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Music used for this service:
Voices United 317/318 “I Bind unto Myself Today/Christ Be With Me”
Words: attributed to St. Patrick, translated by Cecil Frances Alexander. Music: ancient Irish melody. Public domain.
Voices United 315 “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty”
Words: Reginald Heber. Music: John Bacchus Dykes. Public domain.
More Voices 194 “Bread of Life, Feed My Soul”
Words and music: Stephen Spencer, 2005; arrangement: Rick Gunn, 2005.
Voices United 959 “The Lord’s Prayer”
Words: Public domain. Music: David Haas © 1986 G.I.A. Publications, Inc.
More Voices 135 “Called by Earth and Sky”
Words and music: Pat Mayberry, 2005; Arr. Margaret Stubington, 2005.
“Go Now in Peace, Never Be Afraid”
Words: Don Besig and Nancy Price, 1988. Music: Don Besig 1988. Words and Music – ©1988 Shawnee Press.
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE, License # A-734863. All rights reserved.
in whose image we are made,
who gave us life and form,
we praise you.
who came in our form,
that our death may become your death,
and your life become our life,
we praise you.
who moves in creation,
opening our eyes and filling our hearts with love,
we praise you.
one in three and three in One,
your mystery seems beyond us,
even as your love is so near to us,
open our eyes to your presence,
so that we may be bearers of Christ
to a world in hurt.
In the name of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with the Creator
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Prayer of Confession
who calls us all good,
children of God
in our hearts, we know we have to change,
that there are moments when we do not fully embody your love,
when we betray your image in ourselves,
when we deny it in our neighbour.
When we dismiss the real experience of minorities,
when we insist on a peace that is the absence of tension rather than the presence of justice,
in all the ways we stray from the path your Son Jesus leads us on,
forgive us, and lead us back toward your kingdom.
When we betray each other,
when we betray ourselves,
through selfishness, ignorance, or fear,
forgive us, and empower us by your Holy Spirit to walk in courage and light.
We pray in Jesus name, who came to liberate us all from our chains,
in the power of your Holy Spirit. Lord, have mercy. Amen.
I’m not going to preach on the Trinity, even though it is Trinity Sunday. I’ve tried before to explain this very confusing doctrine of the church, but the only conclusion I’ve come to is that it is an idea that resists explanation, and that’s okay. It’s something best expressed through the words of liturgy rather than a doctrinal sermon—In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And what you believe of it, whether you believe that Christianity makes more sense as a tri-theistic religion rather than a monotheistic one, or that the Son and the Holy Spirit make more sense as lesser than God the creator, doesn’t really matter. As I keep saying, it isn’t my job to tell you what to believe.
Instead, I want to do something specific as a sermon series before I go. One last thing I’ve been playing with in my mind for a few years now.
A common thought is that the distinction between the Old and New Testaments is a change in the nature of God. “God in the Old Testament was angry and wrathful, turning people into salt just for looking at a city.” “God in the New Testament is loving and forgiving, rather than punishing.” Jewish comedian Lewis Black has a joke about how God “settles down once he has a kid.”
This is not a new observation. In the early 2nd century, a Christian by the name of Marcion of Sinope began teaching that the God the Jewish people worshipped and the God the Christians worshipped must be different gods. The God of the Old Testament he called “the Demiurge” and was an evil, jealous tribal god. The God of the New Testamet, “the Heavenly Father,” who came to save us from the horrible Demiurge. Marcion was condemned as a heretic in 144, one of the first Christian heretics we read about in history. The idea would spring up again here and there over history, such as with the Cathars in the 13th century.
When we read the Old Testament, we read some challenging stuff. We read legalism in all the “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots” of the Torah. We read vindictiveness as God punishes the Israelites by bringing conquering armies down on them again and again. We read capriciousness as maladies are inflicted upon Job for the sake of a bet.
When we read the New Testament, we read about forgiveness, compassion; we read about Jesus loving sinners and telling parables about helping others, like the Good Samaritan. We read about the Resurrection.
