Rev. Dr. Martha Jacobs
Three Yet One
Psalm 8, Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Sunday, June 11, 2017
I went back and forth about whether or not to read the entire creation story this morning, but I could not figure out what to leave out! I guess I could have skipping days two thru five and gone from God creating the heavens and the earth to God creating humankind. But, that felt too much like I would be telling you that we are more important than the other things that God created. And, as many of us believe, we share this earth with not only other human beings but also with the animals, creepy crawly creatures (which are NOT my favorites), birds, trees, air, water. So, to give them short shrift felt wrong to me. There is enough going on in our world these days to remind us about our need to protect our environment. So, I hope that you were able to listen anew to the Creation Story for something that touched you, perhaps in a new way, when you heard it this morning.
This reading is designated for what is known in the life of the church as Trinity Sunday when we talk about the relationship between God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I don’t think I have ever preached on the Trinity especially not in light of the creation story and that led me to wonder why the creation story was a part of Trinity Sunday. So, as I did my research on why this reading, I was drawn to some new aspects of this story of God beyond us, God with us, and God within us, as one theologian describes the Trinity.
I want to begin by talking for a few minutes about the origins of this creation story. And, I am going to use the Rev, Barbara Brown Taylor’s imagery for this because it is so beautiful:
In her book The Luminous Web, Rev. Taylor describes the shaping of the creation narrative of Genesis as a counter-cultural protest of the people of Israel against the creation story of their Babylonian captors. They believed that Marduk (a Mesopotamian deity) brought the universe into being through violence. So, while their oppressors saw the origins of the universe as violent and bloody, the Israelites told their children a different story, a story rooted in goodness and blessing.
Light was brought by God from the deepest night and order from chaos. The sun and the moon and the stars were set in the over-arching sky as signs of beauty and the changing of the seasons, providing light and direction and the keeping of time. God filled the earth with vegetation that was fruitful and nourishing, moved the waters back from the land and provided a home for the creatures that crawled across it, walked upon it, and flew over it.
In the midst of this loveliness, in the garden of this earth, Rev. Taylor says, God tenderly placed human beings, blessing us and calling us to be caretakers and stewards of God’s work. And then God looked upon all of this, and found it good–pronounced it good. She asks: Is there any more beautiful, more inspiring, more powerful poetry than this ancient story about who we are, what creation is, and most importantly, who God is? (1)
Who God is…brings me to the Trinity aspect of this reading.
Buried within this creation imagery is the Trinity – and that was an aha moment for me – because I had not thought of the creation story as having the Trinity present. Through my reading on why the Trinity, it was pointed out that first there is God – then God’s Holy Spirit (Ru’ah) which brooded over the earth – and then God’s light that cannot be diminished (and, of course, we refer to Jesus as the light of the world).There we have it! Three yet one!
Generations of Christians have wanted to know, analyze, and explain the Trinity with our intellect. I am aware that I too am doing that this morning. But, in reality, what we are talking about is mystery, one that has yet to be, and may never be, fully understood by our human brains. The early church fathers tried to describe what’s indescribable – their own mysterious experiences of God. Just like us, it is hard to put into words our own experiences of God. It seems like this mystery can be known only when we experience our spiritual hearts touching each other, as I talked about last Sunday during our Dialogue.
However, there are ways that we can look at the idea of the Trinity which may lead us to a closer relationship with God, Jesus and the Spirit. This morning, I would like to invite you to look at the picture on the cover of your bulletin. It is a picture of an icon, created by Russian painter Andrei Rublev in the 15th century. It is titled Holy Trinity, but is also known as The Hospitality of Abraham. It is Rublev’s most famous work and the most famous of all Russian icons. It is regarded as one of the highest achievements of Russian art. I was drawn to look for this icon by Rev. Carole Crumley when I was doing my research. She writes the following about how this icon came to be:
Through his praying with Scripture, Rublev began to understand the three messengers who visited Abraham and Sarah and announced the future birth of Issac, as ancestors of the Holy Trinity, of God, Christ and Spirit. In depicting this scene, he draws three figures seated around three sides of a square table. When you look at the picture, you can see that there is an opening on the fourth side, the side immediately in front of the viewer.
Here is what Rev. Crumley saw as she viewed this icon. See if you agree with her:
“As one gazes at this image, one is aware of the vast silence that surrounds the three figures. They seem to be looking into each other with an unqualified dignity, respect, and loving gaze – three distinct persons, three yet one. She believes that the fourth side to the table is left open intentionally by Rublev, signaling an invitation for the person viewing the image to draw near, perhaps even to sit at the table and join in the intimate conversation taking place. In a profound sense the person viewing the icon completes the image by joining the divine circle of the Sacred Three.” (2)
Rev. Crumley reminded me about Henri Nouwen’s writing about this icon. “Father Nouwen, a twentieth-century Dutch theologian and author, spent many hours gazing on this icon during a time in his life when he was going through a severe depression. He wrote about that journey in his book Behold the Beauty of the Lord. Nouwen wrote that gradually, over many months, through looking at Rublev’s image, he came to know the Trinity as a Community of Love, a House of Love. Nouwen found that in that household he experienced no fear, no greed, no anger, no violence, no anxieties, no pain, no suffering, even no words; only love, enduring love and deepening trust. It was a house, he said, in which he could dwell forever.”
This morning, I would like to suggest that our God is both communal and loving. One God, beyond us, God with us and God within us, who shares with us mutual and sacrificial love. That love indeed spills out into the world and all its inhabitants. And, it seems to me, that we are called to be church in a similar way. Loving, respecting, and caring for each other in a way that spills out into our neighborhoods and communities in ways that invite others to join us at that table that Rublev created in his icon. A table that always has an open place for anyone who needs to feel or know that they are not alone when they experience fear, anger, violence.
At this table there are no anxieties, no pain, no suffering, no words – only love, enduring love and deepening trust. I am not suggesting that it is a panacea here. I am not suggesting that pain and suffering go away because of our belief in God. But, when we share our burdens, especially with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit and with each other, our burden is lightened and we can experience new life, new possibilities, new hope, new grace.
Do I sound unrealistic or too Pollyanna? Well, maybe I am being unrealistic. But, I know, that with God all things are possible. And, when we are willing to let God’s Spirit brood over our hearts, breathing ru’ah, new life, into us, when we are willing to open ourselves to Jesus, who walks with us through all of the ups and downs of our life. When we take in God’s Holy Spirit and allow that Spirit, to guide us and remind us of God’s love and care for us, we can understand in a new and deeper way God beyond us, God with us and God within us.
Then, we can also look at the creation that is all around us and for which we do need to care, and see God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit in those things as well. I believe that we will then be open to a deeper understanding of all that God has created and pronounced good.
(1) UCC Sermon Seeds June 11, 2017
(2) Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year A, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).