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Trinity Sunday, Cycle A

An eternally loving, life-changing Triune God! The festival invites sermons on the Trinity, the love of God (Justification by Grace), and its implications for Christian life (Sanctification), as well as in the case of several of the texts the doctrine of Creation.

Psalm 8
This hymn of praise was traditionally ascribed to David. Once again we note that like most Psalms of David it is unlikely he wrote this one, for references to David in the Psalms may be a way of using him to represent the inner life of all his subjects and so of all the faithful (Brevard Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p.521). In that sense this song is about the praise in which all the faithful engage as we celebrate God’s glory, his infinite goodness, and humanity’s God-given dignity.

Reference to the Gittoth in the preface to the Psalm may allude to a melody to be used with the song. God’s sovereignty is affirmed along with the beauty of creation (vv. 1, 3, 9). Despite the awesomeness of God, he is yet wonderful to human beings and cares for them. They are a little lower than God (or than divine beings [Elohim]) crowned with glory. Human beings are said to be a little lower than “divine beings” or “angels,” not God (vv. 4-5; cf. 144:3-4). They have dominion over all creation, and so a share of God’s dignity who has dominion over all (vv. 6-8). In verse 4 the phrase “son of man” [ben adam ] is used to describe morality. But it would also be possible to read these remarks prophetically as referring to the Messiah (Jesus as the Son of Man).

Application: The Psalm affords occasion for sermons on creation (its beauty as a work of God), Providence, and how richly gifted human beings are (Anthropology). Read as prophecy of Christ, the text can also be used to relate the Trinity to a testimony to God’s glory and creation, in line with the themes of the First Lesson.

Genesis 1:1–2:4a
Students of the Bible are immediately aware that like the other first five books of the Bible, Genesis is the product of four distinct ancient oral traditions. The book’s name means “origin” and that is precisely what it provides, stories of the origin of the cosmos, of humanity, and of the Jewish people. This lesson begins with the P strand’s version of creation in six days. This is the oral tradition developed by temple priests probably dating back to the sixth century BC. Its prose is rhythmic (evident in contrasts between chaos and what was created, pairing the divine command and what Elohim does). This may suggest its hymnic origins. This version of the creation story is more cosmological than the anthropocentric version of creation, which follows immediately after the lesson ends. This latter account is the work of the J strand, an oral tradition dating from the ninth/tenth century BC which is so named for its use of the name Jahweh or Yahweh (translated “Lord”). Though J is the older strand, it does not preclude the possibility of P and so of our lesson to draw on very ancient insights.

In creation God is said to master the primordial emptiness [bohu, the chaos of nothingness] (1:2). Creation out of nothing is here presupposed. The world is said to originate from watery depths [tehom]. Many in the ancient world believed that the earth originated from and was founded on a watery abyss; insights about the role of water in giving life mesh with modern scientific findings. (We know that water accounts for between 65% to 90% of the body’s weight, of the earth’s plants and of animals, and that it began in or out of the ocean’s waters.) Reference to the ruach of God active in creation may be translated “wind” or “Spirit” of God (1:2). God’s word is the agent of creation, beginning first with the light [or] (1:3-5). Reference to the sky as separating the waters (1:6-8) creates the context for the claim that the earth and its life-giving vegetation as well as creaturely life emerge from the water. This creation is said to be good (1:9-13, 20).

Sun and moon and all the stars are created, as per the sequence of enumerated days (1:14-19). Animals come forth first in and then from the waters, with God blessing them and mandating them to multiply (1:20-25). At the end of the creation process God resolves (speaking in the plural form) to make human beings. Humanity is made in God’s image and likeness, with dominion over/subduing [kabash] all the creation (1:26-30). One could debate whether Elohim’s use of the plural form here could be a function of the plurality of God in Elohim (the noun is plural in Hebrew, as is evidenced above in the assigned Psalm) or could represent a dialogue between him and the heavenly court.

God is said to have seen that everything he made was very good (1:31). The heavens and earth were finished (2:1). Reference is made to God resting on the seventh day and blessing the seventh day because on it he rested from all the work done in creation (2:2-3). (It is significant to note that the Hebrew word for “rest” [shabat] is the root term for “Sabbath.”) It is then noted that these are the generations of the heaven and earth where created (2:4a). It is also significant to remember how the number seven in Hebrew [sheba] connotes completeness or fullness, and so may not necessarily refer to seven 24 hour days.

Application: Several options present themselves. The reference in 1:26 to God speaking in the plural opens the way to arguments for the biblical roots for the Trinity. Being created in God’s image invites sermons on human nature that point out its relational, trinitarian character (we are the most social of all animals, and all relations are trifold, including two parties and the relationship). Understanding the text as a poem or hymn helps us to recognize that the Bible’s accounts of creation are not intended as scientific accounts. As such it can exist side-by-side with scientific explanations of the origins of the universe. Among the overlaps with modern science include the awareness that time did not begin until God began creating, life emerges from watery depths, and human life emerged rather late in the evolutionary sequence.

2 Corinthians 13:11-13
We read from another of Paul’s letters to the troubled church in Greece. This epistle was written by Paul to address relations with the church which had further deteriorated during the period after 1 Corinthians had been written. This lesson is the conclusion of the epistle. Chapters 10-13 are so different in style and tone from the first chapters as to lead many scholars to conclude that it is the “severe letter” mentioned in 2:4.

In concluding remarks, Paul urges the Corinthians to put things in order, agree with each other, and live in peace. The God of love and peace will be with them (v. 11). He urges that they greet each other with a holy kiss (v. 12), a liturgical action in early Christian worship (Romans 16:6; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:26). The benediction, a blessing that the grace of Christ, love of God, and communion [koinonia] of the Holy Spirit will be with them, is offered (v. 13). The Trinitarian formula should be noted.

Application: The text relates the Trinity to the loving character of God, a love which harmonizes the divine persons into one and so can bring his people into harmony (Justification and Sanctification). These insights might also be applied to the nature of the church.

Matthew 28:16-20
We return to using the gospel of the present liturgical year, the most Jewish of all the gospels. It was not likely written by the apostle who bears its name. The original audience was probably Jewish Christians no longer in full communion with Judaism (see 24:20). This text reports Jesus’ commissioning of the disciples during his final resurrection appearance.

The remaining eleven disciples go the mountain where Jesus had directed them. They see him there and worship him [something they had not done before the crucifixion], though some doubted (vv. 16-17). Jesus says all authority has been given to him (v. 18). He commissions them to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (v. 19). The Greek word for “nations” [ethne] may refer to “Gentiles.” According to Hebrew usage, “in the name of” means in the possession and protection of (see Psalm 124:8). New Testament scholars are inclined to regard the Matthean phrases as connoting references to the eschatological Son of Man in Daniel 7:13-14. This suggests that Matthew had in mind Jesus’ resurrection and the ministry to follow in terms of the end times (Eduard Schweizer, The Good News According to Matthew, p. 531). Thus we observe in Matthew a blurring of Jesus’ time on earth and his eschatological exaltation. Jesus is then reported to have exhorted that the converts be taught to obey everything he commanded. He notes that he will be always with the disciples to the end of the age (v. 20).

Application: The text affords another opportunity to reflect on the biblical roots of the Trinity doctrine. Appreciating the social nature of God (always in relationship with himself) entails that we, his creatures, are also inherently social and so especially equipped for witnessing to (interacting with) others (Evangelism and Sanctification). Insofar as the text suggests that we are in the end times, we can communicate an urgency about undertaking the missionary task (Realized Eschatology).

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen