June 4, 2023

Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a

“An Inclusive God”

Trinity Sunday is an unusual celebration within the Church Year. It’s different from other special Sundays like Christmas, Easter, or Pentecost because it doesn’t mark an event in the life of Jesus or the experience of the Early Church. Rather, it’s focused on a particular doctrine of the church. Trinity Sunday is a day to ponder what we believe about God, and the particular idea formulated by the Church in the 4th Century that God is three persons in One God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

A lot of Trinity Sunday sermons attempt to explain the Doctrine of the Trinity. They might begin with what our Presbyterian Church in Canada says about the Trinity in Living Faith:
“With the one church universal,
we believe in one God,
eternal Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
three in one, one in three, equal in power and glory.
God is the Father to whom we come,
the Son through whom we come,
the Spirit by whom we come.”

And then, perhaps, the preacher could suggest some helpful (though usually inadequate) analogies to explain this mysterious reality. The Trinity is like a triangle, with three sides, but a single form. The Trinity is like a shamrock with three leaves on one stem. The Trinity is like water, able to exist in the forms of liquid, ice, and steam.

And there are more. I came across a musical analogy in my reading this week that I quite like: The Trinity is like a trio of instruments harmonizing in a single, unified piece of music.

But my goal today is not really to help you “understand” the Trinity, but rather I want to invite you to consider how our Triune God demonstrates welcome, inclusion, and love for all people, and calls us to do the same.

I think I must begin by acknowledging that the language traditionally used for the Trinity is difficult. God as “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” can be troublesome because the language tends to give us the impression that God is male.

The title “Father” is definitely associated with maleness, and has led people to picture God as an old man in the sky with a long beard and a big booming voice. Worse than that, the consistent imaging of God as “Father” can be very difficult for people who have had negative experiences with absent or abusive human fathers, creating more trauma than embrace by the God who loves us.

The “Son” of course, refers to Jesus who was embodied as a human male. But was his maleness essential to his being the Christ, God made flesh in the world, or our Saviour? I don’t think so. And although “Holy Spirit” sounds gender neutral, I have nonetheless heard Christian leaders use male pronouns for the Spirit too.

A growing sensitivity within the church to the traditional gendered language has led to some creative alternatives. You are probably quite used to hearing ministers refer to God as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer” and recognize that combination of titles as Trinity also. Unfortunately, this newer formulation loses something of the personal nature of God as it moves from naming persons in relationship with one another towards describing the activities or functions of the three persons.

Of course, we know that God is neither male nor female. Or maybe God is both, encompassing all genders as the one in whose image all diverse people have been created.

Yes, we were reminded of our likeness to God in our reading from the Book of Genesis this morning: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness… So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them…  God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

It makes me think that both maleness and femaleness exist within the image of God, and it also makes me think that all God’s creatures, all human beings (whether male or female or non-binary) are the very good creation of God.

I find it really interesting to notice that although the English translations of the Scriptures tend to use male pronouns when referring to God, this passage has God saying “Let US make humankind in OUR image…” Here, God is referring to God-self in the plural. Some progressive theologians have suggested that God is the original “they/them” because God is both plural (Trinity – three persons in One God) and God is neither male nor female.

I have at least one Presbyterian colleague who regularly uses “they/them” pronouns when referring to God. And I know it would take me a while to get used to that, but I do think it’s worth considering.

When it comes to being created in God’s image, we’re not talking about a physical image or a picture, but God’s likeness. We are made to be LIKE God, so we must consider what God is LIKE.

The first person of the Trinity – the Father, the Creator of All, makes a world and fills it with a wonderful variety of plants, animals, and people. Each part of God’s Creation is special, and each part is declared to be good. After making human beings on the sixth day, and stepping back to look at the whole glorious world and all its creatures, God observes that it is VERY good.

That alone is reason enough for us to resist every temptation to judge our human siblings or suggest that they must change their identities in order to be loved by God or accepted by the church or society. God, our Creator, made each one, and good looked at everything they had made, and it was very good.

Next, we encounter God in Jesus the Christ, God made flesh, God come to us in human form. And if you’ve been reading the Gospels all your life like me, you know very well that Jesus embraced all the people he met. Social conventions, human judgements, and religious rules aside, Jesus ate with tax collectors, talked with women, touched people who were contagious, played with children, and engaged with foreigners.

No, there isn’t any mention of homosexuals or transgender people, but there also isn’t any mention of Jesus sending anyone away. And based on what we know about sexual orientation, we can probably assume that they were among the people who came to hear Jesus’ teaching and receive his blessing and learn his way of love and welcome.

Finally, the Holy Spirit is poured out on God’s people as the gift of their continuing presence in our midst. The Holy Spirit is not reserved for a few, but is poured out on all people, blessing us with a variety of gifts for the good of the church and the world God so loves. Just last week, the Pentecost service reminded us of the Spirit’s power to help God’s people proclaim the good news of God’s love to all the diverse people of the world.

Our God – Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit – is an inclusive God who made the world and everything in it with love, who came to us in Jesus to love and redeem us all, and who fills us by that loving Spirit so that we may embody love for all in the world.

On our congregation’s journey to becoming a more explicitly welcoming and inclusive congregation, joining in the Regina Pride Parade next weekend is a big step. Together with other Presbyterians across Canada who are doing the same in their communities, our message is simple – to share our conviction that “God’s love includes everyone.”

If you’ve never walked in a Pride Parade, don’t worry, I haven’t either. In fact, it makes me think of the first time I was near a Pride Parade about 25 years ago in Ottawa. I went with a friend who had recently come out to me that he was gay. A Presbyterian, actually. And I have to admit that I was super uncomfortable. I wasn’t sure what to make of the spectacle of the parade floats or the racy outfits. I wasn’t sure what it meant to be “proud” of being gay or transgender. I worried that it was somehow promoting promiscuity.

But over the years since then I’ve learned a lot from members of the 2SLGBTQI Community, from people of faith, and from the many conversations, debates, and discussions about human sexuality, the Bible, and theology. Our denomination has changed our official position on same-sex marriage and the ordination of 2SLGBTQI individuals whether they are married or single. Congregations and ministers are free to conduct same-sex marriages, and all congregations and Presbyterians are called to acknowledge that all people whatever their sexual orientation or gender identity are equally beloved of God.

Perhaps most importantly, I’ve become much more aware of the harm done to 2SLGBTQI people by the church – the ways that they have been marginalized, excluded, and made to believe that they are sinful human beings who need to change their identity.

I remember one gay Presbyterian explaining that participating in “Pride” activities wasn’t about being proud like “I’m better than you are!” It was about people who have been told again and again, throughout human history, and often by Christians that they are worthless, broken, sinful wretches, coming together to affirm for one another that it isn’t true. We are all beloved, blessed children of God, made in God’s image, and declared by God to be very good.