions all three Persons of the Trinity: the Creator, the Son, and the Spirit, and it gives us a glimpse of how all Three Persons are doing the work of one God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ — and in us, as we are reborn of “water and Spirit” to see God’s Kingdom more clearly.
But here’s the main point about the Trinity that I want you to take home: the Trinity teaches us about love. This whole Three Persons being One thing — three different Persons who only exist in their relationship together — three Persons whose different identities are not plowed over by their perfect unity with one another — that is, well, complicated and mysterious and hard to wrap our heads around — but it is also an ideal image of love, of relationship, of family, of community. (For more on this, see my last sermon.) So rather than trying to wrap your head around how exactly this Trinity thing works, remember this: the Trinity teaches us about love. Say it with me: the Trinity teaches us about love.
OK, good, you’ve got your take-home knowledge of the Trinity. I’ve done my job for the liturgical calendar. Because what I really want to talk about is the royal wedding. Did you see that dress?
Just kidding. There are enough of you out there who know I have zero knowledge of the wedding, because those of you who have tried to talk about the wedding with me in the last week or so probably experienced something like this:
“Pastor, did you watch any of the royal wedding?”
And then — in case any of you want to know what goes inside your pastor’s head — I would internally prepare myself to make small talk about fancy dresses or celebrities or decorations.
But you know what? That never happened. Instead every person I talked to went right into telling me all about the sermon. The first time it happened, I thought, “Oh, that’s just Meredith. Of course Meredith would be excited about the sermon.” But then another person mentioned it, and another, and another. And so I thought, OK, maybe it’s because I’m a pastor and I’m talking to church people, and church people tend to appreciate good sermons — or at least feel like they should comment on churchy stuff to their pastor (who clearly doesn’t bother to keep up with pop culture anyway).
But when I finally went online to watch this famous sermon, I found out it wasn’t just “church people” talking about it. The sermon, apparently, was the most-tweeted-about moment of the ceremony. There were articles about just the sermon in The Atlantic and Time and Brides.com. It got its own moment on Saturday Night Live. People hardly ever remember wedding sermons, but somehow Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church here in the U.S., preached a sermon that stood out even in a royal wedding.
Maybe it’s because he preached a message that people were longing to hear: a vision of a world where love is the way of things. Not fear, not pride, not greed, not apathy — but love.
He began by quoting another sermon, one by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “We need to discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way.” And Bishop Curry went on talking about the power of love — and not just the love between two people, but God’s love, the love shown to us in Jesus Christ, the kind of love the Holy Trinity teaches us about. Unselfish love. Sacrificial love. Redemptive love. The kind of love that can change lives; the kind of love that can change the world.
“Imagine,” Bishop Curry invited us, “imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where love is the way. Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way — unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.”
At first glance, that message can come off as kind of fluffy and romantic. “At this fairy tale wedding, imagine a whole world where love is the way. Sigh.”
But if we are actually willing to do the work of really imagining what our homes, our businesses, our society would be like if love was the way; what it would be like if sacrificial, redemptive love was the standard at the center of our personal decisions and our public policies — and if we then held up that vision as the model for our actual behavior, our actual everyday conversations, our actual consideration of other people’s opinions and experiences, our actual voting record and civic engagement…that wouldn’t be fluffy at all. It would be complicated and demanding and even, yes, sacrificial — but also, as Bishop Curry said, it would be redemptive and life-changing and world-changing.
If love were the way, the way of our lives, the way of business, the way of politics, it would save people. It would literally save people, spiritually and physically save people. It would save people from loneliness and guilt and neglect; it would save people from racism and sexism and all kinds of prejudice; it would save people from poverty and hunger and lack of health care. Maybe it would even save people from violence. In short — it would save people in the ways that Jesus saved people.
But imagining that world where love is the way, making redemptive, sacrificial love the standard — it can seem like an impossible feat. The world just doesn’t work that way.
Jesus said to one of the religious leaders of his day: “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” — or, as you’ve maybe heard it translated, “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born again…no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
Jesus never said, The Kingdom of God is coming, and it’s perfectly reasonable, and it comes with a gradual, step-by-step five-year plan for implementing God’s will into the current model.
Nope. Jesus said, You can’t even see what the Kingdom of God is about without being totally transformed, recreated, reborn into God’s way of seeing and doing things. You gotta leave the ways of the world behind.
In his royal wedding sermon Bishop Curry tried to help us to get into the spirit of the wedding — and of his preaching on the power of love — by asking us: “…think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved.”
Well, I want you to think about the last time you were mad at someone you loved. I mean really mad. Can’t-see-things-straight, want-to-say-things-you’ll-regret mad. What did you do? Maybe you did say those regrettable things, and then you had to figure out how to make up for it. But maybe you did one of those things wise people are always trying to teach us to do when our emotional temperature skyrockets: Take deep breaths. Count to ten. Take a walk. Journal, call a friend, or just lose yourself in a hobby for a while.
The point of all those things is get yourself back into a different way of being, a less-angry way of being. When we’re that mad, we don’t see things right or fairly or reasonably. We need to get out of the mad moment and re-learn how to be calmer, less defensive, more generous, more loving. We need to be able to see things differently.
Jesus said we need to be re-born from above, re-born of water and the Spirit, so that we can see things differently. So that we can see beyond the normal ways of the world and see God’s Kingdom, God’s way of doing things, God’s more generous, more loving way of doing things. We need to learn to step outside of the way the world works — outside of business-as-usual — and be re-created in God’s image, into God’s way of being and doing things.
There are lots of ways that we can try to take time away from the world’s way of doing things. Going to church should be a time outside of the world’s way; so should studying God’s Word and prayer and summer camp…and imagining a world where love is the way. Imagining homes and neighborhoods and businesses and politics where God’s redemptive love is the standard of doing things — that kind of imagining is an exercise in being reborn of water and the Spirit. And putting God’s love into practice — that is the work of being a follower of Jesus.
This past Thursday Pastor Lippard was in Washington, D.C., and he got to hear Bishop Curry preach in-person. (Well, almost: that church was packed, so he was in the church next door, watching on a screen.) Again Curry preached about the power of love, and of what it looks like when we really put God’s love into action. He said: “Love your neighbor. Love the neighbor you like and the neighbor you don’t like. Love the neighbor you agree with and the neighbor you don’t agree with. Love your Democrat neighbor, your Republican neighbor, your black neighbor, your white neighbor, your Anglo neighbor, your Latino neighbor and your LGBTQ neighbor. Love your neighbor! That’s why we’re here!” And then the whole crowd — Pastor Lippard included — marched silently with candles to the White House to pray and to imagine a world where God’s love is the way of things. In an interview before the march Bishop Curry said: “Our hope and dream is that articulating the vision of a country where we love our neighbor as ourselves will be an appeal to the better angels of our nature.”
We need — we always, constantly need — to take a step back from the way things are going, and give God room to re-create us, so that we can see God’s kingdom, God’s way of redemptive, sacrificial love — in all the parts of our lives. “We need to discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way.”
Friends in Christ, “let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action” (1 John 3:18). Amen and amen.
 Curry quoted from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sermon “Loving Your Enemies,” delivered 16 November 1957 at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL. The full text of the sermon is available online.