A Move, DNA, and Moral Heroes: Toward an understanding of Trinity

A Sermon for Trinity Sunday; Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 29, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17

You may know that Angie and I have sold our house on W Pecan and are moving to Westminster Village. The grand adventure started Monday a week ago with a project to reconfigure and expanded the fenced in area of our new backyard. Even with a late start, Monday was a good day. Marcel, our nephew who is helping us, and I

  • took down two sections of existing fence,
  • dug 5 new post holes, and
  • planted 5 new posts.

Tuesday was another late start, with a supply problem, it is hard to install what isn’t there. Still, we relocated the existing sections of the fence we took down Monday. The supplies arrived, ~ and it rained. Wednesday, we continued, only my inability to measure 8 feet caused a problem; it is hard to install an 8-foot fence section in a 9-foot span between posts. Again, with some ingenuity from Angie, we were successful; however, it rained again. Thursday, Marcel, and I were back at it, and it rained again. We finished up Friday, except for the gate. Saturday was gate day, I never thought the easy part would be figuring out how big the gate should be in an angled fence line. No rain and perseverance paid off. The fence is installed, the gate is installed, it even opens and closes.

Sunday, with help from a friend with a trailer, we moved our bedroom and stayed the night. Monday, with the help from the Mississippi County Union Mission, we moved all the furniture. Tuesday, with continuing help from the Mississippi County Union Mission we moved some items to controlled climate storage near our daughter. We also moved all the boxes. Wednesday, we moved all the little stuff, flowers, backyard furniture, stuff in the garage, and backyard shed; would you believe it took all day. Thursday, after Rotary, I

  • picked up the last of the little stuff, and the trash can,
  • swept the garage, and
  • said goodbye to the lady who spent most of two days cleaning the empty house.

When I got home, I joined the earnest and continuing effort to unbox everything we had spent weeks packing.

You may wonder what our moving adventure has to do with celebrating the Trinity. Well, what they have in common is that the more I think about both the more I realize what I still don’t know about either.

You may recall the church spent nearly a thousand years, and at least four major councils producing 3 creeds, all trying to explain our understanding of one God, as Father, Jesus, and Spirit. You know one of these creeds, we say the Nicene Creed every time we celebrate communion. You are at least familiar with a second creed, the Apostles’ Creed, we say in Morning Prayer, and with Baptisms. You are probably not familiar with the Athanasian Creed, which is not used, primarily because of its length. It is in the historical documents included in the prayer book. All of them try to explain how three equals one; or one equals three, which any elementary student will tell you isn’t true. So, where can we turn for inspiration?

You know I believe cosmology gives us the language of science to talk about the how of the world as we can see and measure it. The language of science informs the language of philosophy, we use to talk about the why of the world, especially relationships between individuals and groups of people. The language of philosophy informs the language of theology we use to talk about the meaning of the world, and of course God. Last Monday the New York Times published an article titled Every Cell in Your Body Has the Same DNA. Except It Doesn’t (Zimmer). We all know our DNA, is the stuff the defines what we look like, and all sorts of our physical being. The DNA in every cell has all the information necessary to recreate us. This is why cloning works. Only now medical scientists, seeking explanation for unusual illnesses, are learning this is not true. Sometimes genes vary from cell to cell, not unlike the way they vary from person to person. It is not an entirely new thing, medieval Europeans knew about terrifying trees, that were one kind, but were also all scrambled up. Darwin was intrigued by similar observations. If you eat pink grapefruit, you know about this.

 A Florida farmer noticed an odd branch on a Walters grapefruit tree. These normally bear white fruit, but this branch was weighed down with grapefruits that had pink flesh. Those seeds have produced pink grapefruit trees ever since.

What we now have is a scientific observation of how one thing, us, is made up of millions of identical cells, and that sometimes can be us, made up of mostly identical cells, but some that are different. This is not an explanation for our belief in our understanding of God as Trinity, but it at least introduces the idea of a complexity of being we have not previously known.

That same day David Brooks, one of the columnists I read closely, wrote What Moral Heroes Are Made Of (Brooks). Brooks writes about

  • their unhesitating will to act,
  • a simplicity of moral response – “This is just what I do.”

Moral heroes’ identities are tightly woven into their moral ideals. Typically, they are a part of a group sharing similar values, and aspirations, who share the core tasks, and support each other when an individual cannot carry the load by themselves. They have a profound belief they can make a difference when others say it cannot be done. Moral heroes understand that no matter the diversity of their individual passions they are all part of one big struggle to make a difference in the world. Brooks understands that a core attribute of moral heroes is community; the community they are in, the community that needs change, and the Omni-community that is all communities woven together. Brooks’ moral heroes know none of us are complete without our community, and our community is not complete without all its individual members. Blend this with the understanding, of identical DNA that is different, a same but different understanding of Trinity begins to emerge.

