Marriage, Unity and The Trinity (A Sermon)

I recently gave this sermon at a wedding I officiated.

 

Marriage, Unity and the Trinity

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

(Philippians 2.1-11, ESV)

 

Paul here writes to the church in Philippi from prison exhorting them to unity. For Paul, unity is not achieved through abstracted propositions and ideals that we can all agree on, but unity is found fully embodied in the person of Jesus Christ. This is why Paul builds up in this passage to direct his reader’s attention to Christ, to direct their gaze onto the man who is the concrete image of the invisible God (Col 1.15); in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (Col 2.19); He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Heb 1.3); the eternal Word from the beginning (John 1.1) made flesh and dwelt among us (John 1.14). In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes what we are called to:

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all”

Pay close attention to the end of that passage: Over all, through all and in all. To be called by God is to be drawn into the beauty and splendor of the life of the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is three in one, in perfect union. The Father who is over all, the Son who is through all and the Spirit who is in all. This is on full display at Christ’s baptism:

Every act of God is inaugurated by the Father, effected by the Son and perfected by the Holy Spirit. It also reveals that God’s love is always entirely sufficient in itself; the Spirit receives and returns the love of Father and Son, and so witnesses, enjoys and perfects it, the Spirit is also the one in whom that love most manifestly opens out as sheer delight, generosity and desire for the other. (DBH, The Beauty of the Infinite)

We see in the life of Jesus the perfect union of the eternal triune communion of love, and through His life, death, resurrection and by the power of the Spirit, the church is to be caught up into this loving communion, and as we are knitted together into unity, through weekly participation in church worship, by the Spirit, our love and desire for the other, i.e. our neighbor, overflows from our very existence. Being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind is to have our affections and desires fundamentally orientated towards the reality that already is available to us in Jesus Christ. That is, as Christians we are becoming what we already are. The Greek word used for “being in full accord” is the word ‘sumpsuchos’ (soom’-psoo-khos), which is made up of two words “sun” (together with), and “psuchos” (soul, self, inner life, desires, affections) which can be translated to: harmonious in soul, souls that beat together; in tune with Christ and with each other. If we live by the Spirit, as Paul says to the Galatians, let us keep in step with the Spirit. To participate in the Spirit, to have fellowship in the Spirit is to have our fruit in the Spirit, of which the first is love. Love is the foretaste of our ultimate union with God, graciously given to us now and we share that with one another.
When Scripture says that God is love, it is not a vague sentiment about the presence of God in our emotions, but describes the very life and essence of God. To participate in the Spirit is to participate in the very life of God, which is an eternal triune communion of love. John tells us to love one another:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. (1 John 4:7-14)

This is good news! He abides and perfects his love in us. We love because he first loved us! We do not need good advice, but we need to hear the good news that God has taken action towards us not because of anything we had done, but because of His great love for us. This is the beauty of the gospel; that God took on our flesh. He plunged into the disorder and chaos of our sin, over the infinite ocean of darkness that separated us from Him, He bound himself to us ‘in such a once for all way, that he cannot go back upon it without undoing the Incarnation and the Cross and thereby denying himself.’ (T.F. Torrance) All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself (2 Cor 5.18), making peace by the blood of his cross. (Col 1.20)

In your marriage you will face trials, struggles, fights and countless other moments that seek to work against you. But in this remember that God is for you, and for your marriage. In Jesus Christ God has actualized his infinite love for you, and in the beauty of this love seek to orient yourselves and your marriage around this truth.

May your marriage be a continual proclamation of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, who suffered the sins of the whole world; to reconcile all things to himself by the blood of the cross, whether in heaven or on earth.

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All Things Made New

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

-Matthew 5:4

“Still, I repeat, a man in sorrow is in general far nearer God than a man in joy.”

-George MacDonald, The Hope of the Gospel p. 37

Manchester by the Sea, the latest film by Kenneth Lonergan, for me was the best film of 2016. Quite possibly my favorite film I’ve ever seen. The main focus is on the character Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) who we first meet as a quiet, emotionally hardened janitor. As the movie begins to unfold what has happened in Lee’s life, you are hit with a ton of bricks and it becomes obvious that what Lee has suffered in his life is unbearable. He is a deeply broken man, one who has attempted to run away from his guilt and suffering. The death of his brother Joe causes a chain of events that draws him back to the place where he lost everything and putting Lee in charge of not only Joe’s financial stuff, but in charge of his son Patrick. Much can be said in light of what the film communicates about brokenness, loss and guilt among other things. There is a specific sequence of events that spoke deep volumes to my heart and is a cause for reflection.

