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Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
Trinity Sunday marks the transition from the Holy Seasons in the liturgical year to Ordinary Time. Our liturgical calendar is top-heavy in that all of the major seasons and holy days of the church happen in the first half of the church year which begins on the first Sunday of Advent. The second half of the year is rather quiet. It is a time to go deeper into the life of Jesus and the great stories of the Old Testament, or follow the letters of Paul, if one chooses to stay with the RCL. It’s also a great time, in my opinion, for those in the free church traditions to break away from the lectionary. I passed the eighth anniversary of my ordination last week and between the two churches I served I have preached through the lectionary twice (some days three times). While there are a variety of readings, and every time I read the Scripture after three years I do get new insights and new inspiration, it is freeing to know that sometimes the Spirit directs us away from the familiar into the unknown. I love preaching from the Lectionary because it forces me to deal with passages I would otherwise skip over and dismiss; in the same way, I love preaching away from the Lectionary because I can choose passages the lectionary passes over, or places at times in the year when my focus is directed elsewhere.
But back to this Sunday, Trinity Sunday, this is one of my favorite days of the church year. Paired with Pentecost, this is a great time to dwell into the mystery of the Trinity and the power of the Holy Spirit. Both of the Old Testament readings for this day look at the work of the Creator, in the first account of Creation found in Genesis, and more specifically at the creation of humankind in Psalm 8, our purpose and our role. Both Psalm 8 and Genesis 1 explain the role of humanity to have dominion over the creatures of the earth, and both suggest that this dominion is given by the same God who has dominion over us. The understanding of stewardship and care is explicit in this understanding of having dominion.
Both of these passages also suggest that God is in relationship in a divine sense. In Genesis, God says, “Let us make humankind in our image.” In Psalm 8:5, the psalmist sings, “Yet you have made them [human beings] a little lower than God.” The NRSV translates as “God;” other translations say “the angels” and still others say “the divine beings.” Getting down to it, the Hebrew here for God is plural.
When it comes to referring to the creation of human beings, the plural is used in Hebrew. As God is in relationship with us, we are created in the image of God: in the image of relationship. We were created to be in relationship with one another because this is the image of the Divine: God is in relationship. Jesus made this clear, especially in John’s Gospel, in referring to God as “Abba, Father.” As we explored last week on Pentecost, we know that breath, wind and spirit are the same words in Hebrew as in the Greek–we have experienced the wind from God that swept over the waters in the second verse of the Bible as the Holy Spirit, moving through the house on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 like the rush of a violent wind, breathing on the disciples from Jesus the night after his resurrection in John 20. And we know from the beginning of John’s Gospel that the Word, Logos, was with God and was God in the beginning. In Jewish interpretation, many scholars have interpreted this plural God speaking in Genesis as the Torah, the living Law, being present with God.
The concept of the Trinity is hard to find in the Bible. The two New Testament passages today are among the very few that mention all three: God the Creator (Father/Mother of us all), Christ the Son (Savior, Redeemer and Messiah), and the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost). The Trinity as a doctrine came later in the life of the church, as did most of our doctrines and core theological beliefs.
I will admit I am not a well-learned student of theology; except for articles here and there I have not picked up a book specifically on theology since seminary days. I was always more interested in Biblical studies which does include theology, of course, but I probably haven’t looked at notes on the doctrine of the Trinity in some time. However, since my high school days I have always loved the mystery of the Trinity. I have always understood it as a mystery and I learned once from a friend that the Orthodox Christians don’t worry about explaining the Trinity because it is supposed to be a mystery! We aren’t supposed to understand it!
Now, this analogy does not work for everyone, but back in high school I took Calculus. I was not very good at it and in fact ended up not completing the full year (and have not taken a math course since then–I tested out of freshman math at my college, and, regrettably now, never took a math class since). In Calculus, I learned that often when there was an unexplained problem, we just plugged in a symbol and worked around it. Plug in an x and work around it and you have an equation that works, even if you can’t define what x is, you can see how x works. For me, GodxSpiritxChrist=Trinity=God, or GxSxC=3X=God. It’s not an accurate equation, obviously, but for me, it is the symbol of Trinity that works. We know God is in relationship with God’s self. We relate to God and others in a triune relationship. God relates to God’s self, humanity and creation in a triune relationship. Trinity appears all over the place. So does one-ness, as my Jewish friends would argue. Three, yet one.
In the church we often state that we believe God to be in a triune relationship but then fail to explain it and many church members are often puzzled by the Trinity. Yet if we admit and accept the mystery, we see how well the symbol of Trinity works in our lives, in how we relate to God and others, and in how the Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit are indwelling with each other.
As I said, I’m not a great theology student or math whiz. But I loved studying both at the time, and probably should spend more time in each discipline. But for Trinity Sunday, we recognize and celebrate the mystery of God’s relationship with God’s self, and the mystery of our own relationship with God, created a little lower than God/Angels/Divine Beings (however you translate Psalm 8:5!), and recognize our relationship with God, all of humanity, and creation as shared in Genesis 1 and Psalm 8. And we recognize our own calling by this Triune God through the person of Jesus Christ in our commission to the world in Matthew 28. And lest we skip over the first couple of verses, let us remember 28:17: “When they saw him [Jesus] they worshiped him; but some doubted.” Some of us have our doubts, even about the mystery of the Trinity, but we all are called by the same Jesus to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” This is our call–to make disciples in the names of all Three in One. Holy, holy, holy. God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity.
