Trinity Sunday – Genesis 1:1-2:4a; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Shall We Dance – Our second reading this morning is from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 13, Verses 11 through 13. Here, he writes:”Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order. Listen to my appeal. Agree with one another. Live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”For the Word of God in scripture, for the Word of God among us, and for the Word of God within us, Thanks be to God.
Normally, we hear that at the end of the service. It’s a very popular benediction that a lot of pastors use to send people out into the world to do the work of God. Today, it’s actually our scripture that we’re reading before the sermon, and that’s interesting. I want you to just think about that for a minute. And while you do, will you pray with me?
Lord, Heavenly Father and Mother, You are my heart. Lord Jesus Christ, You are my body. Lord, Holy Spirit, You are my breath. Lord, Holy Trinity, You are my only refuge and my eternal rest. Help me, holy one, to get out of the way, and may Your spirit and Your word touch and transform the hearts of all of us, who are gathered together in this place today. Amen.
First, I just want to take a moment to introduce myself. I have had the wonderful opportunity to meet many of you on Friday, yesterday, and this morning. And that’s wonderful, because as I look out, I already see familiar faces. I see a community that I’m coming to know. And I’m so grateful for that. As you all know, my name is Chrissy Westbury. I just graduated from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Just a few things about myself, my family is here today. My husband, Dirk, and our 13-year-old daughter, Daphne, and our nine-year-old son, Ryan, who hates to be the center of attention. So don’t look at him. I enjoy theater, I enjoy music, and I love medieval mystics. I love their theology and their images. I am interested in a lot of different things, so I can’t wait to get to know all of you. I heard about so many wonderful ministries that this church does over the last couple of days, from individuals who were involved in many of them. And I’m really excited to get to know more about each of those ministries, and how I can support you as you go to do God’s work in the world.
So, this morning, as I told the children, it is Trinity Sunday. It’s one of those Sundays that many preachers dread. This is the Sunday that we stand in the pulpit and try to explain to everyone how one plus one plus one equals one. It doesn’t make sense. We live in a post-modern, post-enlightenment world, where we want our math problems to actually add up. And this is the Sunday that I have been asked to come before you to introduce myself and to ask if you think we might be able to do some ministry together. I have to be honest, though. I was actually really excited when I realized that it was Trinity Sunday. I just finished writing a thesis on the Trinity. I figured I got this. Except the thing is, I don’t. You see, the truth is, I did not raise my hand when I asked who understood the Trinity completely. And the reason for that is because I don’t. I’ve read all kinds of stuff about the Trinity. I spent the last nine months of my life deeply entrenched in reading what people over the history of the church have said about Trinity. And you know what I have come up with? The same thing that preachers and theologians have said for 2,000 years. It’s a mystery. It’s a mystery that we can’t fully understand. But it is. Somehow it just is.
You see, the Trinity is not just an academic theological doctrine to study; it’s not actually a word that appears in scripture, so we can’t even turn there to see exactly what we mean when we say “Trinity”. Instead, it is language that was created by the early church to help to explain the real, visceral, day-to-day experience that people have of God. The embodied ways in which we experience God in God’s creation. Trinity is the fundamental rationality of the God in whose image we are created. This morning, I want to focus on that part of the creation story – the part where we hear how we were created. Genesis 1:26-27, just to remind you, says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our own 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 God’s image. In the image of God, God created them. Male and female, God created them.” Now, this passage comes up in the lectionary for Trinity Sunday. Every three years, this is the one that we read. And so we have to look at it and ask, “Why?”
The truth is that it can be a little difficult to find Biblical passages that exactly support the doctrine of Trinity. There are only a handful, and sometimes it takes a little reading between the lines. The part of this passage that is often focused on on Trinity Sunday is the fact that God speaks in the plural. God refers to God’s self as “us”. And, on top of that, the word that’s used for God in this creation story in the Hebrew is Elohim, which is a plural noun. It actually means “gods”. But when speaking of the one God, it’s speaking of the singular “one God above gods”. But I don’t think a simple point of grammar is what connects this passage to our experience in Trinity. I think it’s what comes right after that phrase. let us make humankind in our own image. God made humanity in God’s image. Think for a minute about the way this was written down. In this time, when this was first being written down, the supplies that you needed for writing were very precious. They didn’t use punctuation. They didn’t even put spaces between the words, because they wanted to save paper. They wanted to save ink. Repetition was not something that was done lightly. And yet, in these two verses, it repeats over and over again, four times, that humanity was created in God’s image. And that image is somehow related to the way that we relate to the rest of creation.
So what is the image of God? What does that mean? As I look around at humanity, I see infinite variety. No two people look exactly the same. Even identical twins can always be differentiated in some way. How incredible is that? It is estimated that 107 billion people have lived on this earth, and no two of them looked exactly the same. Our skin comes in so many beautiful hues. Our hair is different textures and colors and lengths, and that doesn’t even stay consistent on a single person throughout life. Our eyes are different colors and shapes. Our bodies are tall and short, thin and a little curvier. We can’t say anything – not one thing – about our physical beings that is exactly the same from one person to the next. So clearly, it is not some physical attribute that God has placed upon us that makes us in the image of God. So, what is it that is essential about God and about humanity? What is it about God that we can look around and recognize in one another? I believe this is where our experience of God in Trinity comes in. We experience God – Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, or in the more traditional language of the church, “father, son, and holy spirit” – as fundamentally connected, dynamic and relational. There’s a theologian that I really love, named Jürgen Moltmann, and he puts it this way: “The Triune God is a social God, rich and inner and outward relationships. If the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are bound together by eternal love, then their unity consists in their oneness in each other. They form their community through their self-giving to each other. And by virtue of their overflowing love, they go beyond themselves and open themselves in creation, in redemption, and in reconciliation.” God exists fundamentally in relationship. And that dynamic love is what spilled out into the life force of creation.
