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>.

 

A Jawbone, a Grave, and a Different Way

A Sermon for Trinity Sunday: Genesis 1:1-2:4a, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20, Psalm 8

You know me well enough to know I am not one to think that God micromanages anything. That is not to say God is not active, they God/Jesus/Spirit are active. It is a mystery I cannot explain, and do not feel the need to; I’m just delighted when I receive it and accept it. I was the recipient of such a mystery this past Friday, or perhaps all week. I read three articles from three different sources, one I accidentally saw on Facebook that answered the burning question for all preachers on Trinity Sunday

How do I preach on a topic that took the church 325 years to agree on and fought about for another 1000 or more; that we may not yet truly agree on?

 The answer is, don’t –[pause] well at least not directly. So, follows are three summaries from the three previously mentioned articles and then some thoughts about how they reveal the significance of our belief in God/Jesus/Spirit.

Paleoanthropologists have discovered the oldest fossils of homo-sapiens in Morocco, and those fossils have changed the thinking about our evolution. The evidence from these bones and flint, fond at the same site, have lead scholars to believe humans did not evolve from a single cradle in East Africa. They now believe we developed on the African continent. More importantly, the evidence indicates we evolved as a network of groups spread across that vast continent (Zimmer).

In January, the Smithsonian Magazine published an article about an ancient warrior’s grave in Greece. To refresh our history, the first organized Greek society Mycenaeans (My·ce·nae·an) appeared about 1600 BC and disappeared almost as fast. Then came several centuries of Greek Dark Ages. After that the classical Greek civilization, we are familiar with, emerges. The Mycenaeans sowed the seeds of our art, architecture, language, philosophy, literature, democracy, and religion traditions. If you have not read The Iliad and the Odyssey, you may want to, because Homer’s epic poem turns out to be more fact than fantasy. The recent discovery of a warrior’s grave has changed how archeologist think our civilization came about. Typically, we think in terms of the best warrior/king wins type of model. The evidence of this grave indicates cultures of the Mycenaeans and the Minoans, who preceded them, became intertwined. Jo Marchant writes:

Minoan and Mycenaean Greeks would surely have spoken each other’s languages, may have intermarried and likely adopted and refashioned one another’s customs. And they may not have seen themselves with the rigid identities we moderns have tended to impose on them.

The Minoan and Mycenaean Greek cultures blended, and it is this blended culture that we can trace our cultural heritage to. This blended culture is the foundation of Greek egalitarian authority and representative governance on which our way of government is based (Marchant)

WEB Du Bois, an African-American activist, historian, and sociologist, born in 1868, (NAACP). and James McCune Smith, the first African-American to be awarded a degree in medicine, born in 1813, (Black Past) were the first to document the health consequences of discrimination which is toxic to our cells, our organs, and our minds. Their work has been supported ever since. For example:

before the abolition of Jim Crow laws, the black infant death rate was nearly 20 percent higher in Jim Crow states versus non-Jim Crow states. This disparity declined sharply after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, such that the gap had essentially closed a decade later.

It does not matter what characteristic the discrimination is directed against, or if it is directed at an individual, or is the consequences of intended or unintended social or government actions. In the last several years research has revealed harmful inequities along geographic and socioeconomic lines that affect white Americans. Whites living in rural areas, compared with those in metropolitan centers, now contend with many of the same structural challenges that black citizens have faced for centuries (Khullar).

All three stories are about human relationships. Without being overly simplistic, in the two stories where the relationships are collaborative culture and civilization thrive; people thrive. In the last story where the relationships are oppressive culture, and civilization suffer; people suffer. God does not want people or anything in creation to suffer.

In the creation story of Genesis 1 you will notice that everything is created in harmony, in pairs or triads:

  • the heavens and the earth waters that were under the dome and the waters that were above the dome
  • the waters in one place and the dry land in another
  • two great lights—one to rule the day and one to rule the night
  • every living creature … in the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind.
  • cattle and creeping things and wild animals
  • humankind in our image … male and female he created them.

