Adventurous Lectionary – Trinity Sunday – June 4, 2023
Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
In a few days, school will be out and congregations will move toward summer schedule. Many pastors will exchange their robes for more casual attire – in my case, a Guayabera (Cuban untucked) shirt with a stole – and children’s and adult faith formation may take a hiatus or become more informal in nature. Still, summer is a time of learning and growth, theologically and spiritually, and what better place to start than with the mysterious Trinity.
With summer on the horizon, the scriptures celebrate creation and our place in it. The first message of creation and also incarnation is that it’s not about us. Created in the image of the non-binary God, we have a unique mission but it is part of a larger holy adventure of divine wisdom and creativity, evolving through starts and stops for over 14 billion years. We share in God’s creativity with all creation and have the vocation of becoming imaginative and healthy creators ourselves.
Many churches will celebrate the reality of God’s Trinitarian nature this Sunday. While the doctrine of the Trinity only has a modest place in scripture and among progressive Christians, these passages point to the dynamic, interdependent nature of the Trinity. The Trinity represents relationships within God and in the call and response of God and the world. The Trinity’s diversity is reflected in the diversity of flora, fauna, culture, and humankind. The Trinity means that God loves diversity.
In some quarters, reading the Genesis creation story is an invitation to today’s culture wars, still being played out in public school science classes. It seems that some Christians have learned nothing since the Scopes trials. They carry the same grudge against science in their response to epidemiologists and the counsel to wear masks and in the evidence that there is no one model of humankind, biologically speaking. In binary fashion, many new atheists and Christian conservatives identify the Genesis creation story, the first of two creation stories, with 1) an attempt at exact biblical science, and thus see it as useless and detrimental myth, or 2) as a literal description of creation we must belief that denies any value to scientific discovery, when the Genesis text tells a very different story: it is about wonder, creativity, awe, and beauty. It is about the “why” of creation and not the “how.” God creates in beauty, and brings forth greater and greater levels of complexity, pronouncing each succeeding level as “good.”
We live in a glorious and good universe in which everything fits together. Note the Genesis author does not say “perfect.” Creation is not finished, it is in process, emerging, and – dare we say – evolving (and the Genesis order of creation comes close to evolutionary theory) as each aspect seeks its proper place within the whole. Humankind is part of this wonderful and dynamic divine tapestry: we are earthy, yet created in God’s image, male and female, to be partners and stewards in creation.
There is no literal “special creation” of the human species, as some biblical literalists assert against evolutionary theory; there is wise creation and interdependence, in which humanity has a special role. Genesis does not describe the age of rocks or the origin of the species, but the broad contest of evolutionary intentionality, the Wisdom of God that guides galaxies, planets, and the human adventure.
The Genesis passage challenges both scientific and biblical literalism. The Genesis creation story is congruent with evolutionary theory and affirms an underlying purpose in life. It affirms that the reality of purpose and meaning making occurs at all levels of creation. It challenges purely random visions of the universe, without posing a deterministic alternative. It is consistent with randomness and also sees a gentle, benevolent providence moving within all things. It equally challenges images of a primordial perfection and the descriptions of humans walking the earth beside dinosaurs!
While we can’t read too much into one phrase, the Genesis creation story also suggests that purely masculine images of God are incomplete. In God’s image, humans are created both male and female. The divine is larger than any human image: God embraces all that we find in ourselves and then much more. Female imagery for God is just as theologically legitimate as male imagery. We catch a glimpse of Spirit alongside the Parent Creator in God’s breathing the universe into being. The “us” which is reflected in human life may indeed be non-binary and the inspiration for creation and humanity in all its diversity.
Psalm 8 continues the theme. The Psalmist would be quite at home with the television series “Cosmos” “NOVA” as well as the photos from the Webb and Hubble telescopes. We live in a grand universe and awe is an appropriate response to its grandeur. Once again, it’s not about us! When we gaze at the heavens, ponder a trillion galaxies, and our postage stamp place in the Milky Way, we can – and should – be humbled. Humility reminds us that we are part of a greater creative adventure that can live without us, but still needs our gifts. In the vastness of the universe, do we matter? Is the universe purposeless? Is it all sound and fury, a tale told by an idiot? The Psalmist says “no.” While I am sure the Psalmist recognized the randomness of events, what truly stuck him was wonder and amazement, and the amazing reality of human life and its vocational role as a divine companion creatively nurturing our planet.
Some physicists suggest that in a universe without a true geographical center, every place can be the center. This is also the meaning of divine omnipresence. All places are at God’s center; all creatures are centered in God. In a universe whose grandeur is beyond our imagination, we matter. We have a vocation and it is to be gardeners and shepherds of creation, to bring beauty and order and innovation to creation, and not destruction. Jewish mystics say that the world is saved one person at a time; perhaps the same is true for the universe. We have a role in saving the universe by doing our part to save and beautify our good earth.
The New Testament readings seem almost an afterthought in today’s lectionary readings, but they also have a place. As part of a grand cosmos, our mission is to bring order and share good news, and the good news involves the vision of a dynamic interactive and Trinitarian God.
The passage from 2 Corinthians connects order and humility with the presence of Christ and the Holy Spirit. We have a vocation in God’s realm: sharing good news with creation by our love for one another. “We are all in this together” and have the role as emissaries of God in the world. The passage concludes with the invocation of the manifold God of love, “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” Whatever the Trinity may mean, it is about love, communion, and inspiration, about the healing of alienation and incivility and the power of love to change the world.
The Gospel reading contains an early Trinitarian formula. Our good news involves an always relational, ever-creative, dynamic and interactive God. Trinitarian theology, at its best, always promises God’s presence. Jesus is always with us, giving insight and inspiration, in partnership with God the Creator and Spirit. We have work to do – to share good news, vision, and healing in this time of pandemic.
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, spiritual guide, and author of over seventy books, including THE ELEPHANT IS RUNNING: PROCESS AND OPEN AND RELATIONAL THEOLOGY AND RELIGIOUS PLURALISM; PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; MYSTIC’S IN ACTION: TWELVE SAINTS FOR TODAY; WALKING WITH SAINT FRANCIS: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM; MESSY INCARNATION: MEDITATIONS ON PROCESS CHRISTOLOGY, FROM COSMOS TO CRADLE: MEDITATIONS ON THE INCARNATION, and THE PROPHET AMOS SPEAKS TO AMERICA. His most recent books are PROCESS THEOLOGY AND THE REVIVAL WE NEED and TAKING A WALK WITH WHITEHEAD: MEDITATIONS WITH PROCESS-RELATIONAL THEOLOGY. He is currently serving as Bridge Minister at Westmoreland Congregational United Church of Christ in Bethesda, MD, andcan be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.