At the end of May, on Trinity Sunday, I preached at my church. My sermon passage was John 3, the story of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, including the most famous Bible verse of all time, about how God so loved the world. (You can listen to my sermon here, if you want.)
The entire emphasis of my sermon was on God’s love—how the love of each of the Persons of the Trinity is without measure and pours in and through the other Persons, and how that love overflows even the Godhead and pours into our lives.
Two weeks later, I learned that at least one man didn’t care for my sermon; he disagreed with it. I was bewildered. How could you disagree with a sermon about the infinite love of God?
Turns out what I see as love, he sees as horrifying. That the Father would “give” His Son to us strikes some people as abusive, I knew, and I tried to address that in my sermon, to show that it was in love and for love that Jesus came, but the fundamental issue remains: the incarnation, the crucifixion involved sacrifice, and that strikes this man as unnecessary. He’s a good person, he says. So why the sacrifice?
This isn’t a new thought. Back in my working days, one of my Jewish colleagues was telling me about the upcoming feast of Rosh Hashanah. “We’re supposed to confess our sins!” she said with a laugh. “My sins! Honestly! Can you think of any?”
I was baffled. Could she really not see that she was a sinner?
She couldn’t. Nor can the man who disliked my sermon. I’m beginning to see that my definition of sin is different from these folks’ definition. Their definition seems to be cultural—I’m no worse than most people, and better than some, therefore I’m not a sinner.
That is not me. Not even close. I have a very felt sense of my own sin. By sin, I mean Simone Weil’s definition: a turning of my face in the wrong direction.
I turn my face away from God every single day. Almost every minute of every day. I look away from the Divine Face of love, to gaze at other things (mostly myself). I do not live in the communion with Him for which I was created.
My fundamental sin is incurvatus in se, a turning inward, a collapsing in on myself. Like Adam and Eve, I hide myself from God in fear. I hide myself from myself. Perhaps I am lucky: knowing my own failings, it may be easier for me to cling to the cross, to bless it, instead of finding it a stumbling block.
To me, the love of God expressed in the cross of Jesus Christ is beautiful: arms stretched wide to embrace the world, Jesus embodies the very opposite of my tendency to curve inward. His posture is what we are all called to—the posture not of self-protection or self-promotion but of self-surrender.
And self-surrender is sacrifice. It cannot be anything else. When the Second Person of the Trinity became a human being—that was a sacrifice. Infinity wrapped in flesh! How could that be anything but sacrifice? Eternal Community willingly become a separate being, separated from communion with Himself? Sacrifice! And then, the final separation:
When people ran away from God, they lost God—it was what happened when they ran away. Not being close to God was like a punishment. Jesus was going to take that punishment. Jesus knew what that meant. He was going to lose his Father—and that, Jesus knew, would break His heart in two.
I do not see how God could be God if He did less than everything, if He refused to share our experience to the last dreg. That God would pour out Himself into human form and then unto death and the final separation from Himself—how else would Infinite, Self-giving Love reveal infinite, self-giving love?
And what can we do in response? All He asks of us. Which is only this: to believe, to trust, to abide in His love. To keep our faces turned toward His.