10/28/2018 Sermon


Elisa Owen
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
October 28, 2018

The Second Trinity

Matthew 22:  36-40

I think the Biblical narrative actually speaks of two Trinities, rather than just one.  Which is what I want to talk to you about today.  With the first Holy Trinity you are already familiar.  We call her Father, Son and Spirit.  Or, if you prefer, Creator, Christ and Comforter or even the Lover, the beloved and the love.  However you call the One God in three persons, it will be no surprise to you that this God is the One we Christians worship.  So who, or what is the second Trinity?  Well, we are made in God’s image.  And we are made to respond to God’s love for us.  So, appropriately I think the second trinity manifests itself in the Biblical description of the appropriate human response to the love of God.  Another Holy Trinity that is the only adequate “musical counterpoint” to God’s gifts to us of life and of liberty.  Liberty meaning our freedom to love in spite all that would oppose it both in us, and around us.

As we come upon Jesus this morning he is responding to the religious authorities, his detractors.  He is teaching on the Monday of Holy week, suspended between the adoration of the Palm Sunday crowds and the brutal execution he will endure on Friday.  When the Pharisees ask him what to narrow things down to the greatest commandment they are seeking to entrap him.  After all Jewish tradition holds that there are 613 commandments in all of scripture; 248 of them saying what should be done and another 365 letting us know what to avoid.  So to single one out, or even two, as Jesus does is quite a risk for him to take.  (What?!! the retort might have come back to him, how dare you neglect number 543? Or number 204? How dare you summarize the truth in ONLY these two?!)

But Jesus takes the pastoral risk of replying to their disingenuous inquiries.  He, in other words, makes himself vulnerable in order to share with them the truth as God has gifted him to know it.  In his reply Jesus not only summarizes his mission and ministry, but also tells us what the good news looks like when it is joyfully lived out by his chosen people.  Y’all should love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul, he says.  That is the first commandment.  (He was quoting here the shema.  The Hear, O Israel, passage that graces the doorframes of all devout Jews.  It is the passage that opens every Sabbath worship; the one that surely opened the worship yesterday morning at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.  It is simply the most important scriptural reference of all the Hebrew texts.  But then Jesus marries that fundamental Jewish admonition with an interpreting counterpoint.  This time he quotes Leviticus 19:18 and claims that second commandment is “like” the first.

Just how exactly is it like the first?  For my money because it completes the second trinity, which describes the deepest and fullest human response to the Trinity we worship.  It describes what it looks like in other words to live the abundant life Christ’s promises all of us.  Why do I say these 2 commandments describe the second trinity?  Because what we are called to be and do are not, as I had always understood them until well into my ministry, 3 different things.  That is, we are to love God, yes, and ourselves, yes, and others, yes.  Ostensibly to do 3 things.  Except they aren’t actually three things.  In the depths of the human soul, our response to God has three manifestations, our love for God, our love for ourselves, and our love for others.  But those three manifestations may not be separated.  We cannot love God and hate ourselves, the creature God has made and called us good.  Though addicts of all stripes, you and me, may try to compartmentalize that way.  Nor can we love God but hate any one of our brothers and sisters, those whom God has created.  And yes I include Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump in that company.  The love of God rightly looks like the love of self rightly which in turn looks like deep care for others.  The second trinity cocreates shalom, peace or right relationship in collaboration with the first.  The second trinity, one in three and three in one.    That is the image of God in us.  As we deepen our relationship with this God, we begin to realize these 3 different things are actually all one in the same.  And as we realize that, it changes our lives.  Changes them so that we lead our lives asking not, how can I avoid suffering and get back to the land of smooth sailing?  But instead asking, when I am hurting, when the road gets rough, what is God trying to teach me about deepening these three loves all the way down to the very heart of things?

I want to suggest today that most of the pathology in the world, both writ large, and that which plays out in our families and in our churches, is largely caused by separating these three things from one another.  Which human beings often do to avoid growth.  Our President loves himself, but perversely – since that love does not intrinsically include the love of God or of others.  And I may say I love God, but if I doubt my own God given leadership abilities, that is if I fail to embrace my gifts, or if you as individuals or as an organization fail to embrace yours – have we fully honored the grace God has given us to use for good?  You see how this seeing our response to God as 3 different things, rather than as on beautiful triad, might hobble our ability to be fully God’s when it most matters?

