Rev. Don Beyers, Christ Church, Bolton
Like many of you, I’m exhausted by the social disruption of the past three months. It’s as if we’ve become trapped into some warped reality with no exit in sight. We’ve been bombarded with unsettling and disturbing news week after week, day after day. One friend recently asked on social media whether or not we’re living in an apocalyptic age; her question was provoked by news of murder hornets discovered in British Columbia. “Pandemic, economic crises, murder hornets — what’s next?” Murder hornets now seem trite given the images of police brutality and civil unrest in the United States and a president who seems to have no concern about anyone but himself. My friend has a good question: what’s next?
While our current experience may feel apocalyptic, I wonder if it isn’t a wake-up call for all of us. I think we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that we live in the best of all possible worlds and that surely things would only get better. (Too bad we didn’t read Voltaire’s 18th century satirical book Candide, in which the author mocks such ways of thinking of the world. I encourage you to read it if you get a chance or at least listen to Leonard Bernstein’s musical setting of the story.) We didn’t simply fall into such fantastical notions of a perfect world, we were tricked into believing it. I remember reading a few years ago Steven Pinker’s book The Better Angels of Our Nature in which he attempts to illustrate how humanity has become less violent and more peaceful. While the book is a good read, I was troubled by his argument. I wondered whether it was really accurate; sure, for those of us in living in relative comfort it may seem like things are more peaceful and prosperous. But for many — even here in our own country — life is not so peaceable or prosperous. If anything, the pandemic has simply revealed the long-hidden poverty, homelessness, and racial discrimination and inequities that millions face everyday.
Indeed, I think the pandemic is forcing us to have a real look at the reality of the world we’ve created. Nature seems to have a habit of doing things like that. Many of the injustices we see today didn’t just happen over night. Healthcare, particularly long-term care centres, has long been underfunded and understaffed. While our present provincial government would like us to think of them as heroically leading us through this pandemic, let’s not forget they were the champions of major healthcare cuts just a few months ago. Violence against persons of colour also didn’t just begin; no, that has long been an evil we’ve haven’t quite yet addressed or acknowledged. How many indigenous women were missing before the pandemic? Or how many stories of police brutality have we’ve heard over the years but have given little to no notice? Homelessness, too, didn’t just come about because of the pandemic. Rather, homelessness was on the rise well before the pandemic as a result of exorbitant housing costs and shortages due to internet-based services such as AirBnB. And lest we think we’re the first people to deal with a major health crises, let’s not forget the Ebola epidemic that still ravages many African countries.
While I agree this pandemic and its social and economic implications are dreadful, I wonder if this might not be the opportunity for us to reimagine and work for a better society that addresses the systemic and social inequalities not only here, but also around the globe.
Which brings me to our celebration of Trinity Sunday.
Every year when we come to the feast of Trinity Sunday, we either hear jokes about the rector giving the assistant curate the job of preaching and the numerous heresies proclaimed from the pulpit, or we hear people pondering why we celebrate a doctrine and not an event in the life of Jesus, such as Christmas and Easter. I think both miss the point of this Sunday. For one thing, we will never be able to articulate or fully explain the triune nature of God because whatever we say about God will always fall short of describing who God is. For another, we are not celebrating a doctrine today but rather our experience of God whose very nature is relational and life-giving. Moreover, we celebrate today the intrinsic graciousness of God who created us and formed us in his image. This latter point is important. What we say about God will determine our own understanding of ourselves.
So unlike previous Trinity Sundays, I am going to focus today on the implications of a trinitarian theology of God for us, rather than solely on the what it means to speak of God as three in one and one in three.
Before I go further, I need to make an admission. For the longest time I simply thought the placement of the first creation story from Genesis was connected to today’s gospel reading because of its affirmation that we are made in the image and likeness of God. While such an assumption is not incorrect, I’ve realised in prayer and study this week that the first lesson and gospel reading point to something even greater: namely, Jesus’ restoration of God’s intended purpose for humanity and all of creation. What led me to this was our second lesson for this Sunday, a reading from St. Paul’s second epistle to the church at Corinth. The more I considered our readings as a whole, I realised this Sunday’s lessons are incredibly fitting for our current experience.
The creation narratives in the Book of Genesis, particularly the first one which we hear proclaimed today, describe a profound intimacy of God with creation. God speaks, and things come into being. God names and the created world finds its order and purpose. God blesses creation, all the natural wonders, the creatures of land and sea, and humanity and commissions them to be fruitful. And most of all, God sees and rejoices in the goodness of it all.
