Sermon – June 14, 2020 – Trinity Sunday

Stuck in the Middle with You

At first glance, the two scriptures I want us to think about today don’t seem to have very much in common with one another.  After all, one deals with setting in motion the stars, the galaxies and all creation, while the other consists of the words Jesus speaks to his disciples as their final moments together draw to a close and their mission begins in earnest.  What can these two passages about beginnings and an ending possibly have in common?  Why should they matter to us as Christians living through these challenging days of the twenty-first century?  Well, maybe the best thing to do is to begin at the beginning and go on until the end, and see if we can learn anything along the way.

The opening words of Genesis are perhaps some of the most well-known in all of sacred literature: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth….”  Our very familiarity with this story sometimes causes us to gloss over the fantastic images that follow, hurrying on to the moment when human beings are created.  But just stop and listen: “…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.”  The Hebrew word translated here as “wind”—ruach—is one that can also be read as “spirit”—“a spirit from God swept over the face of the waters.”  And then God speaks the  creating Word—the Logos in Greek—that brings all things into being: light and dark; sky and earth; dry land and water; plants of all kinds; the sun and moon and stars; animals and birds….   All these things created not so much to oppose one another but to complement and help define one another.  And then comes the moment we have been waiting for, the moment when humankind is birthed.  Everything is brought into being through God’s creative Word.

Do you remember what the writer of the Gospel of John says at the outset of his account of the story of Jesus?  We usually hear these verse in Advent, but listen now, on Trinity Sunday: “In the beginning”—those same words again, a clue to us to pay attention, to remember where we have heard them before—“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  [The Word] was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through [the Word], and without [the Word] not one thing came into being…. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” [John 1:1-3a, 14 a, inclusive language version] That Word is the presence we come to know in Jesus Christ.  By the power of the Spirit, that Word still dwells among us.

So here, at the very beginning of things, we see what theologians call God’s “triune nature”—Father, Son and Holy Ghost; Creator, Christ, and Comforter; Sovereign, Word, and Spirit.  There are lots of ways to name the Trinity but they all point to one thing: We human beings may come to sense God’s presence in the world in three different but primary ways, but each of those ways is always working with the other two, united in Divine Will and Divine Purpose.

At last, God creates human beings.  Now, it is part of our very nature to see things and events in relationship to ourselves.  And so we can find it easy to see this act as the climax, the culmination, of the Creation story, with God simply saying a few words to the newest creatures before heading off for a well-deserved rest—what an English teacher might call the denouement, which is just a fancy way of saying that all the loose ends get tied up neatly and the story comes to a satisfying conclusion.

But if we read the Creation account that way, we miss a very important part of the action.  After God brings these new human beings to life, God blesses them and tells them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth….”  God intends humankind to be active participants in what happens next.  Listen to those verbs again: “be fruitful,” “multiply,” “fill the earth.”

In essence, God has set the stage and birthed these human creatures.  Now God says, “Let’s make a Story together.” And everything that follows—from the Fall from grace on through time to this very moment—is the result of that invitation to actively enter God’s Story.  The final verse of today’s reading makes it clear that what we think of as “the Creation story” is actually a prologue, actually the beginning, of a much larger Story.  The Revised English translation of the Bible makes that clearer than the one we read earlier today.  There it reads, “This is the story of the heavens and the earth after their creation [emphasis added].”

So what we need to remember is that from the very first, humanity has been fashioned in the image of God—God, who creates new things, who brings order from chaos, who blesses.  God, whose dominion over creation is grounded not in domination, but in compassion and mercy, love and grace.  God, who invites us to be active participants in making and remaking the world each and every day.

Unfortunately, the story that we write too often becomes tragic because we forget that God invites everyone to be part of writing this new Story—not just the people who look like us and think like us and act like us and even believe just like us.  No, every human being bears God’s image, every human being is invited to be a teller in this story, every human being has something only they can contribute.  Every voice matters in this Story.  And the very best storytellers are the ones who also listen, not only to God, but also to the ones they are telling the story to and the ones they are telling the story with.  When we forget that—when we let our fears and our biases and our hatred corrupt the story, when we treat any human being as expendable—then devastation and sorrow and unbearable loss follow.

We have seen that all too plainly in recent days as the suffering and injustice borne by our siblings of color has erupted in protests, many peaceful and some few, well, less so.  Many of us who have been protected by our often unacknowledged privilege have begun to realize that the time has come to listen, to learn, from those whose voices have been ignored or silenced.  It is not a comfortable place to be.  And yet this listening, this learning, is necessary, for God invites us—you and me—to help shape what comes next in the story.  We dare not do that in ignorance and indifference.

Jesus made the invitation clear in the Great Commission.  Listen to the action verbs: “Go…,” “make disciples…,” “baptize…,” “teach….”  The eleven were not simply to sit back and wring their hands or reminiscence about the past or worry about the future.  They were to move out into all the world, taking God’s Story with them as they knew it and lived it, sharing it and inviting others to be part of it.  They were to make disciples not by coercion, but by living their lives with integrity, loving God above all else and loving neighbor as dearly as they loved themselves.  They were, in a very real sense, to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” with God’s blessing that comes to us in Jesus Christ.

And they did.  Not perfectly, of course—no human endeavor will ever be perfect, no matter how much we try.  But they made disciples, and those disciples made more disciples, who made even more, and so on until the Story came to you and to me through an unbroken line stretching back through time to those final moments Jesus spent on earth with the ones he loved.

And just like the eleven, we are called to go, to share the Story. Made in God’s image, we are called to make something new, to bring order from chaos, to speak the creative Word that brings a blessing and not a curse—whoever we are and wherever we may be, that is our calling as children of God.  In these days of disease and dis-ease, in the midst of so much pain and sorrow and suffering, when everything around us seems so broken, to speak such a Word can be daunting, to say the least, and we can easily despair.

But the disciples were given a promise to sustain them on their way.  That promise, just like the Great Commission, is for us, too.  And that promise is grounded in memory and in hope.

We remember how this Story began.  And we know how it will end.  Listen to these words from the twenty-first chapter of Revelation: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and earth had passed away, and the chaos of the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city…, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride for her husband.  And I heard a voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals.  God will dwell with them as their God; they will be God’s peoples, and God, God’s own self, will be with them; God will wipe every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’ And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’  Also he said, ‘Write this, for these things are trustworthy and true.’  Then he said, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and then end.’” (Revelation 21:1-6a)

That’s how this Story ends, back with God where it began, with all things made new and pure and good.  That’s the vision we want our part of the Story to point to, to embody, however imperfectly.  And here is the promise to sustain us on our way, in the middle of this Story we are asked to help shape and share: Jesus says to the eleven, to all disciples down through the years, and right now, in this very moment, to you and to me, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

We are not alone in this moment of crisis; by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus stands here with us, giving us hope and courage and imagination as we write the next part of our story together. 

Thanks be to God, in whom we live, and move, and have our being.  Amen.