Our understanding is no longer one an understanding, it is becoming one of relationship. Neither God, nor Jesus, nor the Spirit can be without the other two, and the whole cannot be without all three. You know from Genesis that we are made in the image of God. A biblical idea that supports Brooks’ understanding of moral heroes. It also connects us to Trinity. As Trinity is important to us, so are we important to Trinity. We cannot be without each other, including Trinity, and Trinity is not the same without us. This is not an argument that we are like God. It is a proclamation that for us to be whole, to know shalom, our relationship with each other, in all those complex possibilities, we will mirror the perfect relationship of God, Jesus, and the Spirit, that is at times, spoken of, as love.

So now I see the circle. Understanding moving is not about understanding all the details of

  • what happens when and
  • how long, and
  • the required materials.

No, understanding moving is being aware of all the relationships between all the people involved. And all those relationships are grounded in our relationship with Trinity, which is perfect love revealed and shared with us, and thus blesses us, every one of us.

Glory to our Trinity – God/Jesus/ Spirit, that brings blessings to you;
and blessing to you, that gives glory to our Trinity – God/Jesus/Spirit.


References

Brooks, David. What Moral Heroes Are Made Of. 21 5 2018. <nytimes.com/2018/05/21/opinion/moral-heroes-improve-society.html>.

Zimmer, Carl. “Every Cell in Your Body Has the Same DNA. Except It.” New York Times (2018). <nytimes.com/2018/05/21/science/mosaicism-dna-genome-cancer.html>.

 

Temptation, knowledge, wisdom and trust

A sermon for the 1st Sunday in Lent

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Romans 5:12-19, Matthew 4:1-11, Psalm 32

A workman is killed in an industrial accident; it’s all the more unusual, because the industry breeds dinosaurs. Investors get nervous and demand an independent evaluation. Dr. Ian Malcom, a mathematician who specializes in applying chaos theory to complex issues, is a part of the evaluation team. As he is introduced into the laboratory, he fascinated by the work, impressed by the science, unimpressed by the theories of control, [i] and somewhere along the line he mutters to himself: … just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Jurassic Park, dare devils, breast cancer, fertility, DNA splicing, Genesis and Matthew, are all interrelated.

We know the story in the garden, with Eve, the serpent and an apple. At least we think we do.

Eve gets involved in a conversation with a snake, Adam is in the background. The snake entices Eve into a conversation, the subtle focus is death. The outcome is her and Adam’s relationship with God changes from intimacy to shame. Their shame does not come from their disobedience but from the knowledge they gained in eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Now they know they are naked, they know that they are not God, how much more naked can you be. In making loin-cloths they are hiding from themselves, just as they later hide from God.

The snake enticed them by saying they will be like God. That temptation reframes their relationship with God. Until this moment, Adam’s and Eve relationship with God was trust; from this moment on its generic, its about, its theoretical, and boundary laden. Before all this, knowledge arose from their trust in God. Knowledge is no longer automatically rooted in wisdom, the stuff of the tree of life.

There’s a version of the Cyclopes’ story, where they are offered the ability to see the future for the modest cost of one eye. They strike a bargain, and give up an eye. In return they can see the future. However, the only future they can see is their own death. [ii]

The Cyclopes tried to be more than they were, and in the end they were less than they were before. It’s a similar fate that befell Adam and Eve, who tried to be like God. It’s a fate that still befalls humanity, as we make our own attempts to be like God. It is the boundary between divinity and humanity that Dr. Malcom is pointing to: just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

This week four articles from the New York Times caught my attention, with respect to the story of Genesis 3:
            The Genetics of Being a Daredevil,
            The Breast Cancer Racial Gap,
            F.D.A. Weighs Fertility Method That
                        Raises Ethical Questions,
and
            A Powerful New Way to Edit DNA.
All the stories are about some aspect of our understanding of DNA and humanities developing ability to manipulate it.

It turns out high risk athletics may not just be a learned skill. The willingness to engage in very risky behavior, as many Winter Olympic sports are, has an identified genetic component. [iii]  An interesting bit knowledge, perhaps with applications for recruiting, but otherwise innocuous. Right?

