Here are my thoughts for this coming Sunday, Trinity Sunday. The Scriptures for this Sunday are Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 4, 1 Corinthians 13: 11 – 13, and Matthew 28: 16 – 20.
Every time that I prepare my thoughts I look for the common theme on the lectionary readings for each Sunday. Sometimes it is right there before my eyes; other times I have to work to find that common theme. On this Sunday, Trinity Sunday, the theme was there but I had to look for it.
Trinity Sunday, as others have and will point out, is the only Sunday where we celebrate what we believe more than an occurrence. Our liturgical calendar focuses on the events that mark the life of Christ and the Church (Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost). Today, we celebrate a central point of our theology, the Trinity. It is the point where our belief begins. It is often times a confusing point for others who say that it is a contradiction to speak of one God but to believe in a Trinity.
I believe that the idea or concept of the Trinity came about through the discussion of the early church and its struggles on what the basis of belief was to be. But as we read today’s passage from Matthew (Matthew 28: 16 – 20) from a variety of translations, we see that there is a consistency in what Jesus said to the disciples on that day of the “Great Commission”.
From the New International Vision we read
Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
From the Darby Translation we read
But the eleven disciples went into Galilee to the mountain which Jesus had appointed them.
And when they saw him, they did homage to him: but some doubted.
And Jesus coming up spoke to them, saying, “All power has been given me in heaven and upon earth.
Go [therefore] and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have enjoined you. And behold, *I* am with you all the days, until the completion of the age.
From The Message we read
Meanwhile, the eleven disciples were on their way to Galilee, headed for the mountain Jesus had set for their reunion. The moment they saw him they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally.
Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”
And finally, from Clarence Jordan’s translation (The Cotton Patch Gospels) we read
Well, the eleven students traveled to Alabama, to the mountain which Jesus had selected for them. When they saw Him they accepted Him as their Lord, but some couldn’t make up their minds. Jesus came over to them and said, “Every right to rule in both the spiritual and physical realms has been given to me. As you travel, then, make students of all races and initiate them into the family of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to live by all that I outlined for you. And you know, I am right there with you — all the time — until the last inning.”
In each of these translations, the phrase is still the same, the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. And if I understand the development of church doctrine and church history, this phrase pre-dates the development of church doctrine. The Trinity is not just some mythological phrase developed in the early days of the church but something that has been part of the church since its very inception. It is a core part of the basis for our belief.
The Old Testament reading for today comes from the Book of Genesis (Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 4). This one passage is as controversial as our belief in the Trinity. But that is because there are those who wish to give these beginning passages of the Bible some sort of physical reality.
Genesis is about whom we are and our relationship with God. It answers questions about who we are but it also asks us to ask more questions. It is not about becoming God, which some fear modern science does. But Christian fundamentalists would rather we not ask questions; they would prefer that people blindly accept their definition of who God is and what has happened, even when the physical evidence tells us otherwise.
If we are to understand the creation of this earth, let us start with one simple and basic premise. God created the heaven and the earth. We know why He did it. He created mankind in His own image so He left it up to us to determine how He did it. It is a story that has transcended culture, for every culture has its own version of the creation. It is a story that brings awe and wonderment to the eyes of those who seek the truth. The Psalter for today (Psalm 8) expresses the very awe and amazement that each one of us has when we gaze into the heavens on a clear, starry night and see His works.
And when we read Genesis, let us read it as people who are trying to understand who God is and what He means for each one of us. Sometime, long ago, we began to ask the very questions that make us who we are. We sought the answers in various ways and by various means. In fact we are still seeking the answers.
But there are those who would rather not let me look for the answers. Currently, there is a movie, “Expelled”, making a circuit around this country. For those that are not aware, this is a movie produced by Ben Stein that tries to show how “liberal academics” have prevented assorted other academics from doing research into the area of “intelligent design.”
Now, I have not viewed this movie and I don’t think that I want to. I have read enough reviews to determine that I would not be interested in watching it. And the reading of the reviews has not been limited to negative reviews, either. So, having examined all the evidence and considered the various points-of-view that have been proposed, I have chosen not to watch the movie.
The one thing that continues to bother me about the reporting of the movie and the description of its content is that only those who support “intelligent design” are being punished by the “liberal establishment” of college academia. From my own experience, I have a hard time seeing college academia as liberal; rather, many times the academic setting that I have encountered is very conservative and very hesitant to change or come up with new thoughts. At best “intelligent design” is a new thought and should be examined, as it has been.
