Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"One in Three, Three in One" Trinity Sunday Message, Year A

Genesis 1:1 - 2:4
In the beginning when God was creating the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so.  God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together God called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so.  The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years,  and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.  God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth,  to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.
And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good.  God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God were they created; male and female they were created. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
God saw everything that had been made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work, and rested on the seventh day from all the work that had been done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that had been done in creation.
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day that God made the earth and the heavens.

Top of Form
Bottom of Form
Matthew 28:16-20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Creator and of the Redeemer and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Will you pray with me? God of mystery, three in one, never fully known, always present, ever-loving—open our hearts and minds to your riddle, to your love, to your presence with us in ways we do not always recognize or understand; give us grace to accept and celebrate what we do not understand, to know that your foolishness is greater than our wisdom; to worship and love you in all your complexity, so far beyond our capacity to comprehend.  In your own mighty name, amen.

Have you ever been in complete and total darkness? I mean, where there was no light at all—not stars, not a nightlight, not even light from across a field? I once went on a cave tour—don’t ask me why, when I tend to be claustrophobic—but I did. And at one point in the tour, we were asked to gather close together, so that our shoulders were touching, and then the lights went out. Now, it was already pretty dim down there, so it shouldn’t have taken long for our eyes to adjust and find what light was available. But there was none. We stood there for one minute, two, three…and could not see a thing. Utter, complete and total darkness. I was glad I could feel the shoulder of a friend against my arm, and hear her breathing…because otherwise I would have thought I was the only person in existence. When the guide broke the silence and turned the lights back on, it was almost unbearable—what had seemed so dim was now blindingly bright—and yet we had not been able to see, although our eyes were as adjusted to darkness as they could get.

That gave me a taste of what it must have been like before God began creating. Now, I had a place to stand, which God apparently didn’t—God “moved on the face of the deep,” i.e., chaos, nothingness, total disorder. But like me, God had others there—God addresses them—“let’s make humans in our image.” 

There’s been a lot of discussion over the years as to who was with God in the creation. We believe in one God, three persons—so all three persons were present, but what does that mean, exactly? William Willimon compares it to family relationships—as I am mother, sister, and daughter; or to the ways we interact with the world—as I am pastor, driver, reader, for example—three ways of being, but one person. But if that’s what God was doing, then we have a bit of a delusional God, talking to Godself as if God were several beings, as I spoke to Reader RP as if she were separate from Driver RP…. Some have said God was talking to the angels, others that it was other minor gods then present in the Hebrew pantheon. But I think that God was speaking among Godself—as we sometimes say—or at least I do—“OK, RP, that was a stupid move;” or “Well, RP, you did it! Hooray!” God was Godself, totally, in all ways of being when God  began creating.

God, in all of God’s being, created and is continuing to create the universe. God, in all of God’s being, was present on earth with humans, known as the person Jesus Christ, and will be present with us again. God, in all of God’s being, is present with us, in wisdom and grace and mercy and blessing.  This is what Jesus means when he says “I will be with you always,” surely one of the most, if not THE most, comforting verses in all scripture.

That is the Trinity we celebrate on this Sunday. All that God is, in all God’s mystery—we have to confess we don’t really completely understand it and never will—but we acknowledge it as good.  What we can “take away” is the understanding that God is community—and that therefore we are created to be in community as well.
One writer put it this way: “The formula does not save us. Love does. The power at the heart of the universe is love. God is love. Christ is the most complete form of love who ever walked the earth, and the Holy Spirit is Christ’s love among us after Easter. But the essence of the Trinity is love- relational, community love. People should know us by our love, not our doctrine.” (Rev. Dr. Robert M. Watson).  And they’ll know we are Christians by our love…Hm. How true is that these days? But I digress…

There are a lot of ways to describe the Trinity. I mentioned one a few minutes ago, in terms of relationships; another is the metaphor of the apple—God the creator being the skin that holds the apple together; God the Child or Redeemer being the flesh—that which feeds us; and God the Holy Spirit or Sustainer being the seeds, the way God is found everywhere in the world. But these functional descriptions—this is what God does—always falls short of the fullness of God’s being, just as describing what a person does can’t encompass all of who they are. I preach sermons—but I am more than that; I drive a car—but I am more than that; I read a lot—but I am more than that.
It’s not about what God does—it’s about relationships—God’s community of love, and our part in that community—who God is in relationship to us, and who we are in relationship to each other.  “God is love;” that is the simplest statement we can make about God, and the most profound, because it holds all the truth about God within it. Love implies another being—someone to love and to be loved by in return; the very concept of love means a community and denies solitude. God’s very being is in community and based in love—love creates, and does not destroy; love saves, and does not cast away; love lifts up, encourages, advocates, and hopes—love does not judge or deny or condemn.  

Think of the love of an ideal parent—I stress the ideal part, because parenting is the hardest work I have ever done; those of you who have parented in any way know what I mean—and all we can do is the best we can do—and that’s all we can expect of our own parents, too. But an ideal parent never scolds or shames or criticises. An ideal parent loves the child—gives him or her options to choose from, but always with guidance, with teaching about what is the best way , the most loving way to behave—not the simplest for the parent, or that choice that makes the child feel best—but what is truly best.

How many of you have read “To Kill a Mockingbird” or seen the movie? Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch is the consummate parent. As a small-town Southern lawyer who takes on a racially-charged court case defending a black man accused of raping a white woman, his family and friends tell him he shouldn’t take the case, it will hurt his credibility, and in any case, there’s no chance he can win it—he should turn it down. But Atticus refuses to turn it down. He says he couldn’t face his children if he did. He is raising them to be fair, to care for truth and honesty, to look out for those who are weaker, who are oppressed or in danger and to care for them. You don’t shoot mockingbirds, and you don’t hurt the defenceless. Atticus is parenting by example—the kind of father I think all of us wish we had had and some of us perhaps, had.
That’s love—to lay down a principle, and then to live up to it, to set an example for others to follow.  In simplest terms, that’s what Jesus did—taught others about God’s love, about the real riches of God’s realm, about what life could be like if we loved each other as God loved us—the love that binds the Trinity together. He did not draw back from being misunderstood, abused, even executed—because he was simply sharing God’s love with the world. 

Because none of us is perfect, we don’t always show that love, live up to that standard, in all situations—we try, and we fall short, of course. But because we are in community, when one of us fails, or does not, as a friend puts it, “act out of our best self,” others of us can step up and lift that person. We can stand in the breach for each other, carry one another when that person needs to know he or she is loved. 

Ideally, that is what the church—both the small c church, the church of Jesus Christ around the world, as well as each individual congregation—is about. And at its best, that is what it looks like—creating hope and joy through worship and prayer, offering Christ’s redemption, sustaining each other. 

Can we be that kind of people? That is the question I would leave with you today—are we able, do we dare, to be people who set an example of God’s love for each other—not only the people we like, not only the people who are nice to us and do things our way, who like us and support us—but all people, even the ones who annoy us and anger us and hurt us? 

On the cross, as he was dying, Jesus forgave those who had called for and carried out his execution. With that as our example, surely we can forgive a difference of opinion, or even a deeper hurt? I am not minimizing the pain of broken relationships—but I am asking if perhaps we can dig deeper into our hearts and find the love and forgiveness Jesus showed to all humans. 

In the tremendous name of the one God in three, amen.

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