Sunday, June 7, 2020
The Holy Trinity, Year A
Prayer of the Day
Almighty Creator and ever-living God: we worship your glory, eternal Three-in-One, and we praise your power, majestic One-in-Three. Keep us steadfast in this faith, defend us in all adversity, and bring us at last into your presence, where you live in endless joy and love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
Genesis 1:1–2:4a The creation of the heavens and the earth
2 Corinthians 13:11-13 Paul’s farewell to the church at Corinth
Matthew 28:16-20 Living in the community of the Trinity
Title: God is God. So, Who Are We?
Timing. Sometimes you love it. Like when you get that piece of information or that thing that you really need, just at the right time. Timing. Sometimes you hate it. Like when your plate is full and then one more burden to deal with drops down on it. Timing. Sometimes you just roll your eyes. Like when your world seems to be falling apart, unable to deal with crisis by mounting crisis, and you would really appreciate some comforting and encouraging words to help get us through, and the church hands you a complex theological concept that no one seems to really be able to explain without completely confusing the listener or crossing the line into heresy. Well, welcome to the unfortunate timing of Holy Trinity Sunday 2020.
We’ve had some great liturgical/lectionary timing examples during this difficult time of dealing with a pandemic and the ordeal of a lockdown. I’ve highlighted them in the past weeks. Just a quick review: Using that wonderful Easter symbol of the butterfly, we could reframe this time of isolation as prolonged and possibly fruitful cocoon time. The Sunday after Easter, we were better able to relate to those disciples who were isolating in fear when the resurrected Jesus appeared in their midst. It was very easy to stand with the disciples on that hilltop looking up in heaven where Jesus has just ascended to wondering: what’s next? (We’re on that hilltop again in this morning’s gospel. However, Matthew does not include any disciple confusion or hesitation. But we will get back to that a bit later.) And, of course last week, just as the world is becoming undone, and we are thinking maybe staying in prolonged isolation isn’t so bad, the Spirit sends us out into the world not because our mission is safe and easy, but because the world needs to hear the good news of the gospel.
Yes, those examples of “nice timing” have been helpful, connecting, challenging, inspiring, instructional, and I hope, fruitful.
But in the midst of all that is going on, what are we to do with this unique Sunday that is a feast day that does not honor a person or remember an event, but that lifts up a theological concept. And I might add, one that has caused some major fights in the church. Imagine civil unrest like what we are witnessing now being staged because of different factions in the church having opposing understandings of the Trinity. It has happened. Lives have been lost. Careers ruined. Rulers deposed. All in the name of trying to explain who God is in a trinitarian belief system.
And isn’t that what it comes down to really? Answering that age-old question: Who is God? With so much of our world stripped down by current challenges and demanding that we take a hard, barebones look. With so much soul searching needed, and, to some extent, happening, for our church, our society, our nation, our world, and I hope for each of us as individuals, especially those of us who enjoy such privilege. Perhaps it is a good time to as the question: Who is God? Afterall, as we are told in that creation story from Genesis, we are created in God’s image.
In the ancient world, stories and myths about the cultural gods of tribes and nations were many and varied. For those early Hebrews, it was important for them to tell the story of God as they experienced God – the living God who had called out to Abraham to leave all that he had learned from his world. In isolation, Abraham was invited to enter into relationship with this God defined by light – be it big bang or morning sunrise, by creativity – marvelous and varied – be it through evolution or intelligent design. They saw this God moving over stormy waters bringing order out of chaos. With every breath they took, they knew God was the one who was breathing life into what was lifeless. They looked around and saw the wonder of this world and saw it as gift from the Creator, entrusted to us the creature. Sometimes the created ones felt big and bold and entitled. Sometimes, as in the voice of the psalmist this morning, they felt small, and insignificant, asking “what are we, in the context of this marvelous and awesome creation?” Perhaps a question that we should be asking a whole lot more as we deal with yet another crisis, on the back burner these days, issues around climate change.
(Just a note: Beginning next week and for the rest of the summer, we will be using the semi-continuous first reading that will talk us back to the stories of these early forebears.)
As for who God was to these early Hebrews, God was also a care-giving God. For just as God worked and then rested, so God wanted the same for the creature. And so, the Sabbath – the seventh day – was set apart, made holy, rest from labor was a divine desire and a sacred gift.
For the followers of Jesus and the early believers, they saw this same almighty God present in the humanity of this peasant, itinerant teacher. If humankind had lost its way, through the gift of faith, they heard a call to ask anew: Who is God? And they didn’t always understand the answer to that question as revealed in Jesus the Christ. But they did witness a deeper revelation of this care-giving God who took on our flesh so that God might live our life, endure our hardships and bask in our joys, take on our suffering and death, so that God’s care-giving might never end. And Jesus makes this clear as he stands on the hilltop and promises the disciples and all followers who will come along through the ages that the completeness of God is present – in the power of creation, in the mercy of redemption, in the grace and hope of endurance.
And Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth continues as witness to the power of the uniting Spirit, who, though he is not there with them, shares in the unity that is ours as the body of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.
Who is God? We could go on and on and never complete the answer. The Holy Trinity? That’s just shorthand for the infinitely long answer. Scripture is witness to bits and pieces. We are witnesses to specks and share the molecules we catch. Hans Christian Andersen said that humans trying to describe God was alike a bug sitting on a leaf trying to describe the entire plant.
Might I suggest that, given our timing, this timing (whether fortunate or unfortunate), in our current context (overwhelming as it may be), the question of Who is God? is best asked as a leading question to Who are we? For we are created in God’s image. We have been made a little less than divine. We have been crowned with glory and honor. We have been redeemed by God-self, in the incarnate Word of God we call Jesus. And the presence of God’s completeness is with us through the waters of baptism, at the communion table, in the word, and in our community (even when we are separated). Who are we?, in light of who God is and what God has done for us, and how God is leading us forward?
We are created in the image of a God who creates and cares for, who desires the grace of rest for all, who lifts up the lowly, who brings order to chaos, who stands with the oppressed, who hears the cries of the breathless and shares the breath of life with the lifeless. Yes, this God in whose image we are made, leaves the comfort of heavenly privilege to walk with us through earthly hardship, even death, so that all might have life, new life, joyful life, full life. Created in the image of God who goes out, not leaving anyone left out, and invites us to go along.
It is most certainly a good time to remind ourselves who God is. And it is a very good time, and a most important time, to ask ourselves anew, Who are we? Created in the image of the Complete and Triune God that we are.
The Rev. Mark Erson,