Trinity Sunday C
June 10, 2019
Author: Scott Hoezee
Nowhere in the gospels does Jesus talk as much about the Holy Spirit as here in John 16. Indeed, as Frederick Dale Bruner notes, the Spirit receives, at best, modest treatment and attention in the Synoptic Gospels. But then, that seems to be true of the New Testament generally. It seems that the people who are the most filled with the Spirit are the same people who seem to be the least conscious of that fact. The spotlight remains on Christ, and it is the Spirit’s “job” in the economy of salvation to make sure that that spotlight remains on Jesus alone.
But because Jesus is talking so much about the Spirit in John 16, it’s not surprising that this becomes one of those texts in which the Doctrine of the Trinity seems to get a boost. As any Jehovah’s Witness can tell you, the word “Trinity” appears nowhere in the Bible. What’s more, nowhere in the New Testament do we get anything approaching a systematic presentation of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as it has come down to us from the tradition of the Church via Nicea and Chalcedon.
John 16 certainly is not very systematic in this way, either. However, what can escape no one’s notice is that the Son is here talking about both his Father and the Spirit as discrete persons who can be distinguished from himself. What’s more, the unity of these three persons—and the tighter than tight bonds that exist particularly between Father and Son but also among Father, Son, and Spirit—is vividly on display. These are, to invoke language reminiscent of Trinitarian theology, three persons who can be distinguished but not separated. What each person does first and foremost is to bring to the world the things collectively shared by the three.
After all, what Jesus says here is that the Father has given everything to the Son in terms of power and knowledge. The Son, in turn, has given as much of all that to the disciples as they could take up to that point. However, when the Spirit comes, the process of giving to others what the Father and Son collectively share will continue and deepen.
So as Dale Bruner once pointed out, the Spirit will give to the world not just the content of revelation but also will reveal the relevance of that revelation. A question that could be raised in this regard has to do with what it means that the Spirit “will guide you into all truth.” Was that process of truth-revealing limited to the era of the disciples turned apostles or is this something we are to envision as going on and on throughout the entire era of the church? To get more concrete, a little over a 100 years ago the church in the United States determined in the 19th century that despite its centuries’ long acceptance of (and even biblical warranting of) human slavery, this practice could not, as a matter of fact, be accepted on biblical grounds. Indeed, on biblical grounds it had to be rejected and even repudiated. Was this about-face the result of the Holy Spirit’s ongoing work of leading us into all truth? A case for that could well be made.
Safeguards are needed, of course. We should not expect the Holy Spirit to lead us into a truth that will contradict core Christian teachings such as the identity of Christ or the trustworthiness of revealed Scripture. But that our understanding of those things will deepen—or the idea that how we apply those things will change over time—could certainly be validated by John 16.
But for Trinity Sunday, all of that may be somewhat tangential. The key here is the utter unity of the three persons in God and how each so freely contributes to the further glory of the other two persons. The Spirit seeks no glory for itself—indeed, by doing ongoing revelation on behalf of the Son (and by extension of the Father), we are told that this brings glory to the Son. We have here the ultimate deferential community of sharing. Glory comes when each person promotes the other two.
In contrast to the Western tradition that has often depicted the Trinity by way of a triangle, the Eastern tradition has usually opted for a circle to convey the idea of perichoresis, of the circular dance of the three persons in God. Call it the divine choreography, if you will. It’s a dance of life and love that is never-ending as each person adoringly waltzes with every other person in a divine eagerness to make known to the world the riches of one another. The Father pours out everything onto the Son. The Spirit then takes all that from the Son to pour out these riches on all other people. Each person in God exudes enthusiasm for the other two (and the three together display a zestful enthusiasm for us all).
Some while ago three other drivers and I all arrived at a Four-Way Stop intersection at virtually the same moment. Although altogether too many drivers seem unaware of this fact, the rule at Four-Way Stops is that drivers take turns in a clockwise fashion or according to whoever got to the intersection first. In this case, the four of us arrived simultaneously and so there was no logical starting point for even a clockwise rotation. What happened instead is that each of the four of us was making hand gestures to encourage someone to go first. After being momentarily stuck with no one moving, the next thing you knew, all four of us crept forward a bit at the same moment! Again we all stopped and again we all encouraged each other to go first. After lots of silly grins and even laughter among us four strangers, eventually we managed to get someone to go first. It was the complete opposite of what often characterizes road rage—we were terminally deferential! But it was hilarious and wonderful at the same time.
