Lectionary blog for June 11
Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8;
2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
When I was little, I was a bit of a know-it-all. I was a bookish child, and I read everything I could get my hands on. The librarian at Red Bank School believed that it was bad for children to read above their grade level, so I had to bribe my older siblings to check out books for me. I had probably read everything they had that was worth reading by the time I was in 5th grade. Soon after that, I got a card at the public library and discovered Hinkle’s Bookstore, where I sat on the floor and read until the clerk ran me out.
Nothing wrong with any of that except that I believed everyone else needed to benefit from my newfound knowledge. When I wasn’t reading, I was talking, pouring out everything I knew to anyone who would listen, whether they had any interest in what I was saying or not.
“Did you know that the moon is about 240,000 miles from earth?” “Interesting fact: Martin Van Buren was the first president who was born after the United States was formed.” “So, now here’s something not everybody knows—the tomato is not a vegetable, it’s a fruit. Did you know that?” I was like that know-it-all mailman Cliff Clavin on the old TV show “Cheers”—except without the beer and the uniform.
My mother had little tolerance for this. When I would start in on her she would say, “Did you have to learn that for school?” which was her way of saying “Will it be on the test?” When I confessed that it was just something I had read, she would tell me to read something that mattered or go outside and play and to stop bothering her when she was busy, which with five kids and a job and the farm was pretty much all the time.
My father had a bit more interest. He had more intellectual curiosity than my mother, and somehow in the midst of his own busy-ness he found time to read things like National Geographic and a weekly newsmagazine. But he also tended toward the pragmatic. After listening to me prat on for a while, he would gently stop me and ask, “OK, I’m sure all that’s true, but what good is it? What difference does it make?”
Every year when Holy Trinity Sunday rolls around, I think of Daddy’s statement and question. Sometimes I’ll be reading through the Nicene Creed and reflecting on the words, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made” and suddenly I am transported back to the front porch of that old farm house. Daddy in his chair with his feet propped up on the rail, smoking and drinking coffee while I stand before him, barefoot in T-shirt and shorts, rambling on, “of one Being with the Father, through him all things were made,” when Daddy sighs and blows out a stream of grey-blue smoke and stares deeply into my eyes and asks, “I’m sure all that’s true—but what good is it? What does it matter?”
While I have never lost my affection for knowledge for knowledge’s sake, Daddy’s question has always been a part of my theological thinking. Whatever religious idea I am reading and thinking about, his question lurks in the back of my mind: “If this is true, what difference does it make?”
If, as our lesson from Genesis and the first article of the creed tells us, God is the Creator, the maker of heaven and earth, what difference does it make?
If God has given us, as both Genesis and the Psalm say, “dominion” over God’s creation, what does having dominion mean? How are we to act because of this? Does it mean that we can use the natural resources of the earth for whatever purpose we choose? Or does it mean that we are to very, very diligent in taking care of this precious earth, this tiny and delicate jewel amid the vast nothingness of the universe?
If the man Jesus of Nazareth is “true God from true God, begotten not made, of one Being with the Father;” if God did indeed raise him from the dead, if this risen Christ did stand on a mountain top and tells his disciples to go into all the world, baptizing and teaching in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—why should any of that matter to me, to us? It may be true, but what difference does it make? It’s a nice story and good to know, but unless it changes our lives somehow—my mama was probably right—we’d all be better off studying for the test or going outside and getting some exercise.
If the Holy Spirit really did descend upon the church at Pentecost, proceeding, as the creed says, from the Father and the Son, if that self-same Spirit moved over the unformed waters at the first moment of creation—again, what do I care? Like Daddy said, “I’m sure all that is true, but what good is it—what difference does it make?”
2 Corinthians 13:13 are words very familiar to us. We hear them every week at the beginning of worship. We call them the Apostolic Greeting: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.” These words were unlikely to have been original with Paul. Most scholars agree that they were a part of the very first worship language of the early church, the semi-formal, oral tradition of phrases that became a part of the way people thought about what it meant to be Christian. As such, they are a part of the first believers to make sense of what it meant to have recognized in both the man Jesus and the movement of the Spirit in their community as an experience of the God of Israel in their midst. And the language they used helps us get at the question of what difference does it make.
In Jesus Christ—in his life, his actions and his words, in his suffering and sacrifice and death, in his resurrection and promise to return—we have encountered true grace, true acceptance, true forgiveness. As we look at creation and the story of God’s actions with Israel, we begin to realize that this is a love story, a story of the Holy One whose love knows no end, whose love pursues us no matter how hard we try to hide or turn away. And as we find ourselves pulled out of our everyday lives and thrown together in the church with people with whom we discover deeper and deeper love and relationship. We realize that it is the Spirit of God that creates and sustains this communion.
Those words from 2 Corinthians answer for us the question of what difference the Trinity makes. We have received grace and we share grace with others. God has loved us, and we in turn love others. The Spirit calls us into God’s presence and into community, and we go forth as agents of the Sprit to invite and involve others in the ever-expanding circle of God’s love. While I did not learn that in a book, I am fairly certain it is true.
Amen and amen.