Genesis 1:1-31, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28: 16-20
Around the world, for over 50 years monastic communities have been aging and shrinking. Having so enjoyed the company of Benedictine Sojourners over recent years, we all appreciate how invigorating the presence of new and younger women or men in a monastery can be.
So it was in Southern France, when a small group of older monks were joined by a young novice. A bright young man, he was eager to learn and full of questions. One day he was shown the Scriptorium, where monks worked copying illustrated manuscripts of the Bible, and the Rule and history of their monastery. He was impressed by the skill and devotion shown this work. But later, the novice asked how the prior could be certain that over generations of copying, no errors had been made.
The old man thought about it and replied, “It would be good for me to check the most recent work and be sure.” So he asked not to be disturbed while he carefully reviewed the texts. When by the second day he had not shown either for prayers or meals, a monk was sent to check on him. He knocked, no answer. He listened, and heard muffled sounds. He entered, and found the old prior bent over a large manuscript, weeping. Looking up, he sobbed, “The R, we lost the R! The Rule said “celebrate”.
Jokes, everywhere, work -when they do- because of the kernel of truth imbedded in them.
When the Second Lateran Council in 1139 officially imposed mandatory celibacy on all priests, it even ordered those many who were married to abandon their wives. So harsh, especially for these women, that many priests ignored the new law. But the fate of this rule was really sealed through a technicality at the Council of Trent (1545-1563). The men at Trent decided to forbid the private and non-clerical marriages that were commonplace in many areas, and decreed that marriages must be performed by a valid priest and 2 witnesses. And the code for the Roman Catholic priesthood has decreed celibacy for some 450 years. Thus the property, wealth, and power remained centralized -and stagnant.
Over the lifetime of most of the adults here, today’s poetic first reading, the opening text of the Judaeo-Christian Bible, has become central in a contentious debate that has blocked any effective movement toward preserving the planet as we know it. It is the rallying cry of those obstructionists who reject all scientific and anecdotal information pointing to the destruction of ecosystems and climate patterns, and the relation of these changes to the clearing of forests, draining of wetlands and burning of fossil fuels.
“God GAVE US this planet, with every last creature, leaf and molecule of water and it is OURS to exploit. It says here, on the first page of the Bible: “I give you dominion over all I have made.” Dominion. As in, ‘I am God and that means I own it, control it, and can exploit it without regard for the survival or others.’ Is that dominion? To what God do such as these refer?
Theologians and philosophers, from Frances Bacon to … Ayn Rand have been given undue influence in shaping our world view and politics, leaving humans in increasingly deathly disconnect from the earth on which we depend.
In our day, we need to heed the fresh voices of women, the young, people at the most vulnerable edges, biologists, and Scripture scholars.
WHAT IF? What if we were handed down a mistaken transcription? What if dominion in this text translated closer to “communion”.
I consulted the Ancient Hebrew Research Centerwebsite ….and was not at all surprised to find the following:
The words “have dominion” is the Hebrew verb “radah.” Our normal understanding of “having dominion” over another is to rule over them but this idea is found in the Hebrew verb malak. The Hebrew verb radah is related to other words which have the meanings of descend, go down, wander and spread. This verb literally means to rule by going down and walking among the subjects as an equal.
The use of the two Hebrew verbs “kavash” and “radah” imply that that man is to rule over the animals as his subjects, not as a dictator but a benevolent leader. Man is also to walk among and have a relationship with his subjects so that they can provide for man and that man can “learn” from them.
How much more congruent that description is with the ways in which we have come to know our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifying God.
The cacophony of birdsong in the early morning rain, the fresh sweet scent of flowers alive with bees. The awe of Friday night’s magnificent full moon rising.
The freedom to be found in forgiving someone who has wronged you.
Waking next to someone you have long loved, joining to worship around this circle, Indeed, It IS ALL very good, what God has created.
Every line of the scriptures we read today vibrates with dynamism, connectedness, possibility, wholeness: RELATIONSHIP.
Our Christian faith is steeped in the extravagant generosity of a God whose name can’t be spoken as a singular, nor, at least for my half of humankind, can it be fully known by a trio of Father, Son and Spirit.
In an intriguing essay on the Trinity and Human Experience, Ivone Gebara of Brazil wrote: “The Trinity brings multiplicity and desire for unity into one single and unique movement, as if they were moments within the same breath…Trinity is a word that points to our common origin, our shared substance, our universal breathing within the immense diversity that surrounds each and every one of us, each a unique and original creation.
Genesis tells us that God creates in God’s own image, and that image is inherently relational, multiplistic, diverse, united: Trinitarian.”
Gebara suggests that we take this seriously: that diversity is integral to the Trinity and basic to the make up of all things, from the Cosmos to human society.
Applied to our relationship with nature, Trinity lets us see how the complexity of bio-systems reflect God’s multiplicity and unity, constantly in relationship, creating, destroying, adapting, multiplying.
In our time, the Biologists have so much more to teach us!
This view challenges us to find ways to protect the integrity of creation against the greed that seizes upon a singular element – whether fossil fuel, cadmium, water, or the potential for colossal farms- by hoarding or destroying the less valued elements.
The awesome diversity of human persons, viewed as Trinity, share in God’s single vital process, and all justification for treating any people, gender, age, capacity, orientation, or subgroup as superior or inferior falls away. We need one another, and can only exist in diverse community that values the whole human spectrum.
The balance of this dynamic relationship that is Trinity is tipped when greed has us value one individual trait, race, or gender more than the other. That greed is the source of all the “isms” that spring from excess love of self, from narcissism to racism, sexism to fascism.
The only way to maintain and restore the balance, suggests Gebera, is through the central teaching of Jesus: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
This Feast of Trinity, thus, celebrates the relationships we maintain as a reflection of God revealed in Creation – and most fully in the life, death, rising of Jesus, and the pouring out of the Spirit for us to carry on.
These relationships aren’t something that can develop by the following of rules and performing of rituals. The Trinity isn’t about Power or perfection but mercy.
Today’s brief reading from 2 Corinthians 13 offers perhaps the clearest summary of this shared life to which Christians are called: one of repenting and forgiving, mutual encouragement, and harmony.
We are exhorted to be in growing relationship, renewing our lives daily, respectful and evolving in an astonishingly varied world.
The challenge of the Trinity today is not to unlock a paradox, but
To open ourselves in faith to participate in the love of God….
The energy for this kind of living comes from our source, as Paul closes this letter:
The Grace of our Saviour Jesus Christ,
The Love of God, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit.
In Matthew 28: Jesus did not single out an individual successor to proclaim his message; he commissioned his group of disciples, including those who doubted, as a community into the world, to witness, teach and baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Community as organic witness and invitation into the unity of Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit!
This is the season of the Holy Spirit. The wind is truly kicking up! Pentecost and Trinity Sundays dare us to renew our belief in the unimaginable breadth, length, height, and depth, of God’s ever renewing love for us.
Let us together celebrate the Holy Desire from which we are created.