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Life-changing Triune God

Commentary
An eternally loving, life-changing Triune God!

Genesis 1:1--2:4a
The First Lesson is the product of one of the four distinct oral traditions which gave rise to the first five books of the Bible. Most scholars deem it to be the P strand’s version of the origin of the cosmos in six days. This tradition seems to have been developed by temple priests dating back to the sixth century B.C. The prose of the text is rhythmic (evident in the contrasts between chaos and what was created, comparing the divine command and what Elohim does). This may suggest the hymnic origins of the Lesson. This version of the creation story is more cosmological than the anthropocentric version of creation which follows immediately after the Lesson ends. The later account is the work of the J strand, an oral tradition dating from the ninth/tenth century BC which is so names for its use of the Name Jahweh or Yahweh (translated “Lord”).

In the actual account God is said to master the primordial emptiness [bohu, the chaos of nothingness] (1:2). Creation out of nothing is here presupposed. The world is said to originate from watery depths [tehom]. Many in the ancient world believed that the earth originated from and was founded on a watery abyss. Insights about the role of water in giving life mesh with modern scientific findings. (We know that water accounts for between 65% to 90% of the body’s weight, or of the earth’s plants and animals, that life began in or out of the ocean’s waters.) Reference to the ruach of God in creation may be translated “wind” or “Spirit” of God (1:2). God’s Word is the agent of creation, beginning first with the light [or] (1:3-5). Reference to the sky as separating the waters (1:6-8) creates the context for the claim that the earth and its life-giving vegetation as well as creaturely life emerge from the water. This creation is said to be good (1:9-13,20).

The creation of sun, moon, stars, life, and human life which follows is in the order proposed by modern physics and evolution (1:14-25).  When God creates human beings in his image, he speaks in the plural form. One could debate whether the use of the plural form Elohim [the Hebrew term used for God in this account] could be a function of God’s plurality or merely represents a dialogue between him and the heavenly court.

The account winds down as it is said that everything God made was very good (1:31). Reference is then made to God resting on the seventh day and blessing the seventh day because on it, he rested form all the work done in creation (2:2-3). (It is significant that the Hebrew word for “rest” [shabat] is the root term for “Sabbath.”) It is then noted that these are the generations of the heaven and earth when they were created (2:4a). It is also significant to remember how the number seven in Hebrew [sheba] connotes completeness or fullness, and so may not necessarily refer to seven 24-hour days.

Several sermon possibilities are offered by this Lesson. One option is to focus on the Trinity theme and argue that the Trinity concept (though not the term) has biblical roots. Focus on the plural character of the Hebrew term Elohim used to describe God and how the plural pronouns are used to describe his internal conversations is certainly worth exploring. Another way to proceed might be to preach on the compatibility of the first creation account and modern science. The hymnic character of the account certainly opens the way to reconciliation with science, that we need not read the Genesis account so literally. But the compatibility of the text’s literal sense with the Theory of Evolution (as noted, the order of the creation resembles the order of what evolution and modern physics hypothesize) as well as with the Big Bang Theory (as the light identified with the origins of creation might be identified with the Big Bang) invites sermonic exploration. This can be a sermon for tearing down the religion-science barriers which continue to plague the credibility of Christian faith in our context.

2 Corinthians 13:11-13
In the Second Lesson we read from a letter of Paul to a troubled church in Greece. This one was written in a context in which Paul’s relations with the church had further deteriorated during the period after 1 Corinthians had been written. Chapters 10-13 from which the Lesson is taken are so different in style and tone from the first chapters as to lead many scholars to conclude that it is the “severe letter” mentioned in 2:4.

In concluding remarks, Paul urges the Corinthians to put things in order, agree with each other, and live in peace. The God of love and peace will be with them (v.11). He urges that they greet each other with a holy kiss (v.12), a liturgical action in early Christian worship (Romans 16:6; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:26). The benediction, a blessing that the grace of Christ, love of God, and communion of the Holy Spirit be with them, is offered (v.13). The trinitarian formula should be noted.

Sermons on this text for Trinity Sunday do well to consider the trinitarian formula reflected in it. A 2016 LifeWay research poll found that just over half of Americans (6 in 10) affirm the Trinity, but then many of them (1 in 2 Americans) effectively deny the concept when they are unwilling to endorse the divinity of the Son of God. And we are not living at peace with each other. The political and online rhetoric makes that clear. Using Paul’s insights which link the triune formula to the loving character of God suggests a view of the Trinity which dates back to Augustine and Jonathan Edwards. Both taught that a loving God entails that Father and Son are always loving each other, and we construe the Holy Spirit as the love which makes them one (as two become one in Christian love) (Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol.3, p.100). A God who is loving and social like this will inspire his people to love like that too. No place for an anti-social Christianity, for a faith unconcerned with social harmony, when you have a Trinitarian God who loves many into one.

Matthew 28:16-20
The gospel is again derived from the gospel of the present liturgical year, the most Jewish of all gospels. Likely not written by the apostle whose name it bears, the original audience was probably Jewish Christians no longer in full communion with Judaism (see 24:20). This text reports Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples during his final resurrection appearance.

The remaining eleven disciples go to the mountain where Jesus had directed them. They see him there and worship him [something they had not done prior to the crucifixion], though some still doubted (vv.16-17). Jesus is reported to have stated that all authority has been given to Him (v.18). He commissions them to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (v.19) – the biblical basis for the Trinity doctrine.

The Greek word for “nations” [ethne] may refer to Gentiles. According to Hebrew usage “in the name of” means in the possessions and protection of (see Psalm 124:8). New Testament scholars are inclined to regard Matthean phrases as connoting references to the eschatological Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14. This suggests that Matthew had in mind Jesus’ resurrection and the ministry to follow in terms of the end of times (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According To Matthew, p.531). Thus, we observe in Matthew a blurring of Jesus’ time on earth and His eschatological exaltation. Jesus is then reported to have exhorted that the converts be taught to obey everything He commended. He notes that He will always be with the disciples to the end of the age (v.20).  

See the Second Lesson for data on our lack of awareness about or belief in the Trinity. A  2019 Barna poll of American millennials found that nearly half of them think evangelism is not a valid practice. This Gospel lesson affords opportunity for sermons on one or both of these problematic issues. Augustine’s view of the Trinity noted above in the interpretation of the Second Lesson might be employed or an insight by Martin Luther viewing Father, Son, and Spirit as like the speaker, word, and listener in a conversation (Luther’s Works, Vol.24, pp.364-365) could be used to make sense of the Trinity after using this Lesson to demonstrate the doctrine’s biblical roots. Both images also have implications for facilitating evangelism. A God who loves many into one is a God who wants that for his people, to bring all people into the family of faith. And a God who loves conversation as a way for bringing three into one is a God who encourages conversations about him in evangelism.

All the texts for Trinity Sunday open the door for sermons on the Trinity, but sermons that aim to help the faithful appreciate how a trinitarian understanding of God can make a difference in everyday American life. 
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