I think that something of that kind of deferential joy must characterize the interior life of God. There is something wonderful about a shared love and a shared enthusiasm one person for the other that is so intense, it results in a never-ending dance of affirmation and celebration. This Trinity Sunday lection from John 16 is pretty brief. Yet packed into these short verses is the animating energy and verve and effervescence that exists at the bright center of the universe: that holy community that just is God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
Some Bible translations (including the NIV) translate Jesus as saying in John 16:13 that the Spirit of truth will lead believers “into all truth.” In the Greek of that verse, however, the preposition is EN, not EIS (though the critical apparatus indicates there are some extant manuscripts that have EIS, but the received and official text uses EN). In that case, the translation of “into” may be a bit misleading as the typical sense of “EN” is simply “in” or “within.” Because there can be a bit of fluidity between these two prepositions, it may be best not to make too big a deal of it one way or the other. But there may be something tantalizing about the idea that for believers filled with the Spirit, “truth” is not outside of us or always just up ahead of us (such that we’d need to be led into it the way you would have to enter into a building that you are currently outside of) but rather truth is where we dwell as believers such that within that truth, the Spirit can give us a guided tour to this and that aspect of the larger truth of Christ. This sense of in-ness when it comes to truth (and the believer’s relationship to it) fits better overall with the larger context of John 13-17 where there is so much talk from Jesus about his being IN the Father and we believers in turn being IN him.
Preachers talk freely about the need to love God, and half the time we make it sound as though everyone already knows what such love would look like. Deep down, though, we all know that loving God is going to be different than loving a best friend or loving a spouse. Still, at the heart of all love is a certain enthusiasm for the beloved one. When you love someone, you do so for lots of reasons you could list: you love how she makes you laugh, you love how thoughtful he is, you love much she enjoys nature. Yet over and above such specifics, there is at the core of it all a fundamental delight that this unique person is there at all, is alive, is undeniably available for you to enjoy.
In her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Gilead”, Marilynne Robinson shows her narrator, 76-year-old Rev. John Ames, pondering the enormous love he feels for his little 7-year-old son. At one point Rev. Ames writes to his son, “There’s a shimmer on a child’s hair, in the sunlight. There are rainbow colors in it, tiny, soft beams of just the same colors you can see in the dew sometimes. Your hair is straight and dark and your skin is very fair. I suppose you’re not prettier than most children. You’re just a nice-looking boy, a bit slight, well scrubbed and well mannered. All that is fine, but it’s your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.”
Maybe loving God is like that–it begins with the sheer delight we take in the fact that God exists at all. It begins in the wonder we feel when we try to wrap our minds around that Trinitarian mystery of three who are somehow still just one. It begins with having enthusiasm for the God who created such a galaxy of wonders and who then loved us enough to plunk us down smack in the middle of it all. God arranged it so we could enjoy the splendors of a juicy Bartlett pear, taste the oakiness of a sparkling Chardonnay, have our hearts quickened by the lyric, liquid melodies of the Wood Thrush. We begin by loving the sheer existence of God and we go from there.
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Author: Stan Mast
There are better texts for this Trinity Sunday than these words about wisdom in Proverbs. The New Testament readings from John 16:12-15 and Romans 5:1-5 are much more Trinitarian, since they at least mention Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Of course, you will still have to interpret that three-ness/one-ness language. And, if you are willing to do some exegetical gymnastics with Proverbs 8 (as I may try to do at some point), you can get close to the borders Trinitarianism in this Old Testament text. But a straightforward reading of this wisdom text will focus on, well, wisdom. Indeed, it is soaring piece of wisdom literature, bringing to a climax the previous 7 chapters of Proverbs.
Proverbs 8 has two parts (well, three if you sub-divide the first part). Verses 1-21 are all about wisdom and the human race, while verses 22-31 focus on wisdom and God. As I said, you can divide that first part into wisdom’s call to humanity to pay attention to wisdom (verses 1- 11), followed by all the practical reasons wisdom is so desirable (verses 12-21). Then verses 22-31 soar into the stratosphere of the relationship between God and wisdom, which tells us the ultimate reason life in this world only works if we live by wisdom.
