Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | May 18, 2008

2008.05.18 “Three Movements of God” Trinity Sunday

Central United Methodist Church

“Three Movements of God”

Genesis 1:1–2:4; 2 Corinthians 13:11–13; Matthew 28:16–20

Pastor David L. Haley

Trinity Sunday

May 18th, 2008

It might be helpful, at the beginning of this sermon, to locate ourselves.

When I worked as a paramedic, one of the first assessments I had to make of any patient was whether they were Awake, Alert, and Oriented x 3 (to Person, Place, and Time).  How are we doing this morning?

“Don’t need to locate myself,” you might say. “I know where I am.”  I am sitting in Central United Methodist Church at 8237 Kenton Ave. in Skokie, IL, the United States of America, at 10:50 on Sunday, May 18th, in the year of our Lord 2008.

Right.  But that’s not all I’m talking about. 

        On the religious calendar, today we have come to the 1st Sunday in Ordinary Time. We are past the Advent-Christmas cycle, past the Lent-Easter-Pentecost cycle, into what the liturgical calendar calls “Ordinary Time.” It’s not so much “nothing happening time”, as non-major festival time.  Usually this Sunday falls after Memorial Day or early in June, but, because Easter was so early this year, 1st Sunday in ordinary time is early as well.

In fact, “ordinary time” would be a fitting description of what we do through these coming months ahead. Find ways to get outside and enjoy the sunshine. Enjoy outdoor barbecues and family get-togethers.  Go on vacations.  Find or make time for not only physical, but spiritual renewal and refreshment. Also, of course, week by week we’ll be meeting for worship, because even though it’s “ordinary time”, ordinary time still extraordinary time for encountering God.

        That begins today as the Scripture readings take off on 3 tracks.  The Old Testament begins at the beginning, with the book of Genesis.  The Epistles tackle Romans, which the Sunday morning Bible study is going to study in more depth as well.  And the Gospel?  The Gospel goes through Jesus’ teaching, in this year, from the Gospel According to Matthew.

This 1st Sunday of Ordinary Time, the 1st Sunday after Pentecost, is known as Trinity Sunday.  It is, as someone pointed out, the only Sunday of the Christian year devoted to a doctrine. 

I know some might say, surely, with a war on and a presidential election in progress and the cost of fuel and food rocketing, surely you are not going to talk about the Trinity. After all, who can understand it? And whether I do understand it and believe it or whether I don’t, what difference does it make?

Well, just this. By devoting one day to think about God and God’s mysterious and majestic nature, we help to locate ourselves in the universe.

      What is this thing the Holy Trinity?  Basically, it was what the Christian Church came up with in trying to make sense of our experience of God.

      There is our experience of God Everywhere and Always, God who has always been and always will be, whom we refer to variously as Father, the Creator, God Almighty.  This belief in God we share faith with the three religions of Abraham originating in the ancient near east:  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. 

      Where we part ways with them is in our uniquely Christian experience of God in Jesus of Nazareth. If we refer to our experience of God the Creator as God Always and Everywhere, we might refer to our experience of God in Jesus as God Then and There, encountered not just in nature, but in a human being at a place and time in history.

      So powerful was the presence of God in Jesus that his followers quickly began to refer to Jesus as God. They used the best conceptual language they could come up with, like “Son of God” and “Word of God” and “God’s Anointed One.” (Messiah)  Through these terms, Christians were saying, “If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus.”

      But these two experiences of God, God experienced as Creator and God as experienced in Jesus, do not exhaust our experience of the sacred.  And thus we speak of God as Spirit, the same Spirit who brooded over the waters of creation and descended upon the church at Pentecost. If we refer to our experience of God the Creator as God Always and Everywhere, and our experience of God in Jesus Christ as God Then and There, in history, then we might refer to God the Spirit as our experience of God Here and Now, God’s presence with us. 

      Unfortunately, the doctrine of the Trinity has a limitation in that it is stated in exclusively masculine terms: Father, Son, and Spirit. It originated in a patriarchal culture; it is a failure of language.  Though there have been efforts to rephrase it in more gender friendly terms, like Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, they wind up sounding cold and impersonal, with something lost. And so, acknowledging their limitations — Father, Son, and Spirit — is the invocation we most often use.  

        Today, as I pondered not only our Scriptures but the doctrine of the Trinity, I thought about the awesome nature of God in another way, not only as Three Persons, but Three Movements, which I believe will help us to locate ourselves in the universe.

