Monthly Archives: June 2014

Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.

Here’s the sermon for 15th June 2014 (Trinity Sunday) from St Andrew’s Eucharist.

The readings were Isaiah 40:12-17, 27-end, 2 Corinthians 13: 11-end and Matthew 28: 16-20.

If you don’t mind I’m going to begin with a brief alternative reading for Trinity Sunday. In the Authorised Version of course.

Jesus said, “Whom do men say that I am?”

And his disciples answered and said, “Some say you are John the Baptist returned from the dead; others say Elias, or other of the old prophets”.

And Jesus answered and said, “But whom do you say that I am?”

Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Logos, existing in the Father as His rationality and then, by an act of His will, being generated, in consideration of the various functions by which God is related to his creation, but only on the fact that Scripture speaks of a Father, and a Son, and a Holy Spirit, each member of the Trinity being coequal with every other member, and each acting inseparably with and interpenetrating every other member, with only an economic subordination within God, but causing no division which would make the substance no longer simple.”

And Jesus answering, said, “What?”

I used to think that Trinity Sunday was the time when we all had to struggle with a difficult doctrine – and the Sunday when the curate mysteriously found himself on the rota to preach. Paul, no fool, has taken today off. Actually, although the Holy Trinity is something we’ll never fully understand: one in three, three in one, all that – at its heart is the most practical demonstration of love.

Mind boggling aside for a moment the Holy Trinity is a relationship of three: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Creator – the one who made the universe and all that is, has ever been and ever will be: including you and me. The Redeemer: God’s person shown in the perfect human form of Jesus, showing us how life should be lived and most importantly coming into the world to save us from ourselves by his death and Resurrection.

And the Sustainer. The Holy Spirit – God’s own Spirit breathed into our hearts and lives to give us strength, peace, purpose. But all God. All God. And in the mystery that is God providing all we need to become once again the people he made us to be.

All through the Bible if we look deeply and long enough we see the Trinity at work. Each year on Trinity Sunday we have three different readings from different parts of the Bible, as we have today – from the Old and New Testaments – as examples, although the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is there through all of Scripture. And what we see is perfect harmony. Mutual, self-giving love. Perfectly shared purpose. And, as in a perfect love relationship always moving outwards.

There is a prayer in the Marriage Service for the newlywed couple which includes the words: “may their love overflow to neighbours in need and embrace those in distress”. A reminder that authentic love is not contained; not self-absorbed, obsessive or inward looking: somehow insulated from the rest of the world. It is always moving outwards; growing, sharing; touching and transforming the lives of others.

Perhaps like the primary school song:

Love is something if you give it away,

Give it away, give it away.

Love is something if you give it away,

You end up having more.

It’s just like a magic penny,

Hold it tight and you won’t have any.

Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many

They’ll roll all over the floor.

For love is something if you give it away,

Give it away, give it away.

Love is something if you give it away,

You end up having more.

True love can’t help itself. It is thrown outwards. When I was about ten my mum and dad bought me a gyroscope and I would spend hours pulling the string which set the central wheel spinning, fascinated by the centrifugal force which set its balance on its end. This little masterpiece of engineering given life through the outward force at work.

Or like the funfair ride – not quite a ride, I suppose – that I saw once at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. A large barrel spun round faster and faster with people stuck to the insides so securely by the centrifugal force that the floor could safely be removed.

The love of God – in the perfect harmony which is the Trinity, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, although we might not fully understand it – is, like a piece of wonderful music, or the sun rising on a perfect morning, when gradually the light spreads and spreads; like ripples on a pond when an object is “plopped” into it, moving ever outwards with gentle but unstoppable purpose.

Over the last few weeks of the Easter Season the Gospel readings have all been about Jesus sending his disciples out. Breathing upon them his Holy Spirit they become part of this great outward movement of the love of God the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – to the world. Caught up in the centrifugal force of God’s love and saving grace for the whole of creation.

In this morning’s Gospel reading from Matthew, often known as “the Great Commission”, Jesus puts it plainly: “Go therefore and make disciples….baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you”. Move outwards. This is not for yourselves alone. But for everyone you encounter.

And not only the disciples. As we heard in the Pentecost reading from Acts last week many from all over the place who happened to be in Jerusalem at the time had the extraordinary experience of the Holy Spirit like flames of fire, a rushing wind, giving them the ability to be able to be understood even by people of different languages.

This was God’s unequivocal demonstration of his spilling outwards and outwards his gift of transformative love to the whole world. Something which those people gathered there would take with them to which ever part of the known world they had come from.

So how do we – how do you, how do I – how does the Church go about this in our own day? What does the loving relationship of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – help us to learn? Well firstly that we must, must love one another.

