Sermon on Genesis 1 for June 11, 2017, Trinity Sunday, A
from Genesis 1
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
I was just at the Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting where I was asked to give the invocation. The speaker was Quint Studer. Quint is the co-owner of the minor league baseball team the Pensacola Blue Wahoos as well as a businessman and philanthropist.
He told a lot of stories about people, including himself, who had invested their profits back into their local communities for the sake of the common good, and how it had benefited them. He said that business which were generous towards their local communities, according to research, were more profitable than those that were not. He gave many examples of how good it is for a business to invest in training for their employees because it ends up being the best way to make the business flourish.
Then, he spoke of property taxes that support schools, fire protection and police. He said that communities that are proud of their low taxes at the expense of these institutions only hurt themselves. He is a strong advocate for early childhood education too because, as he explained, readiness for kindergarten, it turns out, is a reliable predictor of high school graduation rates. If a child is not ready for kindergarten, chances of them graduating from high school greatly diminish. A high school drop out is not good for any community.
I noticed, after a while, that the argument he was making for doing good by your community and your employees and your children was a utilitarian argument. Do good because it is successful. Do good because it works. Do good because it is profitable.
Another Kind of Motive
But then he ended his talk with another story of a different kind. It was the story of a man he knew in the Chicago area, who jumped off his boat into the water to save two drowning children. They were rescued, but in the process, he drowned. Quint said his wife said, afterwards, that all children were like his own to him.
We all admire the nobility and sacrifice that man made that day. But the reason he jumped into the cold waters of Lake Michigan was not because it would work out for his benefit. It was because at some deep level he knew it was the right thing to do.
Could I have done it? I do not know. I am not at all a good swimmer, and I have no idea how to rescue a drowning person in the water. But beyond those concerns is the concern for myself. My own self interest, the risk to my survival, would be a huge obstacle to overcome.
Always, the question of our own self-concern is what makes doing the right thing difficult. Mr. Studer is a philanthropist. He has given away tens of millions of dollars to hospitals and other worthy causes. But he is the first to say that you have to be rich to be a philanthropist. It does not hurt him to give it away. The hard decision is when being generous would actually cost us something.
Nevertheless, we all do overcome our self interests for others, at least sometimes. We do it for our own children and families. We provide for them first, before we take care of our own needs. Nearly everyone does that. And most of us do the same for others. We give to the church, we give memorial gifts to worthy causes when someone dies, we support causes that we believe in, even when we will never personally reap rewards.
There is something in us that wants to do the right thing for the common good. There is something in us that overcomes those self-interest thoughts that we have when opportunities to help out come along.
This is not just about money; we do the same with time and with emotional investments. We will take time to go visit or call someone who is suffering. We will bring food to a memorial service reception and help set up and clean up for it. We will volunteer at the Christian Service Center or help keep a new turtle nest safe. We participate in the coastal clean up and we recycle. All of these are our responses to the tug in our hearts to do the right thing for the common good.
I believe that there is a reason for that tug and for our response to it, and I believe it goes back to God.
Today, in the church, we celebrate Trinity Sunday. Often talk about the Trinity gets complicated and confusing. We call the Trinity a “mystery” which means some confusion should be expected. But today I want us to notice together some of the beautiful implications of our Trinitarian understanding that make a difference in our lives, every day.
Plato thought of God as the great unmoved-mover that got the world going. A being that was perfect in knowledge and power, but one completely unmoved by human concerns.
This is not what we believe. To conceive of God as Trinity is to believe that God is personal. Or, shall we say, at least personal.
I was just watching a series of interviews by people who are philosophers or philosophers of religion on the question: what does it mean to say that God is personal, and can we say that about God? Everyone was in basic agreement about what it means to be personal. To be a person is to have agency: to have a will and to be able to act. It is to have consciousness. It is to have characteristics like purpose and a moral character.
