This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. It is the only Sunday of the liturgical year when a special Christian doctrine is given primary focus. The Trinity is a mystery. In the history of the church the thoughts and positions regarding the Trinity have been many and conflicting. We are reminded this Sunday that all our language, even our creeds, will fall short of describing the majesty, wonder, and mystery of God. The thimble can not say to the ocean “I know your depths.” The candle can not say to the sun, “I know your heat.” This Sunday we do not hedge God in with our Trinitarian formulas, rather we celebrate our desire to never make God less than God is. God is beyond us, yet mindful of us. God transcends us, yet condescends to us. God reveals God’s’-self to us, yet we do not understand. Amen. So be it.
The Genesis creation account is not historical, or scientific. It is one entry in the genre of “creation myths” that were prevalent in the Ancient world. One does not read the creation in Genesis 1 for its historical veracity or its scientific insight, but rather for its theological message.
Order out of Chaos
The Genesis creation account describes a God who brings order out of chaos. When God begins his creative work the earth is a formless void, darkness reigns, and waters run wild (it is important to remember that the sea was symbolic of chaos and unpredictability to the ancient Hebrew mind). God makes several pronouncements over this unordered primordial matter and out of the chaos a majestic world is formed. The order God brings to chaos is highlighted at the end of each creative day with the repeated refrain, “And there was evening and there was morning.” God also declares that creation is “good” (vs. 3, 10, 12, 21, 25, and 31). The universe is not a terrible mistake, or of flawed design. God has turned unpredictable chaos into a stable good.
The creation of Humanity
God created humanity in God’s own image. The image has a mysterious plurality, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” Some have suggested that this plurality in Genesis points to the divine plurality present in Trinitarian formulas. Others have suggested that a “plurality of majesty” is at work, a literary devise where a single figure of great majesty is referred to with plural pronouns. The former suggestion seeks to read a 4th century CE Greek doctrinal formulation into an ancient Hebrew text. The latter suggestion fails to account for God’s self-talk that is evident in the passage. There is little to be sure of in interpreting the plural pronouns of Genesis 1. What we do know is that singleness of God and the plurality of God remains a mystery far beyond our ability to explain.
Just as God has plurality so does the creation of humanity, for humans are created “male and female.” This new creation is given orders–be fruitful and multiply, subdue the earth, and have dominion over it. The described rule of humans over the earth is similar to how the sun and moon “rule over the day and night” in verse 18. The sun and the moon bring about the function of each passing morning and evening. Likewise humanity, as appointed co-regents with God over creation, help maintain creations ability to produce in abundance.
In the scope of God’s created universe we are very small. Naturally this leads us to ponder our place in such a vast expanse. God created all this space, and we inhabit so little of it. What, then, is our purpose, and how do we rank in God’s overall concern for the cosmos? The psalmist of Psalm 8 asserts that humans have a special place in God’s creation economy. We are made a little lower than divine beings, and are crowned with glory and honor. In addition we are given a special office of responsibility. We are caretakers. All the creatures of the world, in all their majesty, are put under our feet.
The psalmist takes special care in listing all that is put under humanity’s care. The order of the list in verses 7-8 is of interest. The list begins with what is near us in creation (domesticated animals) and then moves to what is farther away with every subsequent listing (undomesticated beasts of the field, birds, the fish of the sea, and finally whatever strange things might pass in the sea). The message is clear: the world near and the world far away is your place to rule, protect, and maintain. We are God’s appointed co-regents, in order that the Lord’s name ring out majestically through out all the earth.
You don’t kiss people you don’t like. So Paul, dealing with the conflict ridden Corinthian church, encourages the church to offer the Holy kiss to one another (as he also does in Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 16:20, and 1 Thessalonians 5:26). This sign of harmony comports with Paul’s earlier admonitions to “agree with one another” and “live in peace.”
The benediction that follows is familiar to most Christians as the benediction given at the beginning of the modern communion liturgy “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” This benediction also contains the three members of the Trinitarian godhead (Christ, God [presumably God the father], and the Holy Spirit).
There were now eleven disciples (vs 16) and when the resurrected Jesus came to them on the appointed mountain in Galilee “they worshiped him; but some doubted” (verse 17). This is not the description you want of the group about to receive the so called ‘great commission.’
The commission itself has four imperatives: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. Each imperative is fraught with difficulty. To go means to leave all they have ever known. To make disciples means to promote the servant life of Christ and to speak out against oppression with the same passion that brought about Jesus’ crucifixion. To baptize in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (note again the Trinitarian formula) means to join together communities that have segregated themselves for years in hopes that they receive newness of life. To teach means to follow through, to be in it for the long haul, to persevere in the instruction of the faith.
How can a disbelieving group of eleven disciples accomplish this commission sending them to “all nations”? They can’t. Not alone. The Immanuel (the God who is with us) will need be near by. That is the promise of Jesus, and the concluding words of Matthew to his community of believers, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Celebration of Worship
As you prepare your hearts and minds for worship consider the work humanity is given. We are to protect and promote creation’s productivity. We are to be harmonious, with each other, in our plurality, male and female, and our environs. We are to go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. To accomplish all this God made us a little lower than divine beings, and gave us the resurrected Christ who is with us to the end of the age. With God with us, I like our chances.