We are made to be in relationship.

Psalm 8 is in awe at the majesty of the night sky, we are fortunate enough to be close enough to really dark to be able to see the true majesty of the night sky, and the psalmist wonders why God would pay attention to him, or to us? It is because that he, that I, that we have work to do; to cultivate the earth, the fish, the birds, and every living thing. (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner). From the very beginning, God/Jesus/Spirit invites us to be in nurturing relationship with creation (Vryhof).

A colleague of mine blogging on Matthew 28:20 shares a definition of authority as followability (Pankey). Followability is a characteristic of relationship. And if nothing else is definitive, the Trinity – God/Jesus/Spirit is divine relationship.

We are created to be the image of the divine relationship. The quality of the divine relationship is the model quality of all our relationships, our relationships with each other as individuals; our relationships with each other as villages, towns, cities, counties, states and nations, and our relationship, individually and collectively, as villages, towns, cities, counties, states and nations, with creation. Pondering the nature of the God/Jesus/Spirit divine relationship is important because it is the model for all our relationships, and as I shared earlier, we know relationships matter. The quality of our relationships affects the evolution of our being. The quality of our relationships affects the manner of our civilizations. The quality of our relationship affects the health of our bodies, our emotions, our friendships, and our souls.

To celebrate this Trinity, I invite you to reflect on how you live in the mystery of God/Jesus/Spirit and reflect it in all your relationships. And then go share, not by telling, but by being the reflection of the love God/Jesus/Spirit share among themselves and with you.

References

Black Past. “smith-james-mccune.” n.d. http://www.blackpast.org. 9 6 2017. <http://www.blackpast.org/aah/smith-james-mccune-1813-1865 >.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 11 6 2017.

Khullar, Dhruv. “How Prejudice Can Harm Your Health.” 8 6 2017. NYTimes.com. <nytimes.com/2017/06/08/upshot/howprejudicecanharmyourhealth.>.

Lewis, Karoline. God Said Yes to Me. 6 9 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Marchant, Jo. “golden-warrior-greek-tomb-exposes-roots-western-civilization.” 1 2017. smithsonianmag.com. <smithsonianmag.com /history/golden-warrior-greek-tomb-exposes-roots-western-civilization-180961441/>.

NAACP. “w-e-b-dubois.” n.d. http://www.naacp.org. 9 6 2017. <http://www.naacp.org/oldest-and-boldest/naacp-history-w-e-b-dubois&gt;.

Pankey, Steve. All Authority. 6 6 2017. <https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/333491/posts/1485395986&gt;.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Vryhof, Br. David. Participate. 6 6 2017. Society of St. John the Evangelist. <http://ssje.org/word/&gt;.

Whitley, Katerina K. “The Mystery of the Trinity, Trinity Sunday (A).” 18 8 2017. Sermons that Work.

Zimmer, Carl. “Oldest Fossils of Homo Sapiens Found in Morocco, Altering.” 7 6 2017. NYTimes.com. <nytimes.com/2017/06/07/science/humanfossilsmorocco.>.

 

 

1+1+1=1

 

A sermon for Trinity Sunday; Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31; Canticle 13, Song of the Three Young Men; Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15

Lately, I have seen a number of Facebook postings that invite you to share if you know the answer. There is a series of curious math problems, and you are to figure out the last one. The challenge is that the operators, like a “+” sign, are either not there, or they don’t apply; but there is some pattern to discern. The other problem is I went to find an example and could not find one, not a single one. Nonetheless, I have one for us this morning. 1+1+1 = what? 3? Well, our ancient Church Fathers came to the conclusion that 1+1+1 = 1; and ever since we have been trying to figure out just exactly what they meant. Here’s the short form of the story.

