“the first of a trinity,” may 8, 2016

trinity image

Responsive Call to Worship
In the beginning, God.
Okay. Is that a statement of belief—
reflecting on the past—
affirming what God did in creation?
Or is it a prayer—
hoping in the present (or the presence?)—
affirming what God still does?
For in truth, we do keep beginning
(and beginning again)—
even as we keep assuring ourselves
that there is an order
emerging out of chaos—
that there is blessing
inherent to creation.
And we gather in worship, honestly,
less to affirm to ourselves that God did
as to assure ourselves that God still does.
We’re not defending God, you see
(as much as we might want to think in such terms).
We’re defending our faith.
And not abstractly and generally,
“our faith”—in some universal heroic way,
but specifically and personally
“our faith”—“my faith”—
in a more individual desperate way.
In the world in which we live,
we want to … we need to …
keep believing—
and to keep living as though we do—
and so, living into grace
with love.
In the beginning, God, you see,
truly means—
more significantly always—
more relevantly—
now, God.

Witness of the Closed Canon, i.

Psalm 104
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
you set the beams of your chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your messengers,
fire and flame your ministers.

You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.

You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills,
giving drink to every wild animal;
the wild asses quench their thirst.
By the streams the birds of the air have their habitation;
they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.

You cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.
The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has its home in the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
You have made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the animals of the forest come creeping out.
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they withdraw
and lie down in their dens.
People go out to their work
and to their labour until the evening.

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Yonder is the sea, great and wide,
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it.

These all look to you
to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground.

May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!

Witness of the Living Word, ii.
We’re not doing Trinity Sunday this year,
though we’re at that time of the calendar year
when the Church year sets aside one Sunday
to affirm and celebrate the truth and relevance
of the doctrine of the Trinity.

But in our lectionary sabbatical year,
looking to what’s going on in our culture,
we are actually taking three Sundays—
one to look at each of the three persons of the Trinity—
on the three weekends of the running of the races of the Triple Crown!

Because of the energy of the story—
the excitement and anticipation that grows through these weeks—
especially if the winner of the first
wins the second.
Then it all really begins to matter more and more—
what has happened and what might!

Yesterday was the running of the Kentucky Derby,
the first of the three races that comprise the Triple Crown.
And we have Nyquist, the winner.
Whether Nyqvist becomes more important in time—
over the next few weeks,
we will see.

So I’d like to point out
that the narrative from which the doctrine of the Trinity emerges
(ie/ Scripture) neither names the Trinity as such
nor assumes it from the beginning.
Now there are some who might argue with that.
There are some who look to that mysterious three-fold “plural pronoun:”
in Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image,
according to our likeness ….’”
and Genesis 3:33, “Then the Lord God said,
‘See, the man has become like one of us,
knowing good and evil ….’”
and finally in the tower of Babel story,
Genesis 11:7, “Come, let us go down,
and confuse their language there ….”

Some also look to Genesis 1:2—that verse about
the spirit of God hovering over the surface of the deep.

But the writers of those ancient texts
did not know anything of a Trinity.
They did not write of a Trinity.
And if we posit God as Trinity at creation,
we are only reading that into the creation stories.

So, interestingly, while the story begins
oblivious to Trinitarian thought,
Trinitarian thought begins
with the fully developed idea of the Trinity.

It’s kind of like how the Derby is just one race
in the calendar of racing events,
but hardly anyone thinks of it as such.
As the beginning of something with more potential
than one race could possibly have,
it’s so much more than just one race.
There’s that possibility of energy and excitement growing—
of more and more people becoming interested—
in following along with the story.
And we know all that going in.

But I want to go back to the beginning of the story
that intrigues me so—
because the story starts just with God.

And before ever a Trinity is conceived—
indeed before a Trinity can be conceived,
you have the history of God and God’s people—
all the stories and songs,
the teachings and writings of the Old Testament.

You have God as creator of the world and savior of a people—
God as redeemer and sustainer and guide and shepherd—
as father—
so many different images—
so many different functions—
one God.

You know the Shema:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”

A fiercely monotheistic affirmation—
a fiercely monotheistic Jewish affirmation—
deeply imaginative.

Affirming that God is,
and that God does—
that there is no distinction
between God’s being and God’s doing—
that this is no abstract affirmation of deity—
that for God to be
is for God to breathe,
and for God to breathe is for God to speak
and so to create—to do.

From the beginning, God spoke; God created.

Many years ago, Frederick Buechner wrote these words
that continue to create reflection and wonder:
“In Hebrew the term dabar means both ‘word’ and ‘deed.’
Thus to say something is to do something.
‘I love you.’ ‘I hate you.’ ‘I forgive you.’ ‘I am afraid of you.’
Who knows what such words do, but whatever it is,
it can never be undone. Something that lay hidden in the heart
is irrevocably released through speech into time,
is given substance and tossed like a stone into the pool of history,
where the concentric rings lap out endlessly.
Words are power, essentially the power of creation.
By my words I both discover and create who I am.
By my words I elicit a word from you.
Through our converse we create each other.
When God said, ‘Let there be light,’
there was light where before there was only darkness.
When I say I love you, there is love
where before there was only ambiguous silence.
In a sense I do not love you first and then speak it,
but only by speaking it give it reality
(Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking).

