The Eighth Day

(sermon 6/7/20 – Trinity Sunday)

trinity

Lectionary texts: Matthew 28:11-16    Genesis 1:1-2:4a

=====

So today is Trinity Sunday, and because of that, we hear scriptures that point in some way to this understanding of God being triune yet still one; this way of understanding God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was a way conceived of in the first few centuries of the church in order to try to synthesize all the various things that the church fathers understood about God through the life of Jesus, and the scriptures, and their own experience. It was an attempt at coming up with a way of understanding the totality of God that encompassed all of that. So today, we heard this short text from Matthew where Jesus is quoted as referring to baptizing in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit – even though, to be honest, many if not most biblical scholars now feel that this was a later addition to the original text, made by well-intentioned scribes after the doctrine of the Trinity had been fleshed out.

And we hear also hear today’s first reading. Why is this text – the first account of creation, found at the beginning of Genesis, a reading for Trinity Sunday? Well, I suppose because in this, the first of two different creations accounts in Genesis, God is referred to by the Hebrew word “Elohim.” In the second creation account, the Hebrew word used to refer to God is YHWH, but in this first account, it’s Elohim. Elohim is actually a plural noun, literally meaning “gods,” or translated in other places in the scriptures, “angels” or others of the heavenly host. So throughout this account, the Creator is somehow a plural Creator, and of course in this story we hear that beautiful “Let us create humankind in our image…” giving support to the idea of understanding the divine One in some kind of underlying plural way, understanding God as somehow a unitary plural,  that provides some undergirding for imagining God as Trinity.

Even though this is Trinity Sunday, I’m not going to dwell much more today on the concept or the doctrine. I’m not going to try to explain it or come up with analogies to show what the Trinity is like, because every single one of them that people have come up with over the last two thousand years fails. As well intentioned as they are, and as much as they might get right, they end up getting at least as much wrong, sliding into any one of countless heresies that orthodox Christianity says the Trinity is not. Three leaf clover, ice/water/gas, God being a single actor playing three different roles in a play, every single one that’s been thought of ends up falling short. So I’m not going to spend any more time trying to get into the details of the Trinity, other than to say that it was the best way the early church fathers came up with as they tried to describe and explain and categorize a God who is indescribable, inexplicable, and impossible to categorize.

Don’t misunderstand me. I still believe firmly in the nature and attributes of God that the Trinity tries to pull together into one comprehensive, “theory-of-everything” concept. And of course, we’ll continue to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Spirit; and we’ll recite the Apostles’ Creed outlining believing in the Father, Son, and Spirit, and mean it all. But I just believe that when it comes to the Trinity, it’s more valuable to consider what the implications of this somehow unitary, somehow plural divine Being might be.

And I think one of those things to consider springs out of this creation story that we heard today.  In this story, we follow along through the six allegorical days, the six movements of the divine symphony of creation. We hear about the creation of the cosmos, and of the earth, and then all of the plant and animal life on earth, and finally, of human beings ourselves, and we’re told that we were created in the very image of the divine Creator. All of us, in our seemingly infinite diversity and variety, all of us being a reflection of the totality of the divine image, which itself also points in an important way toward that unitary/plural concept of God. And then, after those six days, those six movements, we follow along through God’s seventh day, the seventh movement, maybe the John Cage 4’33” movement of creation – the time of Sabbath.

Some people think that it all stopped there. But the story doesn’t tell us that God quit; that creation was all over at that point. On the contrary, Sabbath is a time of rest, a time of  renewal, of being refreshed, in preparation of something yet to come. And what was yet to come in this case was the “eighth day”, the eighth movement, of creation. It’s scientific fact that creation is continuing. All across the galaxy and beyond, throughout the universe, new stars, new planets, are continuing to be created, gases cooling and condensing and giving cosmic birth of whole new worlds. And on a smaller scale, here on earth, creation continues here, too. Yes, on this eight day, God continues to create, but now not alone – now, we’re part of the picture. God created us in God’s own image, including the creative impulse, and has called us to be co-creators.

Back in my undergraduate architecture days, my favorite professor was Arthur K. Anderson. I had Art for several different classes. He was a truly, genuinely good person. He was a gifted architect, a gifted academic. He truly cared about his students, and it showed. One of the things that Art would do, as a class would start, whether it was a design studio or a more traditional classroom, he’d convene the class, drawing us together, rubbing his hands together like this, probably without even consciously thinking about it, and with a big inviting smile and an almost conspiratorial look on his face, he’d say, not literally but in so many words, What great things are we going to do today? What are we going to create today? Every so often even now, I’ll be in a similar setting, and I’ll catch myself rubbing my hands together just like he used to do, and I’ll laugh thinking about that kind of unconscious tribute that I was offering to him even all these years later.

So in this eighth day, in that same spirit, what shall we create? It’s pretty clear just thinking of these most immediate times, we’re creating new ways of understanding the church, and how it lives out its purpose. It also seems that in this eighth day, we have an opportunity to create new ways of being a society, more just and equitable ways; ways more consistent with valuing all human life as being precious in the eyes of God, and all deserving of equity and justice. I pray that we don’t lose the opportunity that we have in this moment to achieve that new creation; I’m hopeful that we won’t lose it.

