June 11, 2017 Sermon (Union Sunday/ Trinity Sunday)
Mt. 28:16-20/ 2 Cor. 13:11-13
Trinity: God Who Lives in Community
I remember once confessing to you that I am a tree hugger. When I say I am a tree hugger, try not to read too much into it; it simply means, I love hugging trees. I believe that the reason why I love hugging trees is because, having moved around a lot all my life, I was never able to take root anywhere. When I hug trees, I feel a sense of stability that I never really had in my life. I believe the tree is a symbol of stability because of its deep roots. Those of you who have experienced yoga will know the tree pose that trains us to steady our body, as if our feet are rooted underground; same principle. It is natural for those who don’t have the stability in life and those who feel lonely to yearn for a community, since we are social beings. Therefore, when one seeks community in the church and hears scripture verses such as “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them (Matthew 18:20)”, it is enormous comfort. During the Season of Easter, I have been focusing on the community because through the resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Christian Church, the community of the disciples, also known as the kingdom of God, was born. Last Sunday, we celebrated the birth of the Christian Church through the events of Pentecost. Community is a blessing, comfort, and support for its members. It provides stability and a sense of togetherness that all humans need to be happy and live a full life, again, since we are social beings.
Today we are celebrating two things; the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the 92nd birthday of the United Church of Canada. The word doctrine doesn’t really feel like a warm community, so let us forget the word doctrine and focus on the three persons of God, and how this God lives among us in our community. God in three persons in which we believe, also called the triune God, seeks a meaningful relationship with us, and inspires us to do the same with one another. Forget doctrine; the Holy Trinity is about relationship and community.
Let us examine the four scripture readings assigned for today. Although we didn’t read Genesis chapter 1 as a part of our scripture reading today, we heard it during children’s time. This is a very ritual narrative of how God created the world. There is another creation story in Genesis chapter 2 and 3 (the story of Adam and Eve). Unlike the creation account in chapter 1, which was meant to be read out loud ritually during worship services, the Adam and Eve story is a folk tale, a beginning story for the Hebrew people. All peoples in the world have their own beginning stories (creation myths); the Korean story includes God and his son who came down to earth despite his father’s disapproval. It tells the story of how the Korean people began. But I’ll have to tell you this story some other time. Moving on.
Both the creation story in Genesis 1 and Psalm 8, which we read together, reflect on how much God wants a meaningful relationship with God’s creation. In Genesis 1, after humans are created, God commissions humans to take care of the other creatures. Most translations of Genesis 1:28 use the word “subdue” in God’s commission to the first humans, but the Hebrew word that we translate as “subdue” has the meaning of stewardship; God is not telling us to conquer the earth and take advantage of it for our greed, but to govern the other creatures and take care of them to maintain the order, the balance that God created; this is about relationship. When we get to Psalm 8, we can feel God’s tender love for us and other creatures more; “What are we mortals that you should be mindful of us, mere human beings that you should care for us? You have made us little less than divine. You have made us rulers over all your creation.” God gave us both authority and responsibility to rule over all God’s creation; but of course, authority always comes with responsibility. Our relationship with each other is as important as our relationship with our creator.
The Matthew text we read today is the grand finale of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus is giving his disciples his last message. If Matthew’s gospel was a movie, this would be a majestic and emotional ending, with solemn music in the background making its audience cry. In this majestic ending scene, Jesus does three things; he assures them of his power, gives them a commission to make all the world his disciples, and promises them a presence. Reassuring of his power is extremely important because the disciples are scared of the prospect of having to carry on the ministry of Jesus without him. It is reassuring to know that the spirit of Jesus that will stay with the disciples is powerful enough to help them through even the toughest challenge; Come on, the man died and came back alive! What more proof of power do they need?
The ending of 2 Corinthians contains what is known as the apostolic benediction; this is the one I usually do. The benediction using the three persons of God shows us the seed of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity that will develop over the years. But this blessing here is based on the personal experience of Paul. Look at the order of the three persons used in this benediction; Jesus comes before God. This is because the grace of Jesus gripped Paul first. The love of God was made real to him through the grace of Jesus. Then comes the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. This is not the fellowship with the Holy Spirit, but with God through the Holy Spirit. In the end, it feels the same because we only experience God in the Holy Spirit, but that statement was for the sake of a doctrinal argument. This fellowship of the Holy spirit is a true description of the Church. This community called the Christian Church is formed by the Spirit, and we are much more than a social gathering or a mere worshiping community. For the followers of Jesus, gathering together for worship always comes with service to others. It is not only about us being a community, but also us going out and widening our community. As we sing from More Voices, we have to “draw the circle wide” and “our love has to colour outside the lines”; this is what being God’s community is about.
Christians believe in God in three persons. Traditionally we professed the Father God, the Son God, and the Holy Spirit God; but with the empowerment of women and other minority groups in the society as well as in the theology field, we are developing alternative images of the Holy Trinity. The language of father and son can be oppressive to some people. In my theological school, I learned the most inclusive image of the Creator God, Redeemer God, and the Sustainer God, which simply describes the function of each person. There are other alternatives such as Lover, Beloved, and Love; Source of All Being, Incarnate Word, and the Holy Wisdom; Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, and Life-giver. Within the Celtic tradition, symbols are used for the Trinity, such as the three-leaf clover or earth, sea, and sky. Traditional churches still use the Father/ Son/ Holy Spirit language, but we don’t have to. We only have to baptise in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, since there is an agreement to do so for our baptism to be acknowledged in different churches.
The God in three persons in which we believe is a doctrine of the Church, but it is much more than that; and remember that it started as an experience of faith and not as a doctrine. The Holy Trinity is about relationship and community; an experience of faith. The experience of faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit gave birth to the Christian Church, and transformed our United Church of Canada into the most inclusive church that works tirelessly for justice. Both the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and celebrating the birthday of our United Church are about relationship and community; our relationship with God and one another, and extending our community to reach out to more people. Happy birthday to our church, thanks be to the triune God who actively lives among us and guides us, and may we continue the work of the Spirit by spreading love, compassion, and justice in our world. May we let God’s kingdom come, on earth as in heaven.
Rev. Sunny Kim