What does the second Holy Trinity look like when people “get it.”  When the 3 loves are finally appropriated in one soul as one thing?  My friends those are the people that get to enjoy abundant life.  The life that is life indeed Isaiah 35 sang to us so beautifully in our first passage this morning.  When the three human responses to God are one, and not divided, then The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. And then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.  Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.  And what might this abundant life look like transposed from Isaiah into more recent centuries?

The new PBS documentary The Mayo Clinic:  Faith-Hope-Science tells the story of William Worrall Mayo, an English immigrant who began practicing medicine with his sons Will and Charlie in Rochester, Minnesota.  When a deadly tornado tore through their small community in 1883, the Mayos took charge of recovery efforts, enlisting the help of the nearby Sisters of Saint Francis to care for patients.  Afterwards, Mother Alfred Moes, the leader of the convent, told Dr. Mayo she had a vision from God that instructed her to build a hospital, with him as its director. She believed it would become “world renowned for its medical arts.”  This collaboration between the Mayos and the nuns laid the foundation for a medical center that now treats over a million patients every year from 50 states and 150 countries…and employs 64,000 people in Rochester and at campuses in Jacksonville, Florida and Scottsdale, Arizona.  “When the Mayo Clinic began in the late 19th Century, the medical community was so amazed at its success, they dubbed it ‘The Miracle in the Cornfield,’” said co-director Erik Ewers. “But as unique as Mayo may be, it’s not a miracle. It’s about incredibly determined and compassionate men and women who came together to figure out how to create a model of care that puts patients before profits.”

Or closer to home what’s it look like, for us to love God, ourselves and other people all at once, and without fear?  This, by the way is the kind of people the church exists to create.  And the creation of these miracles of hope and strength and resilience are the reason the church exists.  And since this is stewardship season let me put in a plug.  When you decide what to give to Crescent Hill Presbyterian this year, don’t do it based on whether you are happy with the church’s pastor, or the church’s leadership.  That is a fickle and entertainment based decision making process.  Do it instead because you believe soul deep in the role the church has in the world – to create people who are capable of living life “whole heartedly” as Brene Brown says, of living life to the glory of the Trinitarian God who demands, but only for our most beautiful thriving, a Trinitarian response.  And thus are willing to put your money, your time and your talents to help this church thrive.  Give because you loved build a bed, and long for more of those holy moments of fellowship and service.  Or because Grannies Respond feeds you on hope as you join its Louisville founding sisters in taking the concrete steps that form the caring chain of this modern underground railroad.

To divide the second trinity is a terrible ravage on the hearts and minds of God’s children.  It tries to trick us into thinking we can love God without embracing ourselves, warts and all, or that we can love God without learning to love others, even those with whom we vehemently disagree.  As such, it misleads us into believing that the Christian life may be embraced fully without us having to come to terms with pain.  The pain of growth toward the full appropriation of the fact that we don’t get God without learning to love our enemies, and that we don’t get ourselves or our church without facing the pain of our imperfections and limitations.  Pain, as it turns out is simply the other face of the abundant life that dwells in and with us when we dare embrace love in earnest.  And pain is something with which Jesus is very familiar.  He accepted it in fact as the price of that holy love with runs so deep through the heart of things it cannot help but lead beyond itself to resurrection joy.  From our side, the willingness to endure pain in fact, the pain that accompanies growth and birth of all kinds, is perhaps the deepest manifestation of faith in the first Trinity.  It may be scary.  And it requires we approach it for the holy ground it is.  But I am here to tell you unequivocally that it will lead to new and abundant life.

And so I pray for you all that you learn to see Our Lord all over the place even in the midst of the uncertainty and waiting that you face.  Not in spite of the pain of it.  But, instead, precisely in the midst of it.  To where we will find Jesus has already gone before us.  Submitting his majesty to our fears and uncertainties.  Condescending to dwell there with us first – until we are ready.  Ready to fly with him toward the horizon, where the promise of the new eternal day waits.

May this be so for you and for me.

Elisa Owen
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
October 28, 2018
Louisville, KY