Reading Ramblings – June 11, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Holy Trinity Sunday, June 11, 2017

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; Acts 2:14a, 22-36; Matthew 28:16-20

Context: The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most debated, most confusing articles of the Christian faith. Indeed, it is safest to say less rather than more when trying to explain and defend Trinitarian doctrine. The early Church had no special day to honor the Trinity, as Trinitarian liturgy was part of every worship. When major challenges to Trinitarian doctrine began to proliferate in the early 4th century (notably Arianism), worship liturgy became even more explicitly Trinitarian, and by the tenth century there are references to the first Sunday after Pentecost specifically given over to Trinitarian readings, songs, and teachings. It officially became part of Western liturgical practice in the 14th century under Pope John XXII. Ultimately, we can only confess what the Bible – and Jesus himself – tell us about the Trinity, and seek to keep from contradicting or omitting any of these references and teachings.

Genesis 1:1-2:4a – The account of creation is riddled with phrasings that hint at the reality that the One God is something more than One. The Spirit of God is referenced in verse 2, and in 1:26 God famously utilizes the first person plural (us, our) rather than the first person singular (I, my) when preparing to create humanity. While the Trinity is at heart a concept beyond our ability to describe or illustrate by analogy, it is not accidental, I think, that the idea is planted here in the first verses of the Bible, ready to be more fully explicated by the Son of God made flesh. Some argue that God is referring to an angelic audience, or utilizing the editorial or royal we here, but such arguments seem superfluous and spurious in the face of Jesus’ own teaching regarding the uniqueness yet oneness of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity presents us with a God that we can accept, but we cannot envision, a God beyond our ability to rationalize and therefore a God beyond our ability to create. We remain forever made in his image, rather than visa versa.

Psalm 8 – This psalm pairs beautifully with the Old Testament reading, extolling and praising God in light of creation. It is also unique in that it is the only hymn in the entire Old Testament that is directed solely and completely and directly to God. Notice as well that this is a hymn to God as distinct from creation, rather than a pantheistic notion of God as creation. It is the Lord’s name that is to be praised because it is God who created nature. The most challenging part of the psalm is the second half of verse 1 and the beginning of verse 2. The challenge is determined by how the translator punctuates the two verses. Some translations rearrange the two statements, so that the glory of God is witnessed by babes and infants, but this is not a common or accurate translation. We are left with a God who is so impressive and mighty that by eliciting praises from children and infants He is able to defeat his enemies. The psalmist is awestruck that the God capable of such a vast creation should be so intimately concerned with humanity in the midst of it. Truly our God is an awesome and amazing God!

Acts 2:14a, 22-36 – Today we hear the second half of Peter’s first sermon. In the first half of the sermon Peter is prompted by the Holy Spirit to proclaim that the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy is occurring before the assembled masses very eyes. In this half of the sermon, Peter now explains how Jesus of Nazareth was and is the Messiah, the Christ, the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesy on a different level. He uses King David’s words and life as demonstration that David looked forward to a descendant who would actually be greater than he, someone that he would appropriately refer to as Lord. This would be an unusual and even unprecedented understanding for the Hebrews, as even the most famous or successful of sons or daughters would ultimately be considered as lower in prestige and honor than their ancestors. How is it that David could look forward to a descendant mightier and worthy of honor more than himself? Peter finishes by proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection from the dead as proof of his role and identity. The reading ends and we actually never hear the crowd’s response! The lectionary simply stops here and moves on to Romans next week! Aaaauuugghhh!

Here’s the spoiler. The crowd is convicted by Peter’s sermon. They are also distraught – they have killed the prophesied, long-awaited Messiah of God. What possible hope can there be for them now? Peter responds – their hope is in the man they crucified, the man whom God raised from the dead. They are to repent and to receive baptism in Jesus’ name. This is what saves them. This is what removes their guilt. And as it was on that first Pentecost Sunday 2000 years ago or so, so it is today for you and I. Thanks be to God!

Matthew 28:16-20 – Those who wish to argue that Trinitarian doctrine is a later development in the Christian faith have to contend with the words of Jesus himself. While there are those who would try and write off these verses as a later gloss or addition, the textual support for such a theory is entirely lacking. Jesus indicates the threefold nature of the one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This much we can say safely. Unity in trinity and trinity in unity. Each distinct and unique and yet still one God. All three existing simultaneously and yet not three individual gods but one God. And this reality is not some minor esoteric issue for theologians to postulate on late at night after too much brandy. It is the defining element of Christian identity. We are marked by God – by this triune, threefold yet singular God. We are not free to identify that aspect of God we most prefer or are most comfortable with. We are not free to be generic or non-specific. God marks us with water and His Word in baptism, and He marks us with His identity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This baptism is combined with teaching, so that newly formed disciples understand to the best of their ability who it is that has marked them, and who that mark makes them. While we cannot say or know all that we would like about the Trinity, we can affirm that it is the unity of trinity and trinity in unity that has created us, redeemed us from our sins, and works within us to make us holy. God himself is fully and completely at work, and we are the recipients of his blessings and grace. To him alone is the glory!

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