Jews believed in one God. They are the only religion to do so. 33 AD Jesus, an itinerate rabbi, gets himself execute by Rome, at the behest of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. They and his followers are astounded when he rose from the dead three days later. For some, it brought them to considering that there must be something to this Son of God stuff that surrounded Jesus. Forty days later he ascends into the heavens, promising his followers he would send another advocate and tells them to Go to Jerusalem and wait. They do, and ten days later the Holy Spirit descends on them, and they begin speaking in languages, there is no way they could know, telling folks from all over the world about Jesus and God. Even more, people begin the believe that there is something to this Son of God stuff.

So what you now have is a sect of Jews running around talking about God, Jesus, the Son of God, and The Spirit. They are attracting a lot of attention. The Jewish authorities, who see their power and influence slipping away, challenge these followers of the Way charging them with believing not in one God, but in three gods and therefore are not true believers. The followers begin to develop an answer to that charge. Of course multiple answers develop over time and the early Christian begin squabbling amongst ourselves about how God, Jesus, and the Spirit are really one God. The earliest answer has come be known as the Apostles’ Creed. However, the squabbling went on for more than 300 years until a Council at Nicaea crafted an answer we know as the Nicaean Creed. The squabbling continued and later the Chalcedonian and Athanasian Creeds were developed. All of the creeds are trying to explain our three in one and one in three God we celebrate on this Trinity Sunday.

Truth be known all of them are right, and none of them captures the complete mystery of God’s presence amongst us. Some two millennia later the Creed wars have generally subsided, except within esoteric theological circles. Actually, my fear is that they have not so much subsided as faded into irrelevance. We say either the Nicaean Creed or the Apostles Creed every time we worship together. Think of the last time what you proclaim to believe to be foundation value of your life was any consideration in what you said, what you decided, or what you did?

In the commentaries, I read this week one asks

What does Trinity have to do with us today? How does the Holy Trinity connect to our day-to-day lives (Gunn)?

 Another notes

 that somewhere along the way the Trinity became less about describing an experience of the living God and more about accepting metaphysical doctrines and definitions of God (Lose).

Both of which point to the dangers of doctrines taking over imagination in understanding our relationship with God (Lewis).

And now we are back to the opening problem of 1+1+1 =1. Today ~ is not about getting the math right. Today ~ is not about getting some ancient, or modern, philosophical construct right. Today ~is about living in the mystery of God’s manifold presence so that it defines our relationships with each other and everyone else in all God’s creation. For the Trinity to matter, it must guide our lives; it must determine how we live, act, and speak from our faith (Lewis). For the Trinity to matter, we must imitate Jesus, and to do that we must listen to the Spirit, who, among other things, will help us see the other as the image God (Epperly). Which challenges us to balance individual necessities with social essentials unity with diversity, and sovereignty with welcoming the stranger (Epperly). For the Trinity to matter it must turn our attention outward so we may be Divine witnesses to the mystery who is right here right now.

 


 

References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 22 5 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gunn, Scott. “A Good Mystery, Trinity Sunday (C) – 2016.” 22 5 2016. Sermons that Work.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Lewis, Karoline. Trinity Talk. 22 5 2016. <workingpreacher.org>.

Lose, David. Trinity C: Don’t Mention the Trinity! 22 5 2016.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

 

 

 

 

Trinity Triangles

A sermon for Trinity Sunday

Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Psalm 8, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20

In the beginning there was chaos and darkness; Israel has been carried off into captivity, her people are surrounded by all sorts of stories from foreign countries, all sorts of other gods. There were creation stories:

from Babylon of Enumia Elish and Tamiet,’ [i] ;
from Egypt of Re, [ii] Osiris, Seth and Horus; and
from Mesopotamia of Marduk and Assur. [iii]

The results being that Jews were being drawn away from God. So by divine inspiration, some of the priest in captivity wrote Israel’s story of creation by the One Living God. It was very different, one God as creator of all things, heavens, earth, water, land, light, sun and moon, and all life, and of course it was fiercely monotheistic [iv] And while it expresses the science of the day, it is primarily a theological statement focusing on God’s intent not God’s methodology. [v]

Terence Fretheim writes: 

Israel takes the available knowledge of that world and integrates it with theological perspectives, recognizing thereby that both spheres of knowledge must be used to speak the truth about the world. [vi]

In many respects it’s a story about relationships.

