May 30, 2021

Brief synopsis of the readings: We begin in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy (the 5th book of the Bible). Here Moses spoke to the people and reminded them of God’s role in their lives, how God chose them and no other nation. God did not liberate any other nation from slavery and therefore they must worship God alone. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus gathers his followers and commands them to “make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.”

In years past, when I’ve preached on this feast of the Trinity, I’ve spoken about the relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit. Today I want to build on that. And I want to begin by speaking of solitude.

When we think about solitude most of us think about isolation, something bad. In the early 1800s the Quaker Church developed the idea of solitary confinement to allow inmates to consider their actions. But they soon found that this amounted to torture and they quickly changed their mind. They recognized that we need each other that we do better when we live in communities.

As an aside, there are those who are called to live as hermits. But they do not do this for selfish reasons, they do this as a way of connecting with all of humanity. This is call is reserved to a very few, but it bears recognizing that it exisits

But for the rest of us exactly how do we live together? When our ancestors began to gather in communities they did it primarily to share resources and improve their standards of living. At least at the beginning they didn’t appear to owe or feel anything to each other. And we continue see that to this day. Fans of the TV empire Star Trek know well that the Klingons have no word for hello. The closest greeting they have is “nuqneH” which translates to “what do you want?”

Fortunately, over the years we progressed. The ancient Greeks developed three separate words for love: eros, filo, and agape. They defined eros as romantic love, a love that develops between two people who meet and fall in love. And while we hope these relationships will be permanent, there is no guarantee. Filios, they wrote, is often described as loyalty. It’s the love between two people who may or may not be related but value and support each other. And again, we hope these relationships will be permanent, but they don’t always work out. Finally, they spoke about agape. They described agape as an infinite, unconditional love that has no ending. The agape lover cares nothing for himself, but only his or her beloved.

Interestingly enough, they described a love they could never hope to achieve, or even fully attempt. At best these ancient Greeks could aspire only to eros or filios. In fairness, these loves are not weak by any means.

Not to put too fine a point on this but without eros love, none of us would exist. In Genesis it was eros that caused Rebecca to follow her husband Abraham to the Promised Land where they would become the parents of the founders of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Eros allows us the most generous of gifts: the ability to create life.

Filio is more than just friendship. Filial relationships allow us entrance to the world of another. Through these friendships we learn not only about other people but also about their values and loves. When I was in high school my friend Jim moved across the country to Northeast Oregon. I was disappointed about his move but a few years later I visited him and spent a week there. It was, by no means, a tourist destination. But I spent a week not only with Jim but also with his family, his friends and the members of his church. I still treasure those memories and I believe our friendship deepened in that week.

But filio is more than just friendship, more than just affectionate feelings for another. In our history filio has caused acts of great courage. Men and women who have served in uniform, particularly those who have seen combat, recognize that there may be a time when they will sacrifice for the person next to him. And they will do this without hesitation or limit.

And taking nothing away from eros and filio, the Trinity gives us an insight into agape. When we baptize someone “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” we are baptizing them into agape. The love between the three persons of the Trinity is infinite, absolute, and neverending. And yes, it’s beyond human ability.

Much as we can love one another we humans (this side of Heaven) cannot achieve complete agape, but the fact that we cannot reach that destination on our own doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt the journey.

Agape tells us that we are called to never give up on each other. When I was a Paulist priest we had a saying: never close the book on another Paulist (I assume they still have it). That meant that no matter how the other person may drive us crazy we can’t assume we know their next destructive action or poor choice. We are called to continue to hope for and pray for them.

Agape also demands that we trust the other person enough that we don’t try to force their healing or progress. So often we use manipulation and other passive aggressive behaviors to force another to do what we want. These actions may have the best of intentions but they always move us away from agape love. When we do that we assume we know better what they need and what they need to do.

Finally agape insists that we don’t put limits on who we love. Eros is, by its nature, exclusive and filio limits us to those we know and choose to love. But true agape love knows no bounds. Period. A few years ago I served on a board that found its foundation in faith and one day several began to talk about “compassion fatigue.” We sometimes found that caring for the stranger exhausted us and we needed good boundaries in our love.

But one of our number, a Buddhist nun, told us that if we experience compassion fatigue we are doing compassion wrong. True compassion doesn’t require ending of the other. It doesn’t mean we have to feed all the poor or visit all those imprisoned. True compassion is part of agape in that it does not weary in the suffering of others.

Eros is wonderful and filio can take us a long way, but agape allows us to follow the path to the divine. When we think of the Trinity let us think about how our world would be if we all worked toward it. Even if none of us gets there.