It is widely agreed that wisdom is personified here, that is, wisdom speaks and acts as though it were a person: she “calls out, raises her voice, takes her stand….” It’s a way to make wisdom more real, less a concept or a principle, more like a real person, like the adulteress who has whispered her sultry but deadly lies in Proverbs 7. Probably so, but, if we follow the older scholars, what we have here is an actual person speaking, maybe the Third Person of the Trinity, more likely the Second who is spoken of as the wisdom of God in the New Testament (more on that later).
However we understand the personhood of wisdom, it is clear that wisdom calls out to all persons in the first section of our reading today. Unlike the shady lady of Proverbs 7 who slinks and whispers, wisdom stands tall and speaks loudly. There is an urgency to her call, because as verses 12-21 will argue, successful living is at stake in the decision to pursue wisdom. Indeed, the conclusion of this chapter says more than that. “For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord. But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death.”
That’s pretty dramatic. Such life and death language might lead us to conclude that wisdom deals only with ultimate things, with metaphysical issues, the kind of things that interest only philosophers and theologians. But our opening verses place wisdom in the hustle and bustle of the marketplace and the courtroom, at crossroads where the masses meet and on the heights that give a panoramic view of human interaction. This wisdom is born not in the classroom or the cloister, but in the busy places where ordinary people live. To one and all, wisdom calls out. “I make a difference where you live!”
You might choose to spend your whole sermon on this part of the text. Given all the folly in the world today, it would be very helpful to lay out the value and advantages of living in wisdom’s way. But it is clear to me that the Lectionary is pointing us in a different direction– to the high flown mystery of the relationship between wisdom and God as poetically described in verses 22-31. This might seem like a homiletically unfruitful direction to take your sermon, unless you can help people to see the practical benefits of such an investigation. Maybe my little summary of the two parts of our text will convince you and your listeners of the value of studying these last verses. Wisdom says, “You’d be a fool not to live wisely. Why, even God needed wisdom.”
Here’s the mystery embedded in these last verses. Is wisdom here merely an attribute of God personified, as most modern scholars assume, or is wisdom a person, a divine person, as older interpreters thought? The problem with the former is that wisdom was “born (verses 24 and 25)” before the world began. That resonates with the Johannine idea of God’s only begotten Son, the eternal Word made flesh. The problem with the latter understanding is that wisdom is also called the first of Yahweh’s works. That sounds like the Arian concept of the Son as the first creation of God– like God, but not God. I know that I’m reading later theological controversies into these words, but one can see how those theological controversies rose out of considerations of these texts.
I don’t think you can solve those controversies in your sermon, but you can show that wisdom predated creation. Before there was anything, back when everything was “without form and void,” wisdom was there with God. “I was there when” God “set the heavens in place… and when he marked out the foundations of the earth.”
In fact, God used his wisdom in creation. Wisdom was “the craftsman” at God’s side when God created the heavens and the earth and everything therein. Though the word “craftsman” is hard to translate, I like the image of God (the Father?) as the architect who designed the universe and wisdom (the Son?) as the builder who actually put it together. This surely fits with the language of John 1:3 and Colossians 1:16 and Hebrews 1:2.
Wisdom was not only instrumental, but even essential in the creation of the world. Wisdom not only shaped the world, but is even woven into the very fabric of reality. Here’s the reason it is so important to live by wisdom’s dictates—wisdom is reality, the way God made things. At the heart of the universe is not Chance, but Wisdom. The wisdom behind and in creation is the wisdom that makes life work.
Thus, Proverbs roots wisdom not in human observation and cogitation, but in the relationship between God and wisdom and the world. Life works best when it moves in the direction God has built into the structure of reality. So, when you don’t live wisely, you are going against the grain of the universe and you will get splinters.
I like that metaphor, but it isn’t the metaphor with which our text ends—not a piece of wood, but a playing child. Hubbard puts it this way: “Like a gleeful kid, wisdom is so excited by the majesty and power of the creation, that she jokes and laughs about it daily with the Creator, who takes exquisite delight in her jollity.” That might be a bit of a stretch, but the text does say that wisdom “was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing in his (God’s) presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind.”
