The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (firstname.lastname@example.org) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE
Trinity Sunday - Year A
GENESIS 1:1-2:4a is a magnificent poem tells of God’s
creation of the world in an orderly fashion during a six day period. It
presents a faith statement not a credible scientific hypothesis. While
science may be able to give us plausible understanding of how and when the
universe came into being, it cannot take us beyond the mystery of the
beginning to God’s gracious spiritual purpose as this poem does. That
theme is found in the repeated refrain, “And God saw that it was good,”
after each act of creation, and the final Sabbath blessing in vs. 2:3.
PSALM 8 Reiterating the majesty of the creation poem
above, this psalm reflects on what God has done and still does in the
universe in which we live. More than that, it states how we humans fit
into the plan of God as conscious stewards of creation.
2 CORINTHIANS 13:11-13 The Corinthians had many fights among
themselves and with Paul. He ends this letter, however, with an appeal to
them to live peaceably with one another so that they may truly experience
the love and peace of God. His final trinitarian benediction is still in
common use in many church services. The word “communion” is often
translated as “fellowship.” It actually means the sharing of the Spirit
which is the love of God communicated to us through Jesus Christ.
MATTHEW 28:16-20 Many scholars hold that the original gospel
text may have ended at verse 17 and that the closing commission was added
in the 2nd century. It does bring the gospel to a fitting conclusion.
The church has used this commission as an effective mission statement ever
since. The words confirm the tradition shared by both the Gospels of Luke
and John and Acts that Jesus did commission the disciples to carry on his
ministry in the world. The ecumenical fellowship still uses this
trinitarian formula as its common heritage.
A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS:
GENESIS 1:1 - 2:4a This magnificent poem tells of God’s creation of the
world in an orderly fashion during a six day period. It was never
intended to be taken as definitive science, as some have tried to do. It
makes a religious statement rather than presenting a credible scientific
hypothesis. While science may be able to give us plausible understanding
of how and when the universe came into being, it cannot take us beyond the
mystery of the beginning to God’s gracious spiritual purpose as this poem
does. That theme is found in the repeated refrain, “And God saw that it
was good,” after each act of creation, and the final Sabbath blessing in
Behind this poem and its counterpart in vs. 2:4b-3:24 lay a vast
collection of ancient Middle Eastern mythologies. Here especially
creation is depicted as the divinely initiated spiritual victory over the
threatening forces of chaos and the establishment of God as the creator
and supreme ruler of the world. It is probable that this creation poem
has close affinity with the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the post-
exilic period. God’s victory over primeval chaos and enthronement were
celebrated in a great annual festival at the beginning of each new year.
(Cf. Psalm 74:12-17; 89:9-13; 93:1-4)
The poem closes with God taking pleasure in a completed and perfect
creation, and hallowing it with rest, thus giving rise to the worship of
the Sabbath which became the centerpiece of Jewish and Christian ritual.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of this poem is its vision of the
Creator acting in total freedom by means of a spoken word or command.
Creation comes about by the separation of the elements of the universe
which produces an ordered and habitable world in which humans dwell as
spiritual and physical beings. It has been suggested that the creation of
humans (vss. 26-30) had a separate origin from the rest of the poem. This
shows that humans, made in the image of God and divided into male and
female, are the crowning act of creation with whom God can communicate and
who can respond because they are like God.
Humans are also designated as God’s vice-regents having dominion over the
rest of creation. This language reflects the kingship motif of the temple
ritual, not the concern for survival of our over-populated planet. It is
anathema to modern environmentalists because it appears to permit humans
to misuse creation for their own selfish ends. That we have abused this
privilege and power with disastrous results has only recently dawned on
our consciousness and conscience. Rather than fear the consequences of
our past mistakes, we would be better to approach the unknown and
environmentally dangerous future by living “with respect for creation” as
the creed of The United Church of Canada declares we are called as God’s
people to do.
In his most recent book, The Sins of Scripture, (Harper San Francisco,
2005) Bishop John Shelby Spong goes much farther. He proposes that we
abandon the whole concept of a perfect creation celebrated in this poem.
