Year B; Trinity Sunday, 5.27.2018

John 3:1-17

 

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved.”

 

If ever we were tempted as Christians to believe that God is vengeful and full of wrath and judgment, then let this verse in John’s Gospel forever dissuade us from that belief!  We are NOT condemned! We are not lost!  We are not left forsaken!

No. In fact, God “so loved the world that…” God ACTED on that love. God’s love is the “grown-up” adult version of love. God is the adoring Creator who is “stacking the deck” in every way to favor the world God loves so much; “…that he sent his only Son Jesus so that everyone who believes in him will not perish…” WILL NOT PERISH, “…but have eternal life.”

Yes, God ACTED on God’s love to express the depth of care and the desire of devotion to the ultimate point of sacrifice for the beloved, for US, who are made in God’s image…” in ORDER THAT THE world might be saved.”

Saved. Rescued. Redeemed. Forgiven. Restored.  All those wonderful verbs that are as far from condemnation as our English language will take us.

This is such Good News! What a relief!

I resonate with the word, “saved.” It takes me back to my Red Cross Water Safety Instructor days. I taught life-saving classes and I was a life guard during the summers just out of high school. It was extremely important for the instructors to be trained in how to safely rescue people who were drowning so we could teach that to our students.

The non-negotiable goal of a water rescue was to always keep ourselves safe first before we even made the rescue. Otherwise, we would risk drowning, and two would potentially be lost. So, we learned pool rescues by reaching a long pole to the victim to grab. We learned to toss the lifesaving rescue tube to the victim while we hung on to the rope. The last resort was to enter the water and physically connect with the victim and safely swim him to the edge of the pool. In that case, we learned how to avoid being sunk by a thrashing, panicked victim.

Now, there is nothing in the Gospel story today of God taking any of those precautions. God loved the world without being protected. Our Creator saves the world fully taking on all risk. God risked his Son for love of the world. There is nothing in the story of Jesus’ life and ministry that informs his followers that Jesus played it safe. The full action of God’s love was and is to save the world. And if that meant his Son was to be condemned by the world and raised on the third day, then God’s people surely will rejoice in a love that has no bounds.

Today we celebrate the three-fold nature of the Trinity a 3-dimensional expression of God’s character. It’s a doctrine that demonstrates God in relationship to Son and Spirit in boundless love. Today, we go all out to invoke God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the Holy Spirit. Christians defend this Trinity of Persons as our ONE GOD who is undivided. It’s a doctrine unique to Christianity, and sadly, has been argued and fought over for centuries.

Even today, preparing for this sermon, I read a commentary that suggested we ignore the Trinity completely because as a doctrine it really isn’t relevant to modern seekers and the faithful alike.

Well, relevant or not, the prayers and poetry of the Holy Trinity inspire us and give us strength and courage to live faithfully day by day. From the prophet Isaiah’s “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” to singing “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty. Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.” To the prayer of St. Patrick’s Breastplate, “I bind unto myself today, the strong name of the Trinity.” These words are strong. They build us up. When we are most afraid, we say these words for protection and courage.

I love most the ancient Breastplate of St. Patrick. This prayer captures the meaning of holy protection for the faithful living in a dangerous world. It invokes the strong, courageous language of the “saving of the world” that God so dearly loves. When we are most afraid, we bind ourselves to the all-loving, all-inclusive strong love of God in Three Persons.

“I bind unto myself today, the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One and One in Three.”

The Celtic people who were responsible for this prayer from probably the 9th Century, instinctively understood the need for strong, symbolic language; language that evoked the image of the binding to the believer all things of God:  angels, saints, martyrs, “all the powers of heaven and earth, all protections against the dominion of evil.”

The prayer literally dresses the petitioner in the full symbolic armor of Christ’s protection.  “Christ be with me. Christ within me. Christ behind me. Christ before me. Christ beside me (OK! Christ beside me….right here!  That’s my favorite place for Christ – right here next to me!!) Christ to win me. Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me. Christ above me. Christ in quiet. Christ in danger. Christ in hearts of all that love me, (these are our loved ones!) Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.”

His protection saves us all!

And now St. Paul’s has created a breastplate prayer of our own. Thank you Rebecca Macconaughey and Deborah Goodwin who led a class recently called, “Holy or (Wholly) in the World: Celtic Christianity Revisited.” Members of this class wrote St. Paul’s Breastplate in the Celtic style and theology. Our St. Paul’s Breastplate includes a deep connection with words that describe the natural beauty of our surroundings right here.

It will be our Prayers of the People this morning in celebration of Trinity Sunday. So, I invite you to listen closely, for our protection will be invoked when we say, “For our shield this day, we call a mighty power: The Holy Trinity! Affirming Threeness, confessing oneness, in the making of all through love.”

And so, here we are! Back to love! Only a few weeks ago, we heard the passage from the First Letter of John that instructed us about love and fear. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment…”

My friends in Christ, be not afraid!  Call upon all the forces of heaven to come to our aid! Call upon Christ to surround us in every way! Call upon the Spirit to inspire our hearts! God did not come into this world to condemn it. God came to save it.