A Sermon preached on June 11th, Trinity Sunday, at St. Augustine’s, Wiesbaden
Genesis 1:1-2:4a, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20
We seem to have a strange mix of readings for Trinity Sunday. Why we have the extracts from 2 Corinthians (13:13) and Matthew 28 is I think clear. These are two of the few passages in the Bible that explicitly mention the Trinity: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you,” Paul writes in what has come to be known as the Grace. In what we call the Great Commission, Jesus instructs the disciples to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Fine, but why the creation story from Genesis? There’s no mention of the three persons of the Trinity in it at all ….. or is there? Well actually there is, just hidden.
The Holy Spirit already makes an appearance in the first sentence. Unfortunately, our translation has decided to render the Hebrew word Ruach, which means wind, breath, or spirit, as a “wind from God. I think the opening would be better translated as: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while God’s Spirit swept over the face of the waters.” (Gen. 1:1) The Spirit’s role in creation is to bring order out of chaos, to calm the waters of chaos in preparation for the act of creation. But where is the Son? You won’t find the Son or Jesus mentioned in this passage. What we do hear however is that God creates by using words. The phrases, “God said” or “God called,” meaning “named,” occur fifteen times in this first chapter of the first book of the Bible. That is why St. John, in the prologue to his Gospel tells us “In the beginning was the Word.” It is through the Word of God that everything is created and for Christians the Word, in Greek Logos, is Jesus, the Son.
In a moment, right after the Sermon, we will recite the Nicene Creed. We will affirm that “the Father, the Almighty, (is) maker of heaven and earth, that “through the Son of God all things were made,” and that the Holy Spirit is the giver of life.” The latter comes from the second creation story when “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath (or spirit) of life; and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)
So the creation story is really just as Trinitarian as the other two passages and unlike them, it describes how the Trinity, the Three in one, function. The three persons of the Trinity do not act alone. They work with and through one another. They are interdependent. Traditionally, there have been two main types of heresy - wrong or mistaken beliefs - about the Trinity. Either people have distinguished the three persons of the Trinity so much that they become three separate beings, which would mean we end up worshiping not one, but three gods. Or at the other extreme, people have reduced the three persons to thee roles – or modes – of the one God. That is wrong too, the three persons must be kept distinct. That is why I am not happy with attempts to replace the traditional Trinitarian formula of Father, Son and Holy Spirit with things like the “Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.” That reduces the persons to set roles. But in fact the Father also redeems, the Son sanctifies, and the Spirit created and creates. The concept of the Trinity is that all three persons are involved in all divine activities, even if we only experience one of the persons at a time.
What does mean for us? Well, part of the creation story that we heard this morning, is of course the story of our own, of humanity’s creation. “Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Gen. 1:26)
We can draw two conclusions from this section of Genesis 1. If we are made in God’s image, then we are also made in the image of the Trinity. To be made in the image of a Trinitarian God means that we are only what we are supposed to be when we acknowledge our interdependence, when we cooperate with others, when we are in relationship with others, and when we work through and with one another to achieve our common goals. This applies to us as individuals, as groups, and yes, even as countries too. In the Trinity, no person is first. Dorothy L. Sayers, who was not only a writer of great detective stories, Lord Peter Wimsey was one of my boyhood heroes, but also an Anglican lay theologian, goes even further. In her book, “The Mind of the Maker,” she explains that “in our image” also refers to the creativity that exists in God-in-three, a creativity which was also given to humanity.
The passage about our creation includes a clear mandate to us to care for creation. To “have dominion” is to be put in charge by God, to be appointed as steward over God’s creation, to look after it, to help it flourish so we can flourish within it. Each section of the Genesis story ends with the words, “and God saw that it was good.” If God saw that it was good, then we are only carrying out God’s will when we preserve and care for God’s creation. Not caring for creation is blasphemous.
That is why so many church leaders, including Anglicans, have criticised Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US, at least at Federal level, from the Paris Climate Accord, a criticism I agree with. The Paris Accord was by no means perfect, it does not go far enough. But Winston Churchill’s saying about democracy applies here: “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…” There are good theological reasons for criticising the US withdrawal too:
The chair of the international justice and peace committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Oscar Cantú, said: “The Scriptures affirm the value of caring for creation and caring for each other in solidarity. The Paris agreement is an international accord that promotes these values. President Trump’s decision will harm the people of the United States and the world, especially the poorest, most vulnerable communities.”
In his own statement, our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said: “With the announcement by President Donald Trump of his decision to withdraw the commitment made by the United States to the Paris Climate Accord, I am reminded of the words of the old spiritual which speaks of God and God's creation in these words, "He's got the whole world in his hands." …. And we human beings have been charged with being trustees, caretakers, stewards of God's creation (Genesis 1:26-31). We know that caring for God's creation by engaging climate change is not only good for the environment, but also good for the health and welfare of our people.”
And the Anglican Communion Environmental Network reminds us that the consequences of climate change are not abstract and theoretical and impact the Biblical mandate to care for the poor:
“We know that climate change means water change – less rain in some areas, devastating flooding in others and sea level rise which threatens our coastal areas and small island states. Without rains, the crops fail and there is famine. Where there is famine people leave their land and end up as climate refugees, which leads to further suffering, social devastation and the risk of increased violence. We do not want our legacy to be a world where the waters have been polluted, the air is foul, and the creatures we love have become extinct. As people of faith we dream of a better world for our children and grandchildren, where energy is renewable and clean, where we are not poisoned by our food, and where no child goes to bed hungry.”
Today is Trinity Sunday. Today we are called to reflect on what that means for our understanding of the God we worship and for our own behaviour as Christians and as humans made in the image of the Trinitarian God. Michael Curry’s prayer is that we “will …. follow the way, the teachings and the Spirit of Jesus by cultivating a loving, liberating and life-giving relationship with God, all others in the human family, and with all of God's good creation.” Amen to that.