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Introduction To The Scripture For Trinity Sunday - Year A
Genesis 1:1 - 2:4a; Psalm 8; II Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Trinity Sunday - Year A


GENESIS 1:1-2:4a		is a magnificent poem tells of God’s 
creation of the world in an orderly fashion during a six day period.  It 
presents a faith statement not a credible scientific hypothesis.  While 
science may be able to give us plausible understanding of how and when the 
universe came into being, it cannot take us beyond the mystery of the 
beginning to God’s gracious spiritual purpose as this poem does.  That 
theme is found in the repeated refrain, “And God saw that it was good,” 
after each act of creation, and the final Sabbath blessing in vs. 2:3.  


PSALM 8   			Reiterating the majesty of the creation poem 
above, this psalm reflects on what God has done and still does in the 
universe in which we live.  More than that, it states how we humans fit 
into the plan of God as conscious stewards of creation.


2 CORINTHIANS 13:11-13	        The Corinthians had many fights among 
themselves and with Paul.  He ends this letter, however, with an appeal to 
them to live peaceably with one another so that they may truly experience 
the love and peace of God.  His final trinitarian benediction is still in 
common use in many church services.  The word “communion” is often 
translated as “fellowship.” It actually means the sharing of the Spirit 
which is the love of God communicated to us through Jesus Christ.


MATTHEW 28:16-20		Many scholars hold that the original gospel 
text may have ended at verse 17 and that the closing commission was added 
in the 2nd century.  It does bring the gospel to a fitting conclusion.  
The church has used this commission as an effective mission statement ever 
since.  The words confirm the tradition shared by both the Gospels of Luke 
and John and Acts that Jesus did commission the disciples to carry on his 
ministry in the world.  The ecumenical fellowship still uses this 
trinitarian formula as its common heritage.


A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS:

GENESIS 1:1 - 2:4a   This magnificent poem tells of God’s creation of the 
world in an orderly fashion during a six day period.  It was never 
intended to be taken as definitive science, as some have tried to do.  It 
makes a religious statement rather than presenting a credible scientific 
hypothesis.  While science may be able to give us plausible understanding 
of how and when the universe came into being, it cannot take us beyond the 
mystery of the beginning to God’s gracious spiritual purpose as this poem 
does.  That theme is found in the repeated refrain, “And God saw that it 
was good,” after each act of creation, and the final Sabbath blessing in 
2:3.  

Behind this poem and its counterpart in vs. 2:4b-3:24 lay a vast 
collection of ancient Middle Eastern mythologies.  Here especially 
creation is depicted as the divinely initiated spiritual victory over the 
threatening forces of chaos and the establishment of God as the creator 
and supreme ruler of the world.  It is probable that this creation poem 
has close affinity with the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the post-
exilic period.  God’s victory over primeval chaos and enthronement were 
celebrated in a great annual festival at the beginning of each new year.  
(Cf. Psalm 74:12-17; 89:9-13; 93:1-4) 

The poem closes with God taking pleasure in a completed and perfect 
creation, and hallowing it with rest, thus giving rise to the worship of 
the Sabbath which became the centerpiece of Jewish and Christian ritual.  

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this poem is its vision of the 
Creator acting in total freedom by means of a spoken word or command.  
Creation comes about by the separation of the elements of the universe 
which produces an ordered and habitable world in which humans dwell as 
spiritual and physical beings.  It has been suggested that the creation of 
humans (vss. 26-30) had a separate origin from the rest of the poem.  This 
shows that humans, made in the image of God and divided into male and 
female, are the crowning act of creation with whom God can communicate and 
who can respond because they are like God.

Humans are also designated as God’s vice-regents having dominion over the 
rest of creation.  This language reflects the kingship motif of the temple 
ritual, not the concern for survival of our over-populated planet.  It is 
anathema to modern environmentalists because it appears to permit humans 
to misuse creation for their own selfish ends.  That we have abused this 
privilege and power with disastrous results has only recently dawned on 
our consciousness and conscience.  Rather than fear the consequences of 
our past mistakes, we would be better to approach the unknown and 
environmentally dangerous future by living “with respect for creation” as 
the creed of The United Church of Canada declares we are called as God’s 
people to do.

