Reflection by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 7 June 2020.
• First Reading: Isaiah 40: 12-17, 27-31 (The Lord is an everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth)
• Epistle: 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13 (Put things in order, agree with one another, live in peace)
• Gospel: Matthew 28: 16-20 (The Great Commission – baptism in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit)
A parent teaches a child how to cross the road safely, how to handle matches and kitchen knives. When the child misunderstands or does not act on it, then it is explained again.
The same applies to relating to other people – brothers and sisters, other relatives and other adults. It is all part of parenting, and yes there are the right ways of doing things and the wrong ways of doing them.
And so children are given a safe place in which to grow up, to learn and to relate to others, and this is the family. It is not an alien intrusion or a form of oppression – rather it is the place of protection, of nurturing and of being fed and clothed.
For Jesus, His relationship with God was always described as ‘Father’. In its way this was different from other peoples for there were plenty of female-inspired fertility cults, like Diana of Ephesus or Asherah of Canaan.
But God the Father demonstrated and exerted His love for His people by choosing them and then leading them in His ways. Hence the accounts of Abram, or Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and of Moses and Joshua, David and his successors.
God’s love for His people was there as He chose and then guided them as they trusted Him, followed Him and learned to obey Him. It was a love of total faithfulness without being devious or manipulative.
And even the laws of Israel were there to give structure and form to the Israelite tribes as they related to one another – for they were all kinsfolk, and then to their neighbours, often hostile and aggressive.
Thus the Love of God was central to the life of Israel from the first words to Abram through the kings, prophets and even in the dark times of the exile and the challenges of the restoration of Israel to her land.
In Jesus’ life and ministry love was also a permanent feature, again in teaching and correcting, healing and forgiving. It was there as He challenged corrupt or distorted religious practices in society and as He taught and led His disciples.
A major theme was about not promoting the interests of self, but in self-giving to one another and to God. Those who desired to lead were to be servants rather than overlords, and Jesus showed how this could lead to the extremity of the cross.
He would pour Himself out for the sake of the task given Him by His Father knowing that His whole mission was leading Him to the cross and not away from it or somehow avoiding it.
For Jesus love was also a discipline of self-denial, prayer, fasting and total dedication to His Father.
In this He was clear and specific in referring to God as His Father, teaching the disciples how to pray to the Father and explaining that He and the Father were one, and His teaching was always what He had been given to say by His Father.
In the great prayer of John 17, Jesus’ intimacy with God as Father was not only shown but extended to include His disciples in every and all places and times. Love was never something to be hoarded but rather it was there to be poured forth like a permanent spring gushing forth.
And as Jesus ascended to heaven He was clear in promising that there would be another comforting presence, the Holy Spirit to be with the disciples as they worshipped and prayed together, made other disciples, and as they continued to obey Jesus’ new commandment to love one another.
This was not the same as loving the world, but it came within the Great Commandment to love God above and before all other forms of affection or loyalty.
For Paul the work of the Holy Spirit was there both in empowering and equipping the church with Spiritual gifts to carry out Jesus’ Great Commission, but also to cultivate in it the qualities of the life of Jesus Himself.
These were and are the Fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness and self-control. These are the practical effects of love in daily life, cultivated and grown rather than given as special endowments.
They are trained, formed, directed, even pruned, so that they may be seen and honoured in the life of the church and in society as a whole. They may not be dramatic, but they are hardy.
In society they are there when people are seen to serve one another rather than their own interests, when they are self-giving rather than self-serving, and when they demonstrate Jesus’ instruction that leadership is about serving others.
This Trinity Sunday is a day for reflecting on a reality that is beyond words and a mystery that has more of the butterfly about it than a rhinoceros. The love of God in all aspects of life and faith is, like any other genuine love, hardy and faithful, without imposing itself on others.
It seeks the best for the other, looking for union where this may be celebrated. Yet it is self-giving, even self-pouring. It is that spring that never fails, the foundation that never cracks. It is the air that is never polluted and the relationship that is never compromised.
In this life we will not see it perfectly except in the form of Jesus, nailed to the cross. We should see it in one another.