Love Is the Way: A Sermon for the Feast of the Holy Trinity


St. Stephen Lutheran Church, Midlothian
27 May 2018 + The Holy Trinity
John 3.1-17

This is a weird day.

In the first place, it’s the day before Memorial Day — but that’s not the weird part. It’s weird because Memorial Day always feels like a strange weekend in the church, often marked by a noticeable dip in church attendance…that usually doesn’t rebound until early September.

It’s also a weird day because it feels like the end of a long marathon that began late last year with Advent and Christmas, continuing through Epiphany, and into Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. It’s like the church’s last “hurrah!” before entering the long green season of Sundays of “ordinary time,” Sundays marked only by what numbered week they fall after Pentecost. It can, frankly, seem like uneventful time after all we’ve experienced in our liturgies together these past several months.

Maybe the weirdest of all about today is simply that it’s Trinity Sunday — the only Sunday in the entire church year to commemorate a doctrine. Never mind that that’s kind of mind-numbingly boring, it’s also downright unusual. Every other major feast and season of the church year has to do with some event: Christmas is about the birth of Jesus; Epiphany, the visit of the Magi; Holy Week and Easter, the death and resurrection of Jesus; and just last week, Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit. But there’s no single biblical event or story that can be tied to the celebration of Trinity Sunday.

It’s a weird day about a weird thing that no one really understands or can ever fully explain. The idea of the Trinity defies all logic and reason, and yet: It is foundational to who we are as church. When we recite the creeds, we confess what we believe about each person of the Trinity. When we are baptized, we invoke the presence and blessing of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Many churches, including my home congregation, take their name after the Trinity, and symbols for the Trinity abound in our sanctuaries. We even began today’s service with a shared greeting: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.

The Trinity is so much a part of who are as a church, and yet it is also so difficult to grasp and comprehend. But maybe that’s the point: The Trinity is not something meant to be understood. The Trinity has to be experienced.

Centuries of faithful Christians have tried their best to explain the mystery of the Trinity, deeply desiring to describe the different ways God relates to us and the different ways we experience God. For them, and for us, the Trinity is about the way God is in relationship with us.

At first glance, it’s easy to overlook any mention of the Trinity in the late-night conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. It’s such a famous passage that most of us could recite it in our sleep. But, if we really pay attention, we notice that Jesus is telling Nicodemus about the ways God relates to God’s creation: God the Creator is the one who so loves the world God has made that God sends the Son to redeem the world, a world which is reborn through water and the Spirit. There’s an intricate interweaving here, almost like a dance, drawing attention to all the ways God relates to God’s creation.

But it’s God’s rationale and end-game in all of this that is most remarkable: that God loved the world… that the world might be saved through the one God has sent. Love is beginning and the end of the activity of God in the world! Love is the chief concern for the writer of John’s gospel, mentioning love language more than forty times. Love, for John, is motivated by the salvation, the health and healing and wholeness and liberation, of the entire creation.

Love has indeed been in the air this past week, surrounding the Royal Wedding — maybe you’ve heard something about it? For all the pomp and circumstance of the ceremony itself, it was Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon that stole the show for me. Bishop Curry invited us to consider the power of love and a world where love is the way:

When love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
When love is the way, then no child would go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty would become history.
When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more.
When love is the way, there’s plenty good room. Plenty good room. For all of God’s children.
And when love is the way, we actually treat each other – well, like we’re actually family.
When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters. Children of God.

Love is the way of the Trinity, the way of God. As an alternative to “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” St. Augustine has even referred to the Trinity as “Lover, Beloved, and Love.” Love is the way of the Trinity. Under the cover of night, Nicodemus comes to Jesus and gets to glimpse a vision of the God of love beyond anything he could comprehend as a teacher of Israel. So too in our night — and doesn’t this world so often feel like one, long night lately? — we are in need of that God of love more than ever:

A God who so loves us and refuses to give up on us,
a God who becomes one of us in the flesh and offers healing and wholeness and salvation to all of creation,
a God who continually invites us into the work of love and healing through rebirth—baptism!—by water and the Spirit.

