Monday, June 20, 2011

In God's Image (Trinity Sunday, June 19 2011)

Homily:  Yr A Trinity Sunday, June 19 2011, Huntley
Readings:  Gen 1:1-2:4a; Ps 8; 2 Cor 13:11-13; Mt 28:16-20

Once upon a time, perhaps some 3000 years ago, there was a poet who wandered out to look at the night skies.  And that poet saw the brightness of the moon, and the stars that were too many to count, and he was struck with awe and wonder at the beauty and the immensity of the heavens above.  When morning came, there was a dazzling sunrise, and he gazed out over the sea, sparkling blue as far as he could see, and he marveled at the variety of animal and plant life in the seas and on land, and the birds in the sky above him. 

And as he marveled at the vast beauty and variety of the universe, he couldn’t help feeling a bit small and insignificant.   And yet, he was aware that there does seem to be something special about humanity.  Our consciousness, our love of beauty, our desire for justice, our yearning for God.  Is there any significance to these traits?  His thoughts were drawn to the Creator who had brought everything into being, the one that his people called Yahweh and he asked the question that so many people have asked both in the centuries before him and in the ones that followed:  Could it be that God really cares about us?  Or, in the language of the psalm that the Hebrew poet wrote all those years ago, “What is man, that you should be mindful of him?”

The passage of time has, if anything, made the poet’s question even more pertinent.  We now know that the universe is orders of magnitude bigger than the poet ever imagined.  The variety of life on this planet that has since been discovered would have dwarfed the poet’s comprehension.  The awe and wonder that we rightly feel when we consider the universe prompts us to ask if there is a power or intelligence or spirit, one that we usually call God, who brought this universe into being.  And if our response is yes, as it is for those of us gathered here, that there is Creator, then sooner or later, there is another question that we ask:  Does that Creator care about me?

The creation story from Genesis was first spoken and eventually written down to try to address this question.  Often we make the mistake of thinking that the primary purpose of the Genesis story that we heard in our first reading is to tell us about how God created the world, and as a result we get ourselves in a muddle.  We try to resolve Genesis with what we understand from science, and we worry about whether we can reconcile the biblical account with the theories of the Big Bang and of evolution.

But the primary purpose of the Genesis story is not to tell us how the world was created.  Its primary purpose is to tell us about God and God’s relationship to humanity.  Does God, the Creator who made the universe and all that is in it, in all its beauty and wonder and immensity, does God care about us?  Do our lives matter in God’s sight or are our joys and sorrows simply fleeting and trivial?  Is there a purpose to our existence or are we just random blips of chemistry and evolution?  What is our relationship to the source of all life in the universe?

The Genesis story teaches us about that relationship and its importance.  It teaches that God the Creator made adam, literally, the earth-creature, in the image of God and gave the human a special role and purpose as the steward of all creation.  It teaches that God the Creator wanted to be in relationship with the human, and that in order to do so, he first made the human as male and female, so that they could be in relationship with each other.  In fact it seems that in order to make humanity in the image of God, humanity had to be made in more than one person.

As the scripture tells us,

So God created humanity in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God created us in his image, but in order to do so he had to create not just one human, but two, because to be in the image of God means to be in relationship.  To love, to forgive, to be intimate, to be vulnerable, to be in communion.  The Genesis story tells us that the Creator of the universe made us as relational beings, capable of all these relational qualities, so that we could be in relationship with each other and with God.  That is what makes us human, that is what makes us the image of God.

But if that’s what it means to say that humanity is created in the image of God, wouldn’t that mean that God is, fundamentally, a relationship?

Welcome to Trinity Sunday, the day of the year when we celebrate the idea that the best way we can picture God is not as an individual, but as a relationship,.  Ever since the early days of the Christian Church we have imagined God as one God in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  One in three.  Three in one.  And ever since the early days of the church, people have found this a bit confusing.  But the key I think to sorting out the idea of the Trinity is simply to remember that it’s all about relationship.

Jesus kind of nudged us in this direction, didn’t he.  Jesus was of course an individual human being, just like you and me.  But when people around Jesus encountered him and were amazed by him and asked the question “Who is this man?”, what sort of answers were given?

They said, he is a prophet, that is one who speaks the word of God.  They said he is the Messiah, the one who is chosen and sent by God.  They said he is the Son of God.  They said he is the Word of God made flesh.  They said he is the one who calls God Father, Abba.

To those around him, it became quite apparent that it was near impossible to talk about who Jesus was without talking about his relationship with God.  The essence of who Jesus was as a person flowed out of his relationship with God the Father.  Jesus himself talks this way, saying things like “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”  It’s all about relationship.  One in three and three in one, Father, Son and Spirit.  God is a relationship and we are created in God’s image.  We are created to love and to give and to receive and to share in each other’s joys and sorrows, to understand ourselves as relationships, as relational beings.

Now I’m well aware that understanding ourselves in this way, and also understanding God in this way, can be a bit difficult for us.

Part of our difficulty is that in this world of ours, we tend to view ourselves as autonomous individuals, competing and surviving and striving for success in a world of scarce resources and limited opportunities.  We value our independence. 

In part, this way of seeing things comes from our modern individualized sense of identity: what makes me me is that I’m not you.

But suppose we change our vision.  Suppose we listen closely to the Genesis story.  Suppose we listen closely to the Jesus story.  Suppose I was to realize that what makes me me is my relationship with you.  Suppose I was to realize that my very identity, my meaning and purpose in life is to be found in my relationships, in my community. 

Would that make a difference?  Would it make a difference in how we live?  I think that it would.  And I think that God would see it as very good.

This is my last Sunday in the Parish of Huntley and so I would like to thank all of you for the love and support you have shown me over the last three years.  You have made me who I am, especially in my vocation in ordained ministry, and for that I am grateful.  It has been my relationship with you that has given meaning and purpose to my journey over the past three years, and I will miss you.  Later this morning, the wardens and I will be telling you who your new minister will be.  I have one request of you:  please welcome her the same way that you welcomed me.  In the years to come, what her ministry will become will flow out of the relationships she will have with each one of you.  Knowing you as I do, knowing what a wonderful parish this is, I’m sure it will be very good.


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