The Look of Love

Sermon preached by Rev’dDr Emma Pennington at All Saints’, Cuddesdon on Trinity Sunday, 27th May 2018.

Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8, John 3: 1-17.

Over the last eighteen years one of the aspects of ministry I have come to really enjoy if that of taking weddings.  For often at some point in the journey from when I first meet shy an excited couples to their actual wedding day, there comes a moment when a look of love passes between them which is so unique, so intimate and so all-consuming that you feel you have strayed into their private world.  Millions of us were privileged to witness this same look of love, an intensely personal exchange, between Megan and Harry last Saturday as we were invited to publically share in their moment of deep joy and fulfilment at being made one through their love for each other.


When St Augustine was trying to find the words to describe the mystery of the Godhead as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he remembered this most unique of human experiences and saw how it could express something of the divine community of love.  Just as the lover and the beloved gaze at each other in mutual love, so God the Father looks at God the Son and the love which passes between them is God the Holy Spirit.  Three persons made one through their love.


To use this unique human experience of the uniting power of love between two individuals as an analogy for the Trinity is very helpful but it does highlight a profound difference.  Each one of us has, not only a deep capacity to love but also a need to be loved.  People often talk about the importance of ‘loving oneself’ as if it is impossible to love another or receive love unless one first loves oneself.  There is some truth in this but experience teaches that invariably we are unable to love ourselves until we learn how to love another and receive their love in turn.  To be able to love we must look outside ourselves, only then is our true need to love and be loved fulfilled and life takes on a richness and vulnerability which was not there before.


Christian theology teaches that this need has been met and fulfilled within the being of God himself.  As William Vanstone writes, ‘In the dynamic relationship within the being of the Trinity, love is already present, already active, already completed and already triumphant,  for the love of the Father meets with the perfect response of the Son.  Each, one might say, endlessly enriches the other and this rich dynamic interrelationship is the being and life of the Spirit.  Therefore nothing beyond the being of God is necessary to the fullness or fulfilment of God’.  God is not like us who must look beyond ourselves to an other who, by responding, will satisfy our need to love.  Within the mystery of the divine being there is present both the power to love and the triumphant issue of love in the response of the Beloved.


If this is so then it has profound repercussion for how we see our relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Just as when we look upon couples in love and feel as if our presence makes no difference at all to their love for each other, so we must look upon the Trinity of love and know that we and every other created being are not necessary to the being or fulfilment of God.  God is complete in himself and is not reduced or unfulfilled or even incomplete if we did not exist.  In no way can we claim that without us, without our being or without our response, God is in any way unfulfilled.  God needs no response from us or anything in creation to be the divinely fulfilled, for he is whole, complete, satisfied within himself the Trinity of love.


If God has no need to look outside himself to have his love made whole and fulfilled then the fact that God loves us is pure gift which flows from the fullness of his being of love.  It is not the kind of love which springs from need or emptiness but from an overwhelming generosity.  It is the kind of love which a family has who, united in mutual love, take an orphan into their home.  They do so not out of need but in the pure spontaneity of their own triumphant love.  Nevertheless, in the weeks that follow, the family once complete in itself, comes to need the newcomer.  Without him the circle is now incomplete, his absence now causes anxiety, his waywardness brings concern, his goodness and happiness are necessary to those who have come to love him, upon his response depends the triumph or tragedy of the family’s love.  In spontaneous love, the family has surrendered its own fulfilment and placed it precariously in the orphan’s hands.  Love has surrendered its triumphant self-sufficiency and created its own need.  This is the supreme illustration of love’s self-giving or self-emptying, that it should surrender its fullness and create in itself the emptiness of need.


In the revelation of such awesome and humbling love cannot our cry only be that of Isaiah, ‘Woe is me!  I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts’.  For if God has taken us and creation into the perfection of his community of love through the person of Jesus Christ, then who we are and what we do matters.  It matter to God if we are absent or not, if we are wayward or not, if we are good or not.  Our response to God’s love affect God himself.  Thus is the extent to which he has made himself vulnerable to love.


This does not mean that God is like Big Brother, watching, judging our every move.  But that we, you and me and all creation, are part of that divine look of love.  To know this and experience it is to be fulfilled and life to take on the richness and vulnerability of knowing that we are looked upon with such love and that love in turn, turns our eyes towards him and all he loves so that we are lost in wonder, love and praise.  Amen.