01 June 2020

The Feast of the Holy Trinity, The First Sunday after Pentecost, 7 June 2020

Genesis 1:1-2:4a
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20
Psalm 8
or Canticle 13 (or Canticle 2)

The Collect

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Background: Sabellianism

It seems to me that when one listens to a sermon on Trinity Sunday there is the distinct possibility that one will hear a view of the Trinity that has been in former times condemned by the Church. The one heresy that seems most common (and understandably attractive) in this regard is Sabellianism (also known as Patripassianism, Modalism, and Modalistic Monarchianism). In 190 CE, Noetus of Smyrna stated his belief in a Trinity in which the persons of the Trinity are not that at all but rather characterizations of the one God. It was later refined by Sabellius (c. 210) who saw in these characterizations roles that God took on. The readings assigned by the lectionary seem to take this point of view, Creation, Reconciliation, and Baptism in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Noetus fell under the condemnation of his peers in Smyrna and also by Tertullian in his Adversus Praxeam. Pope Callistus later condemned Sabellius.

First Reading: Genesis 1:1-2:4a

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 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. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

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. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 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. 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. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

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, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

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.” 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. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

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. 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.

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.”

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

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.” 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. 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. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

With this reading we have one of the traditions about the generation of the heavens and the earth, and we have a reading in which we have allusions to the work of God as creator, and a vision of the ru’ah, or spirit of God, and if we are to include St. John’s vision of this event in his Prologue to the Gospel, the Christ who is present from the beginning. Thus it is a fine introduction to the day, and the discussions of the day.

This reading is a look back. In Hebrew, the past is immediately perceivable – right in front of our eyes. The present is beside us, passing us by to become the past. And the future is behind us, unknowable and unseen. So Genesis is a look back to the origin of things, an explanation, if you will, why things are that they are. It is a progression from tohu wobohu, “formless void”, or as Robert Alter terms it “welter and waste,”[1] to light and darkness, division of the waters, dry land, plants and trees, lights in the heavens, life in the waters and in the heavens, and finally humankind. It should be noted that the word for the human being, ‘adam has no definite article, so it is a generic term, not a male term. Thus we meet not only ourselves in this reading, but our Creator as well – the God who provides and protects.

Breaking open Genesis:

1.     What does this creation story say to you now?
2.     Where do you find elements of this story in science?
3.     Where do you see this story with your own eyes?
Psalm 8 Domine, Dominus noster

1      Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!
     Out of the mouths of infants and children *
your majesty is praised above the heavens.
     You have set up a stronghold against your adversaries, *
to quell the enemy and the avenger.
     When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
     What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?
     You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor;
     You give him mastery over the works of your hands; *
you put all things under his feet:
     All sheep and oxen, *
even the wild beasts of the field,
     The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, *
and whatsoever walks in the paths of the sea.
10    Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!

As I have commented before, Governor (replacing the usual “Master”) is an unfortunate and not exactly euphonious way of avoiding the gender of “Master.” There must be a better term, although all of them sound administrative and cold. The following line concerning the majesty of God’s name hardly matches the Governor part, while the Hebrew ‘adonenu (Master) and ‘adir (majestic) has a playful alliteration. This majesty is universally known, from the mouths of babes to all of creation.

It is in verse four that we meet the true intent of the inclusion of this psalm on this particular feast day. If we take our place in creation, and consider it, we become aware of not only our place within it, but God’s role over against us. The psalmist wonders that God is even aware of us, that God should even “seek us out.” Our translation does us a disservice in its translation of elohim in verse six. “You have made him but little lower than the angels.” Angel is a substitution for “gods”. The author establishes a hierarchy with God at the apex, then the gods, then humankind, finally “the works of your hands.” As in the first reading, in the psalm we learn our place in creation.

Breaking open Psalm 8:

1.     What is your place in God’s creation?
2.     What is your role in God’s creation?
3.     Where do you see God in creation?


Canticle 13 A Benedictus es, Domine
Song of the Three Young Men, 29-34

        Glory to you, Lord God of our fathers; *
you are worthy of praise; glory to you.
        Glory to you for the radiance of your holy Name; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
        Glory to you in the splendor of your temple; *
on the throne of your majesty, glory to you.
        Glory to you, seated between the Cherubim; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.
        Glory to you, beholding the depths; *
in the high vault of heaven, glory to you.
        Glory to you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; *
we will praise you and highly exalt you for ever.

This Canticle is found in the Book of Daniel (3:24-68) although our reading is a selection, verses 29-34. It compromises part of the story of Nebuchadnezzar’s Fiery Furnace and the salvation of the three young men. It is known only in the Greek and Latin versions of the Book of Daniel. The Prayer of Azariah serves as a bridge from Nebuchadnezzar’s anger to his amazement at the salvation of the three young men. The prayer rejoices in God’s majesty, as it contemplates the whole of creation. 

Breaking open the Canticle:

1.     In what ways have you been saved?
2.     How have you given thanks for that?
3.     Whom might you seek to redeem?

Second Reading: II Corinthians 13:11-13

Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

In our reading Paul bids the congregation at Corinth farewell, continuing his exhortations to them. One commentator follows in that voice translating our “Put things in order,” with “mend your ways.” So how does he see that happening? He supplies a subtle list of behaviors: agree with or encourage one another, live in peace, greet with a holy kiss. This is a message for our time. 

Breaking open II Corinthians:

1.     How might you “mend your ways”?
2.     Whom do you need to greet with a “holy kiss”?
3.     How do you encourage yourself, others?

The Gospel: St. Matthew 28:16-20

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Our reading is St. Matthew’s “The Great Commission.” We are witnesses to a great circle of mission and ministry, begun and ended in Galilee. We have been anticipating this since the movement to the garden after the Last Supper, when Jesus says to the disciples, “but after I have been raised up, I shall go before you to Galilee” (26:32). The humanity of the situation is shown in Matthew’s aside, “but some doubted.” We are still in the midst of things. Nevertheless Jesus makes an astounding claim, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This reflects Daniel 7:13-14:

As the visions during the night continued, I saw coming with the clouds of heaven One like a son of man. When he reached the Ancient of Days and was presented before him, He received dominion, splendor, and kingship; all nations, peoples and tongues will serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not pass away, his kingship, one that shall not be destroyed. 

Given that authority, Jesus then sends them out – they become apostles – “sent ones.” We might ask then, “Where shall they go?” Jesus is quick with the answer – all nations are the theatre in which they are to have agency and ministry. Here Matthew is akin with Luke in recognizing that the Gospel is meant for people including and beyond Israel. Baptism is not to be the final aspect of this ministry, but rather it is the beginning of “the teaching.” It is interesting that this instruction goes beyond our vaunted individualism, for it is all nations that are to be baptized and taught. It is the founding of holy community and relationship. In the midst of relationship there is Christ – remaining with us.

General Idea:              Aspects of Creation

Idea 1:                          The God who creates us and our context (First Reading)

Idea 2:                          Creation as the foundation of worship (Psalm and Canticle)

Idea 3:                          Creation as a sign of relationship and kinship (II Corinthians)

Idea 4:                          Creation as the theatre of our mission. (Gospel)

All questions and commentary copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller

[1]       Alter, R. (2004), The Five Books of Moses, A Translation with Commentary, W. W. Norton & Company, Kindle Edition, Location 970.

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