Trinity Sunday Sermon, 6/7/20: Can’t we all just get along? Or, Getting it all together!

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Creation of Eve.Orvieto060

Ps. 8; Genesis 1:1–2:4a; II Corinthians 13:11–13; Matthew 28:16–18

So God created humankind in his image,
In the image of God he created them;
Male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27

The year was 1992, now almost three decades ago, when Rodney King made on television a plea to those in his Los Angeles neighborhood who had turned to violence as a show of displeasure to the acquittal of the four Los Angeles Police Department officers whose brutal beating of him in March 1991, a year prior, had been caught on video and broadcast nationwide.  On that occasion, Mr. King said: “Can’t we all just get along?”  King’s words did not absolve the legal force of its misdeed against him.  Rather, King’s words appealed to something far greater than the immediate circumstance.  I do not claim to know whether Rodney King (2 April 1968 – 17 June 2017) was a religious person, whether he had ever attended even a church or mosque or synagogue, whether he was an atheist or a humanist.  Likewise I know not whether perhaps he had intended, but forgotten to hold up a Bible in his hand as a photo-op to support his plea.  However, then as now, his question addresses directly that which should be at the heart of everything which we believers in the Risen Christ do: Our Common Humanity.

Our year is 2020 and today is Trinity Sunday, a Sunday in the octave of Pentecost.  Actually, our liturgical calendar classifies it rightly as the First Sunday after Pentecost for, unlike Christmas or Good Friday or Easter Day or Ascension Day or the Day of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday cannot lay claim to a specific event or pronouncement in the life of or pronouncement by Jesus Christ.  Rather, it is a theological Sunday.  It represents the effort of the early church to clarify to believers and non-believers alike the essence of Christianity.  The early church saw in its declaration of the Holy Trinity its foundation, a foundation [that] could be traced and linked to the creation of the world.  The church was the natural outcome of the Divine Plan.  And that Divine Plan was the manifestation of the love of one God: the Creator, the Messiah of God, and the Spirit of God for all that God had created, at the center of which is humankind.

Prior to Rodney King was another King, Martin Luther King, Jr; prior to Martin Luther King, Jr. were John L. Waller (1850–1907); Sojourner Truth and Fredrick Douglass; prior to these well-recognized names had come others, too many who had appealed to our common humanity.  They were the prophets of their day, some of them silenced as [were] prophets of old by deadly force.  Other nations, also not free of [the] abuse of God’s creation, have had their prophets, some of whom they also [silenced through] persecution and deadly force—for example, as Nazi Germany [silenced] the Lutheran Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945).

One might also assert that the men who met in Philadelphia to found what has become the United States of America voiced the identical belief in the Divine Plan.  Thomas Jefferson, although a slave holder himself, claimed for his class, perhaps unwittingly, a status that accrues to all humankind.  He wrote in The Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”flag half staff

On Monday, 25 May 2020, a day designated in the United States as Memorial Day, a day on which the nation traditionally honors those women and men whose lives were lost in service to uphold and defend at home and abroad the belief that “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,”—on Monday, 25 May 2020, in 8 minutes and 46 seconds, a man’s life was taken from him by an instrument of government [that] did not know and/or chose not to give credence to the words of Scripture that teaches us what value the Divine Creator places on the  life of every human being:

So God created humankind in his image,
In the image of God he created them;
Male and female he created them.

Lamentably, this was not the first time that a creature of Almighty God, Mr. George Floyd, met his end at the hands of a fellow creature, bolstered by and hidden behind legal authority.  The list is too long and years too many that every woman, man, boy or girl should find registry here.  But think in our recent history as a nation of: Eric Garner; the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut; the high schooler at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida; the young people in Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida; the shoppers in El Paso, Texas.  Many, all created in the image of God, were not afforded even 8 minutes and 46 seconds.

Although our faith is grounded in a Judeo-Christian tradition, every religion [that] I have studied or encountered has at its base the belief in the value of human life.  The parable of The Good Samaritan, the Beatitudes preserved for us in St. Matthew’s gospel, the words spoken by God’s Messiah from his cross to a criminal who, like him, was on a cross—those and many more preserved in our holy words place before us, front and center, the unalienable rights of the centerpiece of God’s creation.  So the question is: What has gone awry?

In past years, those of us who make our home in what media call “Mainline Christianity”—(a historical term based on a railway line extending out of Center City Philadelphia, Pennsylvania into its more well-to-do suburbs, a term [that] unfortunately, intentionally or not, houses the implication that other Christian assemblies are of lesser or secondary worth)—we have bemoaned the desertion of our congregations/churches by the general population.  We have soothed our consciences or sought to place blame on: television, Sunday athletic games for youth, the relaxation or repeal of laws [that] previously had prohibited commerce on Sundays, and, most recently, we decry the advent of computers and the internet.  We proclaim a moral decline in our nation because people do not come to our assemblies to hear the word of God.

The Bard, Shakespeare himself, whom we encountered in a high school English class, and have since laid aside, calls us moderns up short when he writes in Julius Caesar ( Act I, Sc. 2, Line 134) “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”  However, prior to Shakespeare, there was one who, millennia prior to Shakespeare, taught those who came to him the same lesson.  Jesus of Nazareth directs our attention to the root cause of our problem.

The Pharisees and scribes of Jerusalem confronted Jesus with unacceptable behavior [by] his disciples.  They “transgress the tradition of the elders… for they do not wash their hands when they eat.” (Matt. 15: 1 -2).  Jesus responded with a biting question of his own: “Why do you transgress the commandment of God…You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Matt. 15: 3 -9)  Those who had come to Jesus to register their complaint, had neglected to care for “the least of them” among their fellow beings: the poor, the widowed, the children, while they dressed themselves in fine robes and celebrated feasts.   “And [Jesus] called the people to him and said to them, ‘Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a man…But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts…These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed lands does not defile a man.” Matthew 15: 3 – 20)

instead of casting an accusing eye on the secular world for failing to follow the teachings of the Risen Christ, would we be perhaps not better focused if we were to examine how we, as an institution, have embedded ourselves with secular and civil authorities whose goals and intentions have demonstrated time and time again over centuries that the teachings of Christ are not their principal concern?  Should we not better ask ourselves how we, as diverse Christian communities, both mainline and non-mainline churches, have been derelict, not in our rush to issue pleasant sounding, appeasing proclamations, but in our deeds, for failing to act upon our conviction that Jesus is Lord, whose aim it was and is to establish the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven?

Should we not ask ourselves and our institutional religious leaders whether we have perverted the teachings of Christ to focus attention away Christ’s teaching of the value of living harmoniously on this earth to the hereafter, to the detriment of the very ones, “the least of these,” and the enrichment of the elites?  Should we, as followers of the Risen Christ, be surprised and appalled when the nation’s leader stands before one of our holy places and brandish a copy of our holy book, a source of inspiration and comfort, when we have allowed ourselves to be compromised, for sake of our own comfort, by not speaking out against injustice “to the least of these”?

In these past weeks and months, our nation, our faith leaders, our congregations, our scientists and those trained in the medical profession have grappled with a virus, COVID-19, that has moved from one locale to become pandemic.  Measures have been made to reduce further infections, to discover a vaccine that will aid in prevention and reduction of untimely deaths.  We have taken notice of this virus because of the disruption [that] it has wrought.  I am so bold as to suggest that we Christians should expand the definition of “pandemic” to include illnesses of a non-medical nature but which has wreaked more devastation than all the medical illnesses combined.

For far-too many centuries, there has been a pandemic of another [type] which has devoured the weak and threatens still to undermine the clarion call of the Creator God.  When we consider the disruption to the social fabric of nations and the untold loss of life due to pogroms, the religious wars of the Reformation, the Inquisition, the enslavement of free people and the destruction of their culture and families for political and economic gain, the neglect and abuse of women and children, ethnic cleansing—almost all sanctioned or ignored by the church and its leaders, holding aloft figuratively the Bible and issuing the occasional obligatory white paper decrying such behavior as an abomination to our Creator God, we do well to take to our knee for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, in order to beg forgiveness of those whose lives have been negatively, inhumanely, immorally affected because of our complicity, overtly as well as by our silence.  And then, having knelt, we ought to stand up, united and ready to change those institutions, attitudes, and beliefs [that] have trampled and continue to [grind] underfoot the word from Holy Scripture that says:

So God created humankind in his image,
In the image of God he created them;
Male and female he created them.

When I have this week looked at and listened to pundits and have lamented the lack of courage of those holding authority over our nation to exercise the responsibilities for which they campaigned and were elected, and when I understand that many share with me the name “Christian,” I am sore tempted to collapse into despair.  Yet, when I see protesters, silently and aloud, call out our “Christian Nation” on its hypocrisy, as did Jesus of Nazareth the authorities out of Jerusalem, and when I see protesters attempt to calm those who would misuse an opportunity to address moral wrongs in order to engage in violence, I am buoyed and hopeful that the teachings of the resurrected Christ have not been tossed into a recycle or trash bin.  I am equally elated to see so many young people to whom “the future” becomes a desirable future because, although not church-goers, they know and intuit that we all share a common humanity.

They, together with others of all ages, hues, and ancestry, give meaning to Pentecost.  Their actions convince me that the breath of God, the Holy Spirit, has not deserted the Creation.  I turn in my despair to the prophet Ezekiel (37: 1–18) who was buoyed also in his determination to return the Biblical Hebrews to believers in the one united God who asks only allegiance to him and to neighbor.  If the Spirit of God was able to breathe life into dry bones, if God has not forsaken the creation, if Pentecost has meaning at all to Christians, surely with fervent prayer and equally committed action on our part we can be brought back to our roots, established [by] God at Creation.

The contract or covenant, which the Creator God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) established at Creation, was reaffirmed through the Messiah who came to demonstrate the empathy and love of that same God for Creation.  The same Creator God, through the breath of the Spirit, restores and gives hope when it would seem that others would prevent us from breathing and, with that breath, God reaches into and plants in our hearts the will and courage tDeitrich Bonhoeffero do our part in upholding that covenant.  It is not naïve to say that God has not deserted the Creation.  It takes longer than 8 minutes and 46 seconds to snuff out the eternal breath of the Creator God who has declared that we are all of value.  Let us, then, as followers of the Risen Christ, not forget the price for which our earthly and eternal life was purchased.  Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly said [that] we must never forget that price, a price [that] demands that we not retreat from but act within the world.  I urge us all, each in his/her locale, to take up the call to make the corner of the Creation where we live the Kingdom of God on earth.

AMEN

 

Images:
photo by Georges Jansoone (JoJan) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Orvieto060.jpg

 

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