Sunday, June 7, 2020

Holy Trinity
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
Acts 2:14a, 22-26
Matthew 28:16-20

Yahweh, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday and the scriptures for this week help us focus on one of the most confusing and mystifying aspects of the Christian faith. How do you explain the unexplainable?

I have been reading a book by Timothy Keller called “Jesus the King.” It looks at Jesus’ life from the perspective of the Gospel of Mark. In it, Keller talks about the “Dance of God.” This is a concept he talks about repeatedly. The following quote is from another of Keller’s books, “The Reason For God: Belief In An Age Of Skepticism.”

“What does it mean, then, that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit glorify one another? If we think of it graphically, we could say that self-centeredness is to be stationary, static. In self-centeredness we demand that others orbit around us. We will do things and give affection to others, as long as it helps us meet our personal goals and fulfils us.

“The inner life of the triune God, however, is utterly different. The life of the Trinity is characterized not by self-centeredness but by mutually self-giving love. When we delight and serve someone else, we enter into a dynamic orbit around him or her, we centre on the interests and desires of the other. That creates a dance, particularly if there are three persons, each of whom moves around the other two. So it is, the Bible tells us. Each of the divine persons centers upon the others. None demands that the others revolve around him. Each voluntarily circles the other two, pouring love, delight and adoration into them. Each person of the Trinity loves, adores, defers to and rejoices in the others. That creates a dynamic, pulsating dance of joy and love. The early leaders of the Greek church had a word for this – perichoresis. Notice the root of our word “choreography” within it. It means literally to “dance or flow around.”

“The Father…Son…and Holy Spirit glorify each other…At the center of the universe, self-giving love is the dynamic currency of the Trinitarian life of God. The persons within God exalt, commune with, and defer to one another… When early Greek Christians spoke of perichoresis in God they meant that each divine person harbors the others at the center of his being. In constant movement of overture and acceptance each person envelops and encircles the others.”

There are many different symbols used to represent the Trinity. The triangle is the simplest. The cloverleaf has been used often. The fleur-de-lis is a stylized lily that represents several different ideas, including the Trinity. I think my favorite is the Triqueta, which is an early Trinitarian design found especially in Great Britain, its three equal arcs represent equality, its continuous line expresses eternity, and the interweaving represents indivisibility. Keller’s description of the Trinity in the above quote is best represented by the Triqueta because the lines seem to dance.

Our scriptures this week begin with the Creation story. It is amazing to hear over and over 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 was all a great coincidence, and the Bible says that it was God. 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. Isn’t that the order reported by the scientists?

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.

In the beginning, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered it. The Creator was able to speak and transform that formless and dark void into something new. He said, “Let there be light” and there was light. He ordered the days and the substance. 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 previous 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 so that the plants had a place to dwell and water to make them grow. He did not create the fish before there were bodies of water in which they could live.

In the creation story we see that God is. He is powerful. He is compassionate. He is wise. He is capable. He is magnificent.

How do we respond to the story of the creation? We respond first with fear and trembling. A Creator who can bring order out of chaos and life out of nothingness is certainly powerful and worthy of our awe. Based on this story we can trust in God, because God provides for our every need. It is humbling for us to see the wisdom of God in the story but also in the creation we see when we look out our windows.

How is it that the bluebonnets know to spring forth in March of every year? And how do the animals learn to migrate? Everything is according to God’s plan, the earth turns and is recreated daily according to His design and purpose. There is comfort in knowing that in our times of difficulty, God is able and willing to transform our lives with just a word, to bring order out of our chaos and hope out of our emptiness. The One who has created this world in which we live must, of necessity, be magnificent, greater than all of creation. This is the God worthy of praise and worship. God spoke and it was good.

We can’t possibly understand God completely, for He is greater than anything we can even imagine. However, He is good. He is trustworthy. He is faithful. We can believe in Him, not out of reason but out of faith. There is a place for reason, a place to study the words and try to understand what they mean. There is a time to consider the science. But some days we need to simply dwell in the mystery that is God and praise Him for His goodness.

As an artist, I tend to be very observant. I see the details as well as the whole. I visited a car museum once, and though I took pictures of some of the cars, I focused heavily on the smaller things. The grills were so interesting with the chrome and the light and the shadows that many of my photos were just of the grills. My father looked at my pictures and thought those photos were mistakes. He wanted to see the whole car, but I wanted to record the patterns and beauty of those details.

