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Sermon and Reflections For Trinity Sunday - Year A
Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; II Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20
"Over the Bent World Broods"
Barry Robinson

From time to time we feature "Keeping The Faith in Babylon: A Pastoral Resource For Christians In Exile", a weekly set of comments and reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary texts by Barry Robinson (Lion's Head, Ontario, Canada).   Barry describes his resource this way: "Keeping The Faith in Babylon... is a word of hope from a pastor in exile to those still serious about discipleship in a society (and, too often, a church) that has lost its way".   Contact Barry at fernstone@fernstone.org to request samples and get further subscription information. Snail mail inquiries can be sent to Barry at the address at the bottom of this page.
KEEPING THE FAITH IN BABYLON
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
Barry J. Robinson

Trinity Sunday - Year A
Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8; II Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20
"Over the Bent World Broods"

	
    "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 
    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."

In Alice Walker's novel, The Color Purple, there is a wonderful scene where 
Celie, a battered and depressed woman, married to a brutal and sadistic 
husband, meets Shug Avery, a sultry, free-wheeling songstress. In a long
conversation about God, Shug Avery introduces Celie to spirit, an 
introduction which eventually leads to Celie's personal liberation.

   Here's the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you 
   and inside everybody else. You come into this world with God. 
   But only them that search for it find it. And sometimes it just 
   manifest itself even if you not looking, or don't know what you 
   looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow, lord. 
   Feeling like shit.
   
   It? I ast.

   Yeah, it. God ain't a he or a she, but a it.

   But what it look like? I ast.
	
   Don't look like nothin, she say. It ain't a picture show. It aint 
   something you can look at apart from anything else, including 
   yourself. I believe God is everything, say Shug. Everything that is
   or ever was or ever will be. And when you can feel that, and be 
   happy to feel that, you've found it... Listen, God love everything 
   you love - and a mess of stuff you don't, but more than anything
   else, God love admiration.
	
   You saying God vain? I ast.
	
   Naw, she say.  Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think 
   it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field 
   somewhere and don't notice it.
	  
   What it do when it pissed off? I ast.
	
   Oh, it make something else. People think pleasing God is all God care 
   about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to 
   please us back.

   Yeah? I say.
	  
   Yeah, she say. It always making little surprises and springing them 
   on us when we least expect.
	  
   You mean it want to be loved, just like the Bible say.
	
   Yes, Celie, she say. Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance, 
   make faces and give bouquets, trying to be loved. You ever notice 
   that trees do everything to git attention we do, except walk?

                                   	- Alice Walker, The Color Purple

                                    +

That question - that very existential question that Celie is struggling with 
and with which each one of us must struggle sooner or later - is the question 
we are asked to ponder on Trinity Sunday.

Is it safe to trust? To be more specific, is it safe to trust the power of 
Spirit as she seeks to lead us bravely down the unknown corridors of this and 
ever day of our lives; and it was the fundamental question with which the 
exiled Jews of Babylon were faced.

It is generally agreed by most biblical scholars that the book of Genesis is 
not one of the oldest books of the Bible and that, in all probability, it 
was written sometime during the 6th century B.C.E. and was addressed to 
that remnant community of exiled Jews who had been dragged off into bondage. 
The problem for those oppressed people was that the Babylonian gods seemed 
to control the future. Their enemies, it appeared, had defeated them; and 
the Jewish people were feeling decidedly hopeless.

In answer to this dilemma, the book of Genesis was written, not to make a
scientific claim about how the world was made, but to make a confession of 
faith about why it was made. The single most important purpose the author 
or authors had in mind was to say that God still moved over the dark waters 
of life, brooding over it and seeking to bring forth life; and the word the 
Bible uses in verse 2 when it says that a wind from God, or the spirit of 
God, swept over the surface of the waters is the word marahapeth, which 
more literally translates "to brood", the way a mother bird broods over her 
nest until new life begins to stir.

It is a powerful image when you stop to think about it; and what it was 
intended to mean is that there is no chaos, no darkness in which you or 
anybody else finds themselves out of which God cannot still bring forth life. 
That was the question with which our ancestors in the faith struggled: could 
God bring forth life out of their seemingly dark and hopeless situation? 
Could life still begin again for them? Was new life stirring in the midst of 
the death-ridden waters of their times? Was it safe to trust? Was it safe to 
hope? Was it safe to go on living their lives as bravely and as graciously as 
they could, believing that the light would one day begin to shine?

It was the only question that mattered to them; and, in a sense, it is the 
only question that really matters in the end to any one of us.

                                    +

There are so many things that make us afraid. We are afraid of losing our 
jobs, of being ridiculed, that people will talk, that we will fail, that 
our spouses will be unfaithful, that we may get cancer. We fear that we are 
not raising our children in the proper way, that the economy will deteriorate,
that we may be the next highway fatality or victim of violent crime. We are 
afraid that the airplane will crash, that we will be out of fashion, or 
worse, old-fashioned.

We are afraid that war will erupt in another part of the world, that there will 
be a nuclear accident, that the water we drink may become contaminated, that 
oil prices will make it impossible to live, that the ozone layer is getting
thinner, that if we are not careful we may still blow ourselves to bits.

We are afraid that we will die. Of course, we will die; and so will the people 
we love most in this world. So we are afraid of sickness, disease, hospitals 
and nursing homes; and, worse than the the physical dissolution at the end of 
our lives are all those daily deaths of self: the fear of being tricked, 
taken advantage of, cheated, deceived, made a fool of, put down. They may laugh 
at us; and then we would die of shame.

