May 26, 2002
First Sunday after Pentecost / Trinity Sunday

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Psalm 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20


"Partners With God"
Psalm 8

More years ago than I care to remember, my dad worked most of one morning tilling the ground for the garden he planted every year. After working the soil, he would spend a few days planting seed. Then there was the setting up row markers,  stringing lines for the peas and other tasks that took many days.

I was quite young as I watched him year by year and there was always that look of satisfaction when dad would have the whole garden laid out, seed planted and everything was ready for the season of growth. He would wipe his brow and lean on the top of his shovel and look out over his work for the longest time. As I think back, it was a kind of, "And he looked over all he had made and it was good."

And I watched it all as a boy.  I was a spectator.

Then one spring everything changed. I think I was about 12 years old give a take a year or two. I was watching dad watching his garden when he called me over. He put his arm around my shoulder and said, "This is all yours to take care of now!"

I was stunned.

Suddenly my role went through a radical transformation. What was once a regular back yard garden now looked like acres and acres of garden to care for!  Besides - how could I even begin to take care of something that seemed to appear almost magically year by year and how could I be responsible for that absolutely wonderful harvest of fresh produce we had each fall? I would never manage the brilliant planning dad always did with his garden so that we were harvesting for the longest time. The tomatoes alone fed us during the fall and the canned version lasted most of the year.

"This is all yours to take care of now?"

It seemed like the most impossible of all tasks. How in the world could I even conceive of taking care of something that only my father could produce?

***

Hang on to your hats because there is an absolutely amazing biblical truth in today's reading from Psalm 8. The Lord God Almighty of this universe created the heavens and the earth and then put the whole of creation into your hands and mine

In other words, God said, "This is all yours to take care of now!"

Actually the words of the Psalmist are a part of a hymn about the glory of God in creation and the place of honor that has been given to  humankind. "...you have made them a little lower than God... you have given them dominion over the works of their hands; you have put all things under their feet..."

Do you see what this means? We are actually partners with God in the management and protection of the creation we inhabit.

As we look carefully into the heart of Psalm 8,  It becomes clear that the whole issue of whether the air is fit to breathe or water is fit to drink is not primarily a social or a political concern - it is a spiritual concern. Indeed the Psalm goes to the core of the real meaning of stewardship. Stewardship is not a special Sunday in the year when we receive our annual pledges to support the budget, it is not even contained  in the well known appeal to share our time, talent and treasure with the Body of Christ.

Stewardship means that every person of faith is a partner with God in the management of creation.

This takes me back to the day my dad looked over his garden and said, "This is all yours to take care of now." It would be my responsibility to make sure the garden would not be overrun by weeds. But more than that - the fact that my dad turned the care of the garden over to me spoke volumes about three fundamental issues: It said what a great dad he really was, it placed an incredible value on me as his child, and it spoke of the amazing way he considered me to be capable of things I thought only he could do.

It is no accident that these three themes are very much a part of the central meaning of Psalm 8. It is a song about, [1] The Greatness of God,  [2] The Value God has Placed on Humankind,  and [3] The Amazing Work God has Given Us To Do.

The Greatness of God

Psalm 8 begins and ends with an affirmation about the greatness of God in creation.

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

In the biblical drama, God is over and above creation. The glory of God is above the heavens. God is not a part of creation and creation is not God. God is the Holy One who gave birth to all of creation. The moon and the stars are the work of God's hands. But it is in the highlight of God's creation - in human beings that the glory of God is most reflected.

Even though there are "enemies" or rebellious, un-godly persons in creation who have wandered from the praise of God and who indeed stand against God - even children silence the "enemies" of God. "Babes and infants" who by nature are god-loving and god-praising are able to silence all that is against God.

How many times have you heard a child express a love for God and praise for the greatness of God in a way that is natural and innocent? "Out of the mouths of babes..." 

Every night when our seven year old daughter goes to bed, we do our evening prayers and then ask if there is a prayer she would like to offer. During the week after the tragic events of September 11, 2001 while all of us were still reeling from the horror of what had happened she went through her usual (and very long) list of people she wanted God to bless, then she added, "....and dear God please help people to stop hurting other people. And help them to listen to you so they will be more like Jesus..." She continued her prayer for all those who had been devastated by the events of that horrific day, but she had this simple and innocent surprise that people would not want to live the way God wants us to live.

And so God's praise comes from the mouths of "babes and infants." Perhaps that is why Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." [Matt. 18:3]

The Psalmist points us to the Greatness of God as the foundation for living. As the words, O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! stand at the beginning and the end of Psalm 8, so they give us strength if we will let them stand at the beginning and ending of each day.