In his most recent book, The Sins of Scripture, (Harper San Francisco, 
2005) Bishop John Shelby Spong goes much farther.  He proposes that we 
abandon the whole concept of a perfect creation celebrated in this poem.  
He believes that it has done far more harm than good, especially the words 
of . 28 “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it….” The 
text gained so much power by being taken literally.  It may have been 
appropriate for the exiles recently returned from Babylon in the 6th 
century BCE, but it has disastrous consequences in our global society of 
the 21st century with six billion people struggling for control of the 
planet’s scarce resources.  He sees no hope for the future other than to 
limit the expansion of the human race with has trebled in number during 
the past 100 years.  He goes so far as to wonder if we can even hear a new 
divine command that will avert the coming environmental disaster.

Spong does propose an alternative theological basis for an ecologically 
provident future.  He outlines an alternate attitude toward the nature of 
God, creation and humanity.  This includes a new definition of our human 
experience of God.  We need to recognize God as “the life force that flows 
through all that is,” not the external supernatural being who set creation 
in perfect order and delivered it to humanity to dominate and subdue.  
This, he believes, is the true concept of God as Spirit, an indwelling 
presence ultimately expressed as love, that is also found in many parts of 
our scriptures.  “It makes a vast difference to our sense of 
responsibility to our world if we redefine God, not as an external deity 
who calls the world into being by divine command, but as the power that 
emerges within all of life.” (p. 64) 

Accordingly, Spong finds hope in the theology of Paul Tillich definition 
of God as “the Ground of Being” and Jergen Moltman’s view that “the 
alienation of nature brought about by human being can never be overcome 
until men [and women] find anew understanding of themselves and a new  
interpretation of their world in the framework of nature.”


PSALM 8   Reiterating the majesty of the creation poem above, this psalm 
celebrates what God has done and still does in the universe in which we 
live.  More than that, it states how we humans fit into the plan of God as 
conscious stewards of creation.

Few psalms surpass this one in its exaltation of the sovereignty of God 
and the manifestation of God’s glory in the created universe.  Its poetic 
insights parallel those of Second Isaiah (e.g. Isa. 40:28; 45:18), Psalm 
104 and Genesis 1:1-2:4a, all of which are post-exilic in origin.

Vs. 2 contains a reference that seems strange to our modern ears.  How can 
babes and bulwarks be meaningful in the same sentence? The psalmist had 
intimate knowledge of the ancient myth that creation came about as a 
result of the divine victory over the dragon of chaos.  Was this the tale 
told to children who asked, “Why does the sun shine in the day and the 
moon and stars at night?”  The firmament above with it shining lights were 
seen as the bulwark against “the enemy and the avenger” who might 
challenge God’s sovereign power.

Quickly, the psalmists attention moves on to the night sky at which one 
still gazes at in wonder when one can see it clearly without cloud cover 
or the dulling of artificial light.  How infinitely small and 
insignificant such a view makes one feel.  Knowing what we know from the 
discoveries of modern astronomy and cosmology, does that sense of 
insignificance not become all the more intense?  What place then do human 
beings have in such a vast universe? Has anyone yet surpassed the 
spiritual insight of the psalmists answer to his own question in vss. 4-5?

The sacred gift of “dominion” described in vss. 6-7 carries far more 
meaning today than in the pastoral culture of ancient Palestine.  
Environmentalists decry the assault we have made upon the sustainability 
of life on our planet resulting from a literal interpretation of what the 
word implies.  Simply put, the environmental creed of the psalmist is 
identical to that of Gen. 1:26-30.  The natural world and its products 
have been given into our care for our use.  Today, sadly, we must add “but 
not for our abuse.” Under God’s sovereignty, reiterated in vs. 8, we are 
beginning to pay the price for our sinful exploitation of what we have 
been given in trust.


2 CORINTHIANS 13:11-13   The Corinthians had many fights among themselves 
and with Paul.  He ends this letter, however, with an appeal to them to 
put “things in order” and live peaceably with one another so that they may 
truly experience the love and peace of God.

From earlier passages in both letters we learn how disordered the life of 
the Corinthian community had become.  Conflicts existed between different 
factions caused by interpersonal rivalries, spiritual arrogance, a lack of 
sensitivity toward less experienced members, sexual immorality, and 
possibly some theological differences.  The arrival of some other teachers 
had exacerbated the situation.  

Scholars tend to regard 2 Cor. 10-13 as a severe letter sent from Ephesus 
after a hasty and unsuccessful visit Paul had made to Corinth.  
Immediately before this reading Paul had discussed his future plans 
regarding the Corinthian church and had made a number of miscellaneous 
appeals.  A more complete discussion of the background of the passage 
requires consultation of the many commentaries including those which give 
insight into the sociological structure of the early Christian church.

