Sunday, June 19, 2011

Holy Trinity
Genesis 1:1-2:4b
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

Our water heater broke about a year ago. Luckily we caught it fairly early, so the heater didn’t leak into the garage. When the plumber came to repair the system, he discovered that it was irreparable; it needed to be replaced. To do so, the plumber had to empty the water that was still in the container, so he ran a hose into the yard and let it drain into the grass. This would have not have been a problem, except that we have a water softener that uses salt, and so the water draining into the grass was salt water. I learned a long time ago that you can’t use salt water to water plants because the salt kills the plant. So, we’ve had this patch of lawn that was not only dead, it was dirt. The salt killed the grass and the extreme drought burned even the dead grass into dust.

A few weeks ago I began watering this patch of lawn. We have to be careful about watering because we are in heavy restrictions due to the drought, but we can hand water on a regular basis. I fill the dirt patch with water and spray the grass around the edge. This not only encourages the grass into new growth but also gives it a place to grasp. So, day by day I have noticed that the patch is being restored. You can still tell where the grass had died, but the patch is getting smaller. It is not all that surprising that we’ve been able to turn this problem around: grass was designed by God to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.

Not that it matters much. The drought in Texas means that most of us don’t have much of a lawn anyway. But then, as a friend recently reminded me, we live in an arid state, a nearly desert region. We are on the edge, to the south and east is a coastal and more humid and thus greener landscape. To the west and north is desert. We sit between the two, so when it is dry, we are like a desert, but when we are wet, the landscape is lush and green. Unfortunately, we try to keep it lush and green even when it is dry. We’ve replaced the natural grasses with lawn, and even if those lawns are drought resistant, they aren’t necessarily what is meant to grow in our ground.

This reminds me of a joke. It is a conversation between God and St. Francis.

GOD: St. Francis, you know all about gardens and nature. What in the world is going on down there in the USA? What happened to the dandelions, violets, thistle and stuff I started eons ago? I had a perfect, no-maintenance garden plan. Those plants grow in any type of soil, withstand drought and multiply with abandon. The nectar FROM the long lasting blossoms attracts butterflies, honeybees and flocks of songbirds. I expected to see a vast garden of colors by now. But all I see are these green rectangles.

ST. FRANCIS: It's the tribes that settled there, Lord. The Suburbanites. They started calling your flowers weeds and went to great lengths to kill them and REPLACE them with grass.

GOD: Grass? But it's so boring. It's not colorful. It doesn't attract butterflies, birds and bees, only grubs and sod worms. It's temperamental with temperatures. Do these Suburbanites really want all that grass growing there?

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently so, Lord. They go to great pains to grow it and keep it green. They begin each spring by fertilizing grass and poisoning any other plant that crops up in the lawn.

GOD: The spring rains and warm weather probably make grass grow really fast. That must make the Suburbanites happy.

ST. FRANCIS: Apparently not, Lord. As soon as it grows a little, they cut it, sometimes twice a week.

GOD: They cut it? Do they then bale it like hay?

ST. FRANCIS: Not exactly Lord. Most of them rake it up and put it in bags.

GOD: They bag it? Why? Is it a cash crop? Do they sell it?

ST. FRANCIS: No, sir -- just the opposite. They pay to throw it away.

GOD: Now, let me get this straight. They fertilize grass so it will grow. And when it does grow, they cut it off and pay to throw it away?

ST. FRANCIS: Yes, sir.

GOD: These Suburbanites must be relieved in the summer when we cut back on the rain and turn up the heat. That surely slows the growth and saves them a lot of work.

ST. FRANCIS: You aren't going to believe this, Lord. When the grass stops growing so fast, they drag out hoses and pay more money to water it so they can continue to mow it and pay to get rid of it.

GOD: What nonsense. At least they kept some of the trees. That was a sheer stoke of genius, if I do say so myself. The trees grow leaves in the spring to provide beauty and shade in the summer. In the autumn they fall to the ground and form a natural blanket to keep moisture in the soil and protect the trees and bushes. Plus, as they rot, the leaves form compost to enhance the soil. It's a natural circle of life.

