In the Beginning, June 7 2020
In the Beginning, God …
(the opening of this sermon was inspired by a sermon I heard some time ago,
but I’ve forgotten the preacher and the details)
In the beginning, God began to create the world. In the beginning, God began to draw order out of chaos. In the beginning, God breathed life into every living creature. In the beginning, God began to craft and make a world which would reflect God’s love and God’s passion.
And then, God looked at it all and said, “Oh, this is good. This is very good. Mmm mmm mmm, it is good.”
In the beginning …
And then God rested.
And then God gave it into our care.
And some days we look out at our world and wonder if it’s really true. Sometimes it seems as if we want to lead the world back into chaos. Sometimes it seems as if we are trying to recreate the world in our distorted image so that it only serves a select few, the ones with money and power. Sometimes it seems as if we are so driven that we don’t want to rest so that we can grow the economy, grow our wealth, grow our production, grow our portfolios, all at the cost of the poorest among us, all at the cost of creation itself. Sometimes it seems as if we are driven to dismantle the world and let chaos have its way again.
Sometimes it seems as if we are determined to create a world of death and loss instead of one which ravishes us with beauty and the miracle of life and breath and goodness and the flourishing of all living things:
- • the spectre of military might, deployed in war and now in peace time;
- • the threat of climate change, and the exploitation of our natural resources because we treat the stuff of creation as a commodity for our profit;
- • the threat of a pandemic which affects us all but harms the poorest among us most deeply;
- • the increasing threat of a different kind of pandemic, based on the colour of our skin, and the violence which erupts in society because of the deep systemic inequality bred by racism and poverty;
- • some leaders among us who seek to deepen the divisions among us for their own political purposes.
Let me say it again … “In the beginning, God …”
The very first words of our sacred text—a text which is sacred because it tells the stories of how God is among us—remind us that when we are talking about matters of theology and faith, we’re not talking about ourselves. First and foremost, we are talking about God. Only secondarily are we talking about our faith, our trust, our life of discipleship. We respond to God, and response, by definition, always comes second.
In the beginning, God …
The wonder of Christian faith is that God hungers to be in community with us. The very heart of God is relational. We see that in this delightful creation story, when at the very end God says, “Let us make humankind in our image …” The rest of creation wasn’t enough. God finishes creation by making creatures who are in the image of God, with whom God can be in relationship.
The human being is the crown of creation, says Psalm 8, for we are made to reflect the very nature of God. If God hungers for relationship, then that longing for relationship is built into our DNA as well.
We are catching a sense of that during this time of self–isolation. We are learning in a whole new way how difficult it is to maintain physical distance from one another. We miss the interaction. We miss the hugs. We miss just being together. We are discovering once again that even though we must be physically distant, it is so important to maintain some kind of social connection.
And so we reach out to one another … by phone and by email and by lawn parties where we keep our physical distance but we can be together, by helping one another with ordinary daily tasks, but making sure that we’re all keeping well and keeping safe.
We long to be with each other … and our longing is a reflection of God’s passion to be with us.
At the very beginning of Matthew’s gospel, the angel tells Joseph in a dream that the child to be born will be named Emmanuel, which means God with us. The heart of God to be in communion with us is captured in this child’s name. We live in a world which is saturated with divine presence. This is the God “in whom we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)
God with us. Emmanuel.
Matthew’ gospel ends with the same promise. In the very last thing he does on earth after resurrection in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus encounters the disciples one last time. He gives them a ministry—we call it the Great Commission—“go and make disciples of all nations; baptize them; teach them.”
Just as God gave creation into our care, now Jesus gives the gospel of love and God’s ministry to the church. “Tell the world about God’s love,” Says Jesus. “Live as people who embody God’s love; be disciples; mentor other disciples.” As I’ve said before, God doesn’t call us to be church members. God calls us to be disciples. To be people who follow Jesus. To be people who walk in the way of Jesus. To live as Jesus lived. To love as Jesus loved.
This is the work of healing and transformation. Jesus invites us to join in the work of transforming our failed ways so that we and all of creation may be healed. Jesus invites us to partner with God in the word of transformation and reconciliation.
And then at the very end of the gospel, Jesus’ very last words are, “Remember … I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
That’s the promise that sustains and energizes us. I am with you.
Holy Spirit is that intimate, life–giving presence of God in our midst. God continues to breathe life into the church and into the world so that we may all be able to breathe. God invites us to breathe hope and goodness and beauty and joy and love into the world. We can breathe, so that all may be enabled to breathe with God’s grace and compassion.
God is with us in every experience. God is with us in every action and word. God is with us as we reach out in love. God is with us as we proclaim with all our strength that every single person is wondrous and valued and loved.
This good news strengthens God’s people of all faiths to stand together and proclaim that every single life matters. We stand against the blasphemy of Donald Trump, proclaiming boldly that there are no scum, there are no losers, there are no people who are beneath our notice. All are valuable. All are dear in the heart of God. All are loved beyond measure.
And God hungers to be in relationship with all of us and each of us.
We see it throughout the whole Bible. This story in our sacred text is not just a story of God’s people learning about God. It’s a story of God’s people encountering God in our lives. God comes close to us. God refuses to remain far off. God longs to be with us and God invites us to rest in the embrace of love our whole lives long.
God embraces all of us. Not just a few of us. Not just some of us. God invites “all nations” to come together in peace, to breathe together the goodness of life. Every single person. Every single community. We are made in the image of God, and therefore we have so much more in common than what divides us. Any person, any leader, who seeks to divide us is working against the purposes of God.
God is with us. Christ calls to each of us from the face and experience of the other. When we say “God is with us”, we are saying that we see God in the lives of the other, that God calls to us from the one who is different than us, that God reaches out to us with the hands of those who are not like us.
In the beginning, God …
I think this—all this—is what “Trinity” is trying to describe … this dynamic, creative, relational God who always seeks to be with us and among us and within us. God is always creating, and God is always relating with creation, and God is always transforming creation. Read that last sentence again.
God is always creating, and God is always relating with creation, and God is always transforming creation. God is always at work bringing order out of chaos, always breathing life into every moment, always raising up a people who seek to work in partnership with God.
In the beginning, God …
And in response, we …
As God’s people, we stand in solidarity with one another. We reach across all geographic and political and racial and religious divides. We join hands with one another, standing firm and rooted in the gospel of love against anyone and any force which seeks to divide us.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
June 7, 2020 (Pentecost 1, Trinity Sunday)
Matthew 28: 16–20
2 Corinthians 13:11–13