St. Paul’s – Trinity Sunday – June 7, 2020
Today is the only Sunday which is dedicated to a doctrine…The Trinity. Trinity Sunday invites us to celebrate an idea. A theological abstraction that’s beyond our understanding. Growing up Jewish…becoming a Christian….One in three? Three in one? Huh?
Needless to say, we are not living in the best of times. As citizens protest the horrific murder of George Floyd, what’s being uncovered is centuries’ old injustice, and the pain spilling into our streets is too deep for words. Meanwhile, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to devastate our planet. All over the world, catastrophic headlines darken our days. Many of us are tired, heartsick, anxious, and overwhelmed. Some of us are ill. Some of us are mourning loved ones who have died. Some of us are facing economic uncertainty or ruin. Some of us are devastated by the divisions and inequalities that infect our communities. Some of us are angry about what’s happening in our national politics. Some of us are barely hanging onto belief in one God. Today… the Church wants us to contemplate three? Why? Given the state our world is in right now, why should the Christian doctrine of the Trinity matter?
Well, maybe for starters, as Debbie Thomas has said….we need the Trinity to teach us a lesson in humility. In this divided and polarized moment, when religion is so often used as a weapon of war, it’s easy to imagine that we have the monopoly on the divine. It’s easy to grow smug and complacent, and to assume that our articulation of faith, our liturgy, our denomination, and our worship practices capture the best version of who God is and what God desires. One thing the Trinity does by its very complexity is challenge this assumption. The truth of God will always exceed us. The truth of God will always be more than our tiny, easily overwhelmed minds can bear. The truth of God will always confront, convict, and remake us, even as it soothes and affirms us. This is a good thing. It is good and right and necessary to remember that we are created in God’s image. We are not at liberty to reshape God into ours.
In a tourist town like Marfa, there is a standard question posed to people in our streets….. “Where do you come from?” “Where are you from?” “Where is your home?” “Who are your people?”In this time of difficulties focusing on people’s differences, maybe we need to pay attention to the fact that
Basically in the big picture, we all have the same origin.
This week’s reading from Genesis is also an origin story — the origin story of humankind — and as such, it offers us surprisingly rich soil in which to root our identities. Neither history nor science as today’s scholars understand those disciplines, the first chapter of Genesis is poetry, hymn, doxology, and myth. If we in the postmodern world struggle to see truth in those art forms, it is not because Scripture is lying. It is because our post-Enlightenment imaginations are impoverished. To call the creation story true is not to quibble with science; it is to probe deeper than any scientific endeavor can take us. It is to acknowledge who we truly are and where we really come from. It is to affirm, by faith, the reality of a good God, a good world, and a beloved humanity. And as we do this, how does it impact how we see and treat one another and our world.
Many people do not pay much attention to Genesis 1. If anything, they skim over it in their eagerness to get to the more suspenseful snake-and-fruit dramas of chapters 2 and 3. Today, we need to savor the deep truths hidden in Scripture’s opening verses. What does this chapter tell us about our common origins? Some of it feels too good to be true, but it’s not.
Where do we come from?
First, we come from a God who sees. Seven times in the creation narrative, God pauses to reflect on his handiwork. “And God saw.” Well before his work is done, he steps back to behold all that is taking shape before his eyes. Like a musician who thrills at a swelling harmony, like a poet who gasps at a beautiful turn of phrase, God lingers over his creation — every leaf, every wing, every stream, every child. He’s not in a hurry, and his interest in the world is far from utilitarian. God’s is the gaze of the artist, keen, perceptive, and patient. He observes. He attends. He notices. We come from a God who pays delighted attention in every part of creation. He sees.
We come from a world that is good. Before there was evil, there was goodness. Before there was Original Sin, there was Original Blessing. Often in our rush to get our theologies properly balanced and our egos properly squashed, we forget that Genesis 1 is a chapter brimming with goodness and blessing. In fact, God pronounces blessing on the created order three times. He calls creation “good” and “very good” seven times. As New Testament scholar Marcus Borg puts it, the creation story is “strikingly world-affirming.” “Against all world-denying theologies and philosophies,” he writes, “Genesis affirms the world as the good creation of the good God. All that is, is good.”
