Category: Trinity Sunday

I Am With You Always

Genesis 1:1-2:4a3043479-poster-p-1-this-spiral-tree-of-life-fits-50000-species-in-one-infographic
Matthew 28:16-20

In the beginning — there was God.
Silent and deep. Empty and a void. A cosmos of nothing. No time, no space, no dimensions but God.
And God made wind. Motion. Energy.
And God spoke. Noise. Vibrations.
And then there was LIGHT.
Particles moving, vibrating, so much that they put off energy into new forms – combine into new forms – produce light.

And then God got real fancy – water and land, plants and fish, birds and animals. And finally – God’s own image: humankind.

At one time, I saw the evolution of life on earth drawn as a spiral. For a long time, the spiral has only one or two lines. Just bacteria in water. Just microorganisms in water. But then those lines begin to branch off. God gets fancy. Plants and fish, dinosaurs and animals, birds and mammals, and the spiral’s thickness went from just a hair to as much room as the page would allow. It went from a single kind of life, to more life than we can ever count. It went from God’s first creation on Earth to this very moment, where God is now recreating alongside God’s own image: us.

And, although so much time has passed, our charge has not changed. We were placed in dominion over the earth, and to subdue.

It’s a terrible way these words have been used in English. Misused. Abused. In our recent human history, dominion over the earth, and subduing it, has been permission to mold the earth however we want, use animals however we want, and use whatever resources in whatever way we want. This has even extended to other cultures and peoples.

God never meant us to take these holy words and use them as a weapon against God’s beautiful creation.

In ancient Hebrew, the original language used here, subdue is kabash. It does mean subdue, enslave, even molest or rape. However – you can only use it when the other party is already hostile. So it is a victory term, a way of overcoming something that is already set against you. Micah uses the same word to describe what God does to our sins. Our hostile sins confront God, but God subdues them and brings us to life. Our hostile world confronts us, but we’re called to subdue it and bring it to produce good fruit. It’s like… a blight on your crops. It’s hostile. It’s causing death. When you subdue it, you bring about life.

Subduing is not supposed to be about enslaving other people, animals, or any part of the earth. Nor molesting, ruining. It is about taking what is harmful and actively set against God, and God’s creation, and having victory over that.

… I think, often, it is we, ourselves, in need of being subdued. Often, we ourselves, are what are destroying God’s creation, each other, and bringing about death rather than life.

It’s kinda like Jesus said… we need to get the plank out of our own eye before we can get the dust mote out of someone else’s.

… The next word we have abused is dominion, the ancient Hebrew word radah. So often we hear this in English as dominate! As to rule and rule with an iron fist and iron will and at the edge of sharp iron!

That’s not the kind of kingship, rulership, queenship, God likes.

God tells us that the good rulers deliver the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. They have pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence they redeems the needy’s lives; and precious is their blood in His sight.

God is a ruler like this. We are precious to God. God wants us to rule like this, and in the Bible chastises those who do not heal the sick, seek the lost, brought back the exiled, bound up the injured, and strengthened the weak. God chastises those who do not help the least! Power, says God, is to be used to empower others.

So the Genesis passage shows us God subduing chaos, and having dominion over the world. God defeats death and brings forth life. Then God helps the life flourish.

And we are charged to do the same.

I think Rev. Christopher Brown of the First Presbyterian Church of Berthoud, Colorado reinterprets these verses clearly in their original meaning. He writes them as: “Be fruitful and have children, filling the earth with your life so that you can have power to fight against everything in it that leads to death. Rule with care and fairness over the natural world, over the myriads of My beautiful creatures – from tropical fish to soaring eagles to dogs and cats – every creature that is a part of this living world.” ((https://christopherbrown.wordpress.com/2009/01/03/genesis-128-to-subdue-and-have-dominion-over-creation/))

Rule with care. Fight against the powers of death.

Did not Christ give us the same example of ruling with care and fighting against the powers of death?

In out Mathew reading, the risen Christ, who has subdued death, gives last directions to his disciples. He says: “All authority in heaven on earth has been given to me.” Christ is the one with dominion. And he chooses to rule as God wishes us to: by using that power to empower others. Jesus then empowers his disciples telling them to go all over the world sharing the Good News of reconciliation with God, forgiveness of sins, a new life with God, and the greatest commandment: to love God, and to love one another.

And then, Jesus tells us, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

From the beginning, God is with us subduing evil and using God’s dominion to empower us. To the end of the age, says Christ, our God: known to us as the creator, the Son, and the Spirit — is with us, subduing evil, and using God’s power to empower us.

