You can listen to the sermon here.
1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. 6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. 9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. 14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. 20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. 24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” 29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.
2: 1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. 4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
Last week Pastor Pam began with a Happy Pentecost. Today, we can begin with a happy Holy Trinity Sunday.
I’ll admit, I’m delighted you’re here. At second service last week, in talking about the Holy Spirit, Pam gave a hint that today would be Holy Trinity Sunday and that we’d be talking about all this “God is three but also one. God is one but also three” stuff. And I thought, “Noooo. You’re not supposed to tell the people Holy Trinity Sunday is coming up. You’re supposed to blindside them with it – let them arrive on that Sunday, get cozy in the pew, lock the sanctuary doors, …and then tell them it’s Holy Trinity Sunday.
(True story: A former church I was at had it in their church history that the ushers used to lock the doors when the sermon started.)
Because, let’s be honest, today is the one day in the church calendar when we celebrate everyone’s favorite church word – doctrine. The Doctrine of the Holy Trinity. I’m not sure of anyone who isn’t slightly threatened by that word. Or if not threatened by it, uses it as a threat to others. It’s about as comforting as a cinder block pillow. Even phonetically, it is such a hard word. Doc-trine.
Last week, in Pam’s sermon (and for those of you counting, yes that is the third time I’ve referenced it. It was a great sermon. You should listen to it). She talked about Pentecost as the third child of the Church Feast days – the one whose baby book never gets finished, in comparison to Christmas and Easter. With that in mind, I can’t help but think about today, Holy Trinity, as that family closet that no one wants to open. Because it is just a disaster in there. Or, for some of us, it isn’t a closet – it’s a whole room. In our house, it’s the guest room that rarely is prepared for guests.
But seriously, this closet is where we just shove things that are just sort of in the way, right? We think we need to keep but we don’t really want to look at anymore. And Holy Trinity Sunday and the doctrine of the Holy Trinity sort of feel like that. We know we should keep around what’s in there, but we’re terrified to open that door, because who knows what’s going to come falling out.
In fact, most preaching resources will tell you – don’t open that closet. Don’t preach about the Holy Trinity. Because one of the worst thing a sermon can be is boring. We’ve been told to keep this away from you so as not to be boring –but I’ve recently been reading about how for too long theology has been taken away from the people and been given to the elite, the professionals, the religiously educated. I cannot tell you the number of times I hear someone say, “Well I’m not theologically trained but…” It’s like you think you have no business talking thinking or proclaiming things about God unless you’ve gone to seminary.
Well, today, I hope to challenge that thinking…that theology needs to be kept away from the people. I mean, this is why we do things like Pub Theology and Manna and Mercy. To invite you into this work of the church, the community.
So, this morning, I want to open that closet to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and share with you my insight, and hopefully that will invite your own thoughts and reflections on this central but confusing church teaching.
And in order to tell you about my insight, I want to tell you about something that happened to me last week. My family had a garage sale. And in order to do a garage sale, we had to go through that family closet. And there is something that happens when you open that closet door and start going through it again.
You find the orange and white striped onesie, covered in stains, that remind you of the days when the kids were young, and you can still feel their little peanut bodies, nuzzled in your arms.
You find the blue plates and bowls you got from your wedding, with chips all over them because the sink in your seminary apartment was too small.
You find old birthday cards and the shirt your mother was so excited to give you but it just didn’t fit right.
It’s all of these things that remind you of your relationships. Your relationship with your family, your loved ones. Maybe even painful relationships
And I guess that’s what I find when I tenderly and carefully open the door to the doctrine of the Trinity. There is a lot to deal with in there. It’s overwhelming. But, I think, in the end, it is all about relationship.
Because in the end, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is all about how God, at God’s core, the foundational nature of God, is a relationship.
The doctrine of the Holy Trinity says that God is one. But God is one in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And that word persons is important. It isn’t modes or ways of being. It isn’t like how I am a husband, but also a father, but also a trumpet player. It is three distinct persons.
I don’t pretend to understand how it works, but what I’ve come to learn is that to proclaim a triune God is to proclaim that God is in God’s nature a social, communal, relational being. Within God’s very self, God is a community.
We can see this in this morning Genesis reading.
While the word trinity and the doctrine of the trinity doesn’t exist in Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity seeks to describe the God revealed in Scripture, and often times people turn to the first creation story found in Genesis 1.
In this story…notice that God does not just create stuff –God creates community. Almost everything in the creation that is called good is a pairing, a relationship, a community.
The dry land and the waters – and it was good.