What would it mean to believe this in a culture increasingly full of violence, war, corruption, and greed? Would our eyes stop glazing over, would our hearts be more pierced, if we really believed that the world’s default setting — my default setting — is not evil, but radical, world-altering good? What would it be like to bless God’s world without reservation, stinginess, or fear? What would it be like to incarnate the goodness that is our heritage? What would it be like to celebrate that with joy, justice, respect, dignity and care? “God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
We come from a God who makes new things. According to Genesis, God created something new each day for six days. He was an innovator at the world’s beginning, calling forth beautiful things that didn’t exist until he called them. But is God still an innovator now? Do I believe in a God who is stagnant or vibrant? A God whose creative work is finished or ongoing? Frederick Buechner writes, “Using the same old materials of earth, air, fire, and water, every twenty-four hours God creates something new out of them. If you think you’re seeing the same show all over again seven times a week, you’re crazy. Every morning you wake up to something that in all eternity never was before and never will be again. And the you that wakes up was never the same before and will never be the same again, either.”…Stephen Hummel…As people talk about going back to normal after the pandemic, I hope we adopt the newness of God in how we go about living and being in this country and world. A newness where justice and our way of life shows us becoming the Beloved Community otherwise known as the Kingdom of God.
We come from the morning and the evening, the light and the darkness. Some versions of Christianity are rife with dualisms: we call the spirit good and the body bad. We believe that light comes from God and darkness comes from the devil. But the Genesis story contradicts these oppositions. The God who is spirit blesses the body. The God who creates light calls evening “good.” The God who brings order also hovers over the chaotic deep.
In her book on spirituality and darkness, Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “The way most people talk about darkness, you would think that it came from a whole different deity, but no. To be human is to live by sunlight and moonlight, with anxiety and delight, admitting limits and transcending them, falling down and rising up. To want a life with only half of these things in it is to want half a life, shutting the other half away where it will not interfere with one’s bright fantasies of the way things ought to be.”
We come from the likeness of God. Biblical scholars don’t know for sure what the Imago Dei of Genesis means. Are we like God in our spiritual traits? In our physical form? In our consciousness or creativity? I don’t know, but the possibilities are breathtaking to imagine. If nothing else, the creation story insists that God’s mark is imprinted on our very being. We might ignore or distort it, but the mark is always there. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we reflect something of God’s joy, God’s intentions, God’s love, and God’s beauty just by virtue of existing on the earth. We are His, and so He is ours. How we treat one another is how we treat God……I have echoes of yesterdays march in Alpine chanting I Love You...What if that was the first thing in my mind and heart for everyone who crosses my path every day….What will it take for each one of us to view our neighbors as bearers of God’s image rather than intruders and threats…….something to ponder each day we go out and about.
We come from a God who rests. Honoring this is no small feat in workaholic America, where every hour of every day is measured in profits gained or advantages lost. For us, the Sabbath doesn’t come naturally. We forget about it. We fear it. We resist it. To remember that God rested is to be both startled and humbled. How dare we claim not to need a break when God Himself took one? The Sabbath is the only thing in the creation account God called holy. We would do well to pay attention.
“Where do all of us come from?” I believe this question is not to highlight differences, but to reach across those differences and learn how much we have in common. Genesis 1 assures us that we’re on solid ground as we attempt these connections.
Where do all of us come from? We come from the best of beginnings. We come from a glorious Creator. We come from the loving heart of God. It is that loving heart we are called to share with all of God’s creation.
Back to the Trinity—If God’s very being is grounded in love, and we are created in God’s image, then who are we? What are we? Are we, are all people like the Triune God whose imprint we bear, creatures motivated first and foremost by love? Is love what we are known for? If not, then what are we doing with our lives? What does our piety and actions amount to?
Why should we care about the three-in-one? We should care because we are children of the Trinity at a time when the world is reeling and desperate. We are the children of a mysterious, fluid, diverse, communal, hospitable, and loving God who wants to guide us into the whole truth of who God is and who we are. We should care because the mystery of the Trinity has the power to transform our hearts, leading us towards coherence and dynamism, unity and diversity, hospitality and self-giving love. This week and always, may our lives, our communities, our country, and our world reflect the transformative beauty of the Triune God. AMEN+