He believes that it has done far more harm than good, especially the words
of . 28 “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it….” The
text gained so much power by being taken literally. It may have been
appropriate for the exiles recently returned from Babylon in the 6th
century BCE, but it has disastrous consequences in our global society of
the 21st century with six billion people struggling for control of the
planet’s scarce resources. He sees no hope for the future other than to
limit the expansion of the human race with has trebled in number during
the past 100 years. He goes so far as to wonder if we can even hear a new
divine command that will avert the coming environmental disaster.
Spong does propose an alternative theological basis for an ecologically
provident future. He outlines an alternate attitude toward the nature of
God, creation and humanity. This includes a new definition of our human
experience of God. We need to recognize God as “the life force that flows
through all that is,” not the external supernatural being who set creation
in perfect order and delivered it to humanity to dominate and subdue.
This, he believes, is the true concept of God as Spirit, an indwelling
presence ultimately expressed as love, that is also found in many parts of
our scriptures. “It makes a vast difference to our sense of
responsibility to our world if we redefine God, not as an external deity
who calls the world into being by divine command, but as the power that
emerges within all of life.” (p. 64)
Accordingly, Spong finds hope in the theology of Paul Tillich definition
of God as “the Ground of Being” and Jergen Moltman’s view that “the
alienation of nature brought about by human being can never be overcome
until men [and women] find anew understanding of themselves and a new
interpretation of their world in the framework of nature.”
PSALM 8 Reiterating the majesty of the creation poem above, this psalm
celebrates what God has done and still does in the universe in which we
live. More than that, it states how we humans fit into the plan of God as
conscious stewards of creation.
Few psalms surpass this one in its exaltation of the sovereignty of God
and the manifestation of God’s glory in the created universe. Its poetic
insights parallel those of Second Isaiah (e.g. Isa. 40:28; 45:18), Psalm
104 and Genesis 1:1-2:4a, all of which are post-exilic in origin.
Vs. 2 contains a reference that seems strange to our modern ears. How can
babes and bulwarks be meaningful in the same sentence? The psalmist had
intimate knowledge of the ancient myth that creation came about as a
result of the divine victory over the dragon of chaos. Was this the tale
told to children who asked, “Why does the sun shine in the day and the
moon and stars at night?” The firmament above with it shining lights were
seen as the bulwark against “the enemy and the avenger” who might
challenge God’s sovereign power.
Quickly, the psalmists attention moves on to the night sky at which one
still gazes at in wonder when one can see it clearly without cloud cover
or the dulling of artificial light. How infinitely small and
insignificant such a view makes one feel. Knowing what we know from the
discoveries of modern astronomy and cosmology, does that sense of
insignificance not become all the more intense? What place then do human
beings have in such a vast universe? Has anyone yet surpassed the
spiritual insight of the psalmists answer to his own question in vss. 4-5?
The sacred gift of “dominion” described in vss. 6-7 carries far more
meaning today than in the pastoral culture of ancient Palestine.
Environmentalists decry the assault we have made upon the sustainability
of life on our planet resulting from a literal interpretation of what the
word implies. Simply put, the environmental creed of the psalmist is
identical to that of Gen. 1:26-30. The natural world and its products
have been given into our care for our use. Today, sadly, we must add “but
not for our abuse.” Under God’s sovereignty, reiterated in vs. 8, we are
beginning to pay the price for our sinful exploitation of what we have
been given in trust.
2 CORINTHIANS 13:11-13 The Corinthians had many fights among themselves
and with Paul. He ends this letter, however, with an appeal to them to
put “things in order” and live peaceably with one another so that they may
truly experience the love and peace of God.
From earlier passages in both letters we learn how disordered the life of
the Corinthian community had become. Conflicts existed between different
factions caused by interpersonal rivalries, spiritual arrogance, a lack of
sensitivity toward less experienced members, sexual immorality, and
possibly some theological differences. The arrival of some other teachers
had exacerbated the situation.
Scholars tend to regard 2 Cor. 10-13 as a severe letter sent from Ephesus
after a hasty and unsuccessful visit Paul had made to Corinth.
Immediately before this reading Paul had discussed his future plans
regarding the Corinthian church and had made a number of miscellaneous
appeals. A more complete discussion of the background of the passage
requires consultation of the many commentaries including those which give
insight into the sociological structure of the early Christian church.