The plants yielding seed and the trees yielding seeds – and it was good.
The greater light and the lesser light – and it was good.
The male and the female…the human community – and it was good.
And everything together – very good.
God creates community. And not only does God create community, but get this, God creates community communally.
God creates community communally.
God creates with the earth – let earth bring forth vegetation.
God creates with a divine community – God said, “Let us create humankind in our image”
God invites humankind into the creative process – not only can humankind create and multiply but humankind is given the tender responsibility of caring for the earth.
In the very creation of the earth, God invites the creation to have a crucial role. To participate. That’s what the Triune God is like – God is a sharing relationship of creativity. God creates community communally. Augustine once wrote, “Without God we cannot; without us, God will not.”
Dare I say, God needs you. To help God care for this creation, for this world, for this people.
Now, this creation story was written down during a time when the Israelites were enslaved in Babylon. They were living in exile and they had lost everything. And as slaves they were seen as worthless and discardable. And along comes this revolutionary narrative of the creation of the world, in which God not only calls God’s creation very good but in which God needs God’s people for the flourishing of the world. Do you think the slaves were ever told that they were needed? Do you think they were ever told that they were a good creation?
What a remarkable and revolutionary promise to hear in that context. But we hear it in our context. So let’s take our context…
We live in culture where we may not be enslaved directly but we are enslaved, as a friend of mine says, by isolation. We are told that we should be able to make it on our own. You just need to work harder and achieve more success for yourself. That you are only worth something if you get good grades and go on to college (but let’s be honest, even that isn’t good enough any more…now you need grad school). We are told that we need to be independent and self-sufficient, and the moment you need help, the moment you need others can feel like a moment of failure.
And this is beyond damaging to our humanity, to our divinely proclaimed goodness. Because, as one of the many counselors I’ve seen in my life once said, “The first thing to go when we are tired and disconnected from each other is our generosity.”
When we become disconnected from each other, the first thing we lose is our generosity with one another. We stop being generous, and patient and kind and loving and graceful and understanding.
And it is into that context of ours that Genesis 1 and the doctrine of Holy Trinity get to proclaim…you are made to be in community with each other just as God is made to be in community. It is a creation story that says you are beautiful, you are valuable and you are needed by God for the flourishing for this world. In fact, that is where the image of God can be seen…in you and in your relationships with those around you.
As one theologian would say, we are only fully human when we are encountering one another. Which should mean that every single interaction we have with another human should be seen as a sacred moment. Because it can hold within it the image of God.
Can you see how your life – and in particular your relationships, your community – is part of the very life of God? Can we as a church see how our life together and in this community is part of the very life of God?
A well-seasoned preacher, Richard Lischer, wrote a remarkable book called Open Secrets. It is about his first year out of seminary and his first parish – a tiny, Lutheran congregation in the cornfields of Illinois. Just out of seminary, Lischer spent that first year showing off his preaching skills. He used big words. He referenced great works of literature to show how well read he was. He spoke with what he called a Kennedy-esque urgency and eloquence. In those days, he said, the gospel lived or died by my personal performance…and how ridiculous I must have looked to my congregation. But then he asks the question: why couldn’t I see the kingdom of God happening in our little church? Why did I think I had to find it in a book? People in our congregation, every week, volunteered to exercise the legs of a little girl with cerebral palsy, so that her muscles wouldn’t grow weak. People helped one another put up hay before the rains came. When a neighbor lost their farm, we all grieved with him and we refused to bid on his tools at auction. Weren’t these all signs of the kingdom of God, Lischer asks? Why couldn’t I see them?
Here is the thing: today maybe about a doctrine, but you are living doctrine. You belong to this communal, relational God. In belonging to God, you belong to the life of God, which is to say that the dance of the Trinity involves you and your life and the life of this congregation. And I can see it. I can see it in the way you welcome strangers into this place. I see it when the called to care ministers put out a call for meals for a family that is struggling and you step up. And you start feeding strangers. I see it when I hear about a member getting cancer and another member who is more or less a stranger saying, “I’ve had cancer before. I know what that’s like. I’m going to drive that person to every one of their treatments.” I see it in the way in which you gather our people in prayer when one of our beloved ones have died.
I need to be reminded to not look for Godin a book, but to look up and to look at the community of God. To see the image of God at work in and among us.
In a moment, we will sing a hymn called “Touch the Earth Lightly. May we touch this earth, this life lightly.…because we carry with us the image of God. And because the grace and love and community of God that is not only with you but is also at work among you. I can see it.
Thanks be to God.
 Richard Lischer, Open Secrets, p. 72-75.