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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Holy Trinity Sunday - 06/19/2011

The doctrine of the Trinity was a product of controversy.  It came about as the result of a number of questions faced by the early church, most notably questions about Jesus, more specifically questions about whether or not Jesus was equal to God, or was he the greatest of all God’s creatures, but still not quite God.  The answer to that question as decided at the council of Nicaea in the year 325 was that Jesus is equal to God and much effort was given and has been given to explaining exactly how Jesus and the Father are related and when you add the Holy Spirit to the mix it further complicates things; how can one be three and three be one and so forth.  How can three persons be one God?  There are no easy explanations.

The doctrine of the Trinity was born in controversy and continues to be controversial with some who would scrap the doctrine entirely because no one really understands it and others, like some at our Synod Assembly last month who in a colossal waste of everyone’s time tried to enforce linguistic uniformity on the doctrine by saying that the only words that can ever be used for the Trinity are Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God forbid someone should say Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier even if it might help someone understand things better.

The doctrine has been controversial, but the idea of the Trinity never really was.  Throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament God is referred to in different ways and from the earliest days of Christianity God was worshiped in this threefold way much as Trinitarian references are still prominent in worship.  So Trinitarian language was there and was accepted pretty much from the beginning, it was how Christians referred to God.   It was the efforts to explain exactly what all that meant that became controversial.

Rather than get bogged down in the controversy though it seems better to simply acknowledge that the early church fathers who began to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity were just trying to describe the indescribable mystery of God.  But mystery ultimately can’t be explained, in the end words are inadequate.  On Trinity Sunday then, it is better to honor the work of those who formulated the doctrine and those who continue to work with it, and then to contemplate the wonder and mystery of the God they try to describe. 

The lectionary begins our contemplation with the opening verses of Genesis, which are a meditation on the creative work of God, a celebration of God’s power and God’s commitment to the created world.  It’s a familiar text that is something of a liturgical chant that describes God bringing creative order to chaos including the repeated refrain, “And God saw that it was good.” 

There is much interpretation concerning this creation narrative, a lot is written about it, but for Trinity Sunday I think it’s best to just hear the poetry of it, to see it as a reflection on the majesty of God and to let it lead us to other related texts, like Psalm 8, the psalm appointed for today.  Psalm 8 is another witness to the majesty of creation and the creator but it takes some interesting turns.  It begins in praise of God, “O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!—you whose glory is chanted above the heavens.”  It starts in praise and then moves to wonder at the beauty of the created world as the psalmist gazes into the starry night sky. 

Now obviously our modern understanding of “the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars you have set in their courses” is quite different from the understanding at the time of the psalmist.  In terms of the science of it all we know more than they did.  Most notably we know that the earth is not the center of the universe as they thought.  But I don’t think our sense of wonder about it is all that different than theirs would have been, especially on a clear night and you’re far enough away from the ambient, reflected light of town so that it’s really dark and the stars are bright and blanket the sky.  At that point you’re not thinking about whatever you know about astronomy and such, you’re just in awe.

In the case of the psalmist, there is then the awareness of insignificance in the presence of such wondrous beauty.  “What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you should care for them?”  There is the awareness of insignificance but at the same time there is wonder at the reality of the place God has given human beings in this world, wonder about the significance of humanity; “You have made them little less than divine; with glory and honor you crown them.  You have made them rule over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet.”  That leads me back to Genesis. 

We are going to be working our way through portions of the book of Genesis in our lectionary readings for the next couple of months, but because of how late Easter was this year we’ve missed some of the stories, but the starry sky of Psalm 8 leads me to one of them, another story that I think is related to Genesis 1 and Psalm 8, the story about God making the promise to Abraham that he will have descendents, a promise he makes despite Abraham’s old age and despite the barrenness of his wife Sarah. 

In this story God takes Abraham outside at night and says, “Look toward heaven and count the stars if you are able to count them,” and you know on the kind of night I described a minute ago, you can’t count them.  Then, as Abraham like the psalmist contemplates the night sky, God says to him, “So shall your descendents be.”  This unlikely promise made in the face of laughable odds is followed a couple of chapters later by Sarah’s question, “Who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?”

Who would ever have said…?  Sarah herself wouldn’t have said, she laughed in the other tent when angelic visitors told Abraham what was going to happen.  Abraham himself wouldn’t have said, he knew he was an old man and had his moments of serious doubt and questioning concerning these divine pronouncements concerning him and Sarah.  No one would ever have said, except the Lord, the God we name and describe as Trinity.  And as it says in Genesis chapter 21, verse 1, “the Lord did for Sarah as the Lord had promised.”

Who would ever have said…?  You could say that this is the question that underlies much of the Bible.  It may be the question that those who wrote these stories wanted us to come back to as we reflect on our faith and on our life.  Who would ever have said that a cheat like Jacob would become the wise and faithful father of the twelve tribes of Israel?  Who would ever have said that selling their brother Joseph into slavery would result in saving the people of that part of the world from starvation during a time of famine?  Who would ever have said that Moses who was hiding out after committing murder would lead God’s people out of slavery?  Who would ever have said that the shepherd boy David would become Israel’s greatest king?

The Bible is full of these “Who would ever have said” stories, culminating perhaps in who would ever have said that the son of a poor, unwed, teenage girl would be the Messiah, God’s son?  Who would ever have said that his death on a cross would not be the end of the story, but the beginning of the story of new life with God?

On Trinity Sunday we consider the God who is the answer to our “who would ever have said” questions.  The biblical examples are all worthy of consideration but it’s just as important to consider examples that hit closer to home.  Who would ever have said that an insignificant monk named Martin Luther would change the course not just of church history but of world history?  Who would ever have said that a bunch of Swedish miners in Ishpeming, Michigan would form a church that would still be around 140 years later?  Who would ever have said that I would wind up being a pastor serving that church in a part of the world I’d hardly ever heard of?  Who would ever have said Ann Gonyea would go to seminary?  Who would ever have said that my wife, who isn’t a walker and who doesn’t like being outside would walk 350 miles across northern Spain by herself with only what she could carry in a small backpack?   

The Spirit unleashed on that first Pentecost we celebrated last week is still at work.  The God we name as Trinity is still at work, still the answer to our “who would ever have said” questions and I’m sure you’ve got your own examples of those questions, twists and turns your life has taken, things you’ve been able to do, things you’ve been able to face, care you’ve been able to provide, that have an element of mystery about them.  Who would ever have said? 

Trinity Sunday then is a day not to get lost in questions of doctrine, but instead to contemplate the majesty and mystery of God, a God we name as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
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