Isaiah 43:1-7           Psalm 29                                Acts 8:14-17           Luke 3:15-17; 21-22


I hope you have been lucky enough at some point in your life to get a love letter, even if it was just the schoolyard version that always said ‘I like you; do you like me? Check Yes or No’. Love letters are wonderful, aren’t they? It’s always good to get tangible evidence that you are wanted and worthy. And you can KEEP the love letter for any time you need a mood boost.

I don’t think I’m alone in enjoying a good love letter. In the town of Eutin, Germany, there’s a 500 year old tree named the Bridegroom Oak.   The legend is that in 1890, a young local girl named Minna fell in love with a chocolate maker named William. Unfortunately Minna’s father forbade her to see William so they started slipping each other love letters into a hollow in the tree. Eventually true love conquered all and the two were married under the oak - and word spread that the tree was a good luck charm. Soon all kinds of people who were looking for their special someone started leaving letters in the tree. It became such a big deal that in 1927, the German postal service assigned the tree its own mailing address and a mail carrier. 6 days a week, mail is delivered to the tree, and per one retired carrier, sometimes as many as 1,000 letters per year and up to 50 a day.   Lonely hearts come to fish letters out of the tree and they pick one to answer. The only rule is that if you open a letter then decide you don’t want to answer that one, you must close it and put it back for someone else to find. Over 100 marriages are attributed to the Bridegroom Oak, including a couple on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall that were married after it came down, and a postman assigned to the tree, that picked himself a letter one day.

Love letters are fun stuff. The Germans have us beat on this one – this is WAY better than Match.com or Farmers Only.  


You got a love letter today. Did you notice?   Today’s Old Testament reading in Isaiah is a love letter from the God of the Hebrew scriptures, the God that is said to be full of wrath and judgment and recompense.   Strangely, He’s not threatening to wipe us out today for our sins.   Instead He’s courting us – ‘Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.’ It’s a little different from the bitter way we often picture God the Father.  We tend to view Him as the God of merciless justice, wiping Israel’s enemies out and sending terrible consequences to those who break His law. And that’s no wonder, considering how many of the Old Testament stories go. A feminist theologian recently wrote a book that accuses God of domestic abuse, claiming that those stories in which 1) humans and God have a falling out, 2) God beats the humans down, then 3) God croons ‘Come home to me, all is forgiven, I love you’ is the hallmark of abusers.   I don’t agree with her appraisal but I can understand how she got there, particularly if she is an abuse survivor herself. I’ve wondered about those stories and the interpretations they often get, myself.

One of the things to keep in mind about God is that He wasn’t one way in the Old Testament, before Jesus, then changed gears and started behaving different in the New Testament. That point can get lost when we’re talking about God the Father and God the Son – we tend to think that they are separate Persons while still affirming the Nicene Creed every week that says Jesus was ‘of one being with the Father’. God didn’t suddenly develop a new character when that little Baby was placed in a manger in Bethlehem. God ALWAYS loved us. That’s WHY the little Baby was in the manger.

Love is the real hallmark of God, not vengeance and certainly not abuse. The phrase ‘God is love’ is catchy and popular, but it would be hard for most people to unpack, due to those mental images of the God of wrath destroying the world and obliterating various humans. The phrase ‘God is a Trinity’ just doesn’t capture the same warm fuzzies, but God is love because God is a Trinity.

That may be a surprise – the Trinity is generally seen as a problem and an oddity, not the reason for hope. It’s REALLY hard to get our minds around the Trinity, even with all the ways that theologians have struggled to describe it. In fact, it may be even worse for all those terrible ‘explanations’. The theologian Michael Reeve, in his book “Delighting in the Trinity” says this: ‘The Trinity’, some helpful soul explains, ‘ is a bit like an egg, where there is the shell, the yolk and the white, yet it is all one egg!’ ‘No’, says another, ‘the Trinity is more like a shamrock; it’s all one plant but it’s got three leaves sticking out. Just like the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’   And one wonders while the world laughs. For whether the Trinity is compared to a shrubbery, streaky bacon, the three states of water, or a three headed giant, it begins to sound, well, bizarre, like some pointless and unsightly growth on our understanding of God, one that could surely be lopped off with no consequence other than a universal sigh of relief.

Gotta admit, the gentleman has a point. We may recite the Creed and give intellectual assent to the Trinity, but it seems too weird to have any practical application.

But we have a snapshot today at Jesus’s baptism of what God’s love really looks like. The Bible insists over and over that God loves us like a father.   For those who had a bad father, please try to understand; God isn’t like your dad, your dad was supposed to try to be Godly and love you the way God loves you. And God the Father has ALWAYS loved the Son because they have always been together. In today’s gospel reading, the Father announces how pleased He is and how much He loves Jesus - and does so by sending the Holy Spirit.   In Romans 5:5, St. Paul writes of how God pours His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.  

God is love. God is Trinity.

This is hard wood to gnaw, I am the first to admit it. And I hope you’ll open your prayer book, and read The Creed of Athanasius, found on page 864. Athanasius was inspired to write his creed to respond to his opponent Arius, who claimed that God was the origin and cause of everything but the Son was merely created by God. Arius wanted us to pray to God, calling him ‘Uncaused one’. Turns out nobody can write a love letter to the Uncaused One, or pray very effectively either.   Athanasius found this intolerable so composed a statement of orthodoxy that asserts that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are all separate but also all one Lord.   And Athanasius insisted that we call Him Father, just like Jesus did.

The Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have existed together in love for all eternity. The Father declares His love for the Son by sending the Holy Spirit, and Jesus declares His love for His followers by, again, sending the Holy Spirit. A Trinity, but also a Unity that has loved us from everlasting.  

Do you need further proof of God’s good intentions?

My plan for your future has always been full of hope. I have an everlasting love for you. From the book of Jeremiah.

As a shepherd carries a lamb, I have carried you close to my heart.   Isaiah.

 

I am not distant and angry, but am the complete expression of love.  And it is my desire to lavish my love on you.  I John


I am your Father, and I love you even as I love my son, Jesus.   For in Jesus, my love for you is revealed.    The Gospel of John

 

God is love, and God is Trinity. How do you picture God, when you imagine Him? Is it an old man in the sky, waiting you to make a mistake so He can pounce? Is He a teacher, a prophet, or a healer? Is it a rabble-rouser and social justice warrior? Is He the comforter that strengthens you in adversity, the encourager that gives you confidence to do the work you didn’t think you could do? Is He the still small voice whispering in your ear, when you aren’t sure what to do?

 

The Christian life you have depends, in part, on what you believe God is like. While you’re deciding, remember - you just got a love letter from Him.

AMEN++++

 

 

 

 


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