Faithful Conversations #16
Note to readers:
Bible study is an essential part of our Lutheran heritage, and I appreciate your involvement here! If you know someone in our parish (or outside) who would benefit from this weekly process, please recruit them — one on one conversations are key! And, a reminder this week as you work through the readings: keep Jesus Christ at the center — all scripture points to Christ. One of Luther’s tenets regarding Bible study was, “Scripture Interprets Scripture.” In a nutshell, the New Testament allows us to witness how Jesus and the Apostles interpreted what they referred to as “the scriptures” (think, Old Testament). The Lectionary offers believers a great tool for doing that! Keep this idea “front of mind” as you tackle the readings for Trinity Sunday! My reflections will focus on the creation story from Genesis and the Gospel. And, one more thing. You will note a text of the Nicene Creed below for reference purposes as you get into the reflection.
Readings for the Holy Trinity Sunday:
Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
Psalm 8 (a response to the first reading)
2 Corinthians 13: 11-13
Matthew 28: 16-20
The First Reading: Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
When God began to create the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth was complete chaos, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. 6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 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. 8 God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. 9 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 humans 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 humans 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. 2 On the sixth day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. 4 These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
The Gospel: Matthew 28: 16-20
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him, but they doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 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 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The Nicene Creed (think about the concept of the Trinity as you read this):
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary
and became truly human.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
This Week’s Reflection: The Eternal Trinity
The confessional writings that govern the ELCA include three ecumenical statements of faith: the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. We say the Apostles’ Creed each Sunday and occasionally the Nicene Creed (you may have heard of the Athanasian Creed, but I will leave that to your further exploration!). Creeds embody our essential belief statements and historically arose from disputes among early Christians, primarily related to the true nature of Christ. Trinity Sunday is significant in this regard because it focuses our minds on the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The Nicene Creed has been on my mind this week, especially while grappling with the creation story from the first chapter of Genesis. Hold that thought for a few moments!
My formative years (born 1957) neatly coincided with NASA’s Saturn, Gemini, and Apollo space flights and the race to the moon. Exploring the stars crackled with excitement and our heroes were those daring astronauts. Among my flashbulb memories from those years, one stands out. It happened on Christmas Eve, 1968 during the flight of Apollo 8. Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders traveled to the far side of the moon and were the first human beings to view (and photograph) an “Earthrise,” from space. In a stunning live broadcast witnessed by millions, the three explorers, overwhelmed by what they were experiencing, used the moment to share those ancient and poetic words from Genesis (Chapter 1: 1-10). What a powerful moment for my eleven year old self! (You can find that moment on-line).
Reading the creation account this week reminded me of that beautiful moment, and also those endless debates about the creation story I heard growing up (frankly, I never saw a conflict between the Biblical creation story and the world of science). Further, I was intrigued that the creation account is included with this week’s readings (remember, “Scripture Interprets Scripture”). Clearly, the message for us to ponder is that the Triune God was present from the beginning. God, of course is mentioned immediately (verse 1), followed by the Holy Spirit (verse 2 — note the “wind from God” which is translated as “Spirit”). But, what about Christ? In our understanding of the Trinity, Christ was present from the beginning. And this is where the Nicene Creed proves helpful: We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. Though the mystery of the Trinity is beyond my grasp, I am now hearing those words from the Nicene Creed differently (you may also want to look up John 1: 1-5 to see how the Apostle understood the creation). In addition, I’m intrigued by Genesis 1, verse 26, in which God speaks in the plural. So much to think about here! My understanding is limited!**
And that leads me to this week’s Gospel reading from Matthew. We are with Jesus and the disciples on the mountain and he offers them what has come to be known as the great commission. This passage is meaningful to me because I chose it for my Confirmation in 1972. Along with Luther’s Explanation of the Small Catechism, we had to commit a passage from scripture to memory. I suspect many of you had a similar experience if you grew up Lutheran, and, yes, I do think memorization is a powerful tool for young learners (and old ones!). Notable to me in the verses from Matthew, is the emphasis on the Trinity and also the EXTENT of the commission to all nations. Quite a challenge! Interestingly, the corresponding passage in Mark says this: “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” I like that interpretation even more. Clearly, we are charged to share Christ’s love widely and deeply in the name of the Triune God. Would you agree with me that our community and wider world need this message in 2023 more than ever? We have much work to do.
Soli Deo Gloria
Note: Beyond the reading from Genesis, Astronaut Frank Borman offered this prayer during the journey of Apollo 8. It is especially poignant considering the turmoil humanity was experiencing in 1968. It is a timeless prayer and is equally fitting for 2023!
Give us, O God, the vision which can see Your love in the world in spite of human failure. Give us the faith to trust Your goodness in spite of our ignorance and weakness. Give us the knowledge that we may continue to pray with understanding hearts. And show us what each one of us can do to set forward the coming of the day of universal peace. Amen.
**Note: For further references to Christ being present at the creation of the world, spend some time with the first chapter of Hebrews and also Colossians 1:16.