A sermon for The Holy Trinity [Year A]
Genesis 1:1–2:4a and Matthew 28:16-20
It’s something many know in their hearts, and something many more of us struggle to realize, but on this Holy Trinity Sunday, the Scriptures proclaim it loud and clear: From the very beginning up until whenever the end of the age comes, the work of God involves all people and involves all people on equal footing. From the first chapter of our creation story to the final commission of Jesus to his disciples, God’s vision for humankind makes no space for racial supremacy or segregation, and the abundance of his mercy is meant for all.
It happens to be an especially important message for the times we live in right now, as you know. And here we have yet another example of how the uncanny Holy Spirit plans timely messages through the tool of our lectionary readings and church year. For the past two weeks our nation has been embroiled in often violent but mostly peaceful protests following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died under arrest in Minneapolis. Our own governor has proposed the removal of one monument to the Confederacy that stands in our own city and our mayor has declared intention to remove the others. Debates about the effects of racism and inequality have already been raging for a while, and I suspect in our lovely city they may get more intense yet.
Laws may change and leaders may get removed from office, but today on Holy Trinity Sunday we contemplate that one thing that is eternal: God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And today God’s Word reminds us, with clarity that would be difficult to misunderstand: God makes humankind in God’s image and God unifies humankind in the same tasks and joys of prosperity. And as Jesus prepares his followers to carry on with his mission, he says, “Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations.”
Some are saying that we’ve been here as a country before and that things will simmer down and return to the ways they always were. Some are saying that maybe our collective wounds are open enough now that we that we can see the benefit of moving forward in new way of healing, whatever that is. No matter what happens, those who have been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can confess the truth of our faith: God creates, redeems, and keeps all of humankind holy as a perfect outpouring of God’s own self. And those who have been claimed by the Risen Lord Jesus have been sent into the world as he would himself go: with love, with mercy, with an eye to those who feel marginalized. When Jesus says he will be with them to the end of the age, that means he is somehow going with them as they go to teach and baptize. We shouldn’t forget that. Jesus himself is there as we go, through the power of the Holy Spirit, leading, directing, and correcting.
A lot of times I think this passage from Matthew’s gospel only gets read as instructions for some grand-scale enterprise, like the church going into different foreign countries and fulfilling the Great Commission by building new churches, that it’s something missionaries do, out there on the frontier. That certainly is part of it, but making disciples of all nations and teaching them to obey Jesus’ commandments is something we do on an individual level, too, each and every day, on the frontier of each relationship. Undertaking Jesus’ mission seriously here means treating each person with respect and dignity, as a bearer of the divine image.
Speaking of being made in someone’s image, I am actually the proud owner of a coffee mug that someone made in my image. One of my friends in Pittsburgh was a very gifted potter and when I left the church I served there he made me this mug. It typically sits somewhere in my office. I’ve never used it because I’m afraid it might damage it somehow, or that it wouldn’t clean very easily, but I’ve also never used it because…look…that probably would freak people out. Makes me look a little vain. I am, however, seriously impressed with how great a likeness this thing is. This potter has talent. The eye color, the brooding eyebrows…he even got the slant of my nose correct.
In all seriousness, though, being made in God’s image isn’t like someone making a coffee mug or a statue or a portrait. It doesn’t mean that we physically resemble God. It means that unlike other parts of God’s creations, humans have been bestowed with qualities that are godlike. Our presence in creation should remind others of God, like God has taken a selfie and dropped it in among the rhododendron and the zebras. Color of skin or eyes and levels of ability or disability, slant of nose…they are just factors that give diversity to humankind. What bearing God’s likeness means is that, like God, we can choose between right and wrong. We can reason and contemplate and solve problems. We can create things ourselves. And we can love.
Something interesting here that needs to be pointed out: We may throw that phrase around an awful lot—being created in God’s image—but the understanding that all humans are little snapshots of God was and is revolutionary. We know that other ancient cultures who existed at the time of the Hebrews, tended to say that only their rulers bore the divine image. The king or queen of their land was the representative of God. Regular people, those outside the royal quarters, never bore that special designation.
By contrast, our faith from its beginning claimed a God who did not discriminate when stamping the divine qualities on humankind. No person walks this planet who is not a snapshot of God. Not one. Every member of the human family shares the label “very good.”
The question is: What do you do with that? What do you do with that knowledge, that glorious label? That’s the main thrust of all of these stories and Scriptures. They give us great wisdom about the who and why of God and creation, but the next question they answer is “What now?” Do you take this all to heart for yourself, especially when you are feeling lowly and worthless? Do you extend that view to others, to your neighbor, to the person who has a different story from you?
Because when we do that, when we are cognizant of God’s image in us and in each other, we are making a statement about God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. We are making a statement about how the Holy Trinity is alive and active in the world today.
When we when we go into all nations and to all peoples with the same kind of humility and healing presence Jesus comes to us, then we are making a statement about a God who creates us, redeems us, and loves us to the end.
We are making a claim that God is a Father who loves his Son in the power of the Spirit that binds them together. Charles Octavius Boothe, a man born a slave in Alabama, who went on to become a pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, and one of the influential black theologians and workers for racial uplift in the time following Reconstruction, wrote a little book called Plain Theology for Plain People. It was his attempt to help a church membership who was slowly becoming more literate and therefore less dependent on interpretations of the Bible that had been influenced by white supremacy. At one point he describes the Holy Trinity a “happy, eternal, almighty, and glorious companionship!” That is, God contains within God’s self a community, even without us. The Creator’s love has spilled out into the world so that we all may be fruitful and multiply. That redeeming love has been lavished on the world with such force that it brings life out of death, and joy out of suffering. That love which can make all of us holy has been poured out with such grace that everyone will be part of that happy and glorious companionship.
In one of our new members’ classes a couple of years ago, one man shared that he had grown up in a small town in a northern state where almost everyone was the same race. As a child and a youth he had come to be proud and thankful that he had been created a white male because things seemed so easy for him and people like him. No one had intentionally taught him this; it was just a mindset that he developed over course of his childhood that was reinforced by what little he saw from the rest of the world. Then this man shared that when he left the town and began to have more life experiences, enter the military, travel the country, he met many of the kinds of people he used to be thankful he wasn’t—people of different races, different ethnic backgrounds, different economic levels—and he shared that he found them actually to be wonderful people. Friends. He said his feelings about his own worth didn’t change, but that God opened his eyes to the worth of others. He had to die a little to do so, had to give up some of his former viewpoints, let go of some safe feelings of superiority, but that seeing the beauty of the whole world and the value of its people was totally worth it.
This is an unbelievably kind and thoughtful man, and I was so thankful he shared that with us. I’m thankful because I think he was a wonderful example of the “What Now?” of faith and the “What now?” that the Triune God pushes us toward.
It seems we’ve got a lot of “What nows?” to answer, I believe. What now, people of Richmond, that you’ve been claimed by this great God who himself is a community of three in On who has invited you into his companionship? What now as we learn that God has given us the ability to explore and create the way the Father does? What now as we wake up to our mission to love and forgive the way the Son does? What now as we grow in life and holiness the way the Spirit nudges us to?
And, most of all, what now?—as we remember that above all of the wild and tumultuous world, the building and the toppling of monuments to men and women until the end of the age, stands the authority of Jesus, crucified and risen, the authority of compassion and mercy and grace? What now? God made us just a little less than divine. Will the Trinity be glorified?
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you.
The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.