June 7, 2020

Trinity Sunday Worship 2020

Passage: Matthew 28:16-20, Psalm 8

Our message today is about God’s delight.  In the Gospel lesson, we hear that the 11 disciples who were left, met back up with Jesus in Galilee.  They met at some hillside in the little old backwater of Galilee, and when they came together, they worshiped Jesus.  But the scripture also says that some doubted.  What did they doubt?  Was this really Jesus? Was that part of their doubts?  Had he died and been raised from the dead?  Was he really resurrected?  Did he really die?  Did they doubt Jesus’ divinity?  Did they doubt themselves?  Did they doubt being created in the image of God and the image of Jesus so that they could carry on this work, this commission that Jesus was giving them?

Jesus had now sent out this 11 into the world to proclaim the good news, to call people to repentance, to proclaim that the kingdom of God had come near and to heal and to pray for any they encountered.  They had already done all that, but now Jesus was asking more of them.  He was asking them to do something that only he had done up to this point, and that was to teach.  Also, Jesus was sending them out into the greater world, the broader world.  Jesus said “all nations,” not just Judah, not just Samaria, not just Galilee, not just to their own people of their own kind and their own tribe.  He sent them to other peoples in other lands and in other tribes.  This commission sounded insurmountable and undoable, something that was beyond their ken.  They were asked to take this message to beyond the world that they had known.  They were asked to take it even to the Gentiles.  Where would they find the strength?  How could they be sustained?  How could they survive?

You know, the other scripture that was not read this morning, the Old Testament lesson for today that goes along with Trinity Sunday, takes us to the very beginning and I think there we may find some answers to these questions.  It takes us to the very first book of our Holy Bible to the first chapter of Genesis.  You know the part.  It starts out like this, “In the beginning…”  It’s a good start isn’t it?  “In the beginning.”  It is poetic verse with several recurring refrains that punctuate the creative process of God.  Refrains such as “and it was so”.  And another, “God saw that it was good.”

I once heard a wonderful illustration by great preacher.  His name was Fred Craddock; he was also a teacher of preachers.  Once I heard him share a version of this story.  It was about the oldest man in the world.  Fred said that he had this burning question and he knew that the only one who knew the answer to his question was the oldest man in the world.  Fred, who after retirement served at Disciples of Christ Church in the northern mountains of Georgia, said that he got in his car and he drove up this narrow mountain road on the southern Appalachians, up there where North Carolina and Tennessee and Georgia, meet for their first cup of coffee at sunrise on the very tips of those mountains.

He drove until he could drive no longer and he abandoned his car, took to the footpath and walked up a hill.  Up, up, up and around, winding through the trees and thickets he followed this path until he came to the very top of the mountain.  On this mountain was a bit of a clearing and there was this old log cabin with a porch on the front with a rocking chair.  There was a door and it was open so he called out and said, “Are you there?”  A voice came from behind the door.  Down the walk came the oldest man in the world.  Fred looked at him said “I have just one question for you.”  The oldest man in the world, smiling at Fred, looked at him and said, “What, my child, is your question?”  So Fred asked, “What was it like in the beginning, in the very beginning?”   The oldest man replied, “Oy vey! You wouldn’t have believed it.  It was nothing but confusion.  No one knew their role and no one knew their place.  No one knew how to act.  The elephants kept trying to climb the trees.  They kept knocking them over.  The giraffes, instead of using their gift of long necks to get the tenderest leaves on the tops of the trees, were digging down in the soil and trying to eat the ants.

They thought they were aardvarks.  And the aardvarks?  Who knows what’s happened to the aardvarks?  Ahh!  No one knew.  It was chaos!  Just chaos!  The chimps?  They weren’t living in the trees.  The birds were just walking around everywhere and not using their wings.  And Adam, he’d made a mess of things.  He never stopped to think about what he was doing.  He wouldn’t think about others, just himself.  He would say things, hurtful things, sometimes.  Instead of being in my image, the image of a caretaker of this world, he was trying to dominate it and enslave it to his own will.  I’m still working on that one, but I have not given up.” 

That was my memory of Fred’s illustration.  I added to it and adapted it a little bit.  Genesis 1 says that on the sixth day, as it’s recorded, “then God said ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”  Do you notice the plural “our likeness”?  Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the cattle, the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.  What confirms God’s special love for humans and humanity is that we humans are made in the image of God.  Someone once wrote that if you were to paraphrase Ephesians 2:20 that Paul was saying that we are God’s masterpiece.  Humans are given dominion, not domination, over God’s creation.  We are not given domination over his created world and not over one another.  Rather, we are created to be caretakers, not exploiters.  We are called to do unto God’s creation as God has done unto us.  We are called to do unto others as God has done unto us.  We are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.

