THE TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 St. John 3.1)
Mother church, in her wisdom, has a keen way of simultaneously drawing the conscientiousness into two realities. She accomplishes this through her liturgies and in the progression of the liturgical seasons which make up the Christian calendar. For example, the horror of Good Friday places us squarely in the sorrows of the Lord’s crucifixion, and at the same time, we sense a lingering hope, an Easter joy assured to rise on Sunday morning
These liturgical transitions (from Epiphany to Lent, Easter to Pentecost, and Trinity to Advent) sets human existence in two truths, two realities, both our history and our future. Yet, we are not disoriented but further oriented to not only the meaning of history, but reality as well. This is because time and history ordered, understood, and deciphered through the life of Christ has this effect. In Christ, the veil is pulled off of the false constructs and romanticized realities we employ to make sense of the world. These counterfeits are unmasked and shown to be what they really are. Reality- all history and the trajectory of time- is only understandable in the incarnation, the crucifixion and ascension, and the future return of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Adventus Christi… The Advent season is nearly upon us. Perhaps you’ve begun to sense this transition in the lectionary readings of the past week with themes of God coming to his creation, echoes of the incarnation, that great cosmic event bringing salvation and judgment, the final consummation of salvation history. The Lord Jesus Christ is coming. This is Advent’s clarion call. It is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of God in Christ, his incarnation and nativity, but equally, it is a time of holy expectancy and spiritual preparation for his second coming, the parousia of our Lord.
The Advent season provides the rationale for the heavy emphasis Trinity-Tide puts on spiritual growth: the purgation of sin and attaining illumination, so that we may attain union with Christ. Preparing for the return of the King. And yet, the great mystery in the Old Testament of God coming to his people is that he would come not once, but twice. First, to save. Then to judge. And on that great and future day, what do we hope for? Is it not to see him and to become as he is? Is this not the assurance of hope spoken of this evening by St. John the divine? “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”
Much emphasis has been placed on our doing the work of sanctification during these many weeks of Trinity-tide, on becoming perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. And I hope that we have been mindful to steer clear of the two great errors of Christian spirituality: one, working in our own strength or two, resigning ourselves to passivity as if we have nothing to contribute. Rather, we should hold together both the empowerment of God’s Holy Spirit and our willing and working unto holiness. Man tills the ground and casts the seed, but God makes it rain and brings forth fruit from the earth.
This evening, St. John would have us pause from our spiritual work. Through his epistle, he wants us to remember and contemplate the deep, abiding, and unending love of God. The incomprehensible way in which God the Father loves his children. For, according to the blessed Apostle, that’s exactly who we are: we are sons and daughters of God. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”
What manner of love has God the Father bestowed upon us? Here St. John calls us to employ the gift of memory, to remember what God has done for us in Christ. First, the Father hath loved us (past tense). He took the initiative to love and so the Apostle declares, “we love him because he first loved us.” The God who is love, is the first mover in loving.
For God in Christ moved from the riches of heaven, he that was rich became poor “Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” And let’s be brutally honest: in our fallen state we would never have reached out to God. In our pride we would rather have drowned before calling out for help. For as the psalmist says, no man seeks God and the fool says in his heart there is no God (Ps 53.1-2).
Prideful fools. Prideful and in bondage to sin. “Because of the weakness of our flesh,” says St. Paul, “we used to offer our bodies in slavery to impurity and to escalating wickedness… we were enslaved to sin” (Rom 6.19-20). We simply could not break free from the wicked tyranny, in fact, we loved our sin (certainly more than we loved Christ). We were dead in our transgressions. Dead. Completely incapable of reversing our sad estate.
But God is love and love acts! The Giver gives! St. John says, the love the Father hath given to us. Not the love the Father imagined, or felt, or manifested toward us, but the love He has given to us. God so loved the world that he gave—He gave—his only begotten Son. What manner of love? Behold, dear friends, a love that gathered shape and form and embodied itself in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. A love which refused to remain an abstract conception, a mere principle. It took shape: love incarnated— God’s unspeakable gift to man.
What manner of love? A love that broke the shackles of sin. “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins… “This is the ‘why’ of God’s incomprehensible love towards us. “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” The love of God became flesh to redeem, to re-make, and to glorify sinners such as us. This is what manner in which God has loved you. It is the very love which preserves you now, moment by moment. It is the love which woos our affections and enkindles a holy impulse to return his love: to joyfully and obediently serve He who first loved us: “for if you love me, keep my commandments.”
What manner of love? A love that makes us sons and daughters of God. “Beloved, now we are the sons of God…” By his love we have attained sonship, we are the sons and daughters of God, this is our present reality. To us has been given all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ. He has adopted us into his family by Christ Jesus, in whom also we have obtained and share an eternal inheritance. All of this is ours and yet it remains to be fully realized: it is the glorious inheritance of the saints in light which awaits all faithful people. And here, the love of God informs the imagination, filling our future with expectant hope as we contemplate and envision that future day when the promises of God are fully realized in history and in us the church. A terrible and wonderful day “when the sun is darkened and the moon will not give her light, and the stars fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens are shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: then shall the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” On this future day, the second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, some will mourn at his coming, fatherless, and outside of the promises. God have mercy!
But Christian, take heart, for Christ shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. The sons and daughters of God will hear the trump and know who has come, as sheep who hear and know the Shepherd's voice: Those who love Christ and who are loved by him. Beloved come. Come to the table where past, present, and future intermingle. Come, remembering the love of God in Christ towards you, filled with joyful expectancy of that future day when he shall appear again with power and great glory, when we will be made like unto him in his eternal and glorious kingdom. Amen.