Trinity Sunday sermon: Deep Thoughts

The following is this Sunday’s sermon at Zion “Goshert’s” UCC; the readings are Genesis 1:1-2:4a, Psalm 8; and Matthew 28:16-20. An additional lection will be Revelation 21:1-5. This Sunday, the first after Pentecost, is the liturgical observation of Trinity Sunday.  The sermon is, as usual, a work in progress.  Thanks.

We all know the creation story that appears in Genesis 1 and the beginning of Genesis 2.  Many of us probably know that it is immediately followed, in Genesis 2:4b and following, by a second creation story, and some of you might know that there are at least two more creation stories in the Bible, most prominently Proverbs 8 and John 1.

If you’ve been in a Bible study, you might know some of the weird things happening in the creation story.  It’s interesting that God refers to ‘Godself’ as “we” and “our” when speaking about the creation of the humans.  It’s also interesting that the order of events is a little different than the second account of creation that follows the first.  If you look closely at the first words of the Bible, it is not “in the beginning, God created,” but “in the beginning, when God created”:  the difference of having the “when” in the first verse indicates that the creation story here is not an absolute beginning.  It’s just the beginning of earth.

But what has my attention in this passage of scripture, perhaps the most famous passage of scripture, are the words at the beginning:  “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,” over the face of the deep.   In these words we are challenged against our popular notions of creation, namely, that something was already present as a kind of co-creative force of the universe.  What was this “deep” over which “God swept?”

In the last few months I have been re-reading a book on this very subject, titled Face of the Deep by Catherine Keller; the author was one of my professors at Drew University.  In it she goes to great lengths to make sense of this notion of “the deep,” recalling the argument that the deep may have been a veiled way of the early storytellers nodding to a feminine goddess who was slain by the warrior-like male God at the beginning of time.  But this is not an entirely satisfying answer, that such a conclusion does not really tell us much, and she concludes that the “deep” is the depth of the creative force out of which all that is comes into being.

But we should imagine the image that is evoked by the words of scripture:  God’s wind dances, blows playfully, over the face of the waters, evoking the vibrations of the deep before whispering any words, before calling forth the light and day, and before evoking a dome out of the waters.  Could it be that what emerges here, out of the darkness of the waters, is the womb of creation.  As the dome emerges, and the land and seas become separated, the waves and oceanic foam emerge upon the first beaches, softly crashing against the sand for the first time, and cutting into the rocks which line many seaboards. 

If you can imagine, within this first foam is the popping of air meeting the water upon the first fruits of this creation.  And it is out of this primal, primordial foam, the first (alphabet) soup of life, from which the first humans are evoked.

*  *  *

So on this Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost, we are reminded of Jesus’ “Great Commission” from the Gospel of Matthew, commanding the disciples to baptize new disciples of all nations in “the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  It’s worth mentioning that baptizing is met with preaching—water and the word—but very often this commandment is understood as a means by which we are commanded to pillage the earth, to pretentiously declare ourselves as the police of culture, and understand ourselves as spiritually superior to others.

Instead, I suggest that this command, when it is understood as coming from the same Jesus who was born of a manger, became a refugee, convicted and killed as a criminal, is a statement of humility.  If the Great Commission is one of humility, it is not a command of world domination but is an ironic, if not hopeful, message:  From this dismembered and remembered body, the world will be reversed, the poor will be liberated, the mourning will find happiness, and finally the dead will rise.

But first, we must be re-created.  God moving over the face of the deep, calling out of the depth of creation all that is, is a metaphor for our own re-creation:  we are in constant need of the whispered word vibrating the surface of the deep.  We need the provocation of our baptismal waters to create foam that washes ashore, washing away the old and priming the sand for something new to be written.  This creation is an ongoing process, and this calling forth of a creation spirituality is a reversal of the notion that ‘you must be born again.’  It is not just that we must be baptized and born again, but born anew, that new every morning, “morning by morning, great mercies I see,” and I am changed and forever changing.

And if we are to believe that we are created in God’s image, we continue to create in God’s image.  Our speaking and our doing, our acts of justice, our educating of children, our fellowship among one another:  all are actions of vibrating the waves of the spirit against the stagnant waters of the world.  We create out of ourselves, and we create most radically and significantly when our creation is, like Jesus’ sacrifice, a dis-membering process, when we create ourselves and the world anew, drawing deeply from the waters of our baptism.

*  *  *

The words of God, seated on the throne in Revelation 21 are “Behold, I am making all things true, write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.”  As Summer approaches, as schools are letting out, the warm weather becomes more steady, the breeze becomes softer with the warmth, as Vacation Bible Schools begin, my mind turns to images of children playing at the beach. 

Their sand-sculptures are testaments to this teaching—Behold, I am making all things new—yet the oceans wash away the words daily.  It is not a tragedy that these words are washed away by the sea, but a victory.  For we must return to make testimony once again, again and again, that “Behold, I am making all things new.” 

For if we do not, we begin to believe that what we build up in this world is not a humble, dis-membered, and changing God, but one that is permanent that stands only to be in sinking ands and be eroded away by the tide.  It is our deep calling today to now build up and to tear down, and to preach this Gospel to all who hear that this world is about to be reversed by the God who dies for those who suffer with God.