I love architecture, too. Have you ever looked up at a skyscraper with amazement, not only for the incredible engineering but the beauty of the lines? We can build towers that reach to the heavens. In Dubai, the Burj Al Arab is a luxury hotel that grabs our imaginations. It looks like the sail an Arabian vessel. It is built on a man-made island off the shore of Dubai and looks like it is floating in the Persian Gulf. I have been awed by the classic architecture of European cathedrals and by the modern steel and glass skyscrapers of American cities. The product of human ingenuity can be breathtaking.

I have wandered in some of the most beautiful gardens in the world. Gardeners can take a few simple plants and arrange them in a way that is inspirational and magnificent. I can sit for hours in front of an aquarium filled with tropical fish, enjoying the patterns they make as they provide us a vision of what life might be if they lived in the ocean. There is something very special about hearing a well trained choir presenting a cantata that proclaims the story of God.

Yet, no matter how wonderful the things we do in this world, no matter how wonderful the things we build, nothing can even stand close to that which God has done. We can visit the universe, using technology to see planets and stars that are beyond our grasp. We can delve into the depths of the sea and study the life that has adapted under those extreme conditions. We can study the smallest particles through high powered microscopes. Composers create music and painters masterpieces that can take us away in a sense of wonder, peace and joy. But nothing compares to the work of God.

We can create new flowers by cross-pollinating two others. We can plant a forest. We can artificially inseminate human embryos into a woman’s womb. We can even clone animals. We can do so many things with the creation that God has brought forth with a word. We do these things with the intelligence God has given us. But no matter how unbelievable the things we can accomplish in this world, nothing human hands have created will ever come close to that which God has created.

Here’s a joke for you, “God was once approached by a scientist who said, ‘Listen God, we’ve decided we don’t need you anymore. These days we can clone people, transplant organs and do all sorts of things that used to be considered miraculous.’ God replied, ‘Don’t need me? Let’s put your theory to the test. Let’s have a competition to see who can make a human being, say’ The scientist agrees, and God declares they should do it like he did in the good old days when he created Adam. ‘Fine’ says the scientist as he bends down to scoop up a handful of dirt.” “Whoa!” says God, shaking his head in disapproval. “Not so fast. Get your own dirt.”

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. Though we are able to create the most beautiful gardens and build awesome structures that have surpassed the Tower of Babel, we will never be much more than a speck on the planet, a brief blip in the expanse of time and space in which we live. Still, 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 done. It is a tremendous responsibility. We are reminded on this day, however, that without God, we would not be able to do anything.

I went to the grocery store the other day and I noticed that some of the shelves were still rather empty. The initial problem of empty shelves at the start of the pandemic had been fixed, but recently the stores have struggled to keep up with demand. There are multiple reasons for this, but I think one of the reasons is that people are still eating at home. Though many people are going back to work and restaurants are opening, the families are still gathering around the dinner table. Kids are home and need three meals a day.

It has been fun watching people on Facebook as they share their newfound love of cooking. Many people have posted pictures of food they have tried to make, and they’ve inspired others to try. My daughter made pretzels one day, and since I had found a pretzel recipe I wanted to try, I made some too. It was fun to share the experience even though we live so far from each other.

I like to cook. I tend to be experimental in the kitchen, making stuff up as I go. I use recipes occasionally, especially when I am trying something new or if I’m baking. You have to really understand the science of cooking to experiment with cakes and cookies. I’m usually very careful about ensuring each ingredient is properly measured and added to the batter. I do make mistakes, however. I once forgot to add the sugar to my mother’s cookie recipe. I tasted one right out of the oven and I knew something was wrong. They were terrible! I was able to add sugar to the rest of the batter, but that doesn’t really work and that batch was not good. I am now in the habit of checking not just once but three or four times to make sure I haven’t forgotten something.

Even though I’ve been complimented on my cooking, I worry that everything I make will be less than satisfactory. I’m afraid that I’ve forgotten something or that my combinations are really not as successful as I think. I still put the dishes on the table worrying that they will not be satisfied.

