First Lesson: Genesis 1:1-2:4
Responsive Reading: Psalm 8
Second Lesson: 2 Corinthians 13: 11-13
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 28: 16-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
A few years back there was a seminary student who was in the middle of an interview examining him for ordination. This student received a question from which he could draw nothing more than a blank answer. The question this student was asked to “explain the Trinity?” “Explain the relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?” This student like plenty of other people was stumped even for one word to say. There is truth to the saying that trying to explain the Trinity to other people is like trying to explain one’s taxes.
So with this student’s story in mind what I want to talk about this morning is how we can make sense of the Trinity. The answer is to go back to the beginning of existence itself. The key to understanding the Trinity comes in understanding the creation of the world as described in our lesson from Genesis 1. The key to understanding the Trinity understands who was present at the time of the heavens and earth’s creation.
The very first two verses of the Bible place two members of the Trinity at the scene.
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”- Genesis 1:1-2
The fact that multiple beings took part in the creation is acknowledged even later in the creation story which states in verse 26: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
For the second member of the Trinity, we look to the beginning of the Gospel of John.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
John’s Gospel begins with an even more impressive claim than a virgin birth. John’s Gospel begins by placing Christ at the scene of creation described in Genesis 1.
Our best understanding of the Trinity is that there has never been a time where neither the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit never existed, neither the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit had a day of non-existence.
Let me tell a story. The summer after my freshman year at Concordia, I worked as a Bible camp counselor. My first week on the job, a sixth grader comes up and asks me the following age old question “If God created the universe then who created God?”
All I could do to answer this young man was quote the words from the Book of Revelation that “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
Such a question of “Who created God?” forces us to confront a much more fundamental question of “What set the Universe in motion?” What was the cause for the subsequent effect?
On a philosophical level, the idea the Universe came into existence out of nothing requires an explanation for where the material to create out of nothing derived?
Even if one claims that this universe is the result of a black hole. They are still left trying to explain from “where the black hole came”?
They try to provide an answer to how the Universe has been able to operate with such precision for thousands of years if its being is pure chance? How if the gravitational constant was just a bit off, then life would cease to exist as we know it. How if one were to break down a 7-8 ounce human eye, you would see over 2 million working parts capable of processing 36,000 bits of information per hour.
Our answer to the question of “Who created God?” is either a confession of faith in a god who exists outside the limitations of space and time that brought our planet into being. The second possibility is life derived from nothingness that arose from the lowest of probability.
Let me tell another story as told Rev. Dr. James Kegel, there once was an old rabbi who was approached by a learned philosopher. The philosopher proceeded to tell the rabbi, he could not believe in God’s existence, rather he believed that the universe came into being through purely natural means.
The rabbi gave the philosopher no answer to his question on that day, but later returned to the philosopher carrying a beautiful poem written in the most exquisite of hand-writing. The philosopher couldn’t believe the beauty of the poem, so he wished to know who wrote it. The rabbi told him that there was no poet for this poem. The rabbi explained that all that had happened was that a piece of paper was lying on his desk when the cat came by to knock over the inkwell.
The philosopher was flabbergasted by this explanation; he stated that such a course of events sounded impossible that surely someone had written this beautiful poem.
To which the rabbi replied, “You said yourself that the universe, the world and life, which are more beautiful and wondrous than any poem, came into being by themselves, so why do you doubt the same for this simple, humble poem?”
The Earth was a formless void, yet soon was populated by living, breathing human being.
How do we make sense of this all? It seems like there are two options that are continually presented before us as either science or religion. The paradigm of science and religion inevitability clashing is wrong.
I believe as people of faith we have to have a tremendous openness and respect for all of science’s findings and discoveries. I think what ultimately becomes helpful is making a distinction between science and religion is putting their roles in proper perspective. Science cannot answer the “why questions of life?” Science can not tell you “Why am I here?” “What happens after I die?” “Is there a God?” Science can not offer explanations to questions that we cannot observe within the natural world.. A telescope cannot tell you about human origins, not speak to the morality or immorality of someone’s actions.