So that from the beginning of our lives until at last we rest with Christ, we subdue and have dominion over the earth. We fight evil and use our power to give power to others.

We take the void, the nothingness, the chaos – and speak, work, create and bring forth life.

We take our place alongside our ruling God and co-create with God.

We take each other, tenderly, in hand and help each other subdue our own evils, and have dominion – have power – over our lives.

Remember the meaning of subdue – to defeat that which destroys life. And dominion – to use power to empower others.

Amen.

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Praise the Source of Faith and Learning

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
John 16:12-15trinity

The Emperor is in a bind. The Christians are fighting each other tooth and nail. Some love the Ecumenical Council that was held a few years ago, and some hate it. Christianity is becoming so diverse its not even one religion any more. If the Emperor can’t unite his people, how is he ever going to stand up against the outside invaders and other religions? How is he ever going to deal with Christians when they can’t agree who represents them? So the Emperor calls for another council – and says Christians — you need to come together.

So they come to chat — all the different bishops and priests and representatives of the different churches. And they ARE super diverse. They speak different languages, they follow different religious leaders, and they come from different cultures.

But they come, and they come with their big questions:

Was Jesus divine?
Was Jesus human?
Was Joseph Jesus’ biological father?
Was Mary a young maid or a virgin?
Was Jesus God?

Picture the room of five hundred plus people!

So over here, there are followers of Arius or Ebious, and they argue Jesus was all human, and not divine. He was either adopted by God at his baptism, or at his incarnation, or after his death, and given the powers of God through the Spirit. They state Jesus was definitely NOT God. I mean, if Jesus was God – why then did it seem Jesus didn’t always know everything? And who was controlling the world while Jesus was on Earth?

Some in this group concede Jesus became divine from the Spirit — and others say he did not. He was always mortal, like us, but so pure God favored him.

Now a days, some of this thinking is still found in some Asian churches and in Islam.

Across from those who said Jesus was all human, there sat the Docetists, and Marcions. They believe the complete opposite and say Jesus was all divine, not human. They argue God cannot suffer, cannot change, and cannot be corrupted. Therefore, Jesus – as God – could not suffer, change, be tempted by sin, be corrupted with human flesh, or even die. What we witnessed was just an illusion meant to teach us.

Similar to them are the Monophysites who argue what was human in Jesus was absorbed by divinity, leaving just a shell of humanity on the outside but all divinity on the inside.

Marcion went so far as to say the greatest God didn’t make this world, because this world is fallen and flesh is so bad. There were intermediaries… such as the Word… lesser gods who did the work.

The Gnostics nodded, and agreed with Marcion. This world is fallen and needs to be escaped. We need to become purer and escape to the heavenly world. Jesus, who only appeared to be human, was from this heavenly world to teach us the secret knowledge of how to ascend.

Sitting near the Docetists was the Apollianarist. They agree Jesus was divine. Yet they said for Jesus to be divine, he couldn’t be corrupted with sin. Sin is the opposite of God. What is sinful? For the Apollinarist it wasn’t human flesh that makes a person sinful, but a human soul. All souls are born with Sin. Therefore, they think that although Jesus was a mortal with a human body, his soul was the Word. His soul was divine and not a human soul.

Nestor wasn’t happy with this all divine or all human arguments. He said Jesus was BOTH human AND divine. He said Jesus was clearly the Word made flesh, but also a human. These two natures — divine Word and common human — were together in Jesus but not mingled. You see, it takes the power of God to forgive Sin, and Jesus forgave Sin. But also it takes God meeting humanity on our terms – as human – because we can’t meet God as gods. So Jesus had to be both all human and all divine.

Of course, then others began to say ‘Nestor! You’re arguing Jesus was divided within himself!’

So along came some who argued these natures comingled into something new: like how red and blue make purple. Divine and human comingled into a new being called Christ.

And along came Modalist. Why do we have to define what part of Jesus was God and what part wasn’t? There is only one God, but we experience this one God in different aspects or modes. It appears God is made of three people: Father, Son and Spirit, but in actuality, this is just an appearance, not a reality. Much like a person can put on a new hat for a new job, but is still the same person. God can act as Creator, or as Sustainer, or as Redeemer, but God doesn’t actually have three persons who make up one.

Trinitarians shake her head at the Modalists and say, no no – you’ve got it close but wrong. God doesn’t put on new hats and stop being the old hat. God is three persons, but unified as one God. God is Father/Mother/Parent who creates, Son/Jesus/Christ who redeems, and Spirit/Ghost who sustains. All of these simultaneously. Word-God was incarnate, while Spirit-God remained active in the world and Father-God is who Word-God prayed to. Otherwise, wouldn’t have Jesus just prayed to himself?

