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That's the Power of Love

A sermon by Dr. Jim Somerville, Pastor
Richmond’s First Baptist Church
Richmond, Virginia
May 26, 2013

Trinity Sunday

Romans 5:1-11

Today is Trinity Sunday: the only day on the Christian calendar devoted to a doctrine.  But maybe that’s because this doctrine is so hard to grasp.  One God in three persons?  How is that even possible?  I could spend the next twenty minutes fumbling around for an answer and in the end we might not be any closer than we are right now.  This is why theologians sometimes shrug their shoulders and say, “It’s a mystery.”  So, I thought I would approach the mystery of the Trinity in a little different way today.  In the spirit of “show and tell” I’d like to show you what a God in three persons might look like, but before I do I need to tell you how I got to this particular vantage point. 

It started about ten years ago, when I was leading a Bible study on the Book of Romans.  There was this word that kept showing up in the Greek text: dikaiosune, dikaiosune, dikaiosune.  Sometimes it would be translated as “righteousness,” or even “God’s righteousness,” but in other places it would be translated as “justification.”  It was a little confusing.  Justification is a word I sometimes run into when I’m writing something on my computer.  It will ask me: “Do you want me to justify this paragraph on the left side?”  What it means is, “Do you want me to line up the words nice and straight on the left side of the page and leave the right side ragged?”  If it were using theological language it might say, “Do you want me to make the left side righteous and leave the right side in its sin?”  But justification is not the same thing as righteousness.  Making something straight is not the same as “straightness.”  The more I encountered the word dikaiosune in Romans the more I came to believe that for Paul it meant something like “the right-making power of God.” 

Think about that for a minute: the “right-making power of God.”  It means that God has the power to make us right like a computer has the power to line up the words on a screen.  It can line them up on the left side.  It can line them up on the right side.  It can line them up on both sides and all you have to do is push a button.  I think Paul would say that’s what God can do for you.  He can take the ragged mess you’ve made of your life and justify it, just like that.  He can make it right.  But I think Paul would also say that he can do that because of what Jesus did on the cross. 

I don’t want to go too far with this computer analogy.  It seems awfully cold and mechanical.  But I remember that back in the days of the typewriter I couldn’t line things up on the right side of the page, not unless I counted the individual characters and inserted some extra space to make it all add up.  Even then it wasn’t perfect.  I picture the scribes and Pharisees struggling hard to keep all those Old Testament laws and hoping they would add up to salvation, that when God looked at the finished product of their lives everything would be lined up nice and neat on the right side.  But Paul says now, in Jesus, that’s done.  If you put your faith and trust in him you will be justified, your life will be justified, and when God looks at the finished product everything will be lined up nice and neat on the right side.

It occurred to me when I was leading that Bible study that it must take just as much power to “right” a sinner as it does to raise the dead.  Paul suggests as much when he says, “You were dead in your sins,” but not anymore.  Why?  You put your faith and trust in Jesus.  God was able to raise you up and make you right.  These are two different actions, but they depend on the same power.  I thought about that power again last week when I was looking at the story of Pentecost.  I often think of Pentecost as the coming of the Holy Spirit, but as I was doing the research I noticed that’s not really what Jesus says.  At the end of Luke’s Gospel he says to his disciples, “I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”  Power.  From on high.  And in the first chapter of Acts he tells his disciples, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” as if the power and the Spirit were not one and the same thing.  Sure enough, on the day of Pentecost several things happen: 1) there is a sound like the rush of a violent wind that fills the whole house; 2) something like tongues of fire appear over the heads of the believers; and 3) they are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in other languages.  The power from on high arrives in a gust of wind, and fire, and Spirit, but the power is not the Spirit.  It’s something else. 

This is where it helps to know just a little bit of Greek because in Greek the word for spirit is pneuma, but the word for power is dunamis, from which we get the word dynamite.  Jesus told his disciples to go back to Jerusalem and wait for the dynamite from on high.  They did and when it came it came in an explosive way.  Maybe I’m working too hard to prove a point, but I’m thinking that the power that raised Jesus from the dead, the power that came upon the believers on the Day of Pentecost, and the power that can justify a sinner is the same power.  And that’s not all I’m thinking.  I’m thinking that the power that brought the universe into being is that same divine dynamite (and if you subscribe to the theory that the universe came into being with a big bang, well, it fits, doesn’t it?).  But if I had to give this power a name I don’t think I would call it “divine dynamite.”  I would say that it’s the power of God, and if what the author of 1 John says is true—that God is love—then it’s the power of love.

