Genesis 1:1-3, 26-27, Psalm 8:1-9. Matthew 28:16-20
It’s difficult to read the book of Genesis, especially the first two chapters without getting into a fight with someone. These verses are on the front line of what some have called the battle for the bible or the culture wars between faith and science. The conflict between those who take the words of Genesis literally, who believe the earth was created in just six twenty four hour days, perhaps eight thousand years ago and those who believe that the universe emerged 14 billion years ago and that our earth has evolved over approximately five billion years, the result of the interplay of chance and natural selection rather than the actions of an external creator who brought all the species into existence in just half a dozen days.
The battle lines between faith and science have been raging since the time of Galileo 400 years ago, and have encouraged the emergence of a brand of faith that denies science whenever it conflicts with a literal reading of scripture and is skeptical even today about science as it relates to the current Coronavirus. Equally challenging is a scientism that denies any purpose or meaning in the universe beyond that of humanity.
On this Trinity Sunday, I believe that there is a much richer understanding of the creation of the universe and God’s presence in our lives than you will find among biblical literalists and those scientists who deny purpose and artistry in the evolution of the universe. I believe that we are part of a multi-billion year, trillion galaxy, cosmic adventure, bursting forth from the Big Bang, and slowly evolving through an interplay of trial and error, and wisdom and artistry. The Genesis creation story is not a once upon a time event but a poetic vision of a glorious universe from which humans emerge, with godlike traits and yet bonded to the earth and connected with all creation, human and non-human alike.
We are created in the image of God, and we are children of creativity and love, and yet we are made from dust and to dust we will return. We are divine, and yet we are animals – mortal, hungering and thirsting, reproducing and aging, imaginative and yet struggling.
Within the Genesis narrative there is a perplexing passage, proclaiming that humans were created male and female in “our” image. These evocative words point to diversity in God and take us beyond God the Father to a Divinity embracing male and female and much more.
Is the trinity quietly present in this passage? Or is the language of male, female, and multiplicity simply a way of talking about a complex, lively, dynamic, and historical God, who parents forth a glorious and diverse universe, filled with strange species and equally strange humans of all races, nations, cultures, shapes, and sizes – calling all of them “good,” holy and deserving of praise.
We can appreciate the words of Psalm 8 because we’ve experienced them on a star-filled night, overwhelmed with the grandeur of the heavens compared to our own small planet and our apparent nothingness in the universe. Looking out at the universe, we are amazed as was the Psalmist. Again, this is not geology or astrophysics but a description of our wonder at this glorious universe of which we are a part, and then in the spirit of PBS NOVA or Tyson’s or Sagan’s “Cosmos,” a amazement at the contrast between cosmic immensity and the intricacy of our own lives, just a little bit less than divine.
We are children of God, star stuff, the energy of love bursting forth with the big bang, wondrously creative and complex, and responsible for both good and evil on our planet. Expect much of ourselves and much from God, the Psalmist said. You a little lower than God, and sadly we aren’t expecting enough of humankind in this time of pandemic and protest. We told we are all in this together and yet our fellow citizens sow division, pit race against race, bully and berate, angrily tweet, placard hate speech on State Capitol Steps, and still kill persons of color for simply jogging while black or suspicion of illegal activity. When we need unity of purpose, we settle for conspiracy theories and spreading falsehoods on social media. We choose separation and hoarding. We are a little less than god, let’s not settle for mediocrity and divisiveness in ourselves and our leaders. And so the Psalmist challenges us to ask the best from ourselves, to be God’s agents in healing the world.
The passage from Matthew contains the words of Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and then the command to go out into the world to share the gospel. Matthew couldn’t imagine sharing the gospel with a mask, six feet of separation, or sheltering in place. But, his world had limits, too, and he brought the gospel to the world using the tools and technology he had. I suspect in this time of pandemic, Matthew would create a Zoom account, record vespers services, talk with children and teach classes on line, blog on social media, and daily reach out to friends. I suspect Matthew would struggle with chaos and confusion in learning new media for sharing God’s wisdom. He would also remember the vulnerable and do whatever possible to ensure their wellbeing and dignity.
These days, we need to take Matthew’s final words to heart. Jesus is no longer going to be present with his followers face to face. From now on it’s up to them – and to us – we are the hands and feet of Jesus today – and yet he proclaims words that echo through the ages, into our homes, comforting our fears and inspiring our courage, “Lo, I with you always, even to the end of the age.” Within and beyond pandemic, walking gleefully, and wearing your mask, observing safe distance and yearning for a hug, “I am with you. You are mine, and you are loved.”
We have a gospel mandate – and the gospel is good news for everyone, not just us. We have a job to do, to be God’s companions in healing the world. We are not alone – we belong to the cosmos. God is with us always.