So obviously the New Testament is just better, right? The God of the New Testament is just a better God, more comforting, more loving, more parental. Why don’t we just read the New Testament and never look at the Old Testament again (except for maybe some of the Psalms)?
But, there’s more than a few problems with that way of looking at the Bible. Not least of which is the anti-Semitism inherent in that statement. It’s an idea called Christian Supersessionism, the idea that Christianity is an improvement on Judaism.
But the problem I want to address, and will do so in this sermon series, is that looking at the Bible that way doesn’t hold up once you actually read it. It’s a stereotype, and like any stereotype you can certainly find justification for it, but there are plenty of places where the Old Testament has comfort for us, and where the New Testament challenges us, disturbs us, even. So we’re going to look at some of those.
We start with creation, with the familiar creation story. It’s constant refrain, “And God saw that it was good.” God makes the dry land, and it is good. God makes trees and plants, and it is good. God makes the sun and the moon, and it is good. God makes fish and birds, and it is good. God makes animals on the dry land, and it is good. God makes human beings, and it is very good.
I don’t particularly care much about attempts to square this creation story with scientific understanding—“Oh, a day is a million years for God so this is describing the course of evolution”—I doubt the original writers thought this way, and more to the point it’s irrelevant. The meaning of this story is not, “This is how creation happened; believe it or go to hell.” The meaning of this story, one of the meanings, is, “God saw everything she had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
We are not a mistake. As painful as it is, our moving toward justice and right relations with each other and with the earth, as scary as it is, knowing we might not reach the mountaintop before climate change is irreversible, before too many people die under oppressive governments or unequal systems, as exhausting as it feels, looking back on history and seeing that we’ve seemingly made no progress since the civil rights era, since fascist Germany, since the middle ages, since the first fragments of this book were written; we are still very good. It is all still very good.
God made humankind in his image. Every last human being bears the image of God’s grace and love. No one is worthless; no one is above or beneath another. Not even the distinction that to us seems so intractable, male and female, not even that differentiates us. Everyone is good, and you can say, “But they’re . . . sinners, addicts, homosexuals, transgender, sex workers, poor, weak, thugs, villains,” and God still sees that they are very good. You can say, “But they . . . lie, steal, fornicate, blaspheme, disrespect God,” and God still sees that they are very good.
This is why God is human in Jesus; we are so made in the image of God that God will take on our image no problem. More to the point, a person of an oppressed minority, who is subject to violence by the state, stripped naked, violated, and hung on a cross with thieves and murderers, is still made in the image of God; he is indeed the definitive image of God. This God says, “Black lives matter.” This God says, “Jewish lives matter,” “Indigenous lives matter,” “Women lives matter,” “LGBTQ+ lives matter.” This God does not say, “All lives matter” to dismiss or be noncommittal, she names each and every one that needs naming, looks at each life individually, in its context of oppression and says, “It is very good.” So right now, God is absolutely saying “Black lives matter.” He sees black lives, and he says that they are very good.
If God is omniscient, then in this creation she looks ahead to all the misery, the destruction, the injustice, the violence of humanity, the rape of the earth based on the words “subdue it, have dominion over it,” and still has the absolute gall to say, “This is good.”
Because if it is not good, why bother? Why bother fighting for justice if we think humanity is inherently evil and we’ll never get it right? If the world and everything in it, including ourselves, is not good, why bother fighting for it?
That’s the challenge hidden within this very comforting passage. If ever you feel worthless, like your life doesn’t matter, you can open this passage, the very first story told in this book, and see that you are, indeed, very good. You are a child of God, made in the image of God.
But so is everybody else, especially those who are the last and the least in human eyes, so if we believe that, that it is all indeed very good, then we have a responsibility to advocate for justice and liberation for the oppressed. We can’t simply say to ourselves, “It is good,” we have to make it reality. God does, which is why he chooses an enslaved people as his chosen people. Which is why she calls to them again and again even when they turn away. Which is why he incarnates as a member of that oppressed people to give redemption to all humanity. Which is why she sends her Holy Spirit even now upon a wounded earth and her wounded people. Because God sees all that he has created, and indeed, it is very good. Amen.