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9 Responses to “Trinity Sunday sermon: Deep Thoughts”

  1. Brad Johnson Says:

    I’ve been handed the reins for this week’s sermon as well. While I’ve tagged Genesis 1 as the official Scripture, I’m going rogue and designating in the first paragraph Wallace Stevens’ “The Idea of Order at Key West” as my real text for the day. I’m only partially kidding. Like you, however, the sermon did give me occasion to return to Keller’s book, which is one of my favorite theology books in recent memory.

  2. Christopher Rodkey Says:

    Each time I read it, I take something very different away from it. I feel smarter after reading it.

  3. Raúl Zegarra Says:

    Hello professor Rodkey:

    Just a few lines. There is a very interesting study or the creation story in John D. Caputo’s ‘The Weakness of God’ (2006). I guess you already know the book, but your emphasis in the pre-existence of that “deep” made me remember Caputo’s book. More precisely: chapter 3, pp. 55-83. I’m new in your website, so I’m not sure if you wrote something about Caputo before, but maybe you could write some lines in the future. Congratulations for this project, it’s an amazing website. I apologize for any mistake, english is my second language ( I’m from Perú, by the way).

  4. Raúl Zegarra Says:

    I just remember that the study or Caputo refers directly to the work of C. Keller, I’m sorry!

  5. Christopher Rodkey Says:

    Hi Raul, thanks for reading and commenting.

    Yes, I am aware of Caputo’s references to Keller, though I am not sure he really adds to much to that particular conversation–in fact, I think there was a blog entry on this site some time ago speaking about The Weakness of God where the conversation turned partially to his use of Keller.

    Someone offline asked me about this sermon in my goings-about yesterday, namely, what makes this a “Trinity Sunday” sermon? This Sunday just happens to be Trinity Sunday and I am using the primary lections for that liturgical observationb.

    After I answered that question, I began to think some more about the nature of preaching and my practice of preaching, as I would eventually like to collect some sermons into a volume with an essay on homiletics.

    The dirction that I am going here is as follows. ONe of my critiques of preaching on the whole is that what makes preaching different from other activities is that preaching has the role of presenting the Good News to an aural audience. Now that Good News might be different between who is preaching. As it happens, I think this is a weakness of this sermon, where the Good News is not really up front and obvious. Perhaps it doesn’t have to be, and some of its presentation might depend on the audience.

    But the second notion of preaching that I am working through is that preaching, or at least radical preaching, must embody a reversal of some sort–be it a reversal of culture, of accepted interpretations of scripture, of certain discources which surround the particular homiletic event, and perhaps even the litrgical calendar. And in this sense, it may even be legitimate to say that this reversal is the Good News as well.

    So the reversal I am attempting here is that on Trinity Sunday, the folks who put together the Revised Common Lectionary dictate that Jesus’ Trinitarian proclamation in Matthew 28 be preached upon, along with Genesis 1. Wht Genesis 1? Could it be that after going through the progress of Advent, Epiphany, Lent, and Eastertide that we have spent enough time on Jesus, and the week before was Pentecost, which is the day of the Spirit, so that just before we go into the long sequence of “propers” of Ordinary Time, we give obligatory props to the one person of the Trinity who doesn’t really gave his own liturgical observation, namely, God the Father? It seems unthinkable that the third of the trinity to whom Christians most often pray has no particular liturgical time. So Trinity Sunday features Genesis 1, which is all God the Father. Consequently, this Sunday is also Father’s day.

    This notion of the “deep” challenges trinitarian thought, at the very least by subverting God the Creator as a singly creative divinity. And it also challenges the absolute masculinity of Godhead as well. I’m not sure this sermon is the place to get into the gender question, but it is my intention here to evoke the gendered readings of Genesis 1, and play with those images as erotic images as much as doing so would be appropriate.

  6. Phil Snider Says:

    Chris et. al. — I like the objectives you name here for a radical homiletic: “…the second notion of preaching that I am working through is that preaching, or at least radical preaching, must embody a reversal of some sort–be it a reversal of culture, of accepted interpretations of scripture, of certain discources which surround the particular homiletic event, and perhaps even the litrgical calendar. And in this sense, it may even be legitimate to say that this reversal is the Good News as well.”

  7. Raúl Zegarra Says:

    Thank you, professor. I hope I could read more of your posts in a few days. All the issues explored here are really interesting. By the way, I usually write in my own blog, a very modest contribution compared with yours, off course. Anyway, this is the web site: http://sagradaanarquia.wordpress.com/. At this moment I’m working on David Tracy’s work.

  8. Walking on Water sermon: “Slapped By Your Grandma!” « An und für sich Says:

    [...] symbol of water, which we talked about a few weeks ago, in Genesis 1, is the “deep” which God sweeps over, and then divides and places a dome as a [...]

  9. Beginnings, Chaos and Order « Stephen Keating Says:

    [...] [Next week I'm taking the youth group to Big Sur for summer camp. Here's the draft for my talk on the first night. Genesis translation from Robert Alter's Genesis and I draw on Catherine Keller's Face of the Deep and a sermon by Christopher Rodkey] [...]


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