When science claims to give answers beyond merely observable phenomena than it is no longer science but has instead become a religion. The idea that the recreation of human life in a lab with unlimited resources with the greatest marvels of human technology under the most ideal of conditions has proven to be nearly impossible makes a strong case that our life is not an accident. The idea that this same human life came about via chance seems to fail the principal of Occam’s Razor that the simplest explanation is often the best explanation.
We misunderstand science if one believes that it can provide an answer to the questions of whether there is a God. Science can merely evaluate properties, and behaviors. Science does overstep its bounds when it claims something as the Big Bang to be a fact for how life came into existence.
What separates religion from science is religion considers the question of whether there is a God, who operates outside observable nature in space and time. Religion oversteps its bounds when it blurs the line between what is an object of fact versus an article of faith.
So bringing it back to the story of creation from Genesis 1 how should we make sense of it?
Let me tell another story, a number of years ago I was working in a church when one day I went out for Pizza with a couple of my female co-workers. The first woman was named Joyce. Joyce was a youth director, and Joyce’s husband was a school teacher. Both Joyce and her husband considered their beliefs about God to be informed by both religion and science. Where as the other woman was named Lisa. Lisa was a church secretary. Joyce spent the lunch hour telling Lisa how she needed to believe in evolution. Lisa said she couldn't do it. Lisa proclaimed if it was proven to her that the world did not come into existence in six literal days that her faith would fall apart. In Lisa’s mind if one part of the Bible was determined to be untrue then the whole thing would fall apart.
While I understand Lisa’s opinion about the creation story, I think its best not to get bogged down in the time frame regarding the number of days or the age of the earth. For we’re not defending whether God could have created the earth in six days, we have no doubts that God could have created the earth in six days, six hours, six minutes, or even six seconds.
I think we want to caution upon insisting that a particular understanding of the Bible is always necessary for interpreting Science. For example in the 17th century, the scientist Galileo was branded a heretic for claiming that Earth revolved around the sun.
So when it comes to an issue like Evolution. We can acknowledge like Billy Graham or Pope John Paul II before us that Evolution does naturally occur. The DNA of a species does change overtime depending on the environment. For example Sparrows in the North will always be bigger than in the South, certain types of Mosquitos have developed a resistance for DDT, and Human beings are quite a bit bigger than 200 years ago due to different nutrition. And given enough years and mutations eventually new species will form. We can still be Christians and feel this is a method by which life comes into being. We can observe these things and not feel that our faith is a house of cards about to collapse.
The Trinity cannot be separated from the story of creation on one hand; the Trinity is ultimately defined by the story of salvation. Our Gospel lesson for this morning has Jesus giving the Disciples instructions on how to baptize. The instruction that Jesus gives has him invoke the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as equally integral in his command to baptize. “How does the Trinity work together?” The Trinity is God as three distinct persons all co-equal, and co-eternal working together with one unified purpose. The reason that we don’t understand the Trinity is we often compare it to human relationships for even the best of marriages don’t always see eye to eye. Whereas the Trinity is counter-intuitive due to its unity of character and being, take away the work of any member of the Trinity and our salvation is incomplete. Take away God’s acting to create the life out of nothing, to rise from the dead, or create faith than our existence would be nothing but a slow march towards death on account of our sins.
I think as we consider the relationship between religion and science where the rubber hits the road is when it comes to the concept of miracles. Any approach to the Christian Faith, which denies the miraculous is problematic.
Taking miracles out of Christianity makes it a fundamentally worthless religion. If the dead stay dead or everything has a natural or scientific explanation, there is no point in sitting here in Church Today. At the same time- Scientific miracles are extremely rare or else the Universe could not exist in an orderly fashion. For example, even though Jesus walked on water, I could not go walk on Lake Superior. The whole of the Christian Hope comes from the idea that we have a God, who can operate outside the laws of nature that we believe that he created, a God, who can speak creation into existence out of nothing, a God, who could overcome death. For where Science has its limits is in answering questions such as “why human beings ever feel shame for their actions if life is merely survival of the fittest?” Science can’t answer the questions of right or wrong, or explain man’s continual struggle with eternal separation. This is why we look towards the cross for our answers. This is why we hold out hope for miracles. This is why we celebrate the work of our God today through Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.