As human persons, we are fundamentally good and have been called by God to be fruitful. Our very purpose and being is to share in God’s creative power and to bring about life and to nurture life. Yet, as we learn later in the second creation narrative of Genesis, we turn away from God’s call and rather than sustain life, we take it and rob it of its very goodness.
With the dawn of sin, there stands a great chasm between humanity and God, and all creation suffers under the burden of human greed, selfishness, and pride. We see the effects of human sinfulness in our world today: racism and tribalism, consumerist greed at the expense of creation and the life of others, and nationalism and “us against them” mentality, to name but a few. All of these behaviours ultimately sacrifice the life of another. Racism seeks to protect the privileges of one race over another; consumerism seeks to have cheap and affordable goods, while persons in poorer countries work for a pittance and for hours on end and others in our own country lose jobs because no one wants to pay the price; and nationalism seeks prosperity and abundance for a few at the expense of persons in other lands. All three examples are exemplified in the countless anti-immigration movements around the world.
All of these things stand in opposition to our original purpose and goodness. We were not created to horde and to seek our own good; we were created to be fruitful and to be a blessing for all creation as God has blessed us. We who are created in God’s image are called to give of ourselves as gift to others and to bring about life, not death. We who are in God’s image ought to reflect the goodness of God in all that we do.
Fortunately for us, God never stopped loving us. That is essentially the message of all the scriptures. We see it in the life of Jesus and we experience it in the sacramental life of the Church. Despite our pride and sinfulness, God still reaches out to us in love. Not only does God reach out to us in love, God gives of himself as gift, through his son, so that we may have life and have it to the full. And in our Church’s sacramental life, we intimately experience the compassions and mercy of God who draws us into his divine life.
Jesus’ encounter with his disciples at the end of the Gospel recalls not only God’s intended purpose for us as told in Genesis, it reverses what was once lost with human sinfulness. While once separated from God by sin, we are led by Jesus up the mountain and united with God once more. Sin no longer holds power over the world, but rather Jesus does as he claims authority over both heaven and earth. Death no longer can hold its grip over us. And like our ancestors of so long ago, we are given a new command to be a blessing to all the world and to pronounce the name of the life-giving God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, upon all God’s people.
While sin compels us to look inward, Jesus commands us to look outward and to see all creation as God’s. And we are to name it as such.
If we were to take Jesus’ words seriously today, we would not only go out and baptise all in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we would live in such a way that reveals the divine life of God among us. Jesus’ command at the end of the Gospel of Matthew is to go out and live anew, not for ourselves, but for others.
Racism, uncontrolled consumerism, and nationalism have no place in Jesus’ kingdom. Instead, we are “to live in peace,” to “greet one another with a holy kiss,” and dwell in the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit. (2 Cor. 13:11-13)
Christians have long understood the trinitarian life of God to be a dynamic relationship and outpouring of love, a giving of each each person of the Trinity of themselves as gift to the other. God, by God’s very nature, is relational and self-giving. We who are formed in that image, are also called into relationship with God and God’s people. We are called to give of ourselves as gift as God has given of himself to us.
As such, we are to sacrifice our pride and self-interest in favour of the good of all humanity. We are to reach across the lines that have long divided humanity and form bonds of love that doesn’t transcend identities, but embraces the unique traits and characteristics of us all.
Christian Theology has long held that there is no hierarchy among the three persons of the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and the three persons do not supersede one another but rather the three persons of the Trinity work together as one. Thus we don’t say the Father is creator, the Son the redeemer, and the Spirit the sanctifier, but rather we acknowledge all three persons create, redeem and sanctify.
We, too, share in the creative, redemptive, and sanctifying act of this world when we act as one. We create and give life not simply in procreation, but when we enable and empower others to live life to the full. We share in God’s redemptive ministry when we truly seek to reconcile with those we have wronged and when we pronounce words of forgiveness to those burdened by the weight of their sin. And we sanctify this world when we acknowledge the holiness of all God’s people and creation and respect and treat all humanity and creation as holy.
In giving his great commission to the disciples to “go therefore, and baptise all people’s in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” Jesus invites us to share with him in his ministry of restoring God’s creation to its original purpose. No longer are we to live in violent opposition to each other, but rather we are to live the trinitarian way of life, a dynamic and life-giving communion with all God’s people. As such, we Christians are called to confront the injustices we see today with the charity and love of God that overcomes the power of sin and death.
Perhaps this pandemic is forcing us to open our eyes and see the way things really are. It might just be the wake-up call we all need to get back to the work God entrusted us in Jesus Christ. Amen.