June 11, 2017

Trinity Sunday

Genesis 1:1-2:4
Psalm 8

Matthew 28:16-20


Refugee crisis is probably one of the most difficult challenges that the world faces today. By the end of 2015, it was estimated that there were 65 million people who had been forced to flee their homes. That was three times the size of the population of Australia. That number translates to one in every 113 people in the world. Of all the refugees (under the mandate of UNHCR) more than half come from only three major hotspots: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia. And 86% of all refugees in the world lived not in a modern prosperous country like Australia, but on the margins of the developing countries around the world[1]

The ancient Hebrew people knew how it felt to be refugees. They too had been uprooted from their homeland, which had been razed to the ground by the Babylonians. As the result, they lived as captives in a foreign land.

The creation story in Genesis, that we hear today, was told for the first time during this time of exile in Babylon. According to the story, the world was not created ex-nihillo: out of nothing. The Hebrew words that were used in Genesis to describe the condition of the world were tohu wa bohu: a desolate emptiness.[2]

So the Creation story in Genesis is about the ordering of the world from desolation. It’s about how the power of chaos was restrained by God so that life would flourish in the world. Water, ocean, darkness: all were symbols of desolation for the Hebrews. Yet God put all of these things under control at the time of creation.

Indeed, the creation story gave comfort and assurance to the Hebrew refugees and captives in Babylon. It proclaimed that God was more powerful than the power of death and destruction that they were experiencing because everything was in God’s hands. Evil may seem to rule their world, but the world was still a good place to live because God made it so. The world was a good place because God who made it was good.

Recently, people living in the Western world, including us here in Australia, were shocked by a spate of terrorist attacks in the UK. 22 people, including children, were killed and 116 more people injured when a suicide jihadist detonated his bomb after the concert of American popstar, Arianna Grande in Manchester. Around a week after the tragedy, another attack occurred on the famous London Bridge and the nearby Borough Market. Three terrorists indiscriminately stabbed innocent people in the market. 8 people got brutally killed, including two young Australian women who happened to be in the area.

Here in Australia, especially in Perth, we may feel a bit insulated from all those events because of our remote location. But the world has become so small that distance is not distance at all in today’s world. If it can happen in a place like London or Paris or Berlin, it can happen anywhere. And a recent event in Brighton, Melbourne, where a gunman killed a newly married young man and took a woman hostage in the name of terrorism, proved that we are not insulated.

Many people understandably feel a sense of fear even anger. And fear can easily morph into despair and anger into hatred. But this will only further exacerbate the problem.

So, on this Trinity Sunday, we are to remind ourselves that death and desolation are not how the world intended to be. The world is created out of the very nature of its Creator, as it is reflected in the loving relationship between the three persons of the Trinity: Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. God called the creation good because it was born out of the nature of God.

So goodness is still the fundamental nature of the world we live in today. Yes, we’ve seen evil in the barbaric actions of the terrorists who used all kinds of weapons, from the sophisticated to the most rudimentary, to kill and maim innocent people. But we will make a mistake to believe that that’s how people deep down are or that’s how the world actually is. We must see beyond their evil actions and proclaim that, despite their evil acts, goodness, not evil, is how God creates us to be.

The church’s traditional teaching often taught that sin was the very nature of human being and even the world. No matter how good we try to become, we will always be sinners. The teaching was challenged by the American humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers, who believed that the church had got it wrong. He thought that, at their core, humans were not bad; they were good.[3]

I think we need to take his challenge seriously. I think the church’s teaching had indeed often got skewed for many centuries.

Now I don’t deny sin and its power in the world. Once again, the power of sin manifested itself in the spate of terrorist attacks that we witnessed recently. But the creation story in Genesis and Trinity Sunday tell us otherwise. We are not created that way. We are created to be the image of the Triune God, in which love is the most defining nature.

So friends, to celebrate Trinity Sunday is indeed to celebrate the authority of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the world. And we are called to proclaim this authority by making our life a reflection of the very nature of God. God’s very nature must permeate every aspect of our life. It must permeate our life as a nation, as a community, as a family, and as individuals.

This is the very meaning of baptism. When we are baptized, we proclaim that our life belongs to us no longer, but to God. When we are baptized, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we are baptized in the name of God the Creator of the world. When we are baptized, we are reminded about who we are: the image of the living loving God and that we are infused with the power of God. And God’s power is not the power to destroy and kill, but the power to love, to heal, to reconcile; in other words: the power to create. It is not the power that brings death, but the power that brings life.

When Jesus called the disciples to teach people and baptize them, they were to invite people to return to who they were. Baptism is a call to return to our true nature as the image of God the Creator who brings order out of chaos; who reconciles and heals.

We are to teach people to obey what Jesus taught the disciples, which is to love God with all our life and to love others like ourselves. We are to teach people how to love like Jesus loved; how to love like God loves.

Friends, the world may somehow become a scary place to live once again. But it is not the way God creates it to be. God creates the world as a good place to live. God creates us, humans, to be a reflection of the loving and caring nature of the Triune God who takes the world out of chaos and makes it good. There is an imprint of the goodness of God within every inch of the world, even within those who have done the most terrible acts. We are to point people to that and to help people become who they really are: the image of the loving God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] State of the Nation 2017: Refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia, posted on February 22, 2017, by the Refugee Council of Australia on http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/publications/reports/state-nation-2017/

[2] Word of the Week: Tohuwabohu, posted on June 3 2011 by the German Missions in the United States on http://www.germany.info/Vertretung/usa/en/__pr/GIC