Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
June 6, 2010
Did anyone happen to catch the number of times the word love or one of its cognates appeared in our Epistle lesson from First St. John? To save you the trouble of going back to count for yourselves, the number was 28 in 15 verses. Twenty-eight times the beloved disciple conveys the central theme of salvation history – the fact that God is love.
That phrase is the centerpiece of Christian theology because it defines who God is in His most intimate nature. One of the ways that theologians over the years have attempted to describe the Holy Trinity is through the use of the word love. They refer to the Father as Lover, the Son as the Beloved, and the Holy Spirit as the Bond of Love that is shared between the two. As St. John says, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world.” “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.”
Those interrelated passages from John’s Gospel and his first epistle speak of the intimate character of the Godhead. The Son resides in the bosom of the Father, and then in the fullness of God’s special time, He vouchsafed to allow us to behold His glory through His Son. The love that has always been between the Father and the Son could not be contained at either Jesus’ baptism or His Transfiguration as the Spirit of the Father cried out, “This is my Beloved Son.” We have received the Father through His Incarnate Son.
As I mentioned last Sunday we now begin the second half of the Church Year. What started on Advent Sunday last fall found its culmination in the Feast of the Holy Trinity. We now begin the season known as Trinitytide. This shouldn’t be seen as simply the “long green season,” but rather, the period where we are able to meditate more deeply, and be drawn more fully into the reality of what took place in the first half of the year. There’s a very good reason why the ancient lectionary chose these two lessons from St. John and St. Luke to begin that reflection because we are allowed to reflect upon where things all began – the Love that is God, and how that love has been shown to us.
From the preparation of the Incarnation, to our Lord’s birth at Christmas, to his Epiphany and manifestation, and then to his death, resurrection, and ascension, we see the fullness of God not in a concept, but in reality. We see how God acted and continues to act in salvation history.
When we think back to the Book of Genesis and the Garden of Eden, there was an intimacy and knowledge between Man and God that was pure, undefiled, almost mystical in character. Then in one fateful moment, that intimacy was replaced with the thought that mankind might just be able to replace that intimacy with God with a self-generated intimacy that came from being like God as the Serpent said. Unfortunately for Adam and Eve, and for us their offspring, we’ve been chasing a mirage ever since. Every attempt at self-satisfaction and self-generated intimacy leaves us longing for more, and the terrible realization that we can’t get back to Paradise of our own longing and volition. We long for and desire an intimacy that only God is capable of filling. And since God has written eternity on our hearts, we are forever longing to return to our source, and thus, to our Creator.
There is a word of particular importance that I would like to focus upon just a bit more deeply. John says, “everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.” I want us to concentrate on that word knoweth. It comes from the Greek word "ginwskw" that means to know, to ascertain, to come to understand, to be sure of. When the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek this word "ginwskw" took on an interesting connotation. It came to mean, “ ‘a personal relationship of care and affection.’ The word know…is often used ‘in a sense practically synonymous with ‘love,’ to set regard upon, to know with particular interest, delight, affection, and action.’” Also, whenever the Bible speaks of a husband knowing his wife in a sexual connotation, the same Greek word is used in those instances as well.
The reason that it’s important to recognize and point out this nuance to this passage is because of the recurrence of this theme. The word "ginwskw" is used over 200 times in the New Testament, and almost half of them are used by John. That in and of itself is somewhat telling because there are other words that carry the meaning to know, yet John uses this word quite regularly in his Gospel, Epistles and Revelation. The more striking comparison comes when one looks at some of the other instances when that word appears and how it is used, particularly in light of what we heard this morning.
On the Sunday preceding Lent, we hear the great passage on love from St. Paul to the Corinthian Church. As the thirteenth chapter of I Corinthians begins to close we hear these words, “For we know in part, and we prophesy in part….For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
Each time St. Paul speaks of the limits of our knowledge on this side of eternity he uses that same word "ginwskw." But if we listen again to what is being said here, we recognize that on our side of the equation we are limited in the depths of our intimacy with God, but the flip side is not true. God truly knows us at a level that we can only aspire to, yet will remain just outside of our grasp. However, the goal is in the quest, in the search, in the journey toward knowing and being known.
That is why the imagery of marriage is so useful when our Lord speaks of us as his bride. The bridegroom longs to know us so deeply, so intimately, that the link between husband and wife is the only one that conveys the magnitude of true knowing.
Think of it this way. If, as a husband, you truly know your wife, her wants, her needs, her desires, do you really have to ask her what she wants for Christmas or her birthday? No, because the depth of your knowledge of what will make her happy doesn’t require her telling you, you know it instinctively.
The same goes for God on a much larger and more grand scale.
He wishes to shower us with blessings both in this world, and in the life to come. He knows what we need before we even ask. He gives freely out of His abundant grace and mercy. He provides for us in ways that really cannot grasp.
In return, we are called to know Him at much more than just a superficial or surface level depth. Part of knowing God more deeply is spending time with Him in prayer every day. Part of knowing God is spending time reading, marking, learning, and inwardly digesting His Holy Word. The greatest way we can know God is in what we are about to do in just a few moment when we come to meet and know Him in the Blessed Sacrament. This is a knowledge of our Lord Jesus that is so personal and intimate and one that we should frequent as often as possible.
The only way that one can cultivate a truly deep marriage or friendship is through hard work, and constant contact. So too with our relationship with God. Truly knowing God can only come through our participation in the worship and praise of Him, and His holy Name. Even though we’ll only being doing so through a glass darkly, we then begin to know our Creator as he has known us since the beginning of time.
It’s no wonder that our first lesson in Trinitytide speaks of God’s intimate nature as a God of love. We come to experience that love again in the Sacrament of His Son’s most precious Body and Blood. “Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God….In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins….We love him, because he first loved us.”