The story on breast cancer reports on multiple studies on the difference in mortality rates of black and white women with breast cancer. For some time it was believed there was a genetic factor that explained the difference. Tara Parker-Pope reports:

The research also dispels the notion that black women face a higher risk of breast cancer because of genetic differences. While they are at greater risk for some types of breast cancers, that doesn’t explain the widening mortality gap developing in a relatively short period of just two decades. [iv]

In the article on fertility Sabrina Tavernise reports on a technique that uses parts of three people to create an embryo. It is a treatment to correct a mitochondria defect, by replacing defective mitochondria with mitochondria from a healthy egg, either prior to, or after fertilization. Tavernise reports excitement about the science, and great concern about the implications and ethics. It’s an open question if this is a cure for disease or the beginning of designer babies. [v]

The final article is about a new way to edit DNA using bacteria. The process adapts parts of the immune system that makes vaccines work. Andrew Pollack quotes Emory University’s David Weiss:

The pace of new discoveries and applications is dizzying.  All of this has basically happened in a year … It’s incredible[vi]

And it is incredible, or is it the latest temptation to be like God?

Do not get me wrong, I am not against science, technology or modern medicine. If you’ve heard me talk, you know how excited I can get about science, and technology. And you see every week how much technology I use. However, as the article about breast cancer reveals such knowledge, for varied and vastly complex reasons, is not universally available. In itself that should give us cause to stop and ponder how such knowledge changes our relationships with each other, our relationship with creation, and our relationship with God. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness reveals at least a place to begin pondering.

Immediately after his baptism, Jesus is driven in to the wilderness, where he fasts for 40 days. Every temptation Jesus faces, the Hebrews faced in the wilderness, and early days across the Jordan. They fail every time. Jesus, succeeds where Israel failed. Underneath the temptations, to turn rocks into bread, to test the angelic command to keep him safe, and the lure of worldly power and wealth is the temptation to be like God, but more seditiously to not be who Jesus is ~ the Son of God. Judith Jones writes: Jesus defines “Son of God” not by privilege or power but by obedience to God. [vii] Jones also notes the temptations are not over:

            After Peter acknowledges Jesus to be the Son of the living God, he rejects the possibility of Jesus’ death.

            On his way to crucifixion religious leaders taunt him, Son of God?  ~ Prove it!

            On the cross: Doesn’t God love you enough to rescue you?

All the temptations go right back to the snake’s twisting of Adam’s and Eve’s relationship with God. They could not obey, could not trust God. Jesus does. Can we?

Lent is a season of penitence, when we are to make concerted efforts to reorient our lives to God. From Genesis and Matthew, we learn that that basically means to trust God. It’s more complex, because ‘we’ is not the numerous ‘I’s in the room, we is the people of God, which is every human-being. So yes, we have our individual work to do, we also have our communal work, as a church, a city, a county, a state, a nation, and a world, in a vast cosmos to do.

Everything begins with: Is this who I am?  who we are? Does this improve relationships between ourselves? Does this improve our stewardship of the earth? Does this reflect the relationship God seeks to have with us? If there is any doubt that one answer is not a resounding YES we should pause, until we receive the wisdom for said knowledge to contribute to everyone living life on earth as it is in heaven.

 


[i] imdb.com, http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0002031/bio, Ian Malcom, Jurassic Park, 1993
[ii] Krull, 1983, imdb, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085811/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Genesis:
New Interpreter’s Bible, TERENCE E. FRETHEIM, THE BOOK OF GENESIS, INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS,
Interpretation, Genesis, Walter Bruggemann
Scott Hoezee , cep.calvinseminary.edu, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php, This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is March 09, 2014 (Ordinary Time), This Week‘s Article: Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Working Preacher, workingpreacher.org, Commentary on Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Juliana Claassens

 [iii]  The New York Times, GRETCHEN REYNOLDS, PHYS ED FEBRUARY 19, 2014, 12:01 AM 37 Comments, The Genetics of Being a Daredevil
[iv] The New York Times, TARA PARKER-POPE, THE WELL COLUMN MARCH 3, 2014, 5:23 PM 68 Comments, The Breast Cancer Racial Gap
[v] New York Times, Sabrina Taverinse,  F.D.A. Weighs Fertility Method That Raises Ethical Questions, 2/25/2014
[vi] Andrew Pollack, New York Times, A Powerful New Way to Edit DNA, March 3, 2013
[vii] Working Preacher, workingpreacher.org, Commentary on Matthew 4:1-11 Judith Jones

Matthew
Hozee, ibid, The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Matthew 4:1-11
New Interpreter’s Bible, M. EUGENE BORING, THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS
Interpretation, Matthew, Douglas R.A. Hare