As valiant as his efforts were at making peace in this congregation, Paul 
may not have been the best pastor for this particular faith community.  
The rigidity of his Pharisaic background, his self-assurance as a convert, 
and his confidence in his apostleship may have done more to create 
difficulties than to resolve them.  Do not the various of the debates 
still carried on in the church today about several controversial passages 
in the Corinthian letters also confirm such questions about Paul’s 
effectiveness? Perhaps more surprising, therefore, are the many passages 
in these letters which rise to splendid heights of faith and give a 
dynamic vision of what the redeeming love of God in Christ can do for 
those who accept the power of the Spirit to work love’s miracle among us.

The final benediction is still in common use in modern worship services.  
Questions have been raised as to whether it came from Paul himself or is 
the addition of a later editor of the letters.  It goes much farther than 
Paul’s usual closing benedictions.  Normally, he prayed for the grace of 
the risen Christ to be with is readers.  This may be the reason for 
mentioning grace first.  Yet it is through the redeeming work of Christ 
that the love and purpose of God have been revealed.  This certainly is 
what Paul had experienced and sought to communicate in all his preaching 
and writing.  He also believed and taught that the Spirit was the agent by 
whom he had been empowered and the faithful were sustained in their new 
relationship with God and with each other.

The word “communion” is often translated as “fellowship.” It actually 
means participation in and the sharing of the Spirit which is the love of 
God communicated to us through Jesus Christ.  While this benediction may 
not express a fully developed doctrine of the Trinity, it certainly 
describes the experience from which that doctrine arose.  It also 
explicitly summarizes Paul’s urgent desire for his Corinthians friends and 
so fittingly concludes the letter.


MATTHEW 28:16-20   This pericope brings the gospel to a fitting 
conclusion, and the church has used the trinitarian commission as an 
effective, ecumenical mission statement ever since.  It confirms the 
tradition shared by Luke and John that Jesus did commission the disciples 
to carry on his ministry in the world.  By no means do the gospels share 
the same tradition as to the exact words that Jesus spoke on the occasion 
of his final appearance.  The diversity of their interpretations points to 
the absence of a fixed tradition.  This is particularly true with regard 
to the locale: Luke 24 and John 20 tell of an appearance in or near 
Jerusalem; Matthew and John 21:1-14 place the final appearance in Galilee.  

Matthew adds another little detail that may link this pericope with what 
has gone before.  He specifies “the mountain to which Jesus had directed 
them.” This may be an intentional allusion to other mountains where he had 
placed significant events in the ministry of Jesus, the Sermon on the 
Mount and the Mount of Transfiguration.  Speculative as such an allusion 
may be, it would add faith-inspiring power to Matthew’s conclusion.  He 
further emphasized the element of faith by stating that “when they saw 
him, they worshiped him.” But what does the additional clause “but some 
doubted” mean? Could Matthew have also known, but chose not to include, 
the tradition about Thomas which John wove into his gospel? (John 20:19-
30) Luke also knew of the disciples doubt (Luke 24:11; 37-42).  The 
tradition appears to have been widespread.

Today the ecumenical fellowship still uses the trinitarian formula as the 
essential proof of participation in the Christian church.  There seems 
little question that it dates from the earliest tradition although it may 
have not been had the same controlling force now vested in it.  C.H. Dodd 
clarified its historicity by showing how it fulfills all the requirements 
of a “pronouncement-story,...  a folk-tradition in which “an oft-repeated 
story is rubbed down and polished, like a well-worm pebble, until nothing 
but the essential remains, in its most arresting a memorable form.” 
[“Essay in the Form-Criticism of the Gospels” in *Studies in the Gospels,* 
ed. D.E. Nineham, 9-35]  We should not be surprised at this since Paul 
also frequently linked the Spirit with God and Christ as did John’s 
Gospel, thus laying the foundation for the later doctrine.  

The command to make disciples by baptizing and teaching states the means 
the church used from the beginning and still uses to witness to and 
continue in its faith relationship with the risen Christ.  The promise to 
be with us “to the end of the age” confirms elements of the original 
kerygma: the ascension of Christ, the gift of the Spirit as his continuing 
presence, and the promise of his second coming.  Thus the church lives in 
that ambiguous eschatological state of “already” but “not yet.” Baptism is 
the symbol of this state of grace.  The teaching is the way in which those 
who believe continue to grow in grace and mature into a more experienced 
discipleship until our transition to life beyond death makes it complete.

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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