The Gospel today contains one of the most familiar verses of the Bible. Over the years and still to this day, you will see someone at televised sporting events, especially in the USA, holding up a placard with a reference to this verse. It simply reads: John 3:16
This refers to verse 16 in chapter three of St John’s Gospel in which Jesus declares “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life”. As a one-liner, it is a powerful summary of the nature of God which we celebrate on this Trinity Sunday.
However, the declaration is not really complete without the verse that immediately follows it: “For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but so that through him the world might be saved”.
These two verses, combined, present the Christian understanding of God – a God of heroic patience who out of sheer love comes amongst us in order to do for us what we could not and still cannot do for ourselves. He came in the person of Jesus to save us – even from ourselves – and to bring us into a relationship wth God that offers authentic life, life to the full.
What exactly do we mean, you might ask, by Jesus coming to save us? The American spiritual writer, Joan Chittister, puts it this way:
Jesus does not judge us or condemn us; Jesus saves us – from our pettiness, our pride, our smallness. Jesus does not reject us; he embraces us. Jesus does not label us; he liberates us from ourselves so that we might live the life Jesus did: raising the dead of soul to life; accepting outcasts; making women disciples; curing the sick of heart.
However bad you might feel the world to be, the testimony of Jesus is that God does not condemn it. True, terrible things have happened in history and continue in our time but God does not condemn the world – the actions, yes, but the whole world? No. Jesus says: God wants to save it.
Applying this principle to ourselves, we can, surely, say that no one is condemned by God although we may condemn ourselves; that whatever our past or present behaviour, even when reprehensible, God goes on loving each one of us with infinite patience, and through Jesus reaches out a loving hand – a hand up – to us.
On this Trinity Sunday we celebrate this God coming amongst us in the person of Jesus and now reaching out to us through the (Holy) Risen Spirit of Jesus. This, as Moses experienced in the First Reading, is ‘a god of tenderness and compassion, slow to anger and rich in faithfulness’.
In practical terms for us it means that there is nothing any of us can do to make God love us more that He already does. There is nothing any of us can do to stop God loving us. No sin of mine or yours is greater than God’s love. God has not written off you or me, we are not rubbish and God does not give up on us. God may want better for us but he does not condemn or abandon us.
However flawed I might be in my own eyes, or in the eyes of another, to God we each are a work of art, even if we are a work in progress, and, as Jesus teaches, God delights in each one of us as much as he delights in him.
Holy Name, Jesmond
7 June 2020