Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
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. In what ways have you noticed the spirit of God hovering over your world/life, lately?
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.
Notice the “detail work” God does with God’s fingers — not just broad strokes, but the finer stuff. What would you consider to be the “work of God’s fingers?”
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
One of the “trinitarian formulas” included in the New Testament, of which there are not many.
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.
As my Bubba mentions in today’s Lectionary Lab Live podcast (see link above) — there are certainly other appropriate ways to name the trinitarian nature of God. Notably, “Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer” has seen a fair amount of use. What other descriptions of God’s three-part nature can you think of?
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
The most difficult course I took in college was “Art Appreciation.” Not that it was all that difficult in itself, it was simply very difficult for me. Imagine a southern boy, fresh off the farm, sitting in a dark room with a tiny French woman named Adele Legreue showing slides and encouraging us to, “live into the painting.” “Let it speak to you,” she chirped, “invite the art to commune with your spirit.” To say I didn’t get it would be a vast understatement.
I kept asking, with pen poised over paper to write down the definitive answer, “What does it mean?” and she continually replied, “It does not mean anything, it just is. Experience it with an open mind and see what you see.” Suffice it to say, I didn’t “commune” with many paintings that semester. But a few years later, in a seminary class called “Systematic Theology,” her words came back to me and I thought, “Maybe the doctrine of the trinity doesn’t mean anything either, maybe it just is; rather than figuring out how it works, I need to examine it and learn from it.”
Like art, the trinity is a mystery and any attempt to define, label, dissect or analyze a mystery keeps us at arm’s length from the truths it has to show us. When we try to define the Holy Trinity in clear, crisp, antiseptically clean and philosophical language; we prevent ourselves from being drawn into the relationship with God that the doctrine of the trinity reveals to us. So here are some things I learned “communing” with this doctrine.
It helps us maintain a healthy balance in our view of God and the spiritual life. Most of us, most of the time, tend to be what I call “closet Unitarians;” that is, although we believe in the idea of God in three persons, the fact is that spiritually, emotionally, practically – we quite naturally relate to one of the three persons mare than the other two.
Some people see God as high, mighty and powerful, the creator of all that is; “immortal, invisible, God only wise,” as the hymn says. We think of the Creator as God and of Jesus as a good friend and the Sprit as that warm feeling one gets at sentimental religious moments.
Others of us center our faith on Jesus the Christ. We focus on the central story of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection; we tend to think of the Creator in terms of the one whom Jesus called Father and the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ among us.
And still others of us gravitate by nature and inclination to the Holy Spirit. We tend to get impatient with theological discussions or doctrinal debates. We long to feel God in our lives; we yearn for nudge of the Holy Spirit to guide us in our daily walk. The Creator is a bit distant and Jesus of course died for us, but the Spirit fills our life now.
Each of these is an authentic way of experiencing and relating to God, but for a healthy spiritual life, balance is needed, and the doctrine of the trinity helps us keep our balance by reminding us of those aspects of God we do not easily see. The trinity reminds us that the God who created the universe is also the God who lived among us in person of Jesus Christ and is the same God who nudges us and comforts us in our day-to-day lives.
A second exploration is tied to the first. Simply put, not even God goes it alone. God needs and lives in community and so do we. God lives in the community of the trinity – with the Father, son and Holy Spirit all equally God, all individual and yet all unified, all one. How this can be is a great mystery; yet it is a mystery that speaks to us our need as individual Christians to line in communities of faith; equal, individual – yet one.
Within the community of faith we need those who relate to God ways different from our own. We need each other, to keep our faith and our community in balance. We need those with an intense reverence for God, we need those who are head over heels in love with Jesus, we need those who are in tune with the vibrations of the Sprit; we all need each other in order to be complete and whole. We need each other to be a complete and whole community of faith.
A third exploration has to do with the recently revived question of the gender of God and inclusive names for God. “Recently revived,” because this was a hot topic in the church of the first few centuries. There are those who have trouble referring to God as Father. Those of us who have chosen to retain the traditional and Biblical triune name language of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit must recognize that the issues raised are legitimate, particularly the assertion that God is neither male nor female and that to name God as male undercuts the Biblical teaching that all people, male and female, are made in the image of God. I found some help on this question in Jurgen Moltman’s book of the Holy Spirit. He writes,
“If believers are born of the Holy Spirit, then we have to think of the spirit as the ‘mother’ of believers, and in a sense, a ‘feminine’ Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is the Comforter, as the Gospel of John understands the (spirit) to be, then she comforts ‘as a mother comforts,’ (John 14:26) In this case, the spirit is the motherly comforter of children . . .Linguistically . . Spirit (ruach) is feminine in Hebrew . . .”
Recognizing the femininity of the Holy Spirit will help all of us restore balance to our view of the mystery of who God is.
I close with a brief story from Disciples of Christ minister who was putting his 4 year old daughter to bed one evening. She said, “Daddy, I don’t understand life.” The minister said “I don’t understand life either, but the best part if working it out together.” She smiled and yawned and said, “Yes, and the funnest part if doing it with God.”
I don’t really understand either life or the trinity. But I am sure of two things. They are mysteries to be explored and the best and the funnest part is doing it with God.
Amen and amen.