Way back when the patriarchs of the faith were trying to sort out this idea of the doctrine of the Trinity, there were different points of view.  I’m not going to go into all of that.  The main thing is that for me is that the Trinity teaches us is about the symbiotic relationship and the mutuality of the Three Persons in one God.  They are three persons who are coequal and coexistent within one another.  This teaches us about relationship and how God relates with God’s self.  God is not a God of domineering dominance but a God who delights in his creation and loves his creation.  He wants his creation to live in harmony and to live in balance.

There was a thought way back in the day, in the fourth century, that there was no way, no how that Jesus was coequal with God because that would mean that God was vulnerable.  He died on a cross!  If Jesus was coequal with God, then, as the hymn reminds us, that the old rugged cross was an emblem of suffering and shame.  How could God be like that?  How could God allow that to happen?  How could it even happen?  How could it be that the God who created everything allowed God’s self to be crucified?  You can’t kill God, can you?  This stream of thought believed God to be utterly unique, self-contained, and utterly self sufficient.  When it was said that God had a coequal partner, it kind of implied that God might have a need of relationship.  That suggests vulnerability, not weakness, but vulnerability, of the Source of All Being, the Godhead.

But there was another point of view, one that led to our doctrine of the Trinity.  More importantly, it adds to our understanding of who God is, the characteristics of God, the being of God, and in turn, because we are made in God’s image, what our true character and our true way of being should look like.  “There was one who understood that through the incarnation of God through Christ Jesus, there was a different kind of God and a different kind of divine power.  Between the Father and the Son there was, is, and always will be this idea of mutual self-giving.

The unity within God is a unity of love, a unity of which the identity of each party is not swallowed up and annihilated, but established.  What the Father does, the Son does.” God’s power, then, is not self possessive, as a commentator wrote, or self-preserving like the Gentiles who ‘lorded over others’ and tyrannized them.  It has been said that “force is not an attribute of God.”  God does not dominate us.  God does not dominate his creation.  God delights in it.  Look at Jesus as he was arrested and taken first before Caiaphas and then Pilate.  Jesus didn’t protect his own person by trying to hold it up or by trying to hold on to it.  Jesus served us by allowing it to make good on its threat, knowing that his power rests, not in the power of trying to preserve it, but in God’s willingness to sustain his life.  In this act of yielding his life on the cross Jesus exposes the false power of Satan--that kind of false power is a dominating power which is exposed as impotent and unworthy of our awe or reverence because of the resurrection.  God sustained Jesus’ life.  God will sustain our lives.  Not by force, but through delight and a sustaining love that overcomes all hate and evil in this world.  “Still working on that one.”

Jesus promised the disciples as he sent them forth never to abandon them and never to abandon us in our work.  Jesus will not leave us powerless.  We find (in the lesson) Jesus talking to the 11 disciples, their numbers were shrinking, they had 12 just last week, but now they’re down to only 11.  Jesus is sending them out and giving them what we know as the great commission.  These disciples were confused and disoriented.  They have just lived through a chaotic, jolting, earth shattering event and here he’s telling them to go out and share the gospel with the world.  It would be for our ears, like Tom Long says, going out to cure cancer, to cure COVID- 19, to clean up the planet, or to evangelize to the unbelieving.  And while you’re at it, as Tom Long wrote in a commentary on this, “how ‘bout world peace?”  Right now, I’ll settle for just the elimination of racism in our lives.  It’s daunting, overwhelming, and it must have made the heads of the disciples swim.  I bet they felt like they were drowning.                 Sometimes the work that Jesus puts before us seems daunting and overwhelming.  We don’t know if we can even breathe because it’s so much and we feel like we’re drowning and there is no hope.  There’s no way, no how, but there is hope and a way through the sustaining love, grace, and presence of Jesus Christ, empowering us through his Spirit.  There is a way for you and me, even today, to make a difference in this world.  There is a way to live into this commission in our lives.  There is a way to share the grace and the peace, and love of Jesus Christ.  There is a way to proclaim that the kingdom of God is near and to serve it and persevere knowing that we’re free.  Once we’re over that part about trying to protect ourselves, trying to dominate our environment, and trying to have complete control over everything so we feel secure, we can let go and let God in.  We’re free to live into this self-giving power that sustains us and will see us through.

As Tom Long says, “we take a fragmentary community, a fragmentary faith, a fragmentary understanding of the Trinitarian God, and we go into the world with everything Jesus has taught us.”  Remember the words of the prophet Micah; do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our Lord.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.