Who Are These Humans? -- A Sermon for Trinity Sunday (Psalm 8)
Trinity Sunday invites us to contemplate the nature of God. Since Disciples are a non-creedal people, we tend to shy away from conversations about the Trinity. But, I believe this doctrine reveals a relational vision of God’s nature. While all human speech about God is inadequate, that doesn’t mean we don’t look for ways of confessing our understandings of the mystery that is God’s nature. If we envision the God revealed to us in Jesus as a communion of persons living in eternal fellowship, then we might be able to envision how this divine communion is reflected in human relationships.
Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff provides us with a helpful description of how this works:
The Trinity is the model for each and every community: while individuality is respected, the community emerges through communion and mutual self-surrender. Grassroots Christians understand this well, better than any theology, and they know how to give it very accurate expression: “The Blessed Trinity is the perfect community.” [Boff, Holy Trinity, Perfect Community, Kindle loc. 852].
Friday evening, I experienced that perfect community as I walked with 1500 people protesting police brutality and racism in our communities. As Padma and I walked along with the marchers, I found myself in the company of a rainbow of persons, who revealed to me the presence of God whose essence is relational.
We come this morning to reflect on God’s nature through the witness of Psalm 8, which begins and ends with the declaration: “O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” From there the Psalmist directs our attention to God’s creation: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Ps. 8:3-4). Yes, who are these human beings God created? What is it about them that the transcendent God would have an interest in their welfare?
This is the answer the Psalmist gives: God is interested in the welfare of humanity because we were created just a bit lower than God. But, not only are human beings special to God, but we have been given responsibility for the care of God’s creation. The Psalmist uses the word dominion or mastery, but I think we’re better off interpreting this responsibility in terms of stewardship of creation.
I could preach a sermon on creation care this morning, but at this particular moment, we have a different concern. That area of concern is our need to address the legacy of America’s “original sin” of racism. This original sin assumes that whiteness is superior and normative. This original sin marked the way European colonists encountered the Indigenous people when they landed on these shores. It was expressed through the importation of African slaves. It was expressed in laws that prohibited Asian immigrants from becoming citizens. That legacy has not dissipated. It was on dramatic display on video as a white police officer snuffed out the life of George Floyd on the streets of Minneapolis. It was on display in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. It was on display in the killing of Breonna Taylor in her home during a no-knock-warrant police action. These acts of violence are only the most recent expressions of violence that is rooted in America’s original sin. Perhaps the demonstrations that are taking place will prove to be a tipping point in the conversation. We’ve been here before, but things don’t seem to change. I’m confident in the leadership of the Troy Police Department, but we must be vigilant and not let this moment pass without taking action that leads to significant change.
With all of this on my mind, I pondered the Psalmist’s declaration of God’s interest in our well-being on my mind in the context of the declarations made over time by civil rights advocates. Consider the signs carried by African Americans as they marched in the 1960s for civil rights. The signs declared: “I Am a Man.” Sojourner Truth made a slightly different declaration, which reflected not only that she was Black, but as she put it: “I am a woman.” Consider also the words of Ponca Chief Standing Bear offered in his 1879 trial for bringing the body of his son to Nebraska for burial: “That hand is not the color of yours, but if I prick it, the blood will flow, and I shall feel pain. The blood is the same color as yours. God made me, and I am a man.” Today we still hear the cries of those whose full humanity is being denied to them.
While the current faces of this movement that is calling for a change in the way we live together as a people are African Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, theirs are not the only faces of this challenge. We need to remember that this is Pride Month. We need to remember that anti-Asian sentiment is on the rise because the COVID-19 virus originated in China. There is an increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic activity, and the list goes on.
It is in the context of this legacy that we come this morning to give praise to God whose very being is relational. We come to celebrate the majesty of God whose glory is above the heavens, by affirming the full humanity of our neighbors whose race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity might be different from our own. We come to give praise to God, whose very being is a communion of persons, by embodying that communion in our own relationships. As we embody God’s eternal communion, we can give glory to God our creator.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
June 7, 2020