We can be confident and doubtful about many aspects of life. The disciples had lived and worked with Jesus for three years. They’d seen Him crucified and raised. They had undergone an intense forty days when the risen Christ trained them in their mission and ministry. They touched Jesus, heard His voice, and loved Him like a brother. They had seen the miracles happen, eaten the bread that Jesus blessed and tasted the wine of the covenant from His own hand. They confessed faith. They believed. And they doubted.

We wonder how this could be, but it is a very natural response to God. How could they doubt anything after all they had seen and experienced with Jesus? The Greek word ‘distazo’ is not as concise as our modern definition. It isn’t that they didn’t believe, but that they did not want to choose one way over the other. They wavered.

This doubt was probably not so much about doubting God, for they had seen the power and authority by which Jesus had ministered. Despite the training and encouragement they received, they had also made many mistakes. They couldn’t cast out the demons. They argued about who was the greatest. They were as confused as the crowds about what Jesus was meant to do. Peter confessed faith in Jesus and then rebuked Jesus for saying that He had to die. The disciples were often self-centered and selfish. They hid in fear, refused to believe the news of Jesus’ resurrection. They failed over and over again. Though Jesus had confidence in the ones He had chosen, they did not have confidence in themselves. They knew all too well how imperfect they could be. How could they do what Jesus had done? How could they go on without Him? They believed. And they doubted. They wavered because it was all too much for them to accept.

Jesus answered their doubts. “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” They were being sent into the world to do an awesome thing: to change the world. Eventually they separated, each apostle going the way the Spirit led and they took the Gospel to the four corners of the earth. They doubted because they did not know how they could accomplish this great thing, but there was no need to worry. God was not sending them alone. He was there with each one and as they baptized each new believer in the Trinity, He made them part of the body He had created in Christ.

Why Trinity? 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. If one of the legs is slightly longer or slightly shorter than the other three, the chair does not sit properly. If the floor is uneven and one of the legs 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.

A committee of three usually has no leader. The three are equal, all having a voice and a vote. If two argue, 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. In a trinity, 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 learn to balance and support each other. The three parts of any trinity helps keep each other accountable. This is especially important in human relations because we are so likely to fail that we need others to help us stand firm. In the Trinity, the three dance to glorify one another.

We set aside one day a year to focus on this concept. Although the word trinity is not specifically written or defined in the scriptures, Christians from every age have experienced God in three persons since the beginning. Despite two thousand years of explaining and defining it, the Trinity is still a mystery. Three in one, one in three, what does it all mean? We struggle with mysteries because if we can’t grasp something intellectually, we doubt if it is real. Like me in the kitchen, we are not always sure that we have gotten it right, especially when we can’t describe it in words others can understand. We can’t answer the question, “What is the Trinity?” so we doubt. Doubt is a part of our human condition.

The first apostles might have doubted, but they went forth in faith that Jesus would be with them to the end of the age. They may not have been perfect, but by the power of the Holy Spirit they were being perfected daily as they walked in the hope of the fulfillment of all God’s promises. They passed that faith on to us through their witness to that first generation of Christians who then went out to make more disciples.

Faith is yet another mystery of God. It is easy to talk about believing in God, until you are asked to explain your reasons to someone who cannot believe. Even more mysterious, however, is how someone hears the Gospel and believes. Every Christian is a miracle. Every heart that has turned to God is a miracle. The entire story of Christ is ridiculous: God is born in flesh, lives for thirty three years teaching about God and then is destroyed in a heartbeat by men who claim to believe in God. Three days later this God in man appears alive again and His ministry is continued by the most unlikely rag-tag group of disciples. They aren’t educated. They aren’t righteous as the religious leaders of their day. They don’t have power or position or wealth. How could they possibly impact the world?

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.

Jesus said to them, “All All authority has been given to 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. He took chaos and made order, darkness and filled it with light. He organized the sky and water, the land and sea, the plants and the animals. Then God made man 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 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 speak forgiveness and grace into the lives of those who are living in chaos. 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 by the power of the Holy Spirit, not to change the world but to continue what God started.

We have been invited into the Dance of God, to join with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as they glorify one another. We may doubt, but we believe and we worship Him because of the faith He has given by His Word. He is so awesome that even His name is majestic. So, let’s go forth with the assurance that this great and good Trinity is with us and that He has given us the authority to do His work, the work we were created and redeemed to do for His glory.

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