I believe that love expresses itself as Father, Son, and Spirit, and that it does it by creating, redeeming, and sustaining.  As I look through the pages of Scripture I see that power at work everywhere. 

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, God said, “Let there be light!” and just like that—click!—it happened.

That’s the power of love.

And when God made a man out of the dust of the earth, and put him the garden to tend it and keep it, when he saw that it wasn’t good for the man to be alone he made him a helper, a partner, a woman. 

That’s the power of love.

And when that man and woman had children, and their children had children, and so on and so forth until the world was populated with people whose only thought was evil, day after day, God decided to wipe the slate clean and start again, but Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. 

That’s the power of love.

When Noah’s offspring began to multiply, and when they tried to build a tower with its top in the heavens, God scattered them across the face of the earth, but he chose one man—Abraham—and told him that he would bless him, and that through him and his descendants the whole world would be blessed. 

That’s the power of love.

And when Abraham’s descendants ended up as slaves in Egypt God came to Moses and said, “I have seen the suffering of my people, and I have heard their cries of distress.  I’m getting ready to bring them out of their slavery with a mighty hand, and you are going to help me.” 

That’s the power of love.

And after God had crushed Egypt with a series of plagues, and brought his people through the Red Sea, and fed them in the wilderness, and brought them into the Promised Land, Joshua reminded them of all God had done and said, “Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” 

That’s the power of love.

And when the people were surrounded by their enemies, God sent the judges to deliver them.  And when they begged for a king, God gave them one.  And when the kings led them into corruption, God sent the prophets.  And when the people still wouldn’t listen, God sent them into exile.  But when they had served their time, and learned their lesson, God brought them home again. 

That’s the power of love.

But when the people got lost in their sins, and there seemed to be no way out, God sent his messenger to a virgin in the little town of Nazareth, and told her that she would be the mother of the Messiah.  “You shall call him Jesus,” the angel said, “for he shall save his people from their sins.”

That’s the power of love.

That child grew up.  He was baptized by John in the Jordan.  He preached the good news of God’s coming Kingdom.  He healed the sick and cleansed the lepers.  He raised the dead and cast out demons.  He stilled the storm and calmed the sea.

That’s the power of love.

But there was another power in the world that hated who he was and what he did.  That power did everything it could to stop him.  Eventually it nailed him to a cross but even then, hanging there, he said, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” 

That’s the power of love.

But early in the morning, on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, God rolled the stone away.  He breathed resurrection life into that cold, still body, and Jesus stood up, and strode forth. 

That’s the power of love. 

He came to his disciples.  He showed them his hands and side.  He proved he was alive and they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.  He told them they couldn’t keep this good news to themselves, and commissioned them to share it with the world. 

That’s the power of love.

On the Day of Pentecost they were gathered in an upper room when suddenly there was a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and tongues of fire hovered over their heads, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak in other languages.   

That’s the power of love.

Peter stood up and preached to the crowd.  He told them that this is what the prophet Joel had predicted, that in the last days God would pour out his spirit upon all flesh, and their sons and daughters would prophesy, their young men would see visions and their old men would dream dreams. 

That’s the power of love.

That day 3,000 people were added to the church.  And all who believed were together and had all things in common.  Day by day they spent time in the temple, and night after night they broke bread at home.  They ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. 

That’s the power of love.

But the Spirit wasn’t content to leave them there.  It pushed them beyond the boundaries of culture, race, and clime.  They preached to Samaritans, Ethiopian Eunuchs, Gentiles.  They carried the good news to Judea, Samaria, the ends of the earth.  And everywhere they went the gospel was heard and received. 

That’s the power of love. 

Somehow it got as far as Richmond, Virginia, and in 1780 a church was founded that has been going strong ever since.  Even as I speak that church is busy sharing good news, feeding the hungry, caring for children, and serving the poor.  They believe that as children of the Heavenly Father, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, they are called to labor alongside the Lord Jesus Christ in the joyful work of bringing heaven to earth. 

That’s the power of love.

Can you see it?  Can you see God creating, redeeming, and sustaining?  Can you see him using the same power—as Father, Son, and Spirit—to accomplish his purposes in the world?  On this Trinity Sunday we celebrate the fact that from the very beginning there has been only one power worthy of our worship and praise.  Say it with me:

That’s the power of love.

—Jim Somerville 2013

 
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