Here’s a great picture of God’s motivation in creating the world and particularly mankind—delight, joy, a deep delight in simply being and a desire to share the joy of existence. Wisdom delights both in God’s presence and in God’s creation. At the heart of God and at the heart of humanity is delight. That’s what God intended.
Sadly, that’s not how things have developed. God’s heart was broken when humans chose the ultimate folly; “you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The delight God designed for us has been replaced by death in multiple forms. God grieves the loss of delight, but he goes beyond grief. He sent his only begotten Son to save us from folly. Jesus Christ “has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption (I Cor. 1:30).” Maybe we can’t prove that the wisdom in Proverbs 8 is the only begotten Son of God. But by God’s saving grace, we “know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col. 2:2,3).”
Like an engine without oil, life doesn’t work without wisdom. Like a cellphone underwater, life doesn’t work under the influence of folly.
Author: Scott Hoezee
The poet of Psalm 8 stared into the night sky and was properly dazzled at what he saw. But to put it mildly, what he did not see was a lot! Had this psalmist been able to spend a scant ten minutes looking through a telescope, he would doubtless have fainted in wonderment. Ancient astronomers were quite skilled at mapping out the night sky, even to the point of being able to predict star movements. What puzzled these early scientists, however, was a handful of stars that refused to behave.
There were about a half-dozen stars that did not march in lock-step with the others, but instead meandered all over the place. The Greeks finally called these mystery stars “wanderers,” believing them to be errant stars that had somehow lost their way in the universe. The Greek word for “wandering” is planeo, from which we derive the English word “planet.” Because of course we now know that the reason those wandering stars behaved so funny is that they are not stars at all but other worlds all their own.
We’ve now seen up-close pictures of Venus and Jupiter, of Saturn and Mars. And their beauty is stunning. But the poet of Psalm 8 didn’t know any of that. He saw pin-pricks of light twinkling in the night sky and was overjoyed. How much more cause for joy we have! It is estimated that there are at least 10 billion galaxies in the universe, with each galaxy containing perhaps 100 billion stars. In other words, not only are the stars we see in the night sky far away, they are a mere fraction of what’s really out there.
Now you can take all of that mind-numbing data and do with it what you will. Some years back Time magazine published some of the Hubble telescope’s magnificent photos of luminous, gorgeous, enormous pillars of clouds and gas. A few weeks later someone wrote a letter to the editor stating that these photos should finally put an end to the religious idea that humanity amounts to anything. Not only are we clearly not the center of the universe, this person wrote, we don’t even register.
Even Psalm 8 admits that the wonders of the universe are humbling. Of course, you don’t need to go into space to see such wonders. Scoop up a teaspoon-full of topsoil from the forest floor and, with the help of a microscope, you could probably find upwards of 1,400 beetles and springtails, not to mention about two billion fungi, algae, and protozoa. Or look at the birds of the air. Arctic Terns fly a 10,000 mile round trip each year from their winter home in the Antarctic to their summer home in Asia. Meanwhile the Northern Fulmar spends its entire life out on the ocean, having a wondrous ability to drink seawater. The Fulmar has an entire desalinization factory in its beak, removing the salt from the water, excreting it through a tube on the top of its beak, and then drinking the now-fresh water!
The universe is clotted with wonder. On both the macro and micro levels, in both human and non-human creatures, the cosmos teems with life, with complexity, with music, and with movement. It is all finally every bit as humbling as Psalm 8 claims.
But Psalm 8 is not designed to make us feel like nothing. Instead, in a remarkably brief compass of only 70 Hebrew words, Psalm 8 directs us how to think about God, creation, and their relation. In other words, this psalm could be properly seen as the touchstone for human life in the cosmos.
Psalm 8 is the first psalm of praise in the Book of Psalms. It is also the only one of the 150 psalms that is a direct address to God throughout the entire poem. And how very curious and instructive it is that the first psalm of praise in the Bible is about creation. As recently as fifty to seventy years ago, biblical scholars were convinced that the ancient Israelites did not much care about creation. Many scholars thought that Israel was far more interested in redemption–the covenant with Abraham, the exodus from Egypt, and the like.
