This week I was having a conversation with other pastors over coffee about the Trinity. Specifically, Trinity Sunday was coming up -- again -- what were we going to preach about? We read together from Matthew 28, from the end of 2nd Corinthians, and finally found ourselves staring at the creation story from Genesis, chapter 1.
What are you going to preach about this Sunday?
We got to talking about the Days of creation, and God separately Night from Day, and Light from Darkness, and saying that it was good. We talked about the generative nature of the story -- everything is for the sake of life, night and dark, darkness and light -- even rest. We moved back and forth from the images in creation to the relationship of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all participating with one another, forming community.
For some reason I couldn't help thinking about something I had heard many years ago, while I was living in Japan. I didn't say anything, because I couldn't think of any way this had to do with Trinity Sunday, although whenever I read Genesis 1, this particular story and image comes up.
I remembered one of the missionaries told me about a Japanese military man who, after World War II, had become a Christian. The details of the conversation become hazy now, so many years later, but Pastor Luther Kistler told me the story and that this gentleman (I believe was a member of his church). He said that this man became a Christian because he was impressed by the story of creation from Genesis. He said that Japanese mythology only has a story about the creation of Japan. But Genesis -- there is a story about the creation of the whole world.
So. I was thinking about this story while I was supposed to be thinking about the Trinity (what are you preaching about this Sunday?). One of the things I was thinking was, "This doesn't have anything to do with the Trinity." I was also thinking, "You can use a story like this to assert superiority in a sort of tribal way, I suppose. You know, Our God is better than your God." Perhaps it is this sort of tribalism that causes "Christians" to go out and kill Muslims in the Central African Republic, in the name of God.
But I was also struck by something else, perhaps for the first time.
There is something anti-tribal about the creation story from Genesis, something that pushes against the old "our god is better than your god" thinking. If God created the whole world, if that is really true, there is something really expansive about that. This God does not just care about my tribe or my corner of the universe. Maybe this is why Jesus said, "Love your enemies." Maybe it all goes back to the creation story, in Genesis 1.
I still don't exactly know what this has to do with the Trinity, although it seems to me that our talk about God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit can either expand or contract our views of God. We can speak of God the Trinity in a way that draws the circle smaller or wider, that turns us inward or outward. But which will it be?
On Monday I will be having another funeral, another funeral of one of our World War II veterans. This community was founded just after the war ended, and I have been privileged to hear just the tip of the iceberg of their stories, those they can bear to tell.
This particular man served in Europe during the war. He saw and experienced a lot of unspeakable things. But one thing his family told me when we met to prepare for the funeral: He said that he hated how people used the word "nazi" to talk about the Germans. He said he knew there was a Nazi regime, and that there were SS troops and true believers, but, for himself, he never met a nazi. He just met soldiers. He just met human beings, like himself, created in the image of God.
In the Central African Republic, some Christians are killing Muslims. In the meantime, other Christians are giving them refuge. It all depends on what you hear and see and imagine when you read Genesis 1.
What are you preaching about this Sunday?