We also realize that every morning, every day, God is creating something new in us, ourselves. Through the very nature of our creation, we have the opportunity and the ability, with God’s help, to create, and re-create, our own personal ways of living as a person of God; keeping the good, erasing the bad and recreating new, better replacements for the bad.

So on this Trinity Sunday, as you think about the truly inexplicable nature of this unitary, plural God who is the source of all love, and mercy, and justice, and compassion, I invite you to look in the mirror and ask yourself: What will I create today?

Amen.

 

 

Love Story (Sermon 6/7/15)

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.

So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”

To the woman he said, “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children, yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

And to the man he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten of the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

The man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living.

And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.     – Genesis 2:15-3:21

=====

A lot of sermons are developed to include some form of visual imagery within them; a painting of some kind of word picture or a jogging of your memory about something you’re familiar with. We preachers will do this for at least two possible reasons. First, they’re meant to help illustrate a particular point we’re trying to make. Second, they’re meant to stick in your mind a bit longer than just a bunch of words; they become a thing that you remember and which help to remember the rest of what was being said. If I can get you to remember Schrodinger’s Cat, or a Watership Down rabbit until, say, the following Wednesday, the odds are pretty good that you’ll also be able to say, “Yeah, I remember that – and the point behind it was….” That’s why so many sermons are structured that way.

But I don’t have an image like that today. Sorry. The reason I don’t is that the Lectionary text today, the second account of creation from Genesis, is its own strong visual image. We’ve all heard this story a hundred times, and we’ve all imagined it; it’s already a big imprint on our minds.

This is a love story, maybe the greatest of love stories; the story of the love of God for us. It’s a long passage, and there are probably a hundred different topics that could be preached from it; dozens of church doctrines and positions are drawn from it; but I want to point out just a couple of thoughts from the story today that I think are very important to us.

Imagine this scene in your mind: God has created the earth, and the human being. And upon reflection, God says that it isn’t good for the human being to be alone – that the human needs a helper, a partner, a mate; someone to be in relationship with. So, God sets out creating various options to offer to the human being as a potential partner in life, by creating all the animals. Picture this; God creates an animal and presents it to the human being for approval: “How about this one? No? OK, How about this? How about this? How about this?” Until finally, after all the rejections, God creates a woman and presents it to the man – “How about this?” And finally, the man says yes, this is an acceptable partner and helper for me; someone who is like me, flesh of my flesh; bone of my bone.

Did you get that? The eternal, transcendent God who created the universe, the cosmos, by sheer will, by just saying “Let there be…” doesn’t act with that same kind of power and authority to just create a partner for the man and say, “This is it!” God grants the freedom to the human being to choose for himself who will be an acceptable partner and helper in life. That’s an incredible degree of autonomy, of agency, of authority over his own life. And it doesn’t end there. Notice in the story that when God presented all the animals to the human being, God allowed the human to name them. Now that may not sound like a big deal to us, but it was to the culture that this story was written for. In ancient Hebrew culture to know the name of a person or thing carried with it some authority and control that you had over them, and to have the power of actually bestowing the name meant you had all the more power and authority over them. This was a major statement in this story about the nature of God. At a time when the cultures surrounding them had creation accounts that talked about the gods deciding to create human beings to basically be slave labor for them, and who didn’t particularly care for them, the God of Israel, and of us, is described as one who provides so much agency and autonomy in the world that we become co-creators with God. We see that creativity in music, and architecture, and painting, and the theater, and on and on. We have the power and authority to do all these things in the world and more – and maybe that “more” is precisely the point. Along with this much control and agency comes great responsibility. We can’t just sit back on our haunches in this world waiting for God to take care of us, or of some problem in the world. God has given us all of this agency and co-creativity, in order to do good in this world in God’s name. We can’t just throw up our hands when we see something wrong and say “Why doesn’t God do something about this?” because God has – God has equipped and empowered us to do step in and do something about it.

That’s a lot of responsibility that we get with that great degree of agency. And that’s the problem: the greater responsibility we have, the greater possibility we have to mess up. Of course, as we know, it doesn’t take long for the human beings to mess up in this creation story. And they really mess up big; no one could have messed up bigger than this. And you hear the emotion in the words of the passage; Go sounds like the parent of every teenager who’s done something stupid, and the parent cries out “What in the world were you thinking?!!”

But then, after the initial outburst, did you notice what God did? It was the very last line of the passage. Did he send lightning bolts to obliterate them? No. You can almost hear God taking a deep breath, and saying “OK, you made a mistake. And the mistake has consequences. This isn’t going to be the life, the future, I’d originally planned and hoped for you. But it can still be a good one. Let’s get to work and make that happen together.” Instead of the lightning bolts, God sits down in the garden with them and stitches some clothing for them. God equips them for the life, for the journey, ahead of them. That’s the kind of God that Adam, and Eve, and we have. That’s very, very good news. And knowing that, what more can we say but

Thanks be to God.