Here’s the part where I actually get to bring my thesis in. Mechthild of Magdeburg; she’s a German mystic that I would be happy to talk to anyone on and on about. She saw the Triune God as a wildly dynamic, always moving force. Her kinetic imagery painted a picture of Trinity that was a constant motion. She describes the times before the creation of the world. “Before our time, when you, Lord, were enclosed within yourself alone, and your indescribable bliss was shared by no one.” But from that closed, self-sufficient system of God, dynamic love poured forth into creation. She writes, “The three persons sent forth beautifully the themes of light in unison. Each of them, illumined by the other, while remaining utterly one. The father illuminates the son. The son illuminates the spirit. The spirit illuminates the son and the father. And it goes back and forth, and it’s a constant, never-ending circle dance. The creator that is not alone – before creation, in creation, after creation – but all three persons of the Trinity are co-eternal co-creators, each with attributes appropriate to their individual role. The creation of humanities spilled out from the super abundant love that permeated the Trinity in and of itself before creation. As Mechthild puts it, “When God could no longer contain Himself, He created the soul. And with His immense love, gave Himself to her as her own.” It is in this image that we are created. The image of love; the image of relationship; the image of connection. It is this connection, this self-giving connection – to one another, to the world around us, to God – that is the key to our humanity. And it is that connection that seems to be missing in so much of our world today.
The world seems to be growing ever smaller and ever closer together. I have friends in California and Florida, in Germany and Ireland, in South America, and I know what’s going on in their day-to-day lives, because of Facebook. Thanks to the wonders of social media, I know what they ate for breakfast. I know when their kids win awards at school. I know when they get a new job, when they celebrate milestones in their lives. But that connection is sometimes shallow. I may know what’s going on from day to day, but I don’t quite remember the sound of their voices. I see their vacations. I see their triumphs. But I don’t see the pain that I might be able to notice as I look at them in the eye. Recently, I have been reading a book by Richard Rohr, called Divine Dance. Seth, you’ll be interested to know that Bono has a quote on the front of this book. He says, “It is a beautiful choreography for a life well-lived.” In this book, he says, “Beneath the ugly manifestations of our present evils – political corruptions, ecological devastation, warring against one another, hating each other based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation – the greatest dis-ease facing humanity right now is our profound and painful sense of disconnection.” That disconnection goes against our fundamental human nature, the nature created in the image of God.
We are created to be connected. We are created to be community. We are created to love. Our two sacraments, the central focus of our life of worship together, are communal in nature. In baptism, we are brought into the community of faith. We promise, or our parents promise on our behalf, to pursue knowledge of God in life and community together. The congregation promises to help nurture and guide the newly-baptized within the community of the church. At the Lord’s Table, we come together. We break bread, and we share the fruit of the vine. Like every family, we may struggle from times to see eye to eye, but we can still come around the table together in fellowship and in love. That is what following the Triune God and living into God’s image means. It doesn’t mean we are all the same. It means that in our differences, in our infinite variety, we can come together around this table and be one. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is a reminder to the church that we are called to be in this thing together. We heard the closing to that letter a moment ago. Immediately before that closing, as he gives this beautiful benediction, right before that, he has reminded them – really, he’s admonished them. He scolded them to remember that Jesus Christ is in them. As the choir sang, Christ in us. They are created in the image of the God of Love, and they’re called to live in that image in their relationships with one another, in their community together, in the church, and in the world. Paul has taken these traditional words of “farewell” and expanded them to speak to a situation in which community and compassion were largely missing.
The church in Corinth was a deeply divided community, at war with one another. We are familiar with that in this day in age. We have all experienced communities, societies, even churches, that are divided. But what Paul is saying is this: “God, the creator of all things, is a God of grace and love, and mercy. This is the foundation of community, and community life together.” Paul challenges the Corinthians to live in harmony. He tells them to restore order and peace. Be the people of love, mercy, and grace that God has called you to be. Paul is certain and clear. You are to share the grace that you have received with all people. You are not God’s sorting hat. You are not a litmus test. Paul laced this out to Corinth and for Christians today. If you are a God-fearer and Jesus-follower, then you will indiscriminately share the grace that God has given you, and the love of God that God has given you. And you will allow that love to flow into community. That coming together into community is not a static thing, though. We are not meant to come here and remain. Just as our God is ever loving and ever moving, we are called to remain in motion, too. The early church called the concept of Trinity “perichoresis”. I love this word. “Peri” means “around”, and “choresis” is the word that we use to get choreography from. The Triune God calls us into a circle dance with all creation. We may not always know the steps; we may stumble; every once in a while, we may even feel like we need to drop out and go stand against the wall for a little while. But God is always pulling us back in, reaching into our hearts, and saying, “Shall we dance?”