Epistle for the 25th Sunday After Pentecost
The Epistles of the Holy Apostle Paul are a marvel of pastoral love and of theology. The Apostle was diligent as a loving father and shepherd to write to his spiritual children wherever they might be, or wherever he might be. As we heard in the opening sentence of today’s Epistle, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord…”- Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Christians in Ephesus from his prison cell in Rome. What a loving father indeed, that he would take the care to instruct his spiritual children while in chains in Rome. And what a vision, what words of hope and faith come from the imprisoned Apostle! Not only do we receive the care and comfort of a loving father of the Church, but we are given instruction in the nature of God, and in how we, as Christians, are to live and grow as children of God.
The message of the Apostle Paul underscores that there is one God, the Creator and Source of all Life. He writes, “There is… one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” This emphasis on the unity of God, of the one true God, the Father of all, is in direct response to the polytheism (the belief in many Gods) that was prevalent among the people to whom Apostle Paul preached.
The belief in one God is central to the teachings of the Orthodox Church – the creed which we all recite begins, ‘I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.’ This bold pronouncement clarifies and distinguishes the revelation of the true nature of God from the false understandings of the philosophies and pagan religions prevalent at that time. This revelation of the one God and Father of all was also the inheritance of the Jews, God’s chosen people, who stood out for centuries from the surrounding peoples in their belief in one God.
And yet, there is something more here… the Christian revelation fulfills the ongoing revelation of the one true God to His people and opens up for us the nature of our one true God as a Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Apostle writes, ‘There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.’ In this statement the Apostle invokes the one Spirit, the one Lord, and the one Father – a direct revelation of the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Christian revelation stands out as unique – it is a revelation of God as One, distinct from those teachings of polytheism that would have us believe is many Gods. And although God is One, the Christian revelation of the One God reveals Him to be a Trinity in Unity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, distinct from the incomplete teachings of monotheism.
Why is this important? What relevance does this conception of God as Holy Trinity have for us in our daily lives? Isn’t this all just esoteric abstract theology? The answer is a resounding, ‘No!’. Bishop Alexander Mileant of blessed memory wrote that, ‘The teaching about the Trinity is the foundation on which the Christian faith is built. All the pleasing, redeeming truths of Christianity about salvation, consecration, bliss of a person can be accepted only on the condition that we believe in the Three-hypostatic God, since all these great blessings are given to us through the mutual and joint activity of the Divine Persons.’
The great mystery of the Holy Trinity is that God exists in love. The activity and interaction of the three Persons of God creates a communion of love among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is set before us as a model of the unity that should exist within the body of the Church. Christ’s prayer for His Church was that we may be one, even as He and the Father were One. The glue that holds us together is Divine Love. Blessed Augustine wrote, ‘The mystery of the Christian Trinity is the mystery of Godly love.’
Our belief in God is not a philosophy, it is not an abstract religious notion… it is a call to action, it is a call to love. If our religious faith is not manifesting itself in an increase of love within our heart and in our actions, words, and thoughts toward others – then something is wrong and we must repent and correct it.
Let us turn again to this morning’s Epistle: ‘I beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’
What the Apostle Paul is teaching us here is so important! We must endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit… God bestows His Grace upon us and we must be careful and diligent to preserve it, to care for it as the precious treasure that it is. Depending on how we are, how we behave, how we think – we either preserve this Grace, keeping the unity of the Spirit, or we chase that Grace away.
How do we hold on to this Grace? We do so by consciously attending to preserve the bond of peace among one another. By treating each other with humility, gentleness, longsuffering, bearing with one another in love.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ… Apostle Paul is not exhorting us to just be nice to one another! He is not a teacher of good manners and social protocol. No… there is something much more important and much deeper going on here. We are called to love one another in order to preserve and perpetuate the Living Presence of God in our lives and in the lives of everyone we meet. In striving to love one another we keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. In striving to love God and to love our neighbor we enter into that ‘mystery of the Christian Trinity - the mystery of Godly love.’