God is Trinity, and God is love. Extravagant love, incomprehensible love, powerful love, earth-changing love, invitational love.

For we, dearly beloved children and friends of God, who abide in God and God in us, that love is both promise and hope, relationship and invitation.

God who has been,
is still,
and ever will be with us
sweeps us into the work of love, the way of love, for the sake of the whole world.

Image Credit: “The Trinity” by Kelly Latimore


A Sermon about Faith, Community, and Subverting Boundaries

htloop copreaching.jpg

Photo Credit: Ben Adams

This weekend, I was invited to preach at my home congregation, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Chicago. I also had the unique opportunity to preach alongside my good friend and seminary colleague Analyse Triolo.

The video below, courtesy of Analyse, is from Sunday morning’s version, though we also preached at the Saturday night liturgy in the South Loop. In the manuscript that follows, our individual headshots denote those portions of the sermon we wrote. Analyse’s spoken parts are in green, and mine are in blue.

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church
28-29 May 2016 + Lectionary 9C
Luke 7.1-10

analyse headshotEveryone feels like an outsider at one point or another. Whether you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the eccentric theatre geek in your high school, or anything in between, I bet that not one of us here feels like we fit perfectly into the communities in which we find ourselves. The centurion in today’s gospel reading is also an outsider. It’s clear that he cares deeply for the community he’s a part of and is deeply involved in seeing to the welfare of the people in Capernaum, but at the same time he knows that because of his vocation and ethnicity he will always be an outsider.

I remember feeling like an outsider not too long ago, back in August when I first moved to Chicago. Not only did I move away from my home state of North Carolina for the very first time, but also from First Lutheran Church, a welcoming community that had been my church home since I was 4 years old. I had left everything that was home, that was comforting, to finish my degree at LSTC. The problem was that I was only going to be here for a year. What was the point of plugging into the community? Who was going to invest time in a stranger who was just passing through? I was an outsider looking in, not only at LSTC, but also as I looked for my church home-away-from-home.

Thankfully, the LSTC community saw my desire to connect, to build relationships not only at school, but also with a church, and so I was invited to Holy Trinity in the Loop my second week here. I didn’t know what to expect that first Saturday night…but when Pr. Craig said, “No matter who you are, no matter who you love, no matter if you’re here for the first time or if you call this your church home…you are welcome here.” In that moment I heard no matter if you’re part of the “in crowd” or if you feel like an outsider, no matter if you feel lost or if you feel right at home, YOU. ARE. WELCOME. HERE. I cried. My home church’s welcome statement starts much the same way.

I turned to a friend sitting next to me and I said, “I found it. I found where I belong.”

When Jesus saw a community welcome an outsider, he was amazed. 

josh headshot.pngCommunity stands at the heart of today’s gospel, and it is deeply intertwined with faith.

The centurion, of course, is an official of the Roman empire. He knows what it means to have the authority to tell someone to do something and they do it. He also seems to recognize that Jesus has a similar but far greater authority when he says, “I am not worthy to have you come under my roof.” It’s a confession of faith that makes a claim about who Jesus is and from whom his authority comes.

It’s a tremendous confession of faith—but the centurion never says a word of it. Instead, it is mediated secondhand and carried by others.

Earlier in Luke’s gospel, a man who is paralyzed is carried by his friends to Jesus to be healed. In another passage, a widow’s son who has died is being carried away when Jesus has compassion and raises him to life. And in yet another story, parents are carrying their little children to Jesus to be blessed. The centurion’s friends, too, carry his faith on his behalf. Over and over, people are being carried to Jesus by their community. To paraphrase the Beatles, they get by with a little help from their friends.