Grief

Half way through the film Lee is at a police station answering questions about what had transpired the previous night. He confesses a mistake he made that lead to the event, and after he shares this information the detectives let him know they will contact him if anything else comes up. Lee is stunned, and seemingly upset they are letting him go without punishment. As he is leaving the interrogation room, he quickly reaches and grabs a gun from the holster of a police officer holds it to his head and as the other officers grab him and hold him down you hear him yell “Please!” in a panicked tone. He couldn’t bear living in the wake of what just transpired, and not being punished for it. His sorrow and guilt become his new identity, and this weight is unbearable.

Identity

We often root our identities in our past whether it is past sorrows or joys, accomplishments or failures. Whatever it may be, we are embedded in the past. Lee is ultimately defined eschatologically by this single event, which is understandable given the nature and gravity of it. It consumes his every waking moment. I thought to myself, “Where is God in this situation?” Even though it is a fictional situation, it still gives me pause about the nature of God’s work in our lives, especially in midst of our sufferings that are often due to mistakes we have made. As cliche as this question is but: where is God in the midst of tragedy?

I’ve heard it put that God allows bad things to happen because He knew something greater would arise out of them. The problem with this line of thinking makes God out to be some utilitarian deistic demi-god; not the God of Scripture. Paul himself tells us about God’s action in our afflictions:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

God identifies Himself with our sufferings. Paul continues:

“For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (v. 5)

Our eschatological event which gives us our identity as Christians is the resurrection of Christ. This is the event in which we hope, and are marked as a people.

Evil

However we want to understand why evil is allowed, it is ultimately not something we can attain in our finiteness. All attempts at theodicies end up falling far short of any reasonable conclusion or response to the overwhelming suffering seen throughout history and our present day. Some might say “free will” is the reason why evil exists. Some even go as far to say God has ordained it for ultimately for our good. It concerns me how fundamental evil becomes to God’s act in creation in both positions, and I won’t stand for this conclusion. Both fall into the trap set forth by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange:

“God determining or determined: there is no other alternative.”

Categorically, God transcends finite categories of existence and non-existence, and thus determining or determined. To use David Bentley Hart’s language:

“God’s being is necessary, that is, not simply because it is inextinguishable  or eternally immune to nothingness, but because it transcends the dialectic of existence and nonexistence altogether; it is simple and infinite actuality, utterly pure of ontic determination, the “is” both of “it is” and of the “it is not”.” (Impassibility as Transcendence)

Fundamentally, evil has no part in God:

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

I’m inclined towards the historic position that views evil as a privation of the good. To say evil has an existence of its own is to assert a metaphysical structure of reality where evil competes with the good ontologically. Augustine writes:

“Nothing evil exists in itself, but only as an evil aspect of some actual entity. Therefore, there can be nothing evil except something good.” (Augustine, Enchiridion)

The point here is not a thorough going explication on the nature of evil, but to abandon any proposition or argument that necessitates God needing evil or suffering to accomplish His eternal plan within creation.

The response of Beauty

God responds to suffering and evil in the concrete form of His Son, Jesus Christ. “In Him the fulness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col 1.19) and therefore the fullness of beauty is displayed in the person of Jesus Christ who is God’s eternal Word and response to suffering. R. Jared Staudt, in his article here, ends with what contemplating the suffering of Christ means:

“In contemplating the suffering of Christ, in particular, we see a beauty which took on our infirmities and overcame their darkness. It is a challenging beauty, but a powerful one—with power to transform our own suffering and lack of beauty. It is a beauty that shakes us to the core, which illuminates us, and ultimately is the beauty that will save the world.”

Ultimately we may find the best response (or theodicy) might be a work of theological aesthetics, not rational arguments. This is because beauty penetrates us at our deepest levels, and beauty communicates who God is, however incomplete it is in our senses and knowledge. Pope Benedict XVI articulates this perfectly in his “Meeting with Artists”:

“Authentic beauty, however, unlocks the yearning of the human heart, the profound desire to know, to love, to go towards the Other, to reach for the Beyond. If we acknowledge that beauty touches us intimately, that it wounds us, that it opens our eyes, then we rediscover the joy of seeing, of being able to grasp the profound meaning of our existence.”

Beauty will save the world; it already began 2000 years ago. To end on powerful words from David Bentley Hart in his concluding remarks in “The Doors of the Sea”:

“Now we are able to rejoice that we are saved not through the immanent mechanisms of history and nature, but by grace; that God will not unite all of history’s many strands in one great synthesis, but will judge much of history false and damnable; that he will not simply reveal the sublime logic of fallen nature, but will strike off the fetters in which creation languishes; and that rather than showing us how the tears of a small girl suffering in the dark were necessary for the building of the Kingdom, he will instead raise her up and wipe away all tears from her eyes –– and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor any more pain… he that sits upon the throne will say, “Behold I make all things new.” (p. 104)