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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Holy Trinity 06/15/2014

The minute you begin to speak with certitude about God, he’s gone. That’s a quote I found and you’re free to agree or disagree with it, but if it’s true, if we can’t speak with certitude about God, it might cause us to wonder about the doctrine of the Trinity and about the creeds that profess faith in God as Trinity and about having a Sunday that we call Trinity Sunday. Personally, I agree that we can’t speak with certitude about the nature of God but I’m also fine with the doctrine of the Trinity because I don’t see it as a doctrine of certitude; I don’t think it’s best interpreted as absolute, case closed statements about God.

Discussion of the Trinity should not be the end of a conversation about God but the beginning. After all, as soon as you start to talk about three distinct persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but only one God, not three, you’ve moved into the realm of mystery and the unexplainable, not certainty. But still, despite the uncertainty, it’s a way to get into a conversation about what we as Christians believe about God.

The best way to enter into that conversation is through the biblical texts from which the doctrine comes. Nowhere in the Bible is the doctrine of the Trinity clearly laid out; the Bible represents many different voices and visions of God so other conceptions of God are possible, but the idea of God as Trinity is there; the early church fathers who formulated the doctrine weren’t just making it up. Every year then, on this Sunday, the lectionary assigns texts that one assumes should offer the opportunity for reflection on some aspect of the God we describe as Trinity and we do better to engage in some of that reflection today rather than have me try to explain the Trinity to you in ten minutes.

One of the texts today is the creation account from Genesis 1. It’s God the Father stuff, which is about the only connection I can make with Father’s Day, but it’s so familiar that it’s easy to miss how loaded it is theologically. We call it a creation account but it actually says far more about God and about us than it does about the process of creation.

There’s plenty of evidence that tells us that Genesis doesn’t represent good creation science, the world wasn’t created in six days but it’s also pretty clear that the author of these verses wasn’t trying to write a science book. Years of accumulated scientific evidence have to be respected but that doesn’t refute the theological truth contained in this account, the essence of that truth being that God was and is involved in creation, that the beauty and order of the world we inhabit isn’t an accident. Coming at the beginning of the Bible as it does, this account provides the first image of God as creator but it also begins to get at our role, the role of human beings in God’s created order. Both of those things are worthy of reflection on Trinity Sunday.

The focus in Genesis 1 is on God as the creator and that’s important; it is a significant part of Trinitarian theology. But this God is more than just the mighty force behind it all; this is also a God of blessing. Now you know that bless and blessing and blessed are words that we use all the time, sometimes so casually that it means little or nothing; God bless you when someone sneezes. In general though I usually think of blessing as an expression of approval or good wishes for well being and safety. That’s not wrong, but when we talk about divine blessing, God’s blessing, it’s more than that. Divine blessing is God’s act of giving power and potential to others. Blessing could be thought of as divine power sharing.

That’s worth thinking about because I don’t think our first inclination is to think about God sharing power. We confess faith in God the Father, almighty; from that we go to the “O” words, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, God as the Big O as Walter Brueggemann puts it. That God has no need to share power; the work is done and the decisions have all been made but while that almighty nature of God is the image many of us have, that is not how God is usually portrayed in the Bible, including in Genesis 1. The creator God of Genesis 1 is powerful, but also offers blessings three times and with that the invitation to share power.

The first blessing in verse 22 is for the sea monsters and other creatures that live in the water along with birds of every kind. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply,” a hint that the creative process isn’t finished but goes on as God interacts with these creatures.

The second blessing in verse 28 is of particular note for us. This blessing, directed toward humans, includes the call to “Be fruitful and multiply” but it goes beyond that with the call to subdue the earth and to have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and so forth. This has lots of theological implications, a primary one again being that there is still work to be done in the process of creation.

Five times in this account God calls creation “good” and once “very good” but the call to subdue and have dominion indicates that good is not perfect. This text doesn’t describe a closed and perfected process of creation but one that is ongoing, one that includes the participation of humanity. In verse 1 God brings order to the formless void, the chaos, in Hebrew the “tohu-wa-bohu.” With that, an ordered, coherent life system is created, but might some of that “tohu-wa-bohu” still lurk out there, chaos that is yet to be subdued, chaos that reveals itself in things like natural disasters and unexplainable diseases?

It’s something to think about, but however you answer it, in this verse there is an invitation to partnership, a sharing of power between the creator and the human part of creation. With that of course comes great responsibility, responsibility that hasn’t always been exercised very well when terms like subdue and have dominion over have been interpreted as “we can do whatever we want to the rest of creation; God said so!” That represents an abuse of the divine power we’ve been invited to share. If creation is good, but not perfect, our role is to model God’s action in working creatively to bring disorder to order, in moving creation toward perfection. Sometimes we’re good partners, but too often human creativity has added more chaos and chaotic elements to the world. Again though, something to think about on Trinity Sunday.

The third blessing in this account is a little different in that it’s not directed at anything that had been created, but instead it’s a blessing of the seventh day, a day of rest for God and right away there’s more to think about. The idea of God resting or needing rest also doesn’t fit with our classic conception of God which is closer to the aforementioned Big O. That God doesn’t need rest anymore than it needs to share power. But here we get God resting and blessing a day of rest and while it doesn’t say so directly, one can infer that as human beings created in God’s image, we too are to rest, an interesting thought on an almost summer Sunday morning.

We live in a culture that doesn’t rest very well, or another way to put it is that rest is not valued. What we value is hard work; we admire those who do work hard and put it long hours, we feel good when we have worked hard. But have you ever said or have you ever been told, “You’re really good at resting.” We talk about old people in the “rest” home; they can’t do anything useful anymore so they can rest. In Genesis 1 though, God the Father, the powerful creator engages in the self-care of rest, trusting that for a day, the good world that has been created will manage on its own. This God blesses rest, something else to think about.

Ultimately though, discussion of God as Trinity is wrapped in mystery; there is much that we can’t know with certainty and I certainly don’t offer you much here today, just some things to think about. What we do know though, is that despite the uncertainty, the God we name as Trinity, God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the God revealed most clearly to us in Jesus Christ, is a God in a loving and forgiving and saving relationship with human beings and really with all of creation, a God who blesses us and is with us always, to the end of the age. When it comes to the Trinity, much is uncertain, but we can talk with certainty about the relationship that’s offered, and that’s enough.

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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