ST. FRANCIS: You'd better sit down, Lord. The Suburbanites have drawn a new circle. As soon as the leaves fall, they rake them INTO great piles and pay to have them hauled away.

GOD: No. What do they do to protect the shrub and tree roots in the winter and to keep the soil moist and loose?

ST. FRANCIS: After throwing away the leaves, they go out and buy something which they call mulch. They haul it home and spread it around in place of the leaves.

GOD: And where do they get this mulch?

ST. FRANCIS: They cut down trees and grind them up to make the mulch.

GOD: Enough! I don't want to think about this anymore. St. Catherine, you're in charge of the arts. What movie have you scheduled for us tonight?

ST. CATHERINE: Dumb and Dumber, Lord. It's a real stupid movie about....

GOD: Never mind, I think I just heard the whole plot FROM St. Francis.

I love my neighborhood. The people are wonderful and it is comfortable, clean and beautiful. But as I look down my street, I see the same green/brown lawns and two trees in every front yard. A few people have made minor changes. They’ve added a bush or two, stone or brick rings around the trees, flowers in the flower bed. It is a typical housing development, like every other one popping up on the landscape of our nation. The houses are different but the same. The cars are similar. We are all individuals, but we’ve created something new and different in this desert-like area. Though I love our neighborhood, I can’t help but wonder what has been lost of God’s design by the creation of our own little world. Have we tried, like those Suburbanites, to take creation out of God’s hands and put it into our own?

Yet, it is so amazing to hear once again the story of God’s work of creation. It is beautiful in its simplicity and yet so very real in its description. Whatever you think about the science answers to the questions about the origins of life, the Bible and the scientific records tell basically the same story. The only difference is that science says it is all a great coincidence, and the Bible says that it was God. But think about the chronology of the Biblical account. Genesis says that God created sky and water, land and sea, plants that bear seed and fruit, trees, the sun, moon and stars, living creatures in the sea and sky, animals that crawl on the ground both wild and those to be domesticated, and then man and woman.

I remember reading the book “Hawaii” by James Michener. In the first hundred pages (it seemed that long), Michener described the creation of the islands. First an underground volcano exploded, sending forth lava that set down a foundation. Over and over again that volcano exploded, setting down more foundation to the mountain until the mountain peak poked out of the water. Eventually the mountain peak was large enough to contain life. Erosion created soil. Birds brought seeds from other islands which grew into plants. Animals found their way to the land. And then man arrived. We might not agree that the first amoeba eventually became man, but we can see how creation progressed from the smallest beings at the beginning of time to the birth of God’s crown, man.

I love verse 20, “And God said, Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” I don’t much like swarms, particularly those pesky swarms of gnats that fly around ones head on a hot humid evening, but the language is interesting in this context. God wants the world to be full of life, to congregate in multitudes, to be a great number constantly in motion. The world He created was not meant to stop, but to keep going on and on and on.

The other thing I find fascinating about this passage is how often we see that God created everything living thing to keep creating more. Plants bear seeds to make more plants. The fish, birds and animals are blessed with the command to be fruitful and multiply, even the sea monsters. And then God created man and woman, giving them the same command. We were created in His image to continue creating, filling the earth with swarming new life. In this account of the beginning, God provides His creation, from the smallest amoeba to the greatest man with everything it needs to survive and He blessed the world with the command to continue. And it was good.

You might have noticed, as I was working through the story of the creation, I missed the first day. On that day God created Light. Now, Light can mean the kind of light we know, although we know from this account that the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day. Day and night were created with this Light and the lack thereof, but does that represent the kind of days we know? Is that Light the light that brightens the world or the Light?

In the beginning, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered it. The Creator spoke and transformed that formless and dark void into something new. He said, “Let there be light” and there was Light. In His Word, in His Voice, He became more than God. He revealed Himself as the Godhead, the Trinity. We see that He is Creator, Redeemer and the Force that keeps all things moving.

In this story we see that God is. We see that God is powerful, compassionate, wise, capable and magnificent. He brought order to the chaos. He filled the emptiness with good things. He did all this in a way that makes sense, each day building upon the work of the next day. He did not create the animals before there was food for them to eat. He did not create plants until the land and the sea were separated in a way that would provide all that the plants would need to survive. He did not create the fish before there were bodies of water in which they could live. And He created man at the end, so that he would have a world over which to rule. When all was ready, God brought forth human life in His image to care for the life He created, to keep the world from becoming chaotic and a dark void as it was in the beginning.

Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Put things in order.” (NRSV) It must have been chaotic in those first few moments of Christianity. Peter and Paul, perhaps the greatest of all the Apostles, were at odds about details. Other evangelists had made their way into the countryside to share the Light, Christ, with the world. They didn’t always preach the Gospel fully. Some wanted to force gentiles to become Jews first. Others wanted to demand certain festivals or foods. Others insisted on doing things only a certain way. There was argument and confusion. Who do you believe: Paul or Peter? What sort of Baptism is right? How do we share the body of Christ? What color should the carpet be?

Ok, so that last question brings the chaos into our modern world. We might think that we are unique in our disagreements over the way to do Church, but we aren’t. Every generation has had their dilemmas. Some generations have faced far worse problems. We have ours, and the carpet is not really the elephant in the room. We all know the issues that have created chaos in our lives. And at times, I think, we worry that we have reached the end of what God intended for His people.

But God is not so easily destroyed. And neither is His Church. He brought Light out of darkness and Life out of death. He is Creator, not only in that time so long ago when He brought forth with His voice the entire universe and all life. He is Redeemer, not only in that moment when He brought order out of chaos, or when He raised Christ from death to life, but today when we fail to be everything He has created us to be. And He has given us His Spirit so that we will continue to swarm and fill the earth with life.

So, let’s deal with the tough question for this Sunday. What is the Holy Trinity? The Trinity is one of the most confusing and mystifying aspects of the Christian faith. How do you explain the unexplainable? Some theologians in the sixth century set out to explain the Trinity in language which the common man could understand and it took approximately seven hundred words. The Athanasian Creed, which is often used in churches on Trinity Sunday, seems to go around and around in circles dividing the persons of the Trinity while holding them together. It is a long creed to recite and generally brings a sigh of annoyance from the congregation whenever it is said. And yet, is a powerful reminder of the incredible nature of the God we worship. He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He Is.

The concept of trinity is found in other aspects of life. Each individual is a trinity: body, soul and spirit. These aspects of our being are separate but cannot exist without each other. Our bodies are broken and frail, but it is our flesh that gives us a place in this world which God has created. Our spirit is the aspect that connects us to the divine. Our soul, or our personality, also known as our heart, brings our flesh and spirit together. We cannot be who God has created us to be without our body, soul and spirit.

Three is a good number. Most of our chairs have four legs, but have you ever thought about how much better it would be if they only had three? A chair with four legs must set perfectly flat on the floor or it wobbles. If one of the legs is slightly longer or slightly shorter than the other three, the chair wobbles. If the floor is uneven and one of the legs just sits in a hole or on a bump, the chair wobbles. However, if the chair has only three legs, even if there is some imperfection in the legs or the floor, the chair stands firm.

In a committee of three, there is usually no leader. The three are equal, all having a voice and a vote. If two are against one another, the third can acts as a peacemaker. If two are overly passionate about something, the third can act as a stabilizer. In a triangle, each side has a relationship with the other two sides; this is not always true with groups with more than three people. While many organizations need more than three to accomplish the work, most organizations require three people in leadership: a president, a secretary and a treasurer. These three keep one another in balance. No one person has to be responsible for everything. No one person can be blamed if something goes wrong. No one person gets the credit when something goes right. Maybe that is why Jesus kept the three disciples (Peter, James and John) close to Him, so that they might balance and support each other. I suppose that’s why the founding fathers of our nation chose to create a government with three branches. Each balances the other and keeps each other accountable.

God is greater than His creation. He is wiser than the wisest man. He is more loving than the most loving mother. He is worthy of our praise and worship. We might be like those Suburbanites, creating our own little world in the midst of the world, we’ll never be God. Yet, God has made us the crown of His creation. He has made us sons and daughters. He has given us dominion over all that He has created. It is a tremendous responsibility. Through it all, however, let us never forget about God and the fact that His hand is in the midst of everything that we have done, are doing and will do.