The life of the church, too, is filled with carrying. When we are very young, we are carried to the font to be baptized and welcomed into the community of faith. Every Sunday, too, we are swept up in that same community to eat and drink at this table. Even when we recite the Nicene Creed in the liturgy, it is not “I believe” but “we believe.”

In a short story by Megan Mayhew Bergman, the narrator spots a gospel choir that passes by her cottage every Sunday morning, singing. The sight is enough to make her cry and yearn for their return every week, as she says, “All I needed of religion, I realized, was the beautiful sound of someone else’s faith.”[1]

When Jesus heard this faith that is vulnerable enough to be carried by the community, he was amazed.

analyse headshotThe centurion’s faith is a subversive act. James Marsters, a subversive actor and musician best known for playing the role of Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, describes an act of subversion as something that pushes back against the status quo. Subversion, he says, strips away the lies that are taught to us by society.[2] Subversive acts break down those falsehoods and say, “No! That is not how it has to be.”

The centurion’s faith, carried by the community, strips away the idea that only God’s chosen people, Israel, are capable of great faith. This Gentile’s faith reflects belief in a God who also subverts boundaries and cares for all people. And so through his friends he exclaims that Jesus has the authority to heal his servant. Furthermore, Jesus’s authority, which greatly outshines his own, is capable of doing so while simultaneously honoring Jewish purity laws. The centurion’s faith in a subversive God is so great that faith and hospitality become interconnected, a bridge is formed between ethnic groups, and for the first time this outsider truly belongs.

Jesus also responds subversively. Jesus finds the centurion worthy because the centurion declares first that he is not. The centurion’s faith alone, carried by the community, makes him worthy in Jesus’s eyes. In the historical context of this text, healing miracles were expected to require direct, proximate contact between the healer and the one being healed. And so inspired by the centurion’s faith, Jesus subverts this custom, bestowing God’s gracious, healing power upon the centurion’s servant, giving legitimacy to the centurion’s faith, and opening the community of believers up to not only Israel, but to the Gentiles as well, subverting boundaries all the way. As biblical scholar Gregory Anderson Love writes of this text, “Luke portrays faith as situated within a community of hospitality in which God and others are embraced.”[3]

When Jesus understood that God subverts all boundaries, even the one between Jews and Gentiles, he was amazed. 

josh headshot.pngFor the past three years since I’ve been at Holy Trinity, I have experienced what it means to be carried by the faith of a community that reimagines Christianity in expansive ways. Especially on days when I’m personally not feeling it, I have been able to come to this place and be communally carried by that faith.

The story about the healing of the centurion’s slave is a story about faith in community—that happens to include a healing. It’s a story about the kind of faith we strive to embody here at Holy Trinity. It’s a communal faith that transcends boundaries because the one in whom we trust transcends boundaries.

It’s a faith that finds expression in our hospitality every week and in our guiding principles.

When we bear our faith in anti-racism work and two Advents ago on the corner of Clark and Addison to declare that “Black Lives Matter,” we act with courage.

When we say every week Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whomever you love or marry, you are welcome here, we are radically inclusive.

When the mission of Holy Trinity spans peoples across Chicago, from Lakeview to the South Loop, we cultivate empowering relationships.

When a sliver of green space in our garden (at our Lakeview building) reminds us of the splendor of creation and our task to be good stewards of the natural world, we delight in God’s beauty.

When we experience meaningful, multi-sensory liturgy and are renewed for our daily life and work among God’s people, we engage with intention.

These guiding principles are rooted in the exemplar of faith Jesus holds up in today’s gospel. He commends a faith held together by the community that trusts in God’s all-encompassing grace for the sake of the world.

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed.

[1] Megan Mayhew Bergman, “The Right Company,” in Birds of a Lesser Paradise: Stories (New York, Scribner, 2012), 147.


[3] Gregory Anderson Love, “Luke 7:1-10 Theological Perspective,” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, vol. 3, pt. 3, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 92-96.