Trinity Sunday, Year A
Come, Holy Breath, fill our hearts, set us all on fire for you. Amen.
It is good to be “back,” even if right now it is still just over zoom. I’ve completed my spring semester at seminary and am around for the summer. I am in my summer classes, and we are still not worshiping face to face, so it doesn’t feel like I’m completely back.
Today is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost where we celebrate one of the great mysteries of our faith. It is a Sunday that rectors typically assign to seminarians, because it can be a challenging topic to preach on. With the coronavirus and current racial tensions, it can be an even more challenging Sunday to preach. I volunteered to preach today, because it is such an important challenge.
The Gospel lesson for today makes passing reference to the Trinity. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” [It is worth noting that the Greek word for nations used in this verse is ethnos, which is also sometimes translated as “the Gentiles,” and is the root for words we have today, such as ethnicity. So, a more literal translation might be to go and make disciples of all ethnicities. There is probably a long sermon in that, and I’ll come back to this a little bit later.]
But first, we should look at our first reading. In the creation story we find, “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.’” There is another full sermon the idea of what this dominion looks like and a dear friend and classmate is preaching about today’s lessons from that angle. I’ll try to weave a little bit of that in as well.
However, I want to explore a different aspect of this verse. What does it mean to be created in the image of God? What does it mean to be created in the image of a triune God, a God made up of three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?
The word used for God in this passage is Elohim. It is a plural word, as we see in the “let us make man in our image.” Yet in the next phrase, we return to the singular, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Christian writers suggest this points us to the three persons of the Trinity in one God. It also points to an important idea that our differences, such as male and female are part of our being in the image of God. We need to embrace our differences.
Gabrielle Thomas, Lecturer in Early Christianity and Anglican Studies at Yale Divinity School, in her article in the Scottish Journal of Theology, “The human icon: Gregory of Nazianzus on being an imago Dei” talks about how theologians talk about the imago dei, the image of God in three ways, structural, relational, and functional. I will briefly explore each of these as we think about what it means to be created in the image of God.
From a structural perspective, we are created in the image of a creator, redeemer, and sustainer. Years ago, I was part of a group of Christian artists who took the idea of being created in the image of a creator very seriously. How are we reflecting God’s creativity in our lives? My friends working around issues of social justice ask similar questions about how we are sustaining and redeeming the people around us, especially those who have been marginalized because of their race or ethnicity.
This leads nicely to the relational aspect of the Trinity. Just as the persons of the Trinity are in relationship to one another, we are called to be in relationship with God and one another in the same manner.
This relationship is a relationship of mutual love. It is not a relationship that involves domination. God has given humans dominion over fish, birds, and living creatures, but no over other humans. This is what my classmate is preaching on.
This leaves us with the functional aspect of the Trinity. Micah 6:8 tells us what God requires of us: to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.
Underlying all of this is the need to recognize the imago dei, the image of God in each person we meet, no matter how different they are from us, no matter how much we might disagree with them or feel threatened by them. We need to recognize and honor those differences in each person as part of recognizing the beauty of the diversity God has created. At the same time, we need to recognize and seek to heal the suffering those differences can cause to those who are marginalized.
The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers put it this way, “[If] You spit on a child of God, you're spitting on God. And if somebody's spitting on God, people of faith HAVE to step up. It's not optional. It's not ‘two sides.’ Step up with and for the holy One who has been kicked, shot, choked, crucified, denied. Step up because oppressive systems dim the beneficiaries’ divine spark and full humanity. For the love of God, step up.”
In many ways, the failures of our current society and the conflicts we are confronting all stem from the failure to recognize each person we meet as created in the image of God and beloved by God and the failure to step up when their imago dei is denied.
So, this coming week, how are we going to reflect the image of our triune God? Will we show forth God’s creativity, redemption, and sustenance, to all nations, to all races and ethnicities, recognizing the image of God in each person we encounter? Will we live in loving relationship to God and to each person we encounter? Will we do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God?
May God, the Holy Trinity, make us strong in faith and love. Amen.