How do we respond to the story of the creation? We respond first with fear and trembling because all that happened in the beginning happened at the hand of a great and powerful God. The Creator made order out of chaos and brought life out of the dark void. He is worthy of our awe. Though we respond with fear and trembling, we know from this story that we can trust in God, because God provides for our every need.

How do we respond to the story of Creation? We are humbled by the reality that the God who brought all things to life has chosen to continue His work with our hands. He is wise, but we might wonder how wise He could be to choose such imperfect beings to rule over His creation. But He is wise, and it shows in the creation. How is it that the bluebonnets know to spring forth in March of every year? And how do the animals learn to migrate? How does grass grow where the earth has been destroyed by salted water? It grows because God has created it to be fruitful and multiply. It might take time for it to recover, but the earth is resilient because God has made it so. Everything is according to God’s plan, the earth turns and is recreated daily according to His design and purpose.

We can say that intellectually, but how many times do we wonder about it all. In our drought, we wonder if it will ever rain. Did God really intend for our lawns to die for lack of water? Does God not hear our pleas for rain? We wonder if what we believe about Jesus and the Spirit are true. If we can’t understand it, how can the Trinity be real? We might even wonder if we are really saved, after all there’s no way for us to know without a doubt that we will spend eternity with Christ. Shouldn’t the chaos in our lives be settled? Shouldn’t our faith be strong enough?

Yet, we are no different than those disciples in Jesus’ day. After the resurrection, Jesus spent forty days giving the disciples His final instructions, showing them the scriptures from a new perspective: from this side of the cross. Everything was different because now Jesus had gone through death and the grave and was raised to new life. The world was changed on that one weekend and all of God's good creation was redeemed. Yet, despite the risen presence of Christ, the disciples still were unsure about what was happening to them. Jesus told them to go to a mountain and they followed. Matthew also tells us that they worshipped Him, "but some doubted.”

I don't think the disciples doubted that Jesus was the Messiah or that He would do what He said He would do. But we are comforted by the reality that even those disciples who were with Jesus had their own doubts. They couldn’t believe that He was leaving them and commanding them to continue the work. How could they accomplish such great things? They were ordinary men from an ordinary place. They didn't have any authority. They had no education, except that which Jesus had given to them. They had no position which would be respected. And their leader, Jesus, did not even have the respect of the world in which they were being sent. No wonder they doubted.

Yet, Jesus said to them, “All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth.” The only one able to give such authority, the authority in heaven and on earth is the One who created it all. We see His goodness in our Old Testament lesson where the story of the Creation is laid out so poetically. We see how He takes nothing but chaos and transforms it into the light and the dark, the sky and the water, the land and the sea, the plants and the animals. Then God spoke mankind into existence, making him in His image. Man was created last, not because he was to be the least of all, but because he was to have dominion over all of the creation. God blessed them, made them part of the whole creative process and gave them the authority to care for the earth.

He knew, even then, that we’d disappoint Him. He knew we’d be imperfect. He knew we would fail. But He calls us into a relationship with Himself, the Trinity, to be transformed by His grace to move together as one body, like a swarm, to continue transforming the world.

When we were created, we were given the authority to take care of the entire world, to continue the creative work of the Father. In Christ, through our baptism, we are given a new authority: the authority to bring forgiveness and grace into the lives of those who are living in darkness. We are called to continue the redemptive work of Christ, to make disciples and teach them all that He commanded.

In the Great Commission, Jesus tells the disciples to “Baptize into the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Our faith in Christ brings us more fully into our identity in the image of God. The world is not as God intended. Sin and death were not what He wanted for His creation. The Creator was separated from the creation He loved and He was the only One who could remove the chasm that had formed between heaven and earth. Just as He created the world out of nothing, He brought order out of the chaos it had become. When the time was right, Jesus came in flesh to bring redemption and reconciliation. And He has called us to be part of His creative and redemptive work, not to change the world but to continue what God first started because what God created is good.

So, let’s go forth in faith, without doubt, knowing that God is with us, doing that which we were created in His image to do, so that the chaos will be ordered and the darkness will be swallowed by the Light.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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