So often in the past, still today, the Church, God’s own people is rendered ineffective by division, factions, envy and suspicion of great and of seemingly inconsequential proportions. We must guard against this with our lives. It is the strongest possible deterrent to any potential new believer looking at us to see if there is something different, something distinctive about us.

And this whole business of the outward movement of the love of God to the world. It strikes me time and again – in Jesus’ washing of his disciples’ feet and in his countless acts of loving service – miraculous and in other ways – and perhaps most especially in the stark, basic images of a man on a cross and an empty tomb – that God is saying “I am a God who serves you, because I love you. I am a God who serves you because I love you”.

At no point does he seem to expect, still less demand, a response. How, indeed could that be truly love? Love does not expect to gain in return. It merely gives out. Yes, God longs for a response, longs to woo us, win us round, hopes that we will see. He does everything he can – gives his all. But there is no force. No requirement. No guarantee for God. That he will be understood. That he will be responded to. That he will even be noticed.

Extraordinary? I think so. What on earth have I done to be served in such a way by the maker of the universe? I am totally, utterly undeserving, of course. I find so profoundly moving the words in Jarrod Cooper’s “King of Kings”: “Your majesty, I can but bow, I lay my all before you now. In royal robes I don’t deserve I live to serve your majesty”.

Maybe I catch a glimpse sometimes of what God has done for me in Jesus. But I know that he goes on serving me in ways I am not aware of, sometimes barely notice and perhaps will never know. Because that is what love – real love is. Outward moving. Not expecting results – a response – primarily, but doing, being love because love – real love – can do no other.

I think the Church today, in its anxiety to reverse recent numerical decline, to get people through the doors, in its emphasis on the need to grow – which incidentally I wholeheartedly support and the need to look at every way to encourage this – the Church – and I mean all of us – does, at the same time need to have a little more faith and catch again the vision which God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, gives time and again through Scripture and though the lives of countless millions, that love lives to give. Not to get, or to gain.

People might not come through the doors in great numbers – although we are expecting a couple of hundred in an hour or so’s time! The Church might indeed continue to grow smaller in the coming years. Now the reverse may happen and that would be wonderful. But either way our primary concern is not about that.

The best way, the very best way, surely, to win people to the amazing love of God – and this is where I am convinced our energies need to be – is to show people what he is like. And what he is like is shown in Jesus, the one who serves. And whose ultimate act of service, at the moment he gave it, drew a response of a few women and one lone disciple, none of whom really understood just then that they were receiving the

greatest gift of all.

Service. It’s hard work. Especially when we don’t get a response. Recognition for what we have done. If it seems people have barely noticed. Perhaps that might help us to think how God feels. Then again, perhaps that is a good indication that we are being caught up in an authentic God-love for the world.

But, you know, perhaps more people recognise and respond to the authentic ever-outward moving God-love through his people, the Church: us, than we realise and that should give us encouragement.

Last week, following that wonderful Pentecost service – and I can say this because I had nothing to do with the planning or leading: it was entirely Phil and Paul, the Music Group and Junior Church – but following that wonderful Pentecost service as I disappeared from my pew at the back two young families I had never seen before told me how welcomed they felt and how moved by the service.

And a few days before as we were tidying things away following the terrific performance right here of “Into the Woods” by young people from Sunderland University, one of them said with warmth and emotion, and thanking us for providing them with food, “people aren’t normally so nice to us”.

And on Tuesday this week, one of the young staff at Centrepoint – who has said previously, commenting on the welcome and generosity of our three churches that he has experienced over the past few months: “I didn’t know church was like this”, again repeated an offer for the young people and staff at Centrepoint to organise and put on a 1960’s style evening for our congregation, “to give something back. To say ‘thank you'” as he put it.

Maybe we are being caught up by the outward movement of the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit more than we think. Maybe we need to be encouraged by these sorts of responses to keep on doing it. Keep on looking for those opportunities to serve. Not hoping for or expecting a response – that’s not the purpose of authentic love – but finding, if a response does come – and, from time to time it will – something better than we ever expected and that we are sharing something of the delight of God himself.

You know that sort of thing gives the most profound blessing. A sort of energy of the Holy Spirit which renews us to go on serving in a Christlike and joyful way. Which can bring to new life the dry old bones of the Church – like the vision given in Ezekiel 36.

I think it’s something along the lines of what Isaiah meant in our Old Testament reading this morning: “He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless… Those who wait for The Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings, like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint”.

That’s what God, the Holy Trinity is all about.

Love is something if you give it away,

Give it away, give it away.

Love is something if you give it away,

You end up having more.

Amen.