Psalm 8 is one of a bevy of texts that proves those sentiments wrong. Creation mattered enormously to the Israelites. The cosmos is the handiwork of God, is the target of redemption, so much so that the Israelites could not even conceive of salvation apart from the promise of a good land flowing with milk and honey. Throughout the Old Testament, as Larry Rasmussen once pointed out, it’s difficult to distinguish salvation from good highlands agriculture. God’s plans, purposes, and promises are again and again tied together with things like soil and fruit, flocks and meadows, wine and wheat. Indeed, as Rasmussen said, perhaps the ultimate reason why we will one day beat swords into plowshares–or maybe we’d have to say beat armored Howitzer tanks into John Deere garden tractors–is not only so that warfare will cease but also so that we can return to our proper vocation of earth-keeping, of tending and tilling the garden of God’s good creation.
Creation matters because, as Psalm 8 makes clear, God himself loves it. These days many Christians are fearful of pantheism that declares the earth to be a divine goddess. Unhappily, however, our desire to put daylight between ourselves and such heresies has caused us also steer clear of biblical ways by which to describe the cosmos.
In Psalm 8 the psalmist has no problem saying that the physical world just is the glory of God. The stars, sun, moon, flocks, beasts, birds, and the rest declare the glory of God. This psalm begins and ends with a declaration that God’s name is visible in all the earth. What that means is that it is proper to point to a star and say, “I see God there!” It is by no means pantheistic to see a field of wildflowers and then connect it to God. When an art expert comes across a painting and declares, “That’s Picasso!” he does not mean that the artist and that oil-streaked canvas are the same thing. Instead it means that the artist’s handiwork is so clearly on display that you can see the artist in his or her work.
So also with Psalm 8: God’s presence in the cosmos runs the gamut from the gossamer threads of the moth’s wings to globular clusters of stars in space. God made it all, remains active in its preservation, remains vitally interested in its flourishing. Psalm 8 authorizes us to look for and to find God in the beauties of the galaxy. Whether you’re peering into a telescope or a microscope, watching a white-tail deer leap through a meadow or noticing the wondrous design of your own foot, what you’re seeing is nothing less than the glory of God.
All of that, however, is just one-half of Psalm 8’s larger purpose. The other half addresses what is sometimes called “the humanity question.” Who are we? How do we fit? Again, without even knowing how vast space really is, the psalmist saw the moon and stars and felt like nothing by comparison. We have still more cause to feel that way today, and many thinkers do now proclaim that humanity is nothing–or at least nothing special.
The Bible disagrees rather heartily. If there is anything more marvelous than the sheer scale and splendor of the universe, it is the revelation that in all of that vastness, we really do matter. We have been endowed with the image of God, or as Psalm 8 puts it, with a crown of glory and honor. Because of this gift so graciously doled out by God, we are put in charge of this cosmos to tend and keep and rule it on God’s behalf.
It goes without saying that non-Christians don’t buy that the same way they don’t buy much else that is in the Bible. Still, if you pay attention, you can detect evidence of this image. After all, it is precisely our God-likeness that allows us to feel small in the first place. We have an ability which, so far as we can tell, no other critter on the planet has: namely, the ability to note, study, appreciate, catalog, photograph, record, and celebrate otherness.
The midnight parrotfish that swim around coral reefs don’t do that. When my wife and I snorkel, we are attentive to details and keep careful track of all the many different fish we see. Upon returning to the shore, we consult our Caribbean Reef Fish Identification book and carefully check off what we’ve seen on our life-list of fish species. But the fish don’t do that. They don’t keep track of one another nor, upon seeing us visiting them on the reef, do they check us off on a list somewhere. Fish don’t say to themselves, “Oh, there’s a blonde Caucasian human female. Great! So far I’ve only seen brunettes!” No, only human beings seem capable of noticing and enjoying the variety of God’s creation.
Sometime back the folks at Coca-Cola made a TV commercial showing polar bears sitting around oohing and ahhing over a display of the northern lights. But, of course, real polar bears don’t pause to observe that colorful spectacle. We do.
