Tuesday, June 06, 2017

God the Creator - A Lectionary Reflection for Trinity Sunday A (Genesis)

Genesis 1:1-2:4a New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

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. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 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. 12 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. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. 
14 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, 15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. 
20 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.” 21 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. 22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day. 
24 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. 25 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. 
26 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.”
27 So God created humankind in his image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.
28 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.” 29 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. 30 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. 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. 
2 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.
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

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                What a grand picture the author of this first creation story paints, as the biblical story opens in Genesis 1. It’s so different from the much earthier creation story found in Genesis 2. Taken together the stories offer two vantage points, a theology from above and a theology from below. Both speak volumes about the wondrous nature of God the Creator. To try to fit either of these stories into scientific categories is to abuse them and miss the point.

The word we hear in Genesis 1 is this: In the beginning, as God began creating things, the universe was a formless void, and the wind of the Spirit blew across the waters. Then, as God began to speak, things happened, starting with light and then before long the waters parted, earth emerged, and on it went, all in poetic motion. As God spoke each element of creation into existence, God paused and declared: “It is good.” Yes, here is the message of the moment: the created order, that is the material world, is good. It is a gift of God. The proper response is to offer up words of praise.  

                This text has been chosen by the creators of the lectionary to be read on Trinity Sunday. It is a rather long text, rich in images that help us envision the nature of God, our Creator. The text was chosen to be read on this particular Sunday in large part because some have found traces of the Trinity in verse 26, where God declares: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; ….” The choice of the plural to describe the creation of humanity, male and female, in the likeness of God, has been suggestive. Why the plural? The answer, among many Trinitarians, is that it reflects the plurality of God’s nature.   

Historical critical scholarship tells us that the plural likely stems from exilic, post-exilic understandings of the heavenly court. Thus, Yahweh declares to the heavenly court, “let us make humankind in our image.” That does make some sense of the text, especially since the concept of the Trinity would have been foreign to those who wrote Genesis. That being said, the text is at least suggestive of Trinity, when looked at through the lens of Christian theology, as Karl Barth recognizes:
The saga undoubtedly speaks of a genuine plurality in the divine being, but it does not actually say that it is a Trinity. On the other hand, it may be stated that an approximation to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity—the picture of a God who is the one and only God, yet who is not for that reason solitary, but includes in Himself the differentiation and relationship of I and Thou—is both nearer to the text and does it more justice than the alternative suggested by modern exegesis in its arrogant rejection of the exegesis of the Early Church (cf. for instance, Gunkel).  [Karl Barth: Preaching through the Christian Year, p. 71].
                There are so many riches in this passage, that it suggests a multitude of sermons. But, as my homiletics professor, Ian Pitt-Watson, reminded our class (over 30 years ago), while every text has many sermons, so don’t try to preach them all in one sermon. Keeping this in mind a preacher will want to focus on one of the elements present in the text. Whatever facet we choose to focus in on, if we read the text through a Trinitarian lens, as we envision God’s act of creation, we can ask how God as Trinity engages in the act of creation. The Apostles Creed speaks of God the Father as the “maker of heaven and earth,” and in many revisions of the Trinitarian formula, the first person of the Trinity is often identified as being the Creator. But, the assumption of Trinitarian theology is that God always acts as one when engaging the created order. We don’t have three different gods doing three different jobs.

One way to envision creation through a Trinitarian lens is to read Genesis 1 in light of John 1, especially John1:3a, which declares concerning God the Word— “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” As the reading from Genesis 1 declares, what has come into being is good.

Returning to the traces of the Trinity in verses 26-27, we can contemplate the use of the plural when God speaks of the creation of humanity in God’s image. What is it about this act of creation that leads to this usage and consideration of God as Trinity creating humanity? We might want to start with the prohibition of images in the Ten Commandments. If we take Genesis as our guide, the reason why we should not create images, is that God already has created an image. It’s not that we look like God or have divine powers, but that we represent God in creation–as male and female. Of course, that opens a lot of conversation about the nature of God. As representatives of God, who creates all things and declares them to be good, then our responsibility is to steward or manage this creation of God. As Dave Bland writes: “Being image bearers of God is also at the heart of how we see other humans, which results in treating them with dignity, regardless of race, age, gender, social or economic status” [Feasting on the Word, p. 31]. What a powerful message to offer on Trinity Sunday!


Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. Creation, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54660 [retrieved June 5, 2017]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/-wit-/2730108724/.

                 

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