Three Big Words

Passage: Rom. 5:1-5; Prov.8:1-4; 22-31
Date: June 03, 2007
Preacher: Rev Laurie M. Vischer
Guest Preacher:

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Ole and Olga lived on an isolated farm in Minnesota. Olga was starved for affection. Ole never gave her any signs of love, and her need to be appreciated was unfulfilled. Finally, Olga blurted out, "Ole, why don't you ever tell me that you love me?" Ole stoically responded, "Olga, when we were married I told you that I loved you, and if I ever change my mind, I'll let you know."

I Love You. "Three little words" that don't get said enough. But an even bigger challenge is living those words. This is Trinity Sunday, a time to consider the meaning of the Trinity in our faith. Someone once said that "The Holy Trinity is not an old man, a young man and a bird." There have been volumes written on the subject. But my favorite insight on this came from an Episcopal priest, Alan Watts. He said that the Trinity really means I LOVE YOU.
Three big words: I (God) You (Incarnation--Jesus) Love, (the Holy Spirit.)

On Thursday, a few of us from Westminster participated in OFRAH (not Oprah)--the Oregon Faith Roundtable Against Hunger workshop. This organization helps people of many faiths to engage through direct services for the hungry and also to develop solutions to the root causes of hunger through education and public policy. One of the most interesting things for me, was to hear from one of our neighboring churches, Augustana Lutheran, right at 15th and Knott. The Rev. Mark Knutsen, spoke on a panel on "Overcoming the Reluctance to Advocate on Public Policy." Their church has doubled in membership over the past decade. He gave this advice on engaging churches in advocacy for justice:

"Find passionate lay leadership. Use the Worship-Action-Reflection model. We come together for worship; we are moved to action; we reflect on God's work through that action. In other words, instead of thinking and talking about our faith, and then acting, act your way into a new kind of thinking."

That's another way of saying "I Love You." Love is the acting, that comes out of relationship to the "I" (God.) Action changes us. We may not love at first, but if we act lovingly, we may come to love.

Theologian Isabel Carter Heyward wrote a challenging book, called The Redemption of God: A Theology of Mutual Relation. Addressing the power of God, that is expressed through our loving mutual relationship to one another, she said,

"With you, I begin to see that the hungry can eat again, the children can play again. . . It is not a matter of what "ought" to be. It is a power [God] that drives toward justice and makes it. . . And "I love you" means, let the revolution begin!" She continued,

"Persons who have no passion, no sense of power to effect good in relation, are incapable here and now of making God incarnate. And wherever there is no incarnation, there is no God."

This brings us to the passage from Romans. The apostle Paul, in the book of Romans, was aware of a clash between alternative visions for world peace. Rome's way, the way of Caesar Augustus, followed the norm for civilizations: the Pax Romana. That way was peace through victory. But the other vision, Jesus' way, which Paul expressed through the letter to the Romans: the way of peace through justice. This justice (from which the word justification comes) is about right relationship. Not retributive justice, punishment, but distributive justice, equality. Biblically, righteousness, the right relationship between God and humanity, is reflected through justice, or right relationship among people.

When the apostle Paul speaks of faith, faith is not an intellectual assent to an idea, but vital commitment to a life. It is covenantal, and presumes faithfulness from both parties. Faith as commitment is mutual, it is a two-way street. I Love You.

In Romans, we read,
"Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

Suffering, in the broadest sense of the verb-is to be passionate: to bear up who we are, to endure both the pain and the pleasure of what it means to love, to do what is just , to make right our relationships.

Last weekend, Westminster hosted part of its monthly film series on Middle East concerns. These last months have been exploring war, and issues around our involvement in war, from the role that our dependence on oil plays in our foreign policy, to the Iraqi casualties since 2003, to the price that U.S. soldiers and their families pay, for the war. Not many of us turn out to watch these films. Honestly, these films are painful to watch. And yet, the evenings spent watching and then discussing these films, in our community, leads us to hope. We are not single individuals feeling this pain. We are in this together. Somehow, witnessing together, in sharing the pain, in our listening to one another, in holding each other accountable, there is a sense of Christ's presence. Maybe the Holy Spirit is going to find a way to move through that pain to motivate us to act in a way that brings healing to our broken world. . .

The great Jewish rabbi, Martin Buber said: "Relation is reciprocity. . . Whoever hates directly is closer to a relation than those who are without love and hate. . .In the beginning is relation. . .

We read in Proverbs 8, "The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. . . I was daily his delight. . . rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race." John 1 echoes this, saying "Logos was with God in the beginning." Our God is a loving, relational God. And we are made in God's image. .

The experience of relationship is basic to who we are as human beings. It is good and powerful . It is in power of relation-that we know God: I Love You.

In Jesus, we see the human divine relation most intimate and immediate. By God, with God, for God, Jesus claims his own authority of possibility in the world. By Jesus, with Jesus, through Jesus, God acts. By the Holy Spirit, through the Holy Spirit and with the Holy Spirit, we act into a new way of thinking and being in the world.

At this table, the Lord's Table, we come, acting out right-relationship. All are welcome, no one need be hungry. In eating and drinking together, we taste with anticipation, a foretaste of peace and justice and love. A glimpse of that world is shown in this poem by Naomi Shihab Nye:

Wandering Around an Albuquerque Airport Terminal
After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:

If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.

Well -- one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.

Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she Did this.

I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick.
Sho bit se-wee?

The minute she heard any words she knew -- however poorly used -
She stopped crying.
She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day.

I said no, no, we're fine, you'll get there, just late,
Who is picking you up? Let's call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her -- southwest.
She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.

Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.
Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.

She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering
She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies -- little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts -- out of her bag --
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.

To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo -- we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookies.

And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers --
Non-alcoholic -- and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American -- ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.

And I noticed my new best friend -- by now we were holding hands --
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,
With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,

This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
Not a single person in this gate -- once the crying of confusion stopped
-- has seemed apprehensive about any other person.
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.
Not everything is lost.


What would the world be like? What would our lives be like if today, we allowed-- the love God has poured into our hearts-to spill into all our dealings with others? What would this church be like if our lives as Christians meant that right relationship with each other, with the planet, was our central concern? What if our faith went beyond what we say we believe and became a total life commitment? What then?