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Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Lectionary Scriptures: Genesis 1:1-2:4a AND Psalm 8:1-9, II Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20

Trinity Sunday celebrates a hard-fought doctrine of the church, a doctrine which can be deduced from scripture, but rarely (if ever) appears in any fully developed or stated form. The formula that appears in Matthew 28:19 and in II Corinthians 13:13 was in use early in the life of the church and made its way into a few verses probably as later additions or amendments. (Note that in some translations, including the familiar King James Version, older numbering makes it verse 14 in II Corinthians.) In Matthew 28:19 Jesus, at the end of his earthly ministry, instructs his disciples to baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The epistle of II Corinthians ends with a benediction which is a trinitarian formula which is still used in many liturgies, a benediction we have heard often: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” (II Corinthians 13:13)

I like what Floyd Filson says as he writes in the Interpreter’s Bible: “This is the most elaborate benediction found in Paul’s letters . . . This verse is not a formal statement of the doctrine of the Trinity, but it reflects the aspects of divine redemption and Christian experience which led the church later to formulate this doctrine as the best expression it could give to the Christian understanding of God.” Eventually, in the 4th century, the church fathers agonized over one letter in one word to make the distinction between “likeness” and “similarity,” “likeness” winning out. The three “persons” of the Trinity were of “like substance.”

For most of us, it is sufficient to affirm the many different ways in which we experience God—broadly and roughly speaking as transcendent and powerful creator, in human form and personality and action, and as energizing power that moves around and within us as wind and fire.

In recent years some of our hymnbooks have included hymns and worship materials celebrating this diversity of the experience of God—and our inability to capture it in any one name or description. Consider the following:

God of Many Names, a hymn from 1985 by Brian Wren

God of many names, gathered into One, God of hovering wings, womb and birth of time, in your glory come and meet us, moving, endlessly becoming; joyfully we sing you praises, breath of life in every people.

God of Jewish faith, exodus and law, God of Jesus Christ, rabbi of the poor, in your glory come and meet us, joy of Miriam and Moses; joyfully we sing your praises, crucified, alive forever.

God of wounded hands, web and loom of love, God of many names, gathered into One, in your glory come and meet us, carpenter of new creation; joyfully we sing your praises, moving endlessly becoming.

Bring Many Names, another Brian Wren hymn (from 1987) speaks of “strong mother God, warm father God, old, aching God, young, growing god” and ends with “Great living God, never fully known, joyful darkness far beyond our seeing, closer yet than breathing, everlasting home.”

A “Names of God Litany” used at a national meeting of the United Church of Christ Women, prays, “Confident that you will hear, we call upon you with all the names that make you real to us, the names that create an image in our minds and hearts, an image that our souls can understand and touch. And yet, we know that you are more than all of these.”

So, what do we do with the other two readings for this Sunday, both with a focus on creation? We can take them as pointing toward the first person of creation—the creator God. We can note that Genesis 1:2 speaks of “the Spirit of God” (the third person of creation?) as “moving over the face of the waters.” Or, we can just take them as encouragement to look for the many manifestations of God in the world around us.

The Green Team is leading worship this Sunday with a focus on the ways in which we care for the earth, so the readings are timely. Here are some comments for our further reflection.

The reading from Genesis, chapter one, is the first of two stories of creation, the second one beginning in Genesis 2:4b. The first is more poetic and philosophical while the second is more earthy. The first follows, in general, the order we associate with evolution (if we take the days to be ages) while the second begins with the Lord God forming “man from the dust of the ground” and breathing “into his nostrils the breath of life.” (Genesis 2:7) There was as yet “no plant of the field . . . in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up.” (vs. 5) Creation is reversed
with the animals and eventually woman created to provide the man with companionship. (Notice that in our reading from the first chapter (in verse 27) male and female appear to be created simultaneously.)

The details of the story in chapter one are rich. I highlight only a few to stimulate those who wish to reflect further:

1. The refrain of the poem is “And God saw that it was good,” (vss. 4, 10, 18, 21, 25) with the ecstatic declaration at the end of creation, in verse 31, that “God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” As we celebrate Green Sunday we need always remember the story begins with a “good” earth. We haven’t always done a good job keeping it that way. How can we do better?

2. Humankind is given “dominion” over all creation, all the earth, instructed to “subdue” it. (vss. 26 -28) Here I like the tone of the second creation story better. Adam is told to “till and keep” the garden. Some versions say, “Take care of it.” Perhaps that meaning can be read back into “dominion,” but too often humanity has taken the course of “subduing” the earth, running roughshod over it.

3. Although I’m not a vegetarian, I find it interesting that, when God speaks to the human beings about the plants, God says, “ . . . you shall have them for food,” while the animals are not named as food. (See vss. 29-30)

4. This is the creation story in which God says, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” (vss. 26-27) It’s always worth considering how we are like God, how we reflect and sometimes abuse that likeness.

Finally, Psalm 8, continues the creation theme with some of the same poetic heights and questions. The “heavens” are seen as the work of God’s “fingers. Again, humanity has a very high place. “ . . . you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” (vss. 4-5) Human beings are again given “dominion over the works of your hands.” (vs. 5) Has the care of creation been left up to us? Are we God’s hands in the environmental challenge before us?

All those reflections—on both creation and the trinity—call us to think deeply about how we fit into the divine order of things. Do we see the many faces of God as we live out our lives together here on this earth?


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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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