As Simone Weil once noted, as curious as anything else in the Bible’s account of creation is the revelation that God is not God-centered. God has the ability to transcend himself. If, as we Christians believe, God is himself glory defined, if God has within the resources of his own self inestimable power as he dwells in the splendor of light inaccessible, then isn’t it particularly marvelous to know that even with all the glory he has within his own self, God still is able to get out of himself in order to gaze at and enjoy the spouting of whales?! God gets out of himself to get into others. Our ability to do that is God’s gift–it’s a major part of the glory and honor with which God has crowned us. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Author: Doug Bratt
Trinity Sunday can be one of the most intimidating days on which to proclaim God’s Word. It’s not just that while Christians profess that it’s a biblical truth, the Bible never actually uses the term “Trinity.” It’s not even just that the Trinity is notoriously difficult to even begin to explain.
It’s also that if you’re anything like me you worry at least a bit that you’re going to say something heretical about the Trinity. We worry that we’ll sound if not entirely Arian, then at least close enough to get us into trouble with people who write volumes as thick as our fists about the Trinity.
In the western Church, Christians profess, in the words of the Athanasian Creed, “We worship one God in trinity and the trinity in unity, neither blending their persons nor dividing their essence.” While it’s utterly orthodox, it’s not the kind of phrase that’s likely to get teenagers’ pulses racing or seize the attention of religious “seekers.”
Yet once a year the RCL invites those who follow it to humbly dip our toes into Trinitarianism’s waters. Year C’s Epistolary Lesson’s “beach” is Romans 5:1-5. While those waters may seem a bit murky to even the most orthodox and experienced heralds of God’s good news, at least they’re “warm” in the sense that they comfort those who hear as well as proclaim this Sunday’s Lesson.
Romans 5, after all, speaks of a kind of peace for which our world desperately long. Of course, it’s a peace that’s hard to define. Yet it’s also a kind of peace that may be even harder to achieve than to define. Maybe, however, that’s at least partly because we sometimes start to work for peace in the wrong place.
We sometimes first think of the deep need for peace in places like the Korean Peninsula and Middle East. Or we may quickly think of the need for peaceful relationships between people of various races, or between countries’ leaders and their citizens.
On top of all that, there’s also an absence of peace within some of our families or circles of friends. We think of the need to work for peace among neighbors as well as co-workers. But, of course, some of us also know about a lack of peace we experience within ourselves. Some of us feel guilty, angry or disappointed with ourselves or dissatisfied with our jobs, relationships or health.
There’s so much brokenness that we sometimes first focus on working for peace in those places that most obviously need it. But what if that means we’re, to use a medical metaphor, attacking the symptoms rather than the disease? Of course, because God cares about them we too care about those symptoms of alienation. God longs to bring peace to creation, relationships and individuals. Yet by first landing on those places, we skip over the necessary first step on the sometimes-long route to genuine peace.
Paul’s diagnosis of the cause of our most basic lack of peace is very blunt. In Romans 5 verses 6 and following, after all, he describes those to whom he writes as “ungodly” and “sinners.” While we see the symptoms of such unrighteousness in countless places, Paul insists that enmity really begins with our relationship with God. After all, while God creates us to be in so many ways like God, we make ourselves God’s “enemies.”
Of course, the step from making ourselves God’s enemies to becoming other and creation’s enemies is a very short one. God’s enemies, after all, don’t naturally view or treat anything or anyone the way God does.
Some of God’s beloved people have been Christians for such a long tome that we can’t remember a time when we felt like God’s enemies. Yet every time you have to fight temptation, you get the sense that not all is yet completely right within you.
We may no longer think of ourselves as “sinners.” Yet it’s sometimes equally hard to think of ourselves as “saints.” Such imperfection, insists Paul, is our natural state of being. You and I naturally turn our backs, not just on creation and each other, but also on God.
We usually assume both aggrieved parties contribute at least something to the relational messes we find ourselves in. In the case of the brokenness between God and us, however, Paul insists the blame falls totally on us. After all, God creates us for a loving relationship with God, as well as each other and God’s world. God also fully equips God’s adopted sons and daughters to be faithful and obedient. We, however, make ourselves God’s enemies by sinning against not just God, but also other people and the creation.