As valiant as his efforts were at making peace in this congregation, Paul
may not have been the best pastor for this particular faith community.
The rigidity of his Pharisaic background, his self-assurance as a convert,
and his confidence in his apostleship may have done more to create
difficulties than to resolve them. Do not the various of the debates
still carried on in the church today about several controversial passages
in the Corinthian letters also confirm such questions about Paul’s
effectiveness? Perhaps more surprising, therefore, are the many passages
in these letters which rise to splendid heights of faith and give a
dynamic vision of what the redeeming love of God in Christ can do for
those who accept the power of the Spirit to work love’s miracle among us.
The final benediction is still in common use in modern worship services.
Questions have been raised as to whether it came from Paul himself or is
the addition of a later editor of the letters. It goes much farther than
Paul’s usual closing benedictions. Normally, he prayed for the grace of
the risen Christ to be with is readers. This may be the reason for
mentioning grace first. Yet it is through the redeeming work of Christ
that the love and purpose of God have been revealed. This certainly is
what Paul had experienced and sought to communicate in all his preaching
and writing. He also believed and taught that the Spirit was the agent by
whom he had been empowered and the faithful were sustained in their new
relationship with God and with each other.
The word “communion” is often translated as “fellowship.” It actually
means participation in and the sharing of the Spirit which is the love of
God communicated to us through Jesus Christ. While this benediction may
not express a fully developed doctrine of the Trinity, it certainly
describes the experience from which that doctrine arose. It also
explicitly summarizes Paul’s urgent desire for his Corinthians friends and
so fittingly concludes the letter.
MATTHEW 28:16-20 This pericope brings the gospel to a fitting
conclusion, and the church has used the trinitarian commission as an
effective, ecumenical mission statement ever since. It confirms the
tradition shared by Luke and John that Jesus did commission the disciples
to carry on his ministry in the world. By no means do the gospels share
the same tradition as to the exact words that Jesus spoke on the occasion
of his final appearance. The diversity of their interpretations points to
the absence of a fixed tradition. This is particularly true with regard
to the locale: Luke 24 and John 20 tell of an appearance in or near
Jerusalem; Matthew and John 21:1-14 place the final appearance in Galilee.
Matthew adds another little detail that may link this pericope with what
has gone before. He specifies “the mountain to which Jesus had directed
them.” This may be an intentional allusion to other mountains where he had
placed significant events in the ministry of Jesus, the Sermon on the
Mount and the Mount of Transfiguration. Speculative as such an allusion
may be, it would add faith-inspiring power to Matthew’s conclusion. He
further emphasized the element of faith by stating that “when they saw
him, they worshiped him.” But what does the additional clause “but some
doubted” mean? Could Matthew have also known, but chose not to include,
the tradition about Thomas which John wove into his gospel? (John 20:19-
30) Luke also knew of the disciples doubt (Luke 24:11; 37-42). The
tradition appears to have been widespread.
Today the ecumenical fellowship still uses the trinitarian formula as the
essential proof of participation in the Christian church. There seems
little question that it dates from the earliest tradition although it may
have not been had the same controlling force now vested in it. C.H. Dodd
clarified its historicity by showing how it fulfills all the requirements
of a “pronouncement-story,... a folk-tradition in which “an oft-repeated
story is rubbed down and polished, like a well-worm pebble, until nothing
but the essential remains, in its most arresting a memorable form.”
[“Essay in the Form-Criticism of the Gospels” in *Studies in the Gospels,*
ed. D.E. Nineham, 9-35] We should not be surprised at this since Paul
also frequently linked the Spirit with God and Christ as did John’s
Gospel, thus laying the foundation for the later doctrine.
The command to make disciples by baptizing and teaching states the means
the church used from the beginning and still uses to witness to and
continue in its faith relationship with the risen Christ. The promise to
be with us “to the end of the age” confirms elements of the original
kerygma: the ascension of Christ, the gift of the Spirit as his continuing
presence, and the promise of his second coming. Thus the church lives in
that ambiguous eschatological state of “already” but “not yet.” Baptism is
the symbol of this state of grace. The teaching is the way in which those
who believe continue to grow in grace and mature into a more experienced
discipleship until our transition to life beyond death makes it complete.
copyright - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.