So, we build up massive walls of protection around ourselves. We will protect
ourselves so that we will always be safe. We will have so many defenses, both
inner and outer, that no threat will ever harm us. So we amass power, prestige,
goods, reputation, health as hedges against death. We invent mechanisms to 
keep others at bay, becoming silent and reserved, dominant and unrepentant, 
nasty and tyrannical, unreasonable and petulant, weak and pathetic, dependant 
and incapable - as the case may be - all in an effort to mask the reality of 
our fear and to keep ourselves safe from being hurt.

And yet, there are interludes....

.... for all of us... when all of this fear, hiding, protecting and defending
seems utterly foolish, times when we see, even if dimly, that it is possible 
to live differently. A new thought crosses our mind. We fall in love. A child 
is born to us.  We cross the crucial borders of life and realize that time is
running out - that perhaps we must take a chance before there is no time left. 
Or, forgiveness comes to us out of nowhere. A door opens where before everything
seemed solidly shut... and we sense that we are... still... free... to choose. 
We can continue down the path of dull, bland, fearful mediocrity or... we can 
take a chance, strike out boldly and bravely, becoming something we have 
always wanted to become, doing something we have always dreamed of doing - but
until that moment were afraid to take the chance... 

... and it is almost as if someone is there on the other side of the river,
calling to us, beckoning us on, urging us to come on in because the water is 
fine, coaxing us to leave our foolish fears behind, to take the risk, to trust, 
to love, to dare, to hope.

There is a sin against the Holy Spirit, my friends.  It is seldom talked about 
in the church anymore; but that does not mean it is seldom practiced. In fact, 
it is practiced all of the time; for it is the sin of despair.  It is the 
sinning of giving up, of giving in, of surrendering to the forces of darkness 
and hopelessness.  It is the sin of choosing to live dull, drab, safe, 
complacent, mediocre lives when the Spirit is urging us to be more.

As Shug Avery reminds us, and every waking moment of being in this world if 
we have our eyes and ears open, we live floating on a sea of grace. If we 
manage to get through our lives, without ever getting wet for fear of drowning 
in the graciousness that surrounds us, we will have no one to blame but 
ourselves; for the Good News is that the spirit is indeed renewing the face of 
the earth. She always has and she always will; and she will renew us if we 
give her the slightest chance. But if we are successful in escaping her 
enticing offer and never do take the chance of living as bravely and as humanly 
as we have it in us to be, then we should not be surprised when on judgment 
day, we hear Spirit herself saying to us, "What in the world did you think 
those great wings were flapping above you your whole life long?" 

	Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs -
	Because the Holy Ghost over the bent 
	World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
                     	- Gerard Manley Hopkins
	
                               --------- 

Genesis 1:1-2:4a  - The famous creation story of the Bible undoubtedly
makes use of other creation stories from Egypt and Mesopotamia, but transforms
them for a unique purpose: to make a statement about the God who calls 
creation into being and about the unique relationship that God has with the 
world. The story is a confession of faith addressed to exiles living in 
Babylon and attempts to state that God can be trusted, notwithstanding the
dark waters of chaos in which Israel found itself.

    1.	How would life in Babylon for exiled Jews seem to refute this story 
    of creation?
    2.	How would you describe the kind of relationship into which creation 
    and its creatures are being called with God?
    3.	Which image speaks to you with greatest power when you consider the 
    kind of death-dealing powers under which so many people live today?


II Corinthians 13:11-13 - The text is chosen for Trinity Sunday because of
Paul's well-known Trinitarian blessing in verse 13. What is important to note
is that this blessing comes after a series of moral exhortations to the 
Corinthian church. Christian conduct should be self-correcting according to 
Paul, reflecting the way Christ embodied grace, the way God acts toward us in 
love and peace, and the way the Spirit calls us into a relationship of 
fellowship with others.

    1.	How is Paul's blessing a more practical, common sense approach to 
    what we should both believe and practice in comparison to many 
    doctrinal statements about the Trinity?
    2.	In what practical ways is this blessing embodied in your church? And 
    in your life?


Matthew 28:16-20 - Matthew, in contrast to Luke, follows Mark's lead in
stating that the resurrection appearances happened in Galilee rather than
Jerusalem. Here, in this final appearance, Jesus is portrayed, not 
passively awaiting his return visit from heaven as judge and king, but 
actively exercising his present Lordship in the church, commissioning 
the disciples to baptize all the gentiles.  Once again, this appearance 
and instruction inspires both worship and doubt in the church.

    1.	What reason would Matthew have had for wanting Jesus to appear in 
    Galilee rather than Jerusalem?
    2.	Jesus' last word to his friends in Matthew is that he will be with 
    them?  Why would this be so important to Matthew and Matthew's church?
    3.	How are the various parts of the Great Commission - verse 19 - 
    embodied in your church's baptismal practice?


FOR FURTHER REFLECTION - The Spirit, indeed, is willing; but are we?  Spend 
some time considering the dark, chaotic, hopeless places and circumstances of 
your life or the life of someone you love and ask yourself the question: how 
in this situation is the Spirit calling forth new life?  What kind of life is 
she attempting to entice? What must be surrendered before that new life can
happen?

	 
HYMN 453  Out of Deep, Unordered Water  (Voices United)
Keeping the Faith in Babylon:
A pastoral resource for Christians in Exile
A publication of FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
All rights reserved. Please do not copy.
FERNSTONE:
Transformative Resources for the Human Journey
R.R. 4, Lion's Head, Ontario Canada N0H 1W0
Phone/Fax: (519) 592-4551
E-mail: fernstone@fernstone.org

copyright - Barry Robinson 2002, 2005
            page by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 2002 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.


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