The Reciprocal Love of God – Br. Jim Woodrum
We begin to celebrate Trinity Sunday this evening, just shy of two weeks since the senseless death of George Floyd at the hands (and under the knee) of members of the Minneapolis police department. This murder (the latest in a string of fatalities of black men and women) has sparked anger and outrage, as well as suspicion of uniformed officers of the law, who have sworn to faithfully uphold their communities.[i] We have watched (and some have witnessed first-hand) the daily protests that have taken place across the country, some peaceful, and others turning violent, unable to contain the frustration of not being heard; all of this against the backdrop of a pandemic that has us reeling in isolation.
The civic unrest that we are experiencing in our country is not only the result of a Constitutional crisis symptomatic of racism, but even more so because the attempt to subdue, divide, or destroy community, which springs from the common good, goes against the very nature of the God whose image we bear. The founder of our Society Richard Meux Benson wrote: “By the communication of the Holy Spirit, the personal God is found dwelling in all the faithful, not as a Sovereign to overpower their individuality, but as a Giver of life and fullness, that our fallen emptiness may rise into true correspondence of Love with Him from whom it came.”[ii] The word community comes from the Latin communitas, which literally means “with oneness.” Community and communion are related to each other. The anger being expressed in our country over the death of George Floyd and countless other of our black sisters and brothers is a righteous anger. It is the blood of Abel crying out from the ground of our very being which is a creation of God. We should not be outraged at the anger of those who have taken to our streets in protest, but conversely, at the source of that anger. We should deeply mourn the sin of all who seek to destroy the very dwelling place of God in our midst. The inability or unwillingness to speak the truth of love to power is to be guilty of complacency. Silence in this case is not holy, but rather synonymous with death.[iii]
Those who claim the faith of Jesus Christ recognize that the essence of God is love, a love that is self-sacrificial, giving itself as the source of abundant life for all creation. Being made in God’s image means that we have the capacity to reflect this same infinite love because its nature is one of reciprocity. In our Rule of Life we say: “Our human vocation to live in communion and mutuality is rooted in our creation in God’s image and likeness. The very being of God is community; the Father, Son, and Spirit are One in reciprocal self-giving love. The mystery of God as Trinity is one that only those living in personal communion can understand by experience.”[iv] Jesus sought to quell any confusion in us when he succinctly summarized the Law and the Prophets as the love of God and the love of neighbor. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church Michael Curry has said rightly that ‘If it isn’t about love, it isn’t about God.’[v]
We cannot love God if we do not love our brothers and sisters and recognize the love God has for them.[vi] We cannot adore the beauty of our diverse triune God, if we do not seek it in the faces of the diverse community God has created. We cannot receive the assurance of God’s mercy, gracefully shown to us in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, unless we are willing to be arbiters of that same mercy; a mercy that both takes a knee in peaceful protest and displaces the knee prohibiting another from breathing in the breath of life. Father Benson said: “A true knowledge of God will therefore develop our nature in a true form of response to Him, whereas a false conception of God will develop faculties in our nature which find no true satisfaction in Him.”[vii]
Simply standing in front of a church building wielding a bible is not a Christian witness to the love of Jesus whom we serve.[viii] Rather, we should all kneel before the presence of God abiding in the human heart of our neighbor, wielding a posture of compassion (which literally means ‘to suffer with’) and expose the crucified, risen, and ascended Jesus present in our own hearts. We need to lift up our grief from the senseless death of our black sisters and brothers and ask God to sanctify it, transforming it into His love, a love of action that seeks to dispel fear, heal our divisions, and recognize our complex diversity in God’s holy Unity; a communion of compassion, mercy, grace, and love that flow ceaselessly between us and it’s source: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: One God in three persons: The Unity in the Trinity. Amen.
[ii] Benson, Richard Meux. Spiritual Readings: Advent. p. 83
[iii] The slogan “Silence = Death” was created in 1986 for a poster first produced in 1987 by six New York friends seeking a visual shorthand to express their anger at the government’s silence around the AIDS epidemic (and rouse elected officials to do something about it), the graphic was later adopted by the organization ACT UP as one of its main visual references.
[iv] SSJE Rule of Life, Chapter 4: The Witness of Life in Community
[vi] 1 John 4:20
[vii] Benson, Richard Meux. Spiritual Readings: Advent. p. 83
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Thank you, Br. Jim, this year and all years. SSJE should reprint this homily every year on this horrible anniversary, and fill this week’s space with reflections on how the mysteries of the Holy Spirit and the Trinity call us to address the sins of our society and proclaim with boldness the word of love in action. May our return to common worship and meditation on our recent past nerve us ‘to live more nearly as we pray’.
So appreciative of your speaking to such a core issue of racial justice and its necessary confrontation by people of faith. We need more prophetic words such as these from the pulpits of our country and in the daily discourse of Christians. That requires moral clarity and a willingness to risk rejection in order to speak decisively, proclaiming the gospel in our own day and age. Thank you, Brother Jim.
A sermon delivered a year ago, but that continues to call us not only to who we truly are but to what being made in God’s image requires of us. Loving should not be hard.
Amen to your comment, Barbara!
Thank you to Br. Jim for this excellent sermon. It was relevant a year ago, this year, and always.
Thank you, Brother Jim.
May our thoughts, words and actions always reflect the amazing Love of God.
A Beautiful Sermon, Jim! Thanks for posting it!
What a wonderful homily!