On this Father’s Day, we celebrate the Trinity, and we also can celebrate the relationship Jesus had with God, one in which Jesus called God Abba, Father. We understand and recognize God as our Divine Parent, Mother and Father of us all. We know the images of God are varied in the Old Testament–the prophet Isaiah especially has a fondness for feminine images of God in the latter chapters. There are many passages referring to God as being a father to the fatherless. In recent years among progressive churches there has been a resistance to using Father images for God, in the understanding of patriarchal domination and the suffocation of feminine images of God from the church. However, we have to be careful not to swing the opposite direction, to blot out any references to God the Father. We know that Jesus called God Abba, Father. In John’s Gospel, it is clear that Jesus is calling us to a special, deeper relationship with God, one that is more personal, where God is more of an active rather than distant parental figure.
For those that had good relationships with our fathers, calling God Father may be easy. For those that had difficult or abusive relationships or absent fathers, calling God Father may be too hard. I know of people who cannot call God Heavenly Father because of the abuse they had from their own earthly father. At the same time, I know of many people who lovingly refer to God as Father because God is their Heavenly Father, completely different from their earthly father–God is their true Father. For these reasons, tread carefully, but I think it is important to fully embrace the Biblical concepts of God as Heavenly Parent–both Mother and Father of us all. Both are found in the Bible. Both are used in different ways by Jesus. On this Father’s Day, let us remember that God is our true Parent, that we are part of God’s family, and let us celebrate not only fathers and stepfathers, but uncles and grandfathers and brothers, all those male figures who have modeled the true love that comes from God.
Call to Worship (using the hymn Holy Holy Holy in the response):
Leader: Our God created the heavens and the earth.
People (singing): Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
Leader: Our God created us in God’s image, male and female God created us.
People (singing): Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
Leader: Our God made us to be in relationship with creation and with God.
People (singing): Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!
Leader: Our God desires relationship with us, for God created us in the image of God, in relationship with one another.
People (singing): God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
Leader: Come, let us worship the Triune God, blessed Trinity!
Prayer of Confession:
Almighty God, we confess that we have distanced ourselves from You at times. We have sought pleasure in the world and have forgotten Your ways. We have looked out for ourselves first, over our neighbors. We have neglected our families for greed. We have not always modeled Your Parental love for our children and friends. We have turned away from Your ways and have abandoned You. Forgive us for neglecting our families and friends. Forgive us when we look for someone to blame rather than ways of healing. Guide us back to Your family here on earth. In the name of Christ, our Savior and Brother, we pray. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon:
Jesus tells us that Abba, Father, loves us and desires relationship with us. The prophets tell us that God cannot forget us, just like a nursing mother cannot forget her child. God, our Heavenly Parent, desires for us to be a family. Abba and Mother of us all continually offers us forgiveness in the name of the Son, Jesus the Christ, and calls us to return home to our family. We are part of God’s family and we will never be forsaken or forgotten. Amen.
At our baptism, Lord, we were called into relationship with You, in the name of God, the Father and Creator, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we were lowered into the waters and symbolically reborn when we emerged. We are continuously baptized, born anew, as citizens of Your kingdom, Your reign. We are continually renewed and restored, forgiven and commissioned into the world to share the Good News. On this day, we celebrate the Great Mystery that is You. The psalmist sings, “What are human beings that You are mindful of us? Yet you made us a little lower than the angels.” You created us in Your image, You created us in relationship with You. On this day, Lord, we celebrate our fathers and step-fathers, uncles and grandfathers and brothers. We remember those who have passed on from our lives. We also remember that not all of us have had a loving relationship with our fathers, but we know that You are our heavenly Parent, our true Father. Abba, Father, we call on You now for we desire a closer relationship with You. We cannot fathom all the wonders that You have created; we cannot understand all that You desire for us and creation, yet we do know that You desire a closer relationship with us. We thank You for the gift of Your Son, Jesus the Christ, who calls us into deeper relationship with You and Your family. Amen.
Obviously the great hymn “Holy Holy Holy!” is appropriate with the Trinitarian references, but another favorite for Father’s Day is “This Is My Father’s World.” The hymnal Hymns of Truth and Light has a great inclusive version of this hymn, keeping the original words for the first line and then changing the second line to “This is my Mother’s World” and the third line, “This is my Maker’s World.” In my opinion, truly being inclusive is including both Father and Mother, not gender-neutralizing everything or excluding gender references altogether. It is also a good day to sing other songs of the Holy Spirit, as Pentecost was just last week and there are many beautiful hymns on the works of the Spirit. If you have room in your service, I suggest singing one hymn praising the Creator, one hymn praising the works of Jesus, and one hymn praising the works of the Spirit, and closing with “And They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love.”