But, says Paul in verse 1, we now “have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God has made himself our loving Father. God has graciously adopted God’s enemies and turned us into God’s dearly beloved sons and daughters. God has, in other words, created the shalom for which God created us, but our first parents and all of their descendants rejected.
In fact, while God calls us to be peacemakers, we don’t have to do anything to make peace between God and us. God has already done all the heavy lifting by sending Jesus Christ to live, die and rise again from the dead for us. We simply receive the peace God makes with us through faith in Jesus Christ.
Yet perhaps even more graciously, God made that peace with us “when we were still powerless [to make things right with God]” (6). “When we were God’s enemies,” the apostle goes on in verse 10, “we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son.”
So God didn’t wait for you and me to take even one faltering step toward God or clean up even one square inch of ourselves before turning us into God’s children. God, in fact, didn’t even wait for us to start thinking about becoming godly before moving toward you and me in Jesus Christ. Paul even insists God somehow graciously moved toward us in Jesus Christ while we were still God’s enemies.
Of course, Paul is talking not just about individuals but also about the whole human race in this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson. He’s basically saying, “Even while humanity remained bogged down in the mess it had made that it is sin, Christ died for it.” Even while, in other words, its sin left the human race God’s enemy, God came to us in Christ Jesus.
We naturally try to fix the mess we’ve made with God on our own. However, we profess we’ve made such a mess of things with God that we simply can’t fix it. In fact, our efforts to fix things just make things in some ways worse. So if God were to wait for the human race to make peace with God, we’d remain God’s enemies forever.
Thank God, then, that God made peace with us through our Lord Jesus Christ. That, in turn, frees us to work for peace in places where it’s also desperately needed. Peace with God frees us to make peacemaking one of our highest priorities. Because here’s a dirty little secret the evil one doesn’t want us to learn: as long as we refuse to make peace with other people, we’ll never fully enjoy the peace with God that God gives us with God.
Yet we naturally expect those who have hurt us to make the first move to reconcile with us. If you hurt me, I naturally expect you to show me you’re sorry before I’ll ever even begin to forgive you. In other words, it’s the “sinners” we expect to somehow make themselves acceptable to comparative saints like us. Our text, however, reminds us that had God waited for us to tell God we’re sorry, we’d still be on a one-way road to eternal separation from God. If the Lord had waited for us to make the first move, we’d still be moving away from, not toward the Lord.
Thanks be to God, then, that while we were still hurting God, God moved toward us in Jesus Christ. God took the first and last, as well as every step toward us to reconcile us to God. That knowledge frees us to take the first, last and every step in between to work for reconciliation with those who have been alienated from us.
Of course, broken relationships (as well as people) often hurt, disappoint and frustrate us so much that we naturally pull away from them. Yet those who follow Jesus relentlessly move toward those from whom we’re alienated.
The Holy Spirit equips us to work for peace by working to at least make some kind of contact with people from whom we’re estranged. Where victims of some kind of abuse try to make peace, they must set appropriate boundaries. Yet they relentlessly work for peace within those contexts.
So on this first Sunday after Pentecost those who proclaim Romans 5 can invite all who long for peace with God, other people and the creation to celebrate the peace that God has already made between God and us. Then we can also send each other out, equipped by the Spirit to imitate God by working for peace with those from whom we’re estranged.
Former American President Jimmy Carter helped lead “Operation Uphold Democracy,” a UN inspired mission to persuade Haiti’s temporary military leadership to step aside in favor of the democratically elected President. Yet in the book, Character Above All: Ten Presidents from FDR to George Bush, Hentrick Herzberg writes, “He did it, but then talked about it way too much …
“The same bullheadedness and perhaps overwhelming arrogance that misled Jimmy Carter into going on TV after he got back from Haiti and raining all over his own parade were just the flip side of the qualities of perseverance and self-confidence that enabled him to come up with an agreement in the first place.
“If Carter weren’t the kind of guy who can go on ‘Larry King Live’ and offend everybody who wants to give him a break, then he probably wouldn’t be the kind of guy who can keep the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House on hold while he goes ahead and changes their policies for them – all for their own good, of course.” Herzberg goes on to characterize Carter as “a ruthless peacemaker (my italics). A Patton for peace. He does what it takes even if scorn follows.”