And after examination by and through the rigors of science, it should get what it has received; a vote of no confidence. If there are persons who wish to delve into this area, let them. But don’t hold them up as martyrs to a lost cause. Because if you do, then you must also hold up the following individuals as well:
- Steve Bitterman, Southwestern Community College in Red Oak, Iowa
- Alex Bolyanatz, Wheaton College. Illinois
- Howard J. Van Till, Calvin College, Michigan
- Richard Colling, Olivet Nazarene University, Illinois
- Nancey Murphy, Fuller Theological Seminary
- Gwen Pearson, The University of Texas of the Permian Basin
- Chris Conner, Texas Education Agency
- Paul Mirecki, University of Kansas
- Eric Planka, The University of Texas at Austin
- Judge John E. Jones III
With the exception of Chris Conner and Judge Jones, they are all academics who have been reprimanded, punished academically, or threatened with physical harm for the act of teaching evolution as scientific fact or for refusing to acknowledge the validity of “intelligent design”. Chris Conner was Director of Science for the Texas Education Agency and was fired because he sent an e-mail out notifying people about a talk concerning creationism and how it masqueraded as science. Judge Jones was the judge in the York, Pennsylvania case where proponents of “intelligent design” were seeking to include it in the science curriculum. He, as others on the list, received death threats. (See Creation, Power, and Violence and comments in Expelled Exposed: The Untold Sequel – Dr. Richard Colling; for a discussion of “Expelled”, go to “Expelled Exposed”, a web site produced by the National Center for Science Education).
I would have no problem with “intelligent design” if its advocates and proponents would follow the “rules” for scientific inquiry. And as I understand the process, there are points where something becomes “irreducibly complex”. Every time I hear that phrase I cannot help but think of the following Sidney Harris cartoon (from http://www.sciencecartoonsplus.com/gallery.htm).
Science does not work without a complete explanation. And if the explanation does not work then you keep working, not simply blow off the explanation. Kepler had problems reconciling the data on planetary motion because he held to the view that the various observed planetary orbits were circular when, in fact, they were elliptical. The determination of the neutron came about because of the continuing problems reconciling atomic masses with the number of protons and electrons in isotopes. Had the concept of “irreducible complex” been accepted, it is quite likely that neither the idea of elliptical orbits or neutrons would have been proposed.
I suppose the thing that is more disturbing than having someone tell me that I cannot think on my own or telling me what to think is the fact that there are others who, in the name of Christ, would try to force me to think. Apparently it is not okay to prevent people from holding onto their thoughts about “intelligent design” but it is entirely proper to prevent people from thinking otherwise. And it is quite alright to use the name of Jesus Christ and God to do so. Paul, writing to the Corinthians, asked them to put things in order and to live in peace with each other. The same is true today.
We cannot do that if we put our own version of the truth above other versions. The fact of the matter is that science and religion can live together, if you understand what each is to do and can do. But when you use one to determine the other, you will have problems.
Go back and read the various translations of today’s Gospel reading. In the NIV and Darby versions, we are to make disciples of the people; in The Message, we are to “instruct” them and Clarence Jordan tells us to make students of them and teach the ways that Jesus taught. While there is no doubt about a belief in the Trinity, as presented by these translations, there is some question as to what we are to do. If the word “disciple” is to mean student, then you cannot teach by force but must do so by example.
And when we read Paul’s words to the Corinthians for today (1 Corinthians 13: 11 – 13), he writes of living in peace. He is also speaking of moving onward, of beginning a new life in Christ and in community. But it is a community of love, not hate; it is a community that comes together, not drives apart, the people. It is hardly the community that we so often find in our world today.
I am convinced that we are allowed to question things we see in this world. We have been an inquiring soul since our first days as a sentient being; it allowed us to name the plants and animals of the earth. If we were not questioning creatures, then we would be no more than just one of the animals that lives on this planet. Questioning the world around us, the ways things work and the way things are, will ultimately lead to the question of whom we are and why we are here. And that will led us to seek God. And that is the beginning of our life.
On this day, when we are reminded of why we are here and what we are to do, we are also reminded that we will not do it alone. Ours is not a life of Christ but a life in Christ and a life with Christ. It is a beginning that continues.