Divine Images

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho

June 7 2020

Gen 1:1–2:4

Welcome to Trinity Saturday, which is where the lectionary writers punish preachers who had so much fun last week on Pentecost Sunday by expecting us to make the Doctrine of the Trinity clear for each of you.

Just kidding.

I won’t make it clear.

And, as we begin, I’m going to cite the great church father, Augustine, who said, “If you comprehend something, it is not God.”

The doctrine of the Trinity is not supposed to be easy or simple. God is a mystery far beyond our ability to understand. So, give yourself permission to be flummoxed. And remember, it took the church four hundred years and many church councils to come up with this doctrine, to struggle over this.

Trinity is the attempt by Christians to understand how God is ONE, as the scriptures testify, (Deut. 6:4) while at the same time explain how Jesus, the Son of God, and the Spirit, are also God. How does THREE equal ONE?

New math!

You hear Trinitarian formula in worship all the time,
Father, Son, Holy Spirit;
Creater, Redeemer, Sustainer;

Trinitarian language is grounded in Scripture, even if the Doctrine is not explicitly spelled out in Scripture.

In 2 Cor 13:13, Paul writes, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

We baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Last week’s Pentecost baptism in the grove.

I have preached other sermons that explore the doctrine of Trinity in more depth, and you can dig through the blog to find those, but today I want to worry less about doctrine, and more about the consequences of it. Meaning, I’m less interested in you espousing the correct doctrine. Arresting people for heresy may be fun on a slow day, but I don’t think it’s what the world needs more of right now.

I’m less interested in us passing an exam on doctrine and I’m more interested in us living our faith in a way that reflects an understanding God’s Trinitarian love.

On Trinity Sunday, we hold up the idea that God exists in community and God made us to exist in community.

Trinity also means God exists in diversity. The very nature of God is diverse. Creator. Redeemer. Sustainer. Spirit. Word made flesh. That God exists in unity does not mean that God exists in uniformity. Since God exists in diversity, we are expected to seek out and value diversity as well.

God exists in unity. There is not a single moment where Jesus says “I’m out. See ya. I’ll be better on my own. Good luck!” The diversity of God doesn’t erase the unity of God.

Christians proclaim we are made in the image of God. Which means we can look around the church and the world, and in our differences, we can catch a glimpse of characteristics of God’s diversity and God’s unity.

While we are made in the image of God, God is not made in the image of us.

And I think we get that confused fairly often. We pretend we know exactly what God thinks about an issue, or about another person. We pretend God is always in agreement with our politics or our cultural views.

Hear again these words from the creation story:

Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; So God created humankind in their image, in the image of God they created them; male and female they created them.

The very diversity of God is who created us in a divine image.

As I look at the world, it is sometimes hard to see us honoring that diversity in our fellow—divine image created—humans.

It is PRIDE month, and it is worth lamenting the ways our society doesn’t always honor the divine image in our gay, lesbian, transgender siblings. Everyone deserves to know they are loved, valued, and treasured. The pandemic may be canceling the PRIDE festival, but we still remember and work for welcome. We can note the plural pronoun for God in this passage in Genesis and honor the pronouns of the people we meet.

We are still facing a global pandemic. This isn’t the first pandemic to sweep the planet, but it is the first one in a hundred years to directly affect this country in such a real way. And notice how some people want to place blame for the virus on one country, on one race of people, as if we aren’t all the same human race, created in God’s image. There is no ‘other’ race. We are all in this together. We need to work with the rest of the world to find a vaccine, to compare data and learning. We are in this together. And our failure to understand that is a theological failure, as much as a political one.

Protests, vigils, and rallies are being held across the country to protest police brutality, and the killing of black people in situations that didn’t need violence at all. Floyd George. Ahmaud Arberry, Breonna Taylor, the list of names is long. Say their names.

From the Boise Black Lives Matter Vigil this past week

The structural nature of our racism, the continued discrimination against the queer community—those things are at odds with the creation story of Genesis. God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.

God declares God’s creation good, and we act as if that isn’t true, or as if it is only partially true, as if only part of God’s creation deserves life, flourishing, a chance to succeed.

We won’t fix our problems by holding hands and singing Kum ba yah, although it would be nice to be able to hold hands and sing again. The pictures of people coming together in peace and harmony at the protests are nice, but we need more than photo ops.

Living in community is not an easy call that God places on our lives. It is a challenging call that includes repentance, reconciliation, and restoration. We know how to do that hard work. We do it in our close relationships. The creation story in Genesis merely reminds us that all of humankind is to be treated as a close relationship, worthy of the work of reconciliation.

The theologian of my childhood never talked about God, but taught me all about God. Mr Rogers said, “We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes. 

Maybe it is as easy as seeing a need and then responding. Not looking away. Not ignoring it.

We watched the movie Just Mercy recently. It was in theaters this winter and is streaming for free on all platforms during the month of June. I highly recommend it. I’d read the book, but seeing the story play out on screen was very powerful. It is the story of Walter McMillan who is able to overturn his murder conviction because a young lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, volunteers to help his case. Throughout the story, Stevenson stays with his death row clients, even after appeals have failed.

Stevenson writes:

“Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”

He doesn’t mention the Genesis creation story, but his statement illustrates that Stevenson recognizes the people he helps are made in the image of God.

There are those who see the need and respond.

Some days we see the need and look away.

There’s a rhythm in the creation story. And I wonder if that might help us attend better to the work we need to do to honor the divine image in our whole community.

God creates. God rests. God creates again. God rests. For each act of creation, for each day of creation, we’re told: And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning….

This time of pandemic waiting has changed our rhythm. It has slowed us down, in most cases. I am reminded that we can’t do the other work we’ve been called to do without also resting. Even God rested between the days of creation, and then took an entire day off after it was done.

I confess it has been harder for me to honor my sabbath since the pandemic began. My rhythm is off since I’m working from home. How has this change of pace been for you?

Maybe we need to recommit to Sabbath practice before we can roll up our sleeves and do the rest of the work required to heal the wounds of our earth and society. I’m aware people facing racism don’t get a day off from racism each week, so we can’t take too much rest before we get to work on becoming anti-racist. But when we fall out of Sabbath patterns, we get unbalanced, we lose the rhythm of this life God has given us, we lose sight of the image of God in our neighbors.

The psalm assigned today in the lectionary is Psalm 8, and it starts like this:

O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

Many scholars think this psalm is a poetic rephrasing of the creation story in Genesis. Many people who aren’t scholars just think it is beautiful. And I love the reminder of my own createdness. I can get distracted in my days, thinking that i’m a pretty self contained unit that can control my own destiny.

The fact that our second week of outside worship was canceled because of a giant rainstorm ought to be all the reminder I need that I can’t control things.

And when I look at the heavens, at the vastness of space, I both feel awe at the power of creation and I feel minute, to be a small little piece of creation in such a vast universe. What are human beings that you are mindful of us, mortals that you care for us?

Maybe that’s a bit of Sabbath wisdom too, to remember the world is bigger than we are, and can go on without us pretty well AND to remember that God is mindful of us, that God cares for us. Because God created us, in the very image of God, to care for the earth and to care for each other.

This week may we love each other the way God loves us.

Amen

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