Sunday, May 18, 2008

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

… lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.

How do we talk about the Trinity? How do we explain the unexplainable? How do we understand this mystery of God our Creator? 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 of the Church. Our readings for today show us just a few examples of how the early Christians put voice to the Trinity. Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” Matthew tells us that Jesus commanded the disciples to go into the nations, “baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Those early Christians may have even seen a shadow of the Trinity in the Word and the Spirit at the creation of the world as God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”

The Trinity is one of the most confusing and mystifying aspects of the Christian faith—the Trinity. 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.

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 can not 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 can not be who God has created us to be without our body, soul and spirit.

Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “But now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13) This is not from our readings for this week, but during my research I discovered a blogger who was confused about which letter to Corinth we were using. Despite the mistake, I think it is a wonderful reference because it shows yet another example of a trinity—the trinity of faith, hope and love. This trinity is our life. It is in this trinity we find peace.

Faith looks upward, hope looks forward and love looks outward. Notice how these forces of life are not solitary or individual, but bring us into relationship and community. Faith connects us to the holy, makes us part of the kingdom of God. Faith might be personal, but it does not separate us. As a matter of fact, faith connects us to our Creator and to His creation. Hope is our response to the holy. We are made part of the kingdom of God through faith, and then we rest in the hope of the promises we receive as children of God. Hope is the expectation of the fulfillment of God’s promises and God is faithful. Our hope is not only in some future heaven, but in God’s continuing action in this world. Hope makes us part of the community, willing to share God’s grace with others.

Love requires relationship. Though we can ‘love ourselves’ it is a worthless love. In the King James Version of the Bible, the word in the passage is translated “charity.” Love is shared. Love is part of a community. We love because God first loved us. Through our life of faith and hope God’s love flows into the world. It ties us together. He ties us together.

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.

Our government is made up of three branches: the executive, the legislative and the judicial. No branch is more powerful than the others. All three are necessary to the governance of our nation. They check and balance one another. They hold each other accountable. There may be times when this system does not seem to work, but there is, in the end, an equalizer that restores it as it should be.

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.

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 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. In this story we see that God is. We see that God is powerful, compassionate, wise, capable and magnificent.

This God who created the universe also created mankind and gave us dominion over the rest of the creation. It has been such a blessing to have the opportunities we had as a military family. We have lived in many different places, visited some of the most incredible sights. We’ve seen castles that are more than a thousand years old and cathedrals that reach to the sky. We have been to Stonehenge and looked in awe at those massive stones that men without modern technology moved hundreds of miles.

Even modern architecture is incredible. We can build towers that reach to the heavens. I have not seen it myself, but in Dubai there is a hotel that grabs our imaginations. The Burj Al Arab looks like the sail of 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 also 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 have visited incredible aquariums and zoological parks and pondered the creativity and ingenuity of the people who designed those beautiful habitats so that we can enjoy some of the creation we would otherwise miss.

I’ve been to museums and seen great art, awed by the painter’s ability to mix color and stroke in a way that gives us a vision into his or her understanding of the world. There is something very special about hearing a well trained choir presenting a cantata that proclaims the story of God. I have read classic literature that has made me laugh and cry, has given me a reason for faith, hope and love.

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 to those extreme conditions. Composers create music and painters masterpieces that can take us away in a sense of wonder, peace and joy. But nothing compares to that which God has created.

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.

He 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 built the most awesome structures, we’ll never be much more than a dot on the planet, a brief blip in the expanse of time and space in which we live. 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 done. 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. The Creator, who can bring order out of chaos and life out of nothingness is certainly powerful and worthy of our awe. Based on the story from Genesis we can trust in God, because God provides for our every need. It is humbling for us to see the wisdom of God, not only in this story but in the creation that exists outside 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. This 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 in our life of faith. The Trinity is a concept that has been discussed and debated for nearly two thousand years. Though evolution has not been a scientific concept for nearly that long, the date of creation has been pondered since thinking men have gathered to share their ideas. There is a time and a place for those kinds of discussions. But for today, instead of debating the Trinity or evolution, this Sunday is a time to ponder the mystery of God and to worship Him.

Our epistle lesson for today is quite short, but so full that it could be the focus for several sermons. Paul, who was writing to a congregation in crisis, used these sentences to sum up his letter. The Corinthians were being led by people who were not always doing the work for the sake of Christ and His cross. They were working for their own self-interest. Their faith was shallow and all show. They perceived Paul as an enemy and worked to discredit him in the community. Paul was required to write to defend himself and his ministry to the people whom he loved liked children.

Paul ended this difficult letter with a number of exhortations. “Be perfected,” he said, calling the people not to perfection but to work out their differences so that they can be the Church that God has created and called them to be. “Be comforted,” a word of encouragement and a call to take heed to the words of the letter which at times may have seemed harsh but were given to the community to help them overcome their problems. “Be of the same mind,” is not a call to be robotic in their agreement about every detail. After all, the Corinthian church was a diverse community, as is the Church today. When we are of the same mind, it means that we have the same focus, and that focus should be Christ. “Be at peace,” does not mean that we should “just all get along.” It means that we face our differences with the reality of life in community and live in Christ together despite our diversity.

The final verse is a Trinitarian benediction, and it is there we find the peace in which we are called to live. “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.” We receive God’s unmerited favor because of the work of Jesus Christ. This was given to us because of God’s great and unconditional love for His creation. The Holy Spirit is the glue that holds us all together—us with God and with one another. It is in, by and for God that we live in community with others who have been called to faith. When we focus on ourselves, on our ministries, on our abilities, we lost touch with that which God has done. Paul, in this letter, reminds us that it comes from God and we will be at peace as we live with and for God together.

Matthew tells us in today’s Gospel lesson that the eleven disciples followed Jesus to a mountain. There they worshipped Him, but some doubted. The eleven had lived and worked with Jesus for three years. They’d seen Him crucified and raised. They had undergone an intense forty days with the risen Christ as He 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. 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 heal all the sick or cast out all the demons. Peter confessed faith in Jesus and then rebuked Jesus for saying that He had to die. They 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?

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. They were being sent to change the world. They separated, each disciple—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.

He is still with us today. On this Sunday we honor a God we do not fully understand and contemplate the creation of which we are a part. We think about our relationships with one another and this magnificent God who has done greater things than we can ever imagine. We join in community with others, hearing the Word and receiving the sacraments that give us a foretaste of all that God has waiting for us. We live in faith, wait in hope and respond with the love that flows from our lives, the love that first came from the tri-unity of God and now is shared through our body, soul and spirit with the world. Through it all, Jesus reminds us that no matter what happens as we go to do His work, He is with us always, even unto the end of the world.

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