        First of those movements is a movement of God from Solitude to Relationship.  What was it about God that God seeks relationship? From the very first page of the Bible, God is creating, creating beings with whom God can be in relationship. 

        Of course, that raises many questions.  Was there a defect in God to crave relationship, to need people, as Barbara Streisand might sing?  Where was God, and what was God doing before the creation of the universe?   Was it, as the African American poet James Weldon Johnson said in his poem “The Creation”:

                And God stepped out on space,

                And He looked around and said,

                “I’m lonely —

I’ll make me a world.”

Was God lonely, or was it just an outgrowth of God’s own nature, which, as we speculate in the doctrine of the Trinity, is in relationship.  Although it may only be the “royal subjunctive” tense, reflecting the ancient language of kings and queens, God says, “Let US create . . . “

        Is it any wonder that we, created in God’s image, should also crave relationships?  In fact, the only thing in Creation that God pronounces “Not Good” is that “it is not good to be alone.”  And so God created us, each for the other.  We seek, we cry out for relationship, even to the degree that we will settle for bad ones, if good ones are not available. 

        If there’s anything the Church ought to be about, it’s (1) people’s search for God (spirituality), but also (2) people’s search for relationship (community.)  How are we doing?

        The second movement of God is not only Solitude to Relationship, it is from Unity to Diversity.  Again, from the first chapters of Genesis, while God is One, God is also More-Than-One, with the Great Chain of Being becoming even more diverse as it moves down.  The very nature of reality seems to be as an Irish tailor once described pants:  singular at the top and plural at the bottom.

        Evidently, God loves diversity, and in creation, God goes wild.  God created not just a bird and a fish and a mammal or even an Human Being, but an evolving world, bursting in life color and form and variation. 

We could talk about plants or flowers or bugs or birds, but look at human beings.  Even though the mapping of human DNA has conclusively demonstrated that the DNA of all humans anywhere on the planet is 99.9% the same, look at the variation in that .1% of DNA! If you want any illustration of human perversity, look at the way we treat and revile each other on the basis of that .1% of difference. 

        As Abraham Lincoln once said, “God must have loved the common people or he would not have made so many of them.”  In the same way, God must have loved diversity, because God made so much of it.  Head over to the Festival of Cultures this afternoon, celebrate it, and rejoice!

        The third movement of God evident in the Scriptures today is not only from Solitude to Relationship, or Unity to Diversity, it is from Creation to Participation. I understand that’s vague, but let me attempt to explain what I’m trying to say.

        Whether in the reading of the Genesis account of creation, or in the scientific theory of the big bang (and if you think the Trinity is hard to understand just try to understand the Big Bang), there was by either account a time when there was nothing but God. Then, some 14 billion years ago, there was the big bang, and energy exploded into matter. Now — tiny globs of thinking, feeling, stardust though we may be — we ride a blue planet rotating at 1,000 miles per hour, traveling around the sun at 66,660 miles per hour, circling around in the Andromeda galaxy, traveling through the universe, itself still expanding.  Makes you want to hold on to the pew, doesn’t it?

            Therefore not only is the universe expanding, in a sense, God is also expanding, and from the beginning has been enlisting whatever and whoever in God’s purposes.  For example, God has enlisted us in creation. Through sexuality we have the power to create new human beings. Through creativity we have the power to imagine and bring into being new things that have never been before.

But God has also been calling and enlisting us in God’s moral purposes, in compassion and love and peace and justice.  Long ago, God called a wandering Aramean named Abraham. Long ago, God called a nation named Israel.  Long ago, God called a prophet named Isaiah, and said, “Who will go for us, whom shall I send?”  Jesus came preaching, “Behold, the Kingdom of God has come near.”  In today’s Gospel from Matthew he says, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

        What I’m trying to say is this:  God is always on the move; God is always on the look out for volunteers; God is looking not just for spectators of creation but participants in the New Creation; God is always calling and sending people, to show compassion, to make disciples, to practice peace, to do justice. Will you be that person?  Will you respond to God,   “God, here am I, send me!”

God is both majestic and mysterious, beyond our understanding. Yet God is on the move, from Solitude to Relationship, from Unity to Diversity, from Creation to Participation. I believe this helps us describe and understand the universe that I see, and locate not only ourselves – but our happiness — in it.   

         Said George Bernard Shaw,

      “This is the true joy in life . . . being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; . . . being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; . . . being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”  (George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Epistle Dedicatory)

      And that’s where we are on this Trinity Sunday.  May we find this coming “ordinary time” to be an extraordinary time for encountering God.

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