The Value God has Placed on Humankind

The creation points to the greatness and glory of God. "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands." [Psalm 19:1] But there is something else in creation that points to the glory of God. Amazingly - it is us!

Listen again, "What are human beings that you are mindful of them...  yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor." A sunset is beautiful, the mountains are majestic and a brilliant starlit night can take your breath away. But it is the work of God in creating us that comes closest to reflecting the glory of God in creation.

That's a hard thought sometimes isn't it? You look around the world - especially over the past few years and it is hard to see the glory of God in humanity. Our more recent violent history brings to mind Robert Burns words,

And man, whose heaven-erected face
The smiles of love adorn,
Man's inhumanity to man
Makes countless thousands mourn!

Nevertheless, an incredible value has been placed on us by the God who made us. We are, "...crowned with glory and honor," and though that glory has been marred and the honor has frequently fallen - Psalm 8 calls every person of faith to look to the heart of God for our true worth.

The Amazing Work God has Given Us To Do

The greatness of God in all of creation and the worth that has been placed on us by God leads very naturally to the conclusion. "You have given them dominion over the works of your hands, you have put all things under their feet..."

We are partners with God in the greatest work in the universe. We are stewards of a marvelous blue island in an ever expanding awesome universe. We are called to work toward establishing the true worth of every man, woman and child on the face of the earth. We are called to bring the peace of God to every troubled corner of our world.

The task is phenomenal and the trust God has placed on us is nothing short of astonishing. It will take reflection, prayer and commitment to live into the true meaning of this Psalm of praise.

This is something very important we can take with us today. From the moment we leave this sanctuary and throughout the days of this week - we can ask the question in every experience, at every juncture of our lives... throughout the day...

"What does it mean to be partners with God in this situation?"

May God give us grace to grow into this divine partnership together!  


From "Man Was Made To Mourn" by Robert Burns.


 

Connections in the Texts

If your sermon is going  to focus on Trinity Sunday - here are a few thoughts from our last cycle on these passages:

The texts for today in one way or another have a reference to the Trinity.  In Matthew it is the baptismal formula.  In 2 Corinthians it is simple the benediction, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you."   The Genesis account of creation includes the words, "Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our own image..."  The primary issue here, of course, is that the writer uses the plural...  "let us..."

Personally, I find the arrangement of the texts here is a bit artificial.  The central themes of each passage are not fundamentally related to --  but have direct or indirect references to the Trinity.  Perhaps the issue here is that biblical literature can not be forced into a "post-Athanasian" attempt to clarify the meaning of "trinity". The lack of complete development of a Trinitarian doctrine in biblical literature is self evident. Of course there is not a complete doctrine of trinity in the New Testament.  While the concept of trinity is not intact in the New Testament, it is intrinsic -- and in this sense the lectionary texts point to that reality.  If you are considering a sermon on the Trinity, and want to explore Old Testament clues or considerations -- there is a wonderful passage in Genesis 18:1-15 where the Lord appears to Abraham and announces that Sarah will bear him a child.  The Lord, the theophany of the three men and the switch between the Lord, the men and the singular and plural voice of the three men is fascinating. While it is a stretch to suggest that the "three men" represent the Trinity -- the passage does suggest the mystery of the divine nature which the doctrine of the Trinity attempts to communicate. (This is the O.T. lectionary reading for June 13)

Matthew 28:16-20

Verse 17 provides for great discussion and perhaps a preaching point.  "When they saw him, they worshiped him, but some doubted."  Who is it that is doubting?  It could be, "When they [the disciples] saw him, they [the disciples] worshiped him -- but some [of the people who had gathered - bystanders] doubted."  Or, it might be, "When they [the disciples] saw him, they worshiped him -- but some [of the disciples] doubted."

M. Eugene Boring in the New Interpreter's Bible takes the latter position suggesting that this is within Matthew's theology of the mission of Jesus being given to those of "little faith".  The mission (thankfully) is given to imperfect persons.  This lets you and me in on the Great Commission.    It is not the "great" that are commissioned, but the commission that is "great."

D.A. Carson in the Expositor's Bible Commentary [Vol. 8, p.594 - Zondervan] says of the issue of "doubt" in Matt. 28:17, "Several solutions have been proposed, none of them convincing. Perhaps it is best to conclude that the move from unbelief and fear to faith and joy on the part of the larger group was for them a hesitant one. The Eleven, who according to the other gospels had already seen the risen Jesus at least twice, respond instantly with worship on the occasion of this new appearance, but some (others) 'hesitated' --without further specification as to their subsequent belief or doubt. That is, Jesus' resurrection did not instantly transform people of little faith and faltering understanding into spiritual giants."