From the beginning, God spoke and God created,
and from the beginning, God created relationships.
And there is no distinction between God’s being
and God’s doing and God in relationship.
God was and is—spoke and speaks—
and what was and is created—
what is still being created,
is in the image of God.
It’s all God can do—
breathe life—
and life as beloved,
and so breathe blessing.
And the word of God was and is made light and dark.
The word of God was and is made dry land and water.
The word of God was and is made mountain and grass—
forest and fruit.
The word of God was and is made scales and feathers and fur and skin.
The word of God was and is made flesh.

And still with us—God—
breathing and speaking—
ever creating relationship with all that is created.
Ever in relationship with us.
And the breathing—speaking—creating goes on.
There is conversation in relationship.

So to say “in the beginning, God created—”
really has less to do with creation, truly,
than with purpose.
In naming God creator,
we are naming purpose to creation.
We suppose a trajectory to time.
And that trajectory is into relationship,
and that purpose is blessing.

Blessing.
Oh, nothing as devious as “Bless your heart,”
which is southern for the opposite of what it says.
Nothing as shallow as prosperity theology
which is theological for the opposite of what it says.
Nothing as insipid and anemic as “#blessed”
when applied to happy circumstance.

Y’all get that, right?
When things are good—when you’re happy,
it’s not because you’re blessed.
Maybe it’s because you (or someone else) has worked hard.
May be because you’ve been well loved.
It may well be because you’re lucky.
But blessing is not a matter of circumstance—
because God seeks to bless all creation—all peoples—all nations,
regardless of circumstance.

Blessing’s another one of those words
whose rich deep profound meaning we have not retained—
whose depths we have lost to an easy shallowness.

For the most true meaning of blessing
constitutes perhaps the most resounding—
most profound of all faith affirmations.
Through the years, the church has insisted on right belief
about or in the virgin birth—
and miracles—
and resurrection—
which all seems less significant to me
than believing, in the midst of life,
that God is working to bless all creation,
and that God is working to bless you
and to bless through you.
That’s the promise of original blessing—
of God as creator.

And so stories then unfolded
of and in God’s commitment to relationship
and to such deep blessing—
God’s commitment to Adam and Eve,
to the family of Abraham,
to the Hebrew people enslaved in Egypt,
to the oppressed,
the widows and the orphans,
the strangers and aliens,
the left out and cast aside
whose cry God hears—
the God whose work and presence is a part of history.
We may question how it is that God intervenes in history,
but we affirm God is always working for justice—
working against oppression—
working for freedom.

The narrative arc of the universe is long,
but it not only bends toward justice,
we believe,
it is called into justice.
It is bent toward grace.
It is being acted upon by love.
Whatever part we play in the story,
God continues speaking and creating that narrative—
ever into God’s truth and into God’s love and into God’s hope.

Is that what we keep believing?
Truly? What we hold onto when life is hard
and almost unbearable?
What it matters to us that others keep believing
even when we can’t?
That keeps us living as if we believe?
Really?
Is it your priority to live as if love is the means to the same end?

Do you believe and live as if because God is,
therefore we are,
and as God speaks and creates
and blesses
and saves through love,
so too are we to?

I’m contemplating a formula—
a faith affirmation—
honing in on what is essentially God—

who is with us—Emanuel (God with us).
Was God in the beginning creating?
I believe that,
but it’s not something I’m going to get hung up on.
Someone recently said to me,
“If God didn’t create everything
and create everything out of nothing,
then all of theology crumbles.
Really? Not for me.
Because of the God who is with us now—
who is with us always,
and who, once manifest in time,
is not removed—is not relevantly outside time,
but experienced rather within time—

and who is defined (to the extent we can grasp or imagine)—
who is defined always in relationship (or relationships)—
who calls into being and into relationship—
always in conversation—
always extending love—
always seeking blessing—

who is known to us in and through
the desire for and the commitment to covenant relations—
in all their mutuality and reciprocity—

and who in this ongoing conversation
consistently creates possibility where there was none—
which may encompass creation out of nothing,
but represents so much more than that!
Let there be light? Sure.
And all people will be blessed.
And follow me out of bondage and oppression.
God consistently creating possibility where there was none—
which we call
redemption—
or transformation—
or salvation.

And so it is that
yes, after joy—
after peace and wonder—
after accomplishment—
after satisfaction, sure,
but also after disobedience—
after rejection and betrayal—
after heartbreak—loss—
after grief—after despair—
after failure—
after loneliness—
we can still live with hope.
We can still live with hope.
We can still live in anticipation.
We may not see it right away.
We may need others to see it for us.
But, my friends, God is persistently rewriting
what anyone else might perceive as the end of the story—
what we might perceive as the end of the story.

So hear now the word of God
for the people of God:

there is more to this conversation.
There is more to this relationship.
There is more to do.
There is yet blessing to be known.
I can’t wait!

Witness of the Closed Canon, ii.
from Psalm 136
O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
O give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;

who alone does great wonders,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who by understanding made the heavens,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who spread out the earth on the waters,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who made the great lights,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
the sun to rule over the day,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
the moon and stars to rule over the night,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;

who struck Egypt through their firstborn,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and brought Israel out from among them,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who divided the Red Sea in two,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and made Israel pass through the midst of it,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
but overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who led his people through the wilderness,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;

and gave their land as a heritage,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
a heritage to his servant Israel,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.

It is he who remembered us in our low estate,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
and rescued us from our foes,
for his steadfast love endures for ever;
who gives food to all flesh,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.

O give thanks to the God of heaven,
for his steadfast love endures for ever.

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