Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a – In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Psalm 8 – 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?
2 Corinthians 13:11-13 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
Matthew 28:16-20 – “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
For me, the conundrum on Holy Trinity Sunday is whether to preach on the day or on the texts; realizing that the day’s texts are assigned because of Trinitarian references or allusions. And since the Trinitarian formulas of our creeds are an effort to maintain the mystery of the Trinity and not solve the puzzle of the Trinity… Well, preaching on the mystery without venturing into our penchant to puzzle solve can be a very slippery slope.
But there are real life political issues also at stake in the creeds; and so, first, a brief wade into the waters of Nicea and the Council of 325. Marcus Borg writes
To resolve the conflict, [Constantine] called the bishops of the church together at his palace on the shore of Lake Nicea in Asia Minor, not far from today’s Istanbul. Constantine’s agenda was to reach agreement about the nature of Jesus, so that conflicts within Christianity would not lead to conflicts within his empire. He seems not to have cared what the bishops concluded-only that they came to an agreement. Both sides agreed that Jesus was divine. But was [Jesus] one with God-” of one substance” with God, “of one Being” with God? Or was he a little bit less than God; divine , yes, but created by God and thus not equal with God? The first position was represented by Athanasius (293- 373), the second by Arius (ca. 250- 336). Athanasius won.
[However, another] issue was at stake that Constantine seemed initially not to understand. Like Roman emperors before him, Constantine was hailed as divine, Son of God, and Lord. But he was not, to use the language of the creed, “begotten and not made.” He was not “of one substance,” “one Being” with God. Athanasius’s interpretation put Jesus above the emperor. Within a few years of Nicea, Constantine realized this and became “Arian,” that is, an advocate of the lesser status of Jesus advocated by Arius. So did his imperial successors for much of the fourth century.
Thus a major issue at stake in the Nicene Creed is: Is Jesus above all of the lords of this world or is he one among a number of lords? The issue continues to come up for Christians today. Is Jesus above the lords of culture or is he one allegiance among a number of allegiances? Are we to give our allegiance to Jesus in the religious realm and our allegiance to others in the other realms of life? Are our religious and political loyalties separate? Or is Jesus lord of all lords? The answer of the Nicene Creed (and the New Testament before it) is clear. Jesus as Lord and Son of God transcends all other lords. Given this, standing and saying the Nicene Creed is a subversive act. Its affirmations negate the claims of other lords upon us. God as known in Jesus is Lord, the one and only Lord. The lords of culture- and they are many- are not.
Borg, Marcus J. (2011-04-12). Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power-And How They Can Be Restored (pp. 205-207). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Now that might be a very non-mysterious – but dangerous – “second article excursus” for a sermon.
Second, while the above mentioned study group was viewing the magnificent theater at Hierapolis, we started talking about the Trinity. It was pointed out that the Greek word for “person” – πρόσωπον – often gets misunderstood as “the separate individual” in modern usage. πρόσωπον was much more nuanced than that.
The “prosopon” was the mask that an actor wore. That gives a little different twist to “God in three persons (masks?) blessed Trinity.”
I have said in a sermon or two that, “Halloween is the night when we all get to put masks on our masks”, because prosopon can also mean “face”. (In truth, the public face we put forward is often already a mask.) Prosopon is the exact word that Paul uses for face in 1 Corinthians 13:12.
“βλέπομεν γὰρ ἄρτι δι’ ἐσόπτρου ἐν αἰνίγματι, τότε δὲπρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον.” – “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.” Then we will see prosopon to prosopon; but for now we see αἰνίγματι – from which we get our word “enigma” – and we are back to the mystery again. Who really is behind mask #1, #2, or #3? Who really is behind our own mask? But enough…
The first lesson is the later creation account from the Priestly tradition. I think this needs to be preached in such a way that it avoids any “7 day creation” literalism. If people want that they can head for north Texas and visit the Creation Evidence Museum or the Museum of Earth History.
If I were to preach on this text, I would focus on the breath/wind/spirit of God bringing order out of chaos. This would accentuate the continual work of God’s creative activity. (I like the footnote in the NRSV for Genesis 1:1 – “…when God began to create…”) God is still working to order the chaos of the universe, our world, and our lives. God’s ongoing creative work is to save us from chaos; much of which is the result of our ongoing “not so creative” work. Or, to put a positive spin on it, take the ELCA “God’s work. Our hands.” and explore the ways in which we are to be about the business of ending the chaos of life. (That will preach!)
A great verse from the Trinitarian hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” – ELW 756:
Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion, peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!
Lots of themes here. This is the “Great Commission” text and Matthew’s ascension story; selected, of course, because of the Trinitarian formula (!?) that is spoken by the ascending Jesus. How does one make disciples of all nations? (ἔθνη) Two actions: baptize (βαπτίζοντες) and teach (διδάσκοντες – from which we get didactic and Didache).
I’ll leave to you the discussion/debate as to whether in practice it should be baptize > teach or teach > baptize; but I think that – especially in Matthew where Jesus is painted as the New Moses – the teaching issue is critical. How is the faith best taught? What does “teaching the faith” look like in a post-modern world? What in fact is being taught? (One ought review Kenda Creasy Dean’s book, Almost Christian, with regard to these questions.)
And lastly, are we really willing to involve “all nations” (ἔθνη)? Are we interested in teaching – and learning from – people different from ourselves? I think that those are important questions being asked by Christian teenagers at a time when the people in their “teaching places” – the church and the school – are looking increasingly dissimilar.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Don Carlson