Commentary for June 19, 2011
Click here for today’s readings
In the beginning, before there were any of the spectacular results of creation/order, the ruach — the Spirit/Breath/Wind that comes from God — was moving (or hovering, or even “brooding” as a mother hen) over the stuff of primordial existence. I like the mysteriousness — the ethereal, quasi-substantial, almost eerie beginning of this Genesis passage.
Before anything was solid, well-lit, clearly defined or ordered to the smallest detail — God was there, stirring the pot and sticking God’s finger into the stew, so to speak, trying and testing the recipe.
There is great comfort to be taken from the care with which God sets the world in place; each creature, every cloud, the mountains, the trees, the lakes, the oceans — all get the determined (and, I believe, delighted) focus of the Creator at one moment or another.
That God cares enough to put “our” world in such good order is an assuring bit of knowledge. But, I must admit that I appreciate all the more the fact that, even when life is chaotic — unformed, coming apart at the seams — the Spirit of God is still and always there.
We can all use a little “brooding over” from time to time.
IMHO, one of the finest choral settings (ever) of this psalm text is that of Tom Fettke and Linda Lee Johnson, released as “The Majesty and Glory of Your Name” in 1978 (see link for anthem here.)
If you are unfamiliar with this piece — or if you would just like to enjoy a moment of worship thanks to the wonder of internet technology — here is a very nice recording of its performance by the combined choirs of Beymer United Methodist Church, Hope Presbyterian Church, First Presbyterian Church, and the Polk Community College Chorale of Winter Haven, Florida.
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
One of the “trinitarian formulas” included in the New Testament, of which there are not many. (See Dr. Chilton’s comments in the sermon, below.)
Note the absence of “Father, Son, Spirit” language here — instead, a focus on grace, love, and communion (koinonia) as the outworking of God’s personalities.
How might we need to be open to re-imaging in our understanding of God’s unique three-in-one existence as part of our own theology/worship today?
As part of the “Great Commission” — which, in evangelical circles, at least, often focuses mainly on Jesus’ command to “GO” into all the world — Matthew’s gospel records one of the few references to “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” as part of the injunction to baptize in the name of God.
Commentators differ as to whether this quote is original with Jesus, or was a later insertion by the worshiping community as they worked out what it meant to know” God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.” (from the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy by The Rt. Rev. Reginald Heber)
Personally, it matters little to me whether the words came from Jesus’ lips on the day of his departure; they are the truth for our worship and practice today, as they have been for generation after generation of Christ’s followers.
Let us not strain too mightily at theological gnats in order to swallow doctrinal camels, thereby missing the joy of God’s presence in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit in the hearts of God’s people.
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
I’m doing this from memory, because I haven’t seen a copy — mine or anyone else’s — of Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice in about 30 years.
In that book, Cleaver tells of his first encounter with Christianity, in a religion class at Soledad Prison. He remembered being asked to come up with an explanation of the Trinity. He studied the text and the Bible and had an idea. He said they went to class and the teacher, a local minister, asked if anyone could explain the Trinity. Several people raised their hands, Cleaver included.
The minister/teacher pointed to first one, then another. After each one, he said. “Wrong, sit down.” Before he got to Cleaver, he quit and said, “This is the point. It’s impossible to explain the Trinity without getting it wrong.” Cleaver was glad he had not been called on. He was sure his comparison to three-in-one oil was going to get a giant putdown.
Although his teaching style was a bit rude, the teacher had a point. Explaining the Trinity is tricky, nigh on to impossible.
The most common way most of us think, and talk about it, is heresy.
It’s called modalism and it goes like this:
There is one God, who we experience in three modes. Like I’m one person, but to my wife I’m husband and to my sons I’m father, yet to my parents I’m son. One person, three ways of being known. Makes sense, right? Sure, but it’s wrong!
I am reminded here of my Aunt Mildred on the telephone.
After a long gossip session she would say, “Well, I would tell you more, but I already told you more than I heard myself.” At least, that’s what Uncle LW said she said.
When we try to explain the Trinity, we usually say more than we heard ourselves. Because the Bible refers to the Trinity, but does not explain it.
In our lessons for today: Genesis has the Spirit moving on the waters and God creating the world by speaking it into being; and since John’s Gospel says that the Son is the Word of God, Christians can find traces of the Trinity in the creation account — if they are so inclined.
The New Testament and the Gospel readings are more explicit; using a couple of varying “trinitarian formulas;” one referring to baptizing in the name of the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” and the other giving the order differently and not using the term father and stressing more peace, love and grace than the particular persons or names.
No where do we find the word trinity or an explanation of how God is both three and one at the same time. Like I said, we have to be careful not to say more than we heard ourselves.
Me, I’m lazy. I use golf theology. Used to play golf with a minister friend of mine and we came up with the term.
We got to thinking about all the people we knew who spent a lot of time on the golf course complaining about their lie, or trying to improve their lie, legally or, most often, illegally and sneakily, moving the ball out of sand traps and from behind tress when they thought no one was looking.
Or they were obsessing about their score, or they were trying to improve their score, or they were lying about their score, etc.
And we realized that neither of us worried too much about all that. We were just glad to be out of the office and out on the golf course, whacking away at the ball in the general direction of the hole.
Then, being preachers, we started thinking of all those pastor friends we knew who were always trying to improve their theological lie, trying to make things make better sense, etc.
And we decided that we were golf theologians, we preferred to take things as they came, to play it as it lay, to whack away in the general direction of heaven.
So, rather than spend a lot of time on the philosophical understanding of the Trinity, I prefer to think a lot about the Trinity’s implications for the Christian life.
I like to meditate on the fact that God exists in community, in a family, a family of equals who share one calling and goal and life, but exist within that community and family as unique individuals who are stronger together than they could ever be apart.
That makes the church make a whole lot more sense to me, because if we’re made in the image of God and God needs community, then it makes sense that we need community too; a community that is called together to move in the same general direction, loving each other and serving the world.
And sometimes when I think about the Trinity, I think about how each of us has different spiritual personalities and how some of us respond to the Father, the Creator, and how others of us really resonate to God in Christ, the Son. There are many others who are drawn into the Godlife by the Spirit.
It just fascinates me how the idea of the Trinity manages to touch all those spiritual bases and keep them all in balance.
Our calling today, on this Holy Trinity Sunday, is neither figuring out the Trinity nor explaining it.
Our calling is living the Trinity in our lives and in the holy and loving community we call the church.
Our calling is to join with one another in caring for creation.
Our calling is to take up our cross and follow the Christ in the work of spreading God’s love in the world.
Our calling is to pray together and to be open to the leading of God’s Spirit on our lives, come what may. AMEN