Sunday, June 15, 2014

Trinity A

I’m guessing that the folks who put the lectionary together chose the first reading from Genesis for this Trinity Sunday because of a certain word. At least that might be part of the reason.

You probably read this creation story from Genesis so often that you might have passed right over it. I know I did the first 1000 times I read this passage. But some in this past week’s bible study caught a hold of it pretty quickly.

So now, when I read this passage with Trinitarian eyes, I can’t help but lock in on the fact that God speaks of God’s self in first person plural.

“Let US make humankind in OUR image...” God says. And this is not a typo. It’s in the original Hebrew. It’s like the lectionary folks wanted to remind us that God is a tiny community - and always has been, right from the beginning, if God can ever be said to have a beginning.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this Genesis passage, but that’s what it says to me. God may be “One” but we don’t know how God self-identifies that “Oneness.” Especially when God is a relational God. God is never alone because God can’t be. That’s not who God is.

And since we’re created in God’s image, we can’t run from the fact we TOO are relational creatures. We are made to engage and interact. Our very being demands that we remain connected to others, that the path of faith and life is not supposed to be a lonely walk or solitary exercise, that we can’t be who we are without each other. No matter how much we try.

“I’d like you to baptize my baby,” the voice said on the other end of the phone.

“I’d be glad to,” I replied.

“What’s involved?” she asked

“Well, I’d like to meet with you and we can talk about it. When can you meet?” I asked

“How’s Sunday at 1:00?” she said.

“How about you come to church then we’ll meet in my office after worship,” I suggested.

“, I don’t think so,” she responded. “How about you come to my place at 1:00.”

“Okay,” I responded.

I arrived at her house armed with a hymnal marked to the baptism service, as well as a copy of Baptized We Live, a sort of comic book version of what we believe as Lutherans.

“So, why a baptism?” I asked her. I ask this question to most if not all parents I meet for the first time who present their child for baptism, not to jam parents into a corner, because I’m NOT looking for a “correct” answer. But because I’m genuinely interested in what parents believe about baptism.

“Well, I got done, my parents got done, and I want to have my baby done,” she said. Her answer was pretty typical from what I get from parents. At least she was honest.

I opened the hymnal and turned to the liturgy for Holy Baptism, and I pointed out the section where she would be making some pretty heavy duty promises on behalf of her child:

“As you bring your child to receive the gift of baptism, you are entrusted with responsibilities:

to live with her among God’s faithful people,
bring her to the Word of God and the Holy Supper
teach her the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed, and the Ten Commandments,
place in her hands the holy scriptures,
nurture her in faith and prayer,
so that your child may learn to trust God,
proclaim Christ through word and deed,
care for others and the world God made,
and work for justice and peace.

Do you promise to help your child grow in the Christian faith and life?”

I couldn’t get through the rest of my spiel because she burst out crying.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I don’t want to do any of that,” she said.

“I don’t understand, what’s your concern?” I asked.

“I don’t want to force any religion on my baby. I’m not going to bring her to church because I want her to make her own choice when she grows up. I don’t believe in church. I don’t believe you have to go to a building to worship God,” she said.

“It’s not the building that’s important, it’s where God’s people gather to worship,” I replied.

“I don’t care!” she said, and stormed out of the room.

I always find it interesting that some parents see faith and spirituality as areas where they can raise their children with little or no guidance, yet still assume their children will make good choices about these things when they grow up.

And I often wonder if she told her friends about the mean ol’ pastor who wouldn’t baptize her baby. But then I realized it wasn’t me who said “No” to her child’s baptism, it was her.

At an earlier point in my ministry I would have been furious at this encounter. I would have thought “How dare she treat the sacrament of Holy Baptism with such cavalier consumerism, as if I’m in the religious service industry! This is God’s activity in her child’s life, not the Sears portrait studio!”

But after a few years into this job I realize that she’s just doing what the culture taught her to do, to define life and faith on her own terms, rather than seek the wisdom of a community who lived and breathed their faith for thousands of years.

Like so many others, she was making it up as she went along, dogmatically asserting the infallibility of personal choice and the inerrancy of individual spiritual preferences. She’s so deeply immersed in the waters of consumerism, that she believes that she is swimming upstream, against the religious current, that she can’t see that most other people are floating in the same direction.

She is not as unique and radical as she probably believes herself to be.

She was probably worried that I was trying to jam her into a religious box that was not of her own making, where she would gasp for air, rather than seeing that God was providing a doorway into the new and abundant life that God wants for her and her child, offering her and her daughter an opportunity for participate in the world’s salvation.

And she was right about one thing. You don’t have to go to a building to worship God. But you can’t be a Christian without others. We need the support, encouragement, fellowship, challenge, and prayers of others to grow into our faith. There cannot be any individual Christians, because there is no individual God.

God is a community. A family. An intimate connection. Three-in-one and one-in-three. As you know we call this the “Trinity.” Don’t ask me how this all works because I haven’t a clue. No one really knows.

But what I do know is that God is profoundly relational. God-is-with-us because that’s who God is with God and with everything that God has created in God’s image. And that’s who God wants us to be. We can’t be Christians without each other.

Some say that such a perspective coming from a guy like me, doing what I do, is just the theological justification for keeping my job, and it’s the religious rationale for propping up the church institution.

I won’t deny that you folks coming to church helps pay my bills and puts shoes on my kids’ feet. After all, a guy’s gotta eat. And I really like my job.

But there are easier ways to make money than being a pastor. And more of it.

So when we baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, we baptize into a community - God’s community - where we are never alone.

As I thought about what that mom said I realized that at least she had the integrity to NOT go through with a ritual that she realized she didn’t believe in. And it could be said that her saying “No” to her child’s baptism respected the church and what we believe as Christians.

But still, I never say “No” to a baptism because God never says No. Even when the parents clearly have no desire to follow through on the promises they make on behalf of their child at baptism, I still do the baptism, because God DOES follow through on God’s promises made at these waters.

And God keeps the promises God made TODAY as JACK is received into the community called “Trinity” and the community called “church.” Today we are fulfilling Jesus’ commission to baptize, and to teach everything he taught the disciples; that the kingdom of God, the kingdom of peace, of justice, of forgiveness, of mercy, of grace, and of life is reigning in Jack’s life, and will guide him through his years and lead him into eternity when the time comes. Jack is now a participant in the world’s salvation, as he walks through his years, giving the world his gifts, building on what God is already doing.

And it won’t be easy for Jack because it’s not easy for us. Our challenge - as a church - is learning how to live our promises in world that doesn’t believe in them, among those who try to make up faith and spirituality as it goes along, in a culture that’s - rightly or wrongly - suspicious of formalized faith.

But whether we live up to that challenge or if we fail, God who is Trinity will remain faithful to us and to the world, because that’s who God is. That’s what God does. The Three-in-One and One-in-Three has received us into the intimate community called “God.”

May this be so among us. Amen.

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