A Reading from the Book of Genesis (1:1-2:4a)
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
1 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
2 Out of the mouths of infants and children *
your majesty is praised above the heavens.
3 You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *
to quell the enemy and the avenger.
4 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
5 What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?
6 You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;
7 You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under his feet:
8 All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,
9 The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.
10 O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
A Reading from the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (13:11-13)
Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew (28:16-20)
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
If members of the clergy had one Sunday in the year when they could choose not to have the sermon, it would probably be this one. Every other Sunday in the entire year focuses on one or more events in the life of Jesus. This Sunday alone focuses instead on a doctrine of the church; and it is one that we not only do not understand, but one that we are totally incapable of understanding. That admission itself is probably a good starting point.
Well fortunately, our Lectionary provides us with readings that lead us to consider realities that we can understand and that we do need to consider. And our first reading – which is also the ultimate “first reading” of the entire Bible, starting with Genesis chapter 1, verse 1 — is rich in what it tells us about God, about God’s creation, about ourselves, and about the interrelationship among the three that God has built into the very fabric of creation.
This narrative is the first of the two great creation stories in the opening chapters of Genesis. The second one tells a completely different story. This particular account affirms a belief in the utter sovereignty of God, who brings all things into being by the divine word. Unlike the pagan creation stories of the time, there is no cosmic struggle between good and evil. All the forces of darkness and chaos lie silent and powerless before the Creator God.
But the world that God makes does not remain powerless, because God endows it with power and with freedom.
Walter Brueggemann (Genesis, page 28) has observed that, in this text, we see that “between creator and creature there is closeness and distance. The closeness of the two parties concerns God’s abiding attention to [God’s] creation day by day… and creation’s ready response. Yet in its very closeness of trust, there is a distance which allows the creation its own freedom of action. The creation is not overpowered by the creator. The creator not only cherishes [the] creation but honors and respects it according to its own way in the relationship.”
Human beings have long affirmed their own experience of their freedom to choose. We call it “free will.” But scientific research over the past century, in particular that having to do with quantum physics, has discovered a certain freedom that is part and parcel of all creation. It seems to be built into the very fabric of the universe.
The word “freedom” is usually looked upon as a wonderful, positive thing – at least in theory. But in practice, people shy away from embracing freedom too much, because freedom necessarily results in responsibility. People love freedom when it works to their advantage, when it allows them to do what they want to do. But often, when freedom becomes difficult or problematic, they retreat from that freedom. They look for someone to take charge – and to take the blame for not doing what they want and for not giving them what they want.
Over the centuries, some nations have experienced that cycle time and time again. They call for freedom, they declare their love of freedom, of taking responsibility for their own future and for their nation’s future, at least until things get difficult. Then they run from responsibility. They quickly begin to look for someone to take control, to tell them what to do, to fix their world for them.
A similar thing happens in people’s religious life. They love freedom. They assert their right to make choices that will affect their lives for good or for ill. When things turn out well, they take credit for it; they declare, at least implicitly, “My life is going well because I was responsible and made the right choices.” But when life goes poorly, when life-choices degrade our health, or when they cost someone near to us lose his or her life, or when they result in us losing the financial security that we thought we had, then our response is often, “Why did God let this happen to me?” They suddenly put God back into the picture. We get the credit. God gets the blame.
This approach to who-God-is is really an immature, childish one. It’s like young people who insist that they are old enough to make their own choices and to take responsibility for what they do. But then, when, for example, a friend asks them to do something that they don’t want to do or go somewhere that they don’t want to go, they come to their parents and ask them “Tell me I can’t go.” That gets them off the hook without them having to admit to their friends that they are the ones who have chosen not to join them.
People sometimes look for a God who acts the same way: like a parent, ready to bail them out, ready to relieve them of responsibility for their actions, and ready to rescue them from the consequences of their choices. This kind of God, a micromanager who is always there to step in and take control and fix whatever we or others have done, is not the God of the first creation story. The God of the first chapter of Genesis is a God who cares for all creation; but it is also a God who allows creation to take its own course, to have freedom for good or for ill, and to live with the consequences of its choices. When it comes to human beings, that reality is part of being made, as our reading puts it, in the image of God.
St. Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians (5:1), insists, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” On days like Flag Day, which we as a nation observed yesterday, or like Independence Day, which is coming up in just a few weeks, we are bound to hear speakers and writers remind us that “Freedom is not free.” But freedom is not easy either. It requires us to take responsibility for what we do and for the consequences of what we do.
And it requires us to take a fresh look at our idea of God: to see the God described for us in that first creation story, to recognize a God who loves all of creation, but who also allows that creation the freedom to evolve and develop, for good or for ill. This is the God who “honors and respects” creation in its relationship with its creator. This is the God whom we likewise honor and respect on this Trinity Sunday as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.