Matthew 28:16-20 is a wonderful gospel in a "nutshell".  God chooses people like you and me to carry the Good News to others.  The messengers are flawed, but the message is not.  This is consistent with the entire biblical theme in which God chooses people who consider themselves to be too imperfect to serve God are, in spite of their frailties, chosen to bear the message.  Thus the "Great Commission" comes down to you and me!

(v. 20)  "...and remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."  When Peter confessed Jesus to be the Christ, Jesus said "and you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church."   Although we are the message bearers and witnesses to Christ -- it is still Christ who does the building, the energizing of the disciples (Pentecost) and who is with the church in its discipling task.  This theme cautions those who call themselves "church."  "I am with you always..." is a promise to those who are "making, teaching and baptizing" disciples.  The promise of the presence of Christ is not given to us because of who we say we are, but because we are about the work we have been given to do.

2 Corinthians 13:11-13

This passage is the concluding statement to a really troubled church.  And yet the last word is "grace, love and fellowship".  It is included in the readings for today because of the Trinitarian blessing which concludes the letter, but there may be a deeper point to consider.

The Corinthian church was torn apart by strife and selfishness.  What a place to be a pastor!  Yet, the last thing Paul has to say to them is that they should come together and live in the peace and love of God. They will find their unity in, "...the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit!"  As there is unity in the three persons of the trinity and that which binds the three in one may also bind the church.

As a matter of fact, the imperative use of the verbs -- gives the sense  that Paul commands the unity of the Godhead in the Body of Christ.

Genesis 1:1- 2:4a

The account of creation in this text includes the "let us make...  in our image...  according to our likeness..." of 1:26.  In 1:1, the NIV is closer with "and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters," than the NRSV, "...a wind from God swept over..."

The early church Fathers interpreted these verses as pointing to the Trinity, although three is nowhere mentioned.   More recent commentary has seen in  Gen.1:26  "echoes of polytheism" or a sense of the "heavenly host" being witness to creation.   (The original Interpreter's Bible)  The suggestion that there might be remnants of polytheism does not fit with the very strong sense of monotheism.  In fact, the Genesis account contrasted to the Epic of Gilgamesh and other ancient creation stories is a strong polemic against polytheism.  Whatever else contributes to the plural...  "let us make..."  Plurality in divine majesty is finally and fully developed in the Christological conflicts of the earliest church and given expression in the doctrine of the trinity.

There is a dimension to the creation story that would fit with a discussion of the trinity.  References to the work of Christ in creation provides some connection with the "let us make..."  If you go this route, look at:

* John 1:1-3   "...all things came into being through him..."
* Col. 1:17    "... in him all things consist..."
* Heb. 1:3    "...he sustains all things..."
* Col. 1:16    "...in him were all things created..."


 Worship Helps

A Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 8 )

Leader:   O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth,
People:  Your power and glory are set forever in the heavens.
Leader:   When we look at the moon and stars you have created,

People:  We are humbled that you should care for us.
Leader:   You have given us stewardship of all the earth,
People:  And trusted us with all that is.
Leader:   O Lord, our Sovereign Lord,
People:  Your name is great and greatly to be praised,
                in all the earth!  Amen!

Prayer of Confession

Eternal God in whom we live and move and have our being, your face is hidden from us by our sins, and we forget your mercy in the blindness of our hearts. Cleanse us from all offences and deliver us from proud thoughts and vain desires. With lowliness and meekness may we draw near to you, confessing our faults, confiding in your grace, and finding in your our refuge and strength; through Jesus Christ your Son. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Who can forgive sins but God alone and who has given his life that we may come close to God?  Jesus Christ alone has given his life that we might receive life and has brought us close to God through our repentance and faith. Let us rejoice in the grace of God whereby we are made new persons in Christ.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

We thank you God of all creation.  You are the source of our lives and we rejoice that your love goes before us, walks behind us, reigns over us and lifts us up from below.  There is no place we can go from your Spirit. There has never been a love like yours and so shall there never be.  You gave to us the most precious gift that could ever be and we have the possibility of life eternal because you cared for us even though we did not care for you.

How can we not love you and refrain from lifting up our praise and worship to you today?  O give us songs that shall never end and joy that will never be silent!  We love you Lord and we open up our hearts today that your Holy Spirit might fill us with power to serve you and strength to tell the world of your wondrous love.

We rejoice today in the thing we take too much for granted -- that we should be called "Children of God" and that we should have this family of faith where we are nurtured in love and strengthened for the living of these days.

Amen

A Prayer Of Dedication

Everything you have made, O Lord, you have placed into our hands.
Now we bring a portion of this bounty for the work of your reign in
the hearts of all people.  O bless the gifts we bring and the hearts
from which they spring.  May we see the peace, love and joy that
are the fruit of all who truly love you.  Amen.