Today, the Sunday following Pentecost is traditionally known as Trinity Sunday. If we did not confuse you enough last week with talk of Spirits and whatnot, this Sunday, we confuse you even more with a doctrine that people have been trying to explain since the 1st century. Is there any wonder the Gospel passage contains the phrase, “but some doubted.”
Looking through the pages of Scripture, we cannot find literal examples of the Trinity, the idea that there is one God with three distinct persons, God, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, since the 1st century, this idea of how God relates to the Son and to the Holy Spirit has been used, but it was not until the First Council of Nicaea in 324 that the so-called Doctrine of the Holy Trinity was established. Do the math; it took three centuries to come up with and 18 centuries to try and explain it.
Now, I am not going to wade into the waters of trying to decipher this for you, I do not truly understand it, and we do not have that kind of time. However, I think it is essential to know that we, as a denomination, and I, as your pastor, are Trinitarian Christians. I believe, as the Creed says, there was never a time when the three did not exist. They were all present at Creation and continue to work in the world today.
But there are some, perhaps some of you, that doubt, and as we heard from the Gospel of Matthew this morning, doubt is not a bad thing. Doubt allows us to ask questions. Doubt pushes us beyond what we might have been taught in Sunday School. Doubt equals growth. But doubt only truly works if you ask those questions. So go ahead with doubt but ask your questions as well.
The first place in Scripture where Trinity is encountered is at the beginning of the Book of Genesis in the creation story. Today, I chose a different translation than the typical, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth.” These few words fit the idea that God created the universe, ex nihilo, out of nothing. That one day, God decided I needed a universe, snapped his fingers, and created it.
I chose the more nuanced “When God began to create the heavens and the earth.” As I understand it, this is closer to what the Hebrew text says.
Since I do not read Hebrew, I asked for a ruling from my friend Rabbi Erick Berk at Congregation Sha’aray Shalom in Hingham, who wrote, In the Hebrew, in my opinion, it’s more literally something like, “In the beginning, God having created the heavens and the earth — and the earth was unformed and void [confusion and chaos], with darkness over the surface of the deep….”
Let’s unpack this a bit.
Almost every civilization has a creation story, which is not unique to the Judeo/Christian context. However, in all the other creation stories, Creation happens out of violence. The other creation stories are stories of the destruction that precedes the Creation. What is presented here has to be destroyed and annihilated before the Creation of something beautiful can take place.
The Genesis story is a story of reconciliation. Opposites exist alongside one another: order and chaos, land and sea, heavens and earth, light and dark, fish and birds, male and female. Yet, the existence of one does not subjugate or eliminate the other but co-exists in a reconciled balance that God repeatedly affirms as “good” and, finally, as “very good.”
So, before the Judeo/Christian understanding of Creation, the world existed, and God brought order out of chaos. God confronts chaos, a universe that cannot find peace and rest, and brings what the universe longs for, not in some sense of existential eschatological supremacy but rather in the sense of a calming presence that has not come to condemn but to reconcile.
The importance of using “when God began to create” is to show that Creation, as we understand it in the traditional formula, has not ended but continues. Ordering of the universe did not take place in six days, either literal or otherwise; the ordering is continuous, ongoing not only in the world around us but also in us.
As I have said before, Scripture is neither history nor science but a record of a people’s faith journey; as such, the stories contained are there to help them, and by extension us, make sense out of that journey. Many forms of literature are included in the pages of this book, and Genesis is poetry rather than history.
Each stanza has a matched pair except for the 7th, which is humanity’s response to Creation. 1st and 4th = God creates Day/Night and celestial bodies to rule them. 2nd and 5th = God creates sky and waters, and then the inhabitants of each. 3rd and 6th = God creates sea and dry land, and the vegetation, animals, and humanity, who “have dominion.” Neither dominates the other. Instead, they exist in a sort of symbiotic relationship where one needs the other and vice versa.
In the 31st verse, we read, “God saw everything God had made: it was supremely good.”
This good is not a moralistic good but rather an intrinsic good. All of Creation is good. God has blessed all of Creation, and not part of Creation exists separate from God; Creation and the Creator are connected. Light is connected to the tides, which are connected to the plant, which are connected to the animals, which are connected to humans, which are connected to God. There is no isolation in Creation.
So, what does all this mean for us?
God is not some distant ogre sitting on a cloud smiting things. Regardless of what you hear from the evangelicals and the TV preachers, God truly loves us just as we are. Of course, God desires that we change and live to our fullest potential, but God does not judge when we fail; we do that.
From the very beginning, God came in peace, not in violence. God came in love to order all things and to reconcile all things. God came to teach us how to live with one another, not in the sense of hierarchy or one is better than the other or more superior to the other, but rather how we can live together in a relationship and need each other to flourish.
God loves all of Creation and makes room for those who doubt. Notice from Matthews’s Gospel that the believers and the doubters worshipped together; there was room for everyone. Seekers, doubters, and believers are all welcome at God’s table, where we work together rather than against each other.
I mentioned that God did not finish Creation on that six-day; instead, Creation is an ongoing action, which is essential. The idea behind this story of Creation is not to prove or disprove anything. The idea is that God came and brought chaos into order, and God continues to do that on a personal level.
God can bring order to whatever chaos rages inside of each of us. All we need to do is ask. But, unfortunately, many of us grew up with an image of God that was, what can I say, less than helpful to our long-term mental health and spiritual growth. We grew up with this idea that we had to be afraid of God, and if we did not fit into a particular mold, we would be sent damnation in the fires of hell. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could be further from the truth.
In a few moments, we will gather around this table, this table that was and is the greatest expression of love. We share the common elements, invite the Holy Spirit to come and bless them, and share them equally, and there is enough for all.
Jesus came not to condemn this world we live in nor to condemn us but rather to show us a better way, the way of Creation, the way of reconciliation with all, and how to live with and love each other. The story of Creation and the story of Jesus are connected by love. For God so loved the world that God did not leave us alone but is right here with us to bring us peace and comfort.