When we talk of God as Trinity, we speak of persons because God, for us, cannot be impersonal. God, as infinite, can be far more than what we mean by personal, but cannot be less. It is quite hard to see how a merely impersonal force, a set of laws of physics could produce beings such as we are, being both aware of ourselves and our world, and able to comprehend our world. It is hard to see how something completely unconscious could give rise to consciousness.
Some have accused us as having created God in our own image. I am sure we do that, because of the limits of our human finitude – what else could we do than think in metaphors and analogies that come from our experience?
But we believe that the deepest truth is that God is at least “personal”; maybe more so, than we can imagine, but at least personal, and has created us as persons precisely in God’s image, as our reading from the Genesis creation myth pictures. We are persons because God is personal.
In other words, to be fully human in every best sense, is to be more god-like. The New Testament actually says this: that God’s power has given us all that we need to become participant’s in the “divine nature”. (2 Peter 1:4).
Our quest is to become the most fully human humans we can be, and so doing, to become more godly; to be persons who are fully alive, fully human, and who live for the fully-aliveness, the full humanity of each other.
Jesus Shows Us
This is exactly what we see modeled for us by Jesus; a person fully alive, fully human, and fully manifesting God’s personhood. He was, quintessentially, a person-for-others. He was a person full of compassion because he was a person fully open to the Spirit of God, fully conscious of God the Father, as Abba.
So when we confess the Trinity, we point to a mystery that tries to say, in admittedly human language, that God is at least personal and has made all of us in God’s image. To be fully human persons is God’s will for all of us on this planet.
Trinity Means Relational
There is more. God as Trinity is inherently relational. Unlike Plato’s unmoved-mover, or a force existing by itself and for itself, God as Trinity is fundamentally in relationship. To imagine God as the persons of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is to understand that these three are in perfect harmonious relationship with one another. Their relationship is called love.
When you think about it, love requires relationship, does it not? We say, along with the bible, that “God is Love”. How could God be love and be without anyone to love? But God as Trinity is love, in the act of loving. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father. The Spirit loves the Son, the Son loves the Spirit, and so on.
And this too is exactly what we see in Jesus who showed us God’s love in concrete and human ways. Jesus taught us to think of God, not as some distant angry force, but to think of God as the one who cares for “the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.” To know God as love, is to be able to relax and to trust that our lives are held in God’s hands. Not controlled, but held.
Jesus taught us to know God as the Good Shepherd who, when a lamb gets lost, goes out searching for her until he finds her and brings her back to the fold. Jesus taught us to know God as the father of the prodigal son who got himself profoundly lost and quite far from home. Instead of judging him and condemning him, the father watched for him, and seeing him return, ran down the road to meet him. This is love. Love that forgives. Love that restores. Love that heals and transforms.
Trinity and Goodness
When we celebrate God as Trinity, and when, by that, we mean that God is personal and that God is relational, then we begin to make sense of our experience. We understand why, like Mr. Studer, we feel the tug to do what we can for the common good.
We were made in God’s image. We were made to be fully human, fully alive, and to be in relations with other humans, relations characterized by love; willing the common good for all.
We understand that this impulse to goodness can be thwarted by our self interests, but it can also be responded to. In fact, we now understand why we have this impulse even when it requires self-sacrifice, like jumping into Lake Michigan to save someone else’s children, or paying taxes to educate someone else’s children.
This is exactly what Jesus showed us when he was willing to sacrifice his own life on behalf of the people he loved, who were suffering so much under the oppressive systems of their day. He stood up to the Roman sponsored temple system without violent resistance, on behalf of other people, and other people’s children.
This is what we remember and what we participate in every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. We are the body of Christ, and when we are broken, as the bread is broken, we can be given for others. When we are poured out, as the juice is poured others may be blessed.
The God we know as personal and the God we know as relational is the God who made us in God’s image. We find our greatest fulfillment and most aliveness in being what we were created to be on behalf of the world God has made for.