 

Perhaps because it’s Trinity Sunday, but more likely because I’ve just finished this year’s workshop on Family Systems and its emphasis on relationship triangles, that I’m seeing all sorts of relationship triangles today. The first is the triangle between Israel other gods, and God. The foreign stories are drawing Israel away from God, the introduction of a Hebrew creation story draws Israel back into relationship with God. It should be God and God alone, but because we’ve read ahead we know that doesn’t happen.

The second relationship triangle is revealed in the story we read this morning. (By the way, a second follows written by a second set of authors.) This second triangle is between God, creation and Israel; or today, between God, creation and us. There are two key concepts I want to explore. The first is the image of God.

In the last half of the sixth day 

 … God [says], “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; … So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.

Notice all humanity, male and female are created equally, in time and equally in the image of God. Other than radical equality of all people, what else does it mean to be the image of God? Roger Nam writes it’s elusive. [vii]  Over time our understanding has moved from an assigned role, to a source of sanctity and innate worth, to a 20th century vision of divine partnership. [viii] Walter Brueggemann notes a closeness that reveals God’s attentiveness, and a distance that allows freedom of action. [ix] But it is Fretheim who writes of being created in the image of God to mirror God to the world [as] … an extension of God’s own dominion. He notes God’s first words to humanity are about their, about our, relationship to the earth. [x] Being made in the image of God speaks to who we are, our relationships with each other, our relationship with all creation, and our relationship with God and the free will we have in all this. And thus we move to the gift of dominion.

Rādâ means to rule, to have dominion. [xi]  It is authority of

… masters over servants (Lev 25:43) king over subjects  … [but it] can be used for either benevolent or harsh rule. However, it must be understood as the same kind of rule God would exercise in the natural world, a world God created good in all of its parts. [xii]

The second creation story reveals God giving the command to cultivate, literally to serve creation. [xiii]  Fretheim writes that it must be understood in terms of care-giving, even nurturing, not exploitation. [xiv] Being created in the image of God and commanded to take care of all creation as God’s self would is an awesome responsibility, an awesome expression of divine love.

Genesis reveals a triangle of relationships between and God and all creation brought into being with strength and desire no other creation story reveals; between God and humanity who, with extraordinary love, is endowed with God’s image, and between humanity and all creation with freedom to be and act that mirrors the divine whose image we reflect. When this relationship triangle is in the balance intended created life is the resonance of the creator; it mirrors the internal relationship between God, Jesus and the Spirit.

Our concept of Trinity does give us a way to imagine the unimaginable life of God.  More importantly it gives us the imagination to live the life we are created to live.

 


 

[i] David Petersen L Petersen, Beverly R Gaventa, New Interpreter’s One volume Commentary

[ii] Scott Hoezee , This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching

This Week‘s Article: Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Genesis 1:1-2:4a, http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php

[iii] Roger Nam, Commentary on Genesis 1:1-2:4a, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2096

[iv] Nam, ibid

[v] Walter Brueggemann, GENESIS, A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, Interpretation, James Luther Mays, Editor, Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor, Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor, 

[vi] TERENCE E. FRETHEIM, THE BOOK OF GENESIS, INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS, New Interpreter’s Bible 

[vii] Nam, ibid

[viii] Walter J Harrelson, New Interpreters’ Study Bible

[ix] Brueggemann

[x] Fretheim, ibid

[xi] Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary.

[xii] Harrelson, ibid

[xiii] ibid.

[xiv] Fretheim, ibid