Combined Service with Galilee and CECP congregations
Campsie Uniting Church - Sunday 30 May 2021
John 3:1-17. For God so loved the world
Do you have a favourite number? Does your cultural background have a favourite number?
Does that number have magical or spiritual significance? Is it considered lucky?
The favourite number of the ancient Irish people was the number three. I think this is funny because it is very hard for us Irish to say the number three. Most of us tend to pronounce it as ‘tree.’ We have trouble with our Hs, so we tend to say ‘turty tree’ rather than thirty three. Nevertheless, I want to talk about three things today:
Firstly, today’s Gospel reading is John 3:1-17 and I especially want to look at verses 16 and 17…
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 3:17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Do we love the world as God loves the world?
Secondly, today is Trinity Sunday. What does Trinity mean to you? As Christians when we use the word Trinity, we are expressing the mystery that God is three in one, three persons but one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I want to look at how the understanding of God as Trinity became the foundational model of communicating the Gospel in ancient Ireland and get us to think how our ancestors received the Gospel in our homelands.
Thirdly, today we are meeting to thank God for the wonderful refurbishment of this church which we share together. How might we together communicate the Gospel here in Campsie? How might we present God as one in three, a God who loves the world?
1. For God so loved the world….
The New testament Greek word for world is kosmos. Sometimes the word is used positively and sometimes negatively depending on its context. The world can mean the ordered universe created by God; a wonderful place of stars and planets and black endless darkness, of sky, sea and land, of birds, bees and butterflies.
The world can mean all the people of the world. The world can also refer to the ways of the world, meaning the ways that humans stray from God, the ways humans treat each other: our violence and hatred, our hunger for power and wealth and desires dominate and control others. So, it is used both positively and negatively. Whatever it means in John 3:16, there is one thing we can be 100% certain about and that is that God loves the world. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 3:17 "Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
God loves the world. That means God does not just love Christians, but all people, even ‘sinners.’ God loves all animals, birds, fish, insects, the tiniest organisms, plants, flowers and trees, rocks, mountains, valleys, rivers, seas, lakes and rainforests, deserts, grasslands, glaciers and ice caps and everything else in all creation.
If God loves the world and God loves us so much that he gave his only son that we might share in God’s life, surely the challenge for us as followers of Jesus is to ask ourselves, do we love the world? Do we really love the wonderful world that God has created, or will we continue to live without care for the environment, destroying and polluting and causing mass extinctions? Will we close our ears to the cries of Palestinians, to the cries of the first peoples of this land, to refugees, to those who are becoming poorer and poorer? Do we love as God loves? For God so loved the world…
2. Trinity – Three persons, One God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit
The Trinity is not just a doctrine or a way to understand God. The Trinity is about knowing God and living in God, living in love. The three persons of the Trinity are a family of love, constantly giving and receiving love and pouring love out throughout the world.
In around 432 AD Saint Patrick led a mission team to Ireland. Patrick is acknowledged as the main missionary who brought Christianity to the Irish. Patrick was no stranger to the land of Ireland. As a young boy he had been captured on the mainland of Britain and taken by boat across the Irish sea to work as a slave. He spent six years out on the green lush grassy hills minding sheep before returning to Britain. Alone for much of the time with only sheep, wild animals and rain and cold for company, he developed a warm and close sense of the immanence of God’s loving presence. Much of his day was spent in prayer with God who lived and slept with him. So, when Patrick returned as a missionary, he knew a lot about Ireland and the Irish to whom he brought the Gospel. Patrick knew their culture and language and their beliefs about their gods and goddesses. He knew that they loved nature and that they had a great sense of the sacred and spiritual around them.
Patrick knew that the Irish were fascinated by the number three. The Irish loved stories and riddles and jokes with three parts. Three was a spiritual number and the gods and goddesses were grouped in threes. One of their most revered gods was called Lu and even today the festival of Lughnasadh is celebrated in August, not just in Ireland but around the world, as a harvest festival. Lu was supposed to have three faces. So, Patrick and his missionaries presented their understanding of God as three in One, like the God who has three faces.
