Tuesday, June 21, 2011

in the image of (a Triune) God


“So God created humankind in His image, in the image of God he created them.”

I want to begin by introducing myself. My name is John Newton, and I currently serve as the Bishop’s Canon for Lifelong Christian Formation. It is really great to be with you this morning at Trinity Church on Trinity Sunday to preach a sermon on … drumroll … the Trinity. As John Wesley once said, “bring me the worm that can comprehend a man, and I’ll show you the man that can comprehend the Trinity.” Perhaps no Christian doctrine is more intellectually challenging than the Trinity. And so now that we’re clear that I don’t understand the subject matter, let’s dive in.

What I admire the most about kids is their questioning nature, because once they learn the word why they can’t really seem to unlearn it. “Time to go to bed. Why? Because I said so. Why? Because I’m in charge. Why?” Of course, those are all small why questions, but eventually we get to the big ones. Why are we here? Why did God create us? Why were we made? After all, those big why questions are built into our D.N.A.

I’ll never forget the first hopeless answer I ever got to that question. It was my first semester of college, and we had to read a British Philosopher by the name of Bertrand Russell, who got famous for his response to the big why question. “Man,” He said, “is nothing but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms.” Why are we here? We’re here because of a molecular accident. A hopeless answer to the why question indeed.

But then again, most people throughout history have given such an answer. In fact, if you had been born in the ancient near east around 1200 BC, just before the Book of Genesis was written, your world would have been an incredibly hopeless one. There were many gods, or so it was believed, and they all were at war. And so as a kid, you probably asked your parents why the gods created you. After all, there’s not a kid in the world that doesn’t ask that question. But every answer had a similar hopelessness. We were created because the gods were bored; because they were lonely; because the gods were lazy and needed free labor. In other words, if you were born in the ancient near east, there was no why.

Well, it was into this horribly hopeless world that these words were first recorded. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and saw that it was good.” And then the kicker – “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.” In other words, what we have in today’s reading from Genesis is an answer to that big why question that revolutionized this world. Why are we here? Why did God create us? Why were we made? We were created to reveal God. We were created to reflect God. We were created to image God.

You see contrary to the polytheistic beliefs of its time – where many gods existed that were all jockeying for power – the Bible reveals a supra-personal, loving God – a God that has three distinct personalities on the one hand, and yet at the same time is too unified to be more than one. And of course, I’m talking about the Trinity – that doctrine that says that the God we worship is a perfect community of love. And what our reading from Genesis reveals is that it was this Triune God that created both us and our world. As Genesis 1:1 tells us, “God created,” which we attribute to the work of the Father. And in verse two, the Spirit of God hovers over the waters, which is same language the Gospels use to talk about the Holy Spirit hovering over the water at Jesus’ baptism. And finally, Genesis 1:3 tells us that God creates by speaking His Word. Creation is not something that God thinks into existence. No, God speaks His word. And of course in the Gospel of John we learn that this “Word” is expressed fully in the person of Jesus Christ. And so it’s important to see that from the outset of our sacred story, we find one God existing in a relationship that is harmoniously intact and perfect.

We were not created because God is bored. We were not created because God is lazy. We are not a molecular accident. No, you and I exist because at the heart of all reality is this wonderful and dynamic life that we call the Trinity, and that because this God is generous and kind and good, He decided to create us to be what Karl Barth called, “a parable of His own life.” We were created to reveal, reflect and image God.

But here’s the catch – because God is a perfect community, we simply cannot reflect God alone. Because if God is a perfect community, and we were created to image this God, that means that the doctrine of the Trinity is not just an intellectual challenge – it’s an ethical one. Because to the extent that we grasp that the very thing that holds up this universe is a perfect community of love, we’re going to be challenged to be more thoughtful about how we relate to other people. After all, we were created for perfect, intact, and harmonious relationships – with God, and with each other.

And course that’s what the second chapter of Genesis is all about. Adam and Eve were both naked, but not ashamed – which apparently means that the Garden of Eden was the first nudist colony. The point being made is that both Adam and Eve were totally exposed and known. No masks. No hiding. No lies. They were in perfect communion with each other.

But at the same time, Adam and Eve were in perfect communion with God. After all, what the Bible suggests is that God was in the garden with both of them the entire time. In fact, a rabbinic tradition taught that every evening God and Adam would take a walk together. And I can only imagine they talked about how beautiful Eve was and about how great it was to be with her. And as for Eve, I bet she felt really safe and loved and cherished – not used or taken for granted – but appreciated and admired for who she was because she knew that she was seen for who she was. That is, after all, what Eden represents – perfect, intact, and harmonious relationships.

Now, I know what you could be thinking. “I’m not sure what world you’re living in, but the world you just described, that’s not the real one!” And you’re right, it’s not. Unless it is.

You see in today’s Gospel Jesus gives his disciples the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” What I’d like to suggest this morning is that the Great Commission has two meanings, and what I’d like to do is say a word about the interpretation you probably haven’t heard. You see that Greek word translated baptize – it doesn’t just mean to immerse in water. It also means to overwhelm. And that Greek word translated “Name,” – that’s not just a baptismal formula, because in the Bible, to do anything in someone’s name means to do it with their character – to do it with their spirit. Do you see how that changes our view of mission? “Go and make disciples of all nations overwhelming them with the character of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. That is our mission as a church – to overwhelm the world with loving character of this Triune God so that the world is irresistibly drawn to follow Jesus as their Lord.

The Book of Genesis revolutionized our world with its answer to the big why question. The question I leave us with this morning is has it revolutionized our lives? Because the world we live in – the people we work with, spend time with and live with – they are so desperate for a hopeful answer to the big why question. And what I would like to suggest today is that the most compelling answer to that question has little to do with what we say and much more to do with how we live. The Trinity is far more of an ethical challenge than it is an intellectual one. When we jockey for power and position, when we run around with a mask, when we use criticism or sarcasm or lies to shield people from seeing us for who we are, we are not imaging the Trinity. It’s when we form deep, vulnerable, and non-violent relationships; it’s when we invest in someone we don’t know; it’s when we stop seeking to live self-sufficient lives; those are the moments when we reflect God most clearly, the moments that make it possible to overwhelm the world with God’s love.

At the center of all reality is a perfect, intact and harmonious relationship. We were made to both experience and reflect that relationship to each other and to the creation in a way that is overwhelming. That is the reason we are here. And so here’s my question. Are harmonious relationships at the center of our lives and if not … why?

1 comment:

Adam Pastor said...

Greetings John Newton

On the subject of the Trinity,
I recommend this video:
The Human Jesus

Take a couple of hours to watch it; and prayerfully it will aid you to reconsider "The Trinity"

Yours In Messiah
Adam Pastor