This week in an email chain I was on, someone referred to 2020 as “the year they want to forget.”
No doubt this has been a tough year so far. Truly painful for many people. But, I don’t think it’s a year we want to forget. Rather, I propose that it’s a year we will want to remember because this year we may be finally learning some crucial lessons as individuals and as a nation that we’ve needed to learn for a long, long time. And it’s a year that we may actually begin to take some of the pressing actions we’ve long known we need, but have neglected to take, especially for people of color and our earth.
This year, our nation, at long last, is beginning to pay attention to the suffering of our black brothers and sisters at white hands. When we saw yet another black man murdered, with a knee pinned to his neck by a white police officer for 8 long minutes, while three others looked on, we could no longer ignore the white mistreatment of black people in our country.
After 400 years of oppression, the recent rise of race-baiting and white nationalism, and three months of the Coronavirus pandemic that has hit the black community disproportionately hard, should we be surprised that the response to George Floyd’s murder was not only peaceful, but also full of rage?
We also know that extremists on the left and right under the cover of darkness have usurped peaceful protests to sow more chaos. (We also aught not forget the images of white people carrying assault weapons on the steps of state capitals across the country in response to nothing more than stay-at-home orders. Even with such a menacing threat, the police did not use tear gas on them.) These are things we ought not forget. 2020 is a time of peril and possibility.
Today as we contemplate God as Trinity, we hear words of hope:
“At the beginning of God’s creating of the heavens and the earth,
the earth became chaos and emptiness, and darkness came over the face of the deep,
Yet the Spirit of God swept over the face of the waters.”
The proclamation of God as Trinity expresses that ours is a God who did not simply set up the creation and walk away, leaving us to our own devices. No, instead, a close reading of the text in Hebrew suggests that we ought to understand these opening words of Genesis as “At the beginning of God’s creating…” (Or, just as God was getting started…)
In other words, God has not stopped creating. God is still creating. And God creates out of chaos, out of darkness. God’s Spirit is not absent from times of upheaval. Just the opposite. God’s spirit continues to create. And beyond that, from the beginning, God is not some kind of a distant, lone entity. The Genesis story suggests that God’s very essence is communal, and that the community of God includes us. The Genesis story is not about an historical event that happened in the past, but this story offers us something much deeper – an understanding that creation is not a static state of affairs, but is an ongoing dynamic that includes us! Whenever we create, we participate in the very life of God.
The Trinitarian view of God, writes Richard Rohr, is not “once upon a time.” but the “never ending story in which we are scripted.” This means that at a time of chaos, darkness, and disruption, our role in the script is to be God’s love in the world. When harmony in the created world is fractured – whether between humans or between humanity and the earth -it is our God-given mandate to heal and restore. To be creative. The biblical word for this is justice.
From the beginning, God calls humans to be responsible stewards of the creation and share in God’s creativity. This means that when we see chaos, when we see darkness, we need not immediately fear that it is all bad or destined for disaster. (Though clearly in cities across our country there are some people who are exercising their own agendas for violent and hateful purposes.)
Instead, at such a time as this, God’s spirit invites and equips us to participate in re-creating peace and harmony. Grounded in love of God who is Creator, with the open and compassionate heart of Jesus, it is the Spirit within us that energizes us to creatively and communally tend and heal the created order, to work with others for justice.
At a moment such as this we need, more than ever to be grounded in the love of the Trinity. When we know ourselves as loved, when we feel it to the core, we don’t need to need to make ourselves feel better by making someone else feel worse. It’s when we are insecure that we are more likely to lash out at others, to fall prey to “us vs. them” thinking. In a Trinitarian view, there is no “them” – only us and God, us and each other.
Whenever the earth or her inhabitants are in trouble, God uses us to participate in the ongoing work of re-creating, of healing, of working to restore what has been broken to the original vision of God – who from the beginning, saw that every part of the creation is good.
The creation story also reminds us that the image of God is within every person – so to treat some as less than because of skin color or any other reason is an affront to God.
In Genesis Chapter 1 verse 26 we hear “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” Old Testament scholar Terence Freithem writes, “Most scholars understand this plural in terms of the divine council, the heavenly assembly that does the divine bidding. God is by nature a social being, functioning within a divine community that is rich and complex. At the heart of what it means to be created in the image of God is human beings are by nature also social and relational. (In Genesis) God creates communally… Genuine interaction and interdependence are herein characteristic of God’s creative activity.”
Having survived World War II, German theologian Jurgen Moltmann’s views of the Trinity were influenced by what he had seen and suffered. “the unity of the Father, the Son and the Spirit, ..is an intricate relationship of community.” Just as God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit share in a relationship of pure love, so should we as humans. This is in keeping with St. Augustine’s idea that “God’s nature is indeed relational and personal as it is expressed in a divine community of love.”
There is no foregone conclusion about what will come from this time of disruption. Our sacred duty is to engage – to use our creative powers in community so that what is created during this time reflects the beauty, the harmony, the peace, and the goodness of God’s created order.
One of the lessons of this moment of national awakening, is that those of us who are white need to listen, really listen to the voices of people of color – especially to their pain. Here is one such voice writing about the Trinity in an essay in 2011, Miguel Diaz:
“As beloved triune community, God “dances” to birth human communities torn by suffering, hatred, and division. God empathizes with the oppressed in ‘blues filled’ experiences and directs their anger creatively and constructively for the sake of justice. In particular the Spirit who hovered in creation from the beginning of the world is the creative and ‘life-inspiring relation of God that makes “a way out of no way possible.” ‘She’ is the relational action of God sent ‘to create beauty out of ugliness, celebrate life in the midst of suffering, and walk in love in the midst of hate.’ As the life-giving relation, the Spirit prophetically seeks to realize human societies in the image of God.”
Another important voice comes from Black theologian James Cone who writes: “Taking seriously the Trinitarian view of the Godhead, black theology says that as Creator, God identified with oppressed Israel, participating in the bringing into being of this people; as Redeemer, God became the Oppressed One in order that all may be free from oppression; as Holy Spirit, God continues the work of liberation. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Creator and the Redeemer at work in the forces of liberation in our society today.”
Friends, what we are witnessing and experiencing is a time fraught with peril and full of possibility; a time of danger and potential; a time of chaos and darkness; the sort of time that is ripe for us to live more fully, creatively and communally into God’s vision of a world at peace.
On Trinity Sunday, let us remember that God is not, primarily, a formula, a dogma, a creedal statement, or a metaphysics that demands our assent. God is love. An endlessly creative, communal love from the beginning of time. A love that in 2020, calls us to join in the Divine Creativity, the Divine Community that together we might bend the curve towards healing, hope, and justice. Amen.