Therefore, God the Father is not God the Son nor God the Spirit. But any of the three and all three together are God the Godhead.

If that, or anything I just said, is incredibly hard to get your head around… you’re SO not alone. Not at all.

Many pastors, Christians, and theologians simply say “God is a mystery.” This isn’t a cop out. This isn’t being lazy. This is admitting that after thousands of years and tankers of ink and forests of trees… no one is able to wholly explain God. We’ve tried. We’re still trying. But in the end… God is a Holy Mystery.

In this church, we use Trinitarian formula. We sing the Gloria Patri of “Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.” But, when we get down to thinking hard about our theology, and studying what we say and do, often we are Modalists. And sometimes, we’re Gnostic. And sometimes, we’re other of these groups.

Officially – Trinitarians was decided as the true way of understanding God at this Emperor’s council of Chalcedon… however, not every church agreed. And some churches that agreed moved towards other teachings.

You see, for two thousand years we’ve been arguing over these, trying to understand, and trying to explain how we experience God. Each time someone begins to get their finger on it, someone else comes along with a different experience of God.

So, when we can say God is a Mystery, even after we’ve tried and tried and tried to figure God out, we affirm that God is greater, more awesome, more complex than we creations are able to fathom. We praise God by saying: we’ve learned all we can, we’re still learning, and yet you still give us more.

Today’s scripture reminds us that Jesus told us there’s way more to this world and reality and Jesus and the Spirit and God than we can bear. But generation by generation, we are being led in our walk with our Mysterious God and coming to know the Truths God has woven into God’s beautiful creation.

Those Truths are often hard to explain and describe. The Ancient Israelites tried to preserve some of the Truths of their understand of who God is with the Wisdom Literature: Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastics, Song of Songs, and so forth.

The ancient Israelites imagine wisdom as a lady. She stands at the center of downtown, where first and main meet; she is on every channel and newspaper; she stands on the street corners and she rings you up; she is said to be speaking and crying out everything to EVERY person.

Wisdom cannot be silenced, contained, or locked away. She must cry out.

And what does wisdom say?

“Holy God created me. Holy God used me in setting up the earth. God used wisdom in making the heavens and the soils. God used wisdom in making the mountains and the seas. When God used wisdom to set the order of the world, I was there – dancing with joy – and God danced with delight too – what delight is this creation and the human race!”

The ancient Israelites didn’t know God as hating this world and thinking that creation and flesh are fallen and bad. They wouldn’t agree with the later Gnostics. They knew God to take great delight in Creation.

This was in direct contradiction to some of the other creation stories from the people around the ancient Israelites. Some of those stories included gods battling and dying, the world being the destroyed body of an evil god, or gods not really liking, sometimes hating, humans.

The ancient Israelites experienced God differently. We can experience God who loves us through their recorded wisdom.

Our Scriptural creation story says from the very first spark that ignited our sun, to the barren rocks that pulled towards each other to form our earth, a wise and loving hand has been present. A wise and loving hand guided the formation of water, and a wise mind set to motion the systems of rain and evaporation. God danced with delight – the Proverbs say – danced with delightful wisdom when God moved atom to atom, cell to cell, and started the processes of LIFE itself. In the creativity among us, in the wealth of life, in the species that continue to evolve and change, out God delights and loves and wisely intercedes.

My Scriptural understanding of God says that those theologies, those understandings of God as remote, not involved, or even hating us, are shortsighted. God is not far away. God is not inaccessible. God is not pretending to be among us. God doesn’t pretend to love or pretend to know what it’s like to be human.

God IS love. God BECAME human. God’s new world is among us closer every day.

… but yet… other people, other good Christians and wise theologians, experience God differently.

That is a marvel for me: religion, the journey, the walk and education with God is NEVER over. Each time I read a page, understand a single bit of God, I turn the page and find a whole new story.

Every moment, every day, every person is carrying a unique story of God.

Wisdom is embracing these stories, and laughing with joy at the diversity of God – the Mystery of God – who invites us on this walk, teaches us along the way, and always, always has more to offer.

So it’s sort of like God gives us insight, and Truth, and wisdom… but yet God is always more. God also gives us faith, and mystery, and encourages us to be curious and to be humble in our knowledge. We need other people’s perspectives!

So… this Trinity Sunday… let us Praise God! The source of both our faith and learning! Amen.