2 Corinthians 13:11-13 NRSV
We Americans are often guilty of trivializing things that are important. Consequently, survivors of loved ones who gave their lives for their country often struggle during the Memorial Day Weekend, and rightly so. For it can sometimes be difficult to tell if Americans truly know what Memorial Day is about.
Is it about the end of the school year and the beginning of summer? Is it about going to the beach, the river, or the lake? Is it about playing golf, having a cookout, or opening the backyard swimming pool? Is it about red-tag sales at the mall or some other self-fulfilling activity?
No, it is about sacrifice. It is about self-denying, self-expending love. It is about people giving all that they had to give, for they so loved their country more than self.
This weekend is about honoring those who died for us, and it is about praying for those they left behind. It is also a time to recommit ourselves to those who continue to selflessly fight evil in our world, evil that demeans, devalues and destroys human life and sometimes does it in the name of God.
May God forgive us for forgetting what this weekend is all about or watering it down for our own selfish gain.
I am afraid that we have done the same thing to the Christian faith. Consequently, followers of Jesus everywhere struggle, and rightly so. For it can sometimes be difficult to tell if Christians really know what the gospel is about.
Is it about judging and condemning others who believe and live differently? Is it about pure beliefs and possessing an attitude of superiority? Is it about having the right to discriminate and treat others who differ from us as second class citizens? Is it about banning people of other faiths from our communities? Is it about depleting our natural resources because we believe the Lord is returning and the world is ending in our lifetime? Is it all about going to heaven one day or on some other self-absorbed venture?
No, our faith is about sacrifice. It is about self-denying, self-expending love. It is about a God giving all that God has to give, for God so loved this world more than God’s self.
Thus, faith is about honoring a God who died for all. It is about recommitting daily to continue to selflessly fight the evil in our world, evil that seeks to demean, dehumanize and destroy human life and sometimes does it in the name of God.
Monday is Memorial Day. May we remember what it is truly about. And everyday is the day the Lord has made. May we remember how God is made known to us, relates to us, and loves us, and how God calls us to make ourselves known to, relate to and love the world.
This is where I believe the doctrine of the Holy Trinity can really help us—Three persons in one. Throughout the centuries, people have been trying to explain this complexity in simplistic language.
You have probably heard that God is like a pie. You can cut a pie into three pieces, but it’s still one pie. Or God is like many of us. I’m a brother, a father, and a son, but I am still one person. Or God is like water, and water has many forms: steam, ice, and liquid, but it is still water.
However, I believe each of these descriptions only scratch the surface of who our God truly is. It is only a watered-down, version of who our God is. Furthermore, it is defining God based on our understanding of the world, instead of allowing our understanding of God to define the world.
God, the creator of all that is, the power behind our universe, gave God’s self, emptied God’s self, poured God’s self out and became flesh and dwelt among us through Jesus Christ. And Jesus Christ, while he was on this earth, gave himself back to God by becoming obedient to God even to death, even death on the cross. But before he left us on this earth, he promised not to leave us orphaned, he promised to be with us always by giving himself back to us through the Holy Spirit.
Do you see the one characteristic of the Holy Trinity which stands out? God gave God’s self through the Son. The Son gave himself back to the Father. And God once more gives God’s self back through the Holy Spirit. God is a self-giving God. God is a God who loves to give to others the very best gift that God has to give, the gift of God’s self.
God is a giver. That means that God is not a taker. For givers are never takers.
Isn’t interesting that many Christians, often characterize God as a taker? Again, I think it is because we like to create a God in what we want our image to be, instead of allowing the image of God to define and guide us.
For example: How many funerals have we attended and heard the phrase: “God took her home or God was ready to take him?”
We have all lost loved ones to death. But the Trinity teaches us that Lord did not take them. For givers are not takers. A more accurate way of describing what happened to our loved ones when they breathed their last on this earth is that God wholly, completely and eternally, gave all of God’ self to them.
When we experience the heartache and heartbreak of this fragmented world, there is one thing of which we can be certain, God is here with us, not taking, but giving us all that God has to give, the best gift of all, the gift of God’s self. If we don’t know anything else about God, we can know this. For it is God’s very nature.
As we renew our discipleship mission as a church, let us renew our commitment to mirror our God by living not as takers, but as givers.
For I believe with all of my heart that mirroring the self-giving love of God that is revealed to us in the Holy Trinity can help us reclaim the gospel that has been high-jacked by people who prefer to live in this world on their terms instead of on God’s terms.
Mirroring the self-giving love of God can help us recover our faith that has been co-opted by takers, by people who have used and misused the name of God for their own selfish gain
For if we mirrored the Triune God as self-giver, think of how everything would change.
Think of how our Christian faith would change. Our faith would not be about what we can take from God—healthier marriages, stronger families, deeper friendships, peace, security, comfort, a mechanism to overcome trials or to achieve a more prosperous life, or even gain an eternal life.
Our faith would be what we can give back to the Holy Giver—namely all that we have and all that we are, even if it is costly, even if it involves risk, danger and suffering, even if it involves the loss of relationships, stress on our marriages, sleepless nights, a tighter budget, even if it involves laying down our very lives.
Church. Church would not be about what we can take from it. It would not be about getting fed, experiencing some peace, attaining a blessing or receiving some inspiration to help us through the week.
Church would be about opportunities for self-giving. Church would be about feeding the hungry, working to bring peace, being blessing to our communities and inspiring the world. Church would no longer be a place that we go to on Sunday, but who we are every day of the week, the body of Christ, the very embodiment of holy self-giving love in the world. Church would not be a way to for us to get some Jesus. Church would be way we allow Jesus to get us to love our neighbors as we were created to love.
And our neighbors. We would look to our neighbors, not for what they can give us, not for what we can take from them, or how we can use them, but for what we may be able to offer them, especially those things that others are constantly robbing them of in order to support their dominance and superiority over them—their dignity, their equality, their value as human beings created in the image of God, their hope, their freedom, their justice.
We would look to our city, our state and our nation, not for what we can selfishly take from it, but for how we can selflessly give to it to make it a more just place for all.
The environment would not be something for us to take from, plunder and exploit for our own selfish wants, but something for which we sacrificially care for, respect, nurture and protect.
I believe if we would truly mirror the triune image of our God as givers instead of as takers, God’s kingdom would fully and finally come on earth as it is in heaven.
Mirroring the triune image of God as self-givers can rebuild a broken world.
Mirroring the triune image of God as self-givers can correct a distorted moral narrative.
Mirroring the triune image of God as self-givers can heal sick religion.
Mirroring the triune image of God as self-givers can bring down walls and break the chains of injustice.
Mirroring the triune image of God as self-givers will erase racism and sexism. It will end sexual harassment and assault.
When we mirror the triune image God as givers, all hate, bigotry, and violence will pass away, and all of creation will be born again.
When we mirror the triune image of God as givers, liberty and justice and peace will come, and it will come for all.
When we mirror the triune image of God as givers, the words of the prophet Isaiah will be fulfilled:
Many peoples shall come and say,
‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.’
…[Then] they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more (Isaiah 2:3-4).