St Patrick is said to have used a native plant the Shamrock to express the Trinity. Each leaf of the Shamrock is made up of three parts or three leaves on one leaf.
The gods and goddesses of Ireland were fierce warriors and often cruel and unpredictable and indifferent to people, but the God of Patrick was a unity of three bound together in love. The Irish also practised human sacrifice and cannibalism but Patrick presented God as one who did not sacrifice the lives of others but a God who loved us so much that he gave his own son to die for us. The God of Patrick was a God who sacrificed himself on our behalf, a God who loves us thoroughly, endlessly and always. The Irish did not just understand God as a Trinity they began to live their daily lives aware of the immanent presence, protection and guidance of all three persons of the Trinity by day and by night.
The Three who are over me,
The Three who are below me,
The Three who are above me here,
The Three who are above me over there;
The Three who are in the earth,
The Three who are in the air,
The Three who are in the heavens,
The Three who are in the great pouring sea.
I lie down this night with God,
And God will lie down with me;
I lie down this night with Christ,
And Christ will lie down with me;
I lie down this night with the Spirit,
And the Spirit will lie down with me;
God and Christ and the Spirit
Be lying down with me.
Because of the Gospel, Ireland became a much less violent place, human sacrifice and cannibalism ended and so did the practice of slavery. Christian communities were communities of love and peace, where strangers were welcomed and hospitality offered to all, that all might come to know the God who loves the world.
When the Gospel first came to your ancestors whether Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Tongan, Fijian, Filipino, Nepalese etc., why did they respond? What did they respond to? What was different about the God the missionaries spoke of to the gods and goddesses of your homelands?
One thing that I have learned is that my Celtic ancestors were in many ways like the ancestors of our Pacific Islander brothers and sisters. Their gods were fierce and unpredictable and human sacrifice was a way to try to appease the gods and like the Irish, cannibalism was practised. There were both good and not so good things that the missionaries brought and did but one of the most important things in the message of the missionaries was that they introduced the people to a God of love who loved the world so much that he sent his son to this world and gave himself in love for us. Love wins in the end.
I asked a Korean friend of mine why she thought Koreans initially responded to the Gospel and she said Korea had been invaded and oppressed by China and Japan for hundreds of years, they were poor. They were open to the new technology, new medicine, new science. They identified with the biblical stories, with the God who was on the side of the oppressed people of Israel and Koreans wanted to be free from their bondage and they identified with Jesus who was on the side of the poor and marginalised, who loved all people. I read elsewhere that the Gospel smelt like freedom to Koreans. In the last 65 years South Korea has gone from being one of the poorest countries in the world to being one of the wealthiest. But now with the wealth and Western influences many of the younger people are leaving the church and pastors are asking how do we share the Gospel with the richer younger generation so that they respond?
One of the ways the missionaries to Ireland were different to the missionaries to the South pacific and South East Asia was that the missionaries to Ireland did not come with the power of empire they came only with the love of God. They did not come to civilise the people only to love them.
And so thirdly, I come to my last point. Today we are meeting to thank God for the wonderful refurbishment of this church which we share together. We are here together today because our ancestors responded to the Gospel and especially to the good news that God loves the world. How might we together communicate the Gospel here in Campsie? How might we present God as one in three, a God who loves the world? How might we communicate that God is a God who loves the world: the environment, the animals, birds, fish, seas, waters, air and land and all its people? How can we communicate this to our Chinese sisters and brothers and to all the people who live here from all over the world?
I suggest that what we are doing today is a great starting point. We are meeting together to worship the One God, three persons in One God. We are Galilee and we are Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park and like the family of the Trinity is bound together in love, let us be bound together in love, the same love that God has for the world, revealed to us in Jesus and communicated to us through the Holy Spirit. Let us use this day to get to know one another, to understand one another, to appreciate our different and rich cultures, to meet new people, to learn new languages, to experience different food, but most of all to see in the faces of one another that the God who lives in me and lives in you, who loves me and loves you, is the God who also lives in and loves our neighbours here in Campsie. Let us commit ourselves to loving one another and loving the people in Campsie that they may know the love of God in Christ. Amen.
Minister of Campsie Earlwood Clemton Park Uniting Church Congregation