First Sunday after
June 18 AD 2006
1 John 4:7-21
St. Luke 16:19f
“God is love; and he that dwelleth in love
dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect,
that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is,
so are we in this world”
(I John 4:16-17).
do these words of Scripture have to do with the journey of
sanctification we have embarked upon in Trinity Season? Not only do
these words address us at the beginning of our journey, on this First
Sunday after Trinity, but they are the same Scripture sentences which we
repeat again and again at the beginning of our daily Offices throughout
Trinity Season. Surely this must be a signal to us that the lesson to
be learned here is of weighty importance.
Sunday, we celebrated that most central doctrine of our faith, that of
the Trinity, which, as the Athanasian creed declares, is necessary to
our salvation: “He therefore that would be saved, let him thus think of
the Trinity” (BCP, 697). But this rule of faith, however
perplexing and difficult it is to understand, is not merely some
abstract, remote, philosophical quandary. Rather, it is who we believe
the one God to be, who revealed himself in three persons, Father, Son,
and Holy Ghost; and the ultimate goal of our human existence is to
participate in this divine, Trinitarian life.
perhaps you are thinking that this is all still rather abstract or
obtuse? For what could it possibly mean to “participate” in the
Trinity, in the God to be worshiped in Unity, and the Unity in Trinity?
question concerning the Trinity, and our life in it, is fundamentally
the question of what charity is, and our life in charity. There really
is nothing else to be considered here than what true love or charity is,
and how we are related to it: for the revelation of the Triune God is
the revelation to us and to all creation of the God himself who is
charity itself: “Herein is love, not that we love God, but that he
has loved us, and given his son to be the propitiation for our sins”
(I John 4:10). In Christ is the love of God manifested towards us.
Thus, the love of God for us comes first—for we in our sin, could not
approach the God whose Divine wrath hates sin, and so to reconcile the
world to himself it was necessary that Divine charity should come to us
in the flesh, as “the Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the
world.” God’s descent into the world in the form of our human nature
was so that we might be drawn up to God, to become partakers in his
divine nature. This is God’s free gift to us, his grace, his Divine
participation in the Trinity, then, is a participation in Divine
charity: Because God is love, “he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in
God, and God in him” (I John 4:16). We love one another, because
the goodness, beauty, and truth in God’s love towards us compels us to
be conformed into the likeness of that love, to enter into and partake
of it. Our life in the Trinity is not a paralysing perplexity; but
rather, a life in love manifested in willing the good of others. To be
united to true charity, to enter into the joy and superabundance of God,
we must indeed become like the God who is Charity: this requires that we
must come to love God, and love what God loves. And so, if we love God,
we shall love our brother, our sister, our neighbour, and our enemy—and
our love for them shall be unconditional, unmerited, and gracious.
There is not opposition between love of God and love of neighbour; but
rather, our love of God issues forth in acts of charity to our
neighbour, and our love of neighbour depends utterly upon God’s love for
us. Ultimately, there is only one love. If we do not love one another,
if we do not love our neighbour, we are not “abiding in love” and
therefore we and we do not know or love God who is Love. The spiritual
vision which we seek, and which Nicodemus failed to grasp, requires an
inward conversion, and an elevation of soul. But this is not a
spirituality which contains or encloses the love of God within us. For
our true love is the divine charity, a current which flows downward to
us, draws us upwards, and outward on every side. In the act of loving
God’s creatures, especially those created in his image, we come to love
God, because if our love is true and authentic, is nothing else but a
participation in the love of God.
love for us, our love for God, and the love by which we love at all:
these three loves are mysteriously bound together—lover, beloved, and
love—like the three Persons of the Trinity.
this Trinity season is about the perfection of our love. The conversion
and purification of our love and will to the will of God, to what God
loves, to God himself who is charity itself—this is perfect justice.
And as we are reminded by our Gospel today, our perfection in love
anticipates when we must one day come before the perfect judgement seat
of Christ: before us is a stark contrast between participation in the
divine life or in damnation, between being caught up in the bliss of
Abraham’s bosom or the torments of eternal fire. For we shall, in the
end, be united to what we love. What, then, do we love? We must
consider this question well, and search the secrets of our hearts. For
in the end, we shall get what we want, and dwell with what we have
loved, eternally. Whatever boldness we have in the day of judgement
consists in the divine charity in which we seek live, and into which we
seek to be made perfect.
this is of course easier said than done. What we know is good, we do
not necessarily will. In our state of infirmity, we need nothing less
than divine help to make love a habit. And so we pray in our Collect:
Mercifully accept our prayers; and because through the weakness
of our mortal nature we can do no good thing without thee, grant us
the help of thy grace, that in keeping of thy commandments we may
please thee both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen (BCP, p. 217).