Past History, Future Vision
June 04, 2023*
By Pastor John Partridge
Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a Matthew 28:16-20 2 Corinthians 13:11-13
There’s a phrase that often appears in our conversations, especially when we meet new people, friends that we haven’t seen for a long time, or find ourselves in new situations. This week I was asked, “Why did you go to the Holy Land?” But we’re also asked questions like, “How did you meet your significant other?” or, “How did you choose your career?” Or even as simple a question as, “How did you come to live in this place?” All these sorts of questions boil down to, “How did this start?” or “Tell me about the beginning of the story.” Whenever we struggle to understand, especially when we consider difficult or complex subjects, it almost invariably helps to begin at the beginning. This approach of “begin at the beginning,” is why Vince Lombardi, when addressing several dozen men, who were already professional football players, famously said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” And so, as we celebrate Trinity Sunday, and consider the difficult meaning of trinity, it might well be helpful to begin at the beginning as we read from Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a.
1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
6 And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.
9 And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.
20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.
24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.
31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.
2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so, on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.
In the beginning… God.
In the beginning… God created.
In the beginning… God created the heavens and the earth.
In the beginning the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.
From the beginning, and even before the beginning, there was God. And with God, as co-creator of the universe, resided the Spirit of God. We understand that these foundational documents of the people of Israel have always been understood to be describing a single God and not two. From the time of antiquity until this very day, the people known as the Jews regularly recite the Shema, which is from Deuteronomy 6:4, which says, “4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” But even so, even in holding to a firm belief in monotheism, in the belief that there is only one God, Genesis still says that God created… and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters.
Let us consider these things, while we move forward to Matthew 28:16-20, as Jesus commissions his disciples into their life’s work, and offers instruction on the way in which baptism should be done.
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
I honestly don’t know if there was any part of this that was provocative. Jesus had already died on the cross, been buried, rose from the dead on the third day, and was now making his final preparations to leave the earth. These were his final instructions, his last words, to his followers and as such, Christianity has always regarded them with special meaning, emphasis, and significance. And in these final moments on earth, Jesus says that his followers should “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” At that moment, Jesus, and all his disciples, were still profoundly, unmistakably, and devotedly… Jewish. Jesus was not saying that there was more than one god any more than the writers of Genesis were. It is likely that Jesus still regularly recited the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one…” Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Although the word that we use to describe it, “trinity” did not appear for another two hundred years when Tertullian began to use it to describe anything that came in sets of three, this understanding of God as three persons is fully formed well before the end of the New Testament. As we saw in Matthew, Jesus used the phrasing of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in his last instructions to the disciples, and it wasn’t an isolated incident. As Paul concludes his second letter to the church in Corinth, in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, he expresses the same sentiment using the same sort of phrasing, but the way that he uses it seems to indicate that this idea had become normal, accepted, and common among the followers of Jesus Christ.
11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.
14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
We have always been to followers of God. As believers in Jesus Christ, we have always been believers in the trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But as much as we use these words to define us, and as much as we struggle to explain the roles and the personalities of the three persons of the trinity, we continue to believe, as Jesus did, as the disciples did, and as the people of Israel always have, that we are monotheists, that we worship only one God and not three. Although we may not recite it with the regularity of our Jewish friends, we still hold tightly to the ancient phrasing of Deuteronomy and the Shema… “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
But let us never lose sight of our mission and the words that were so important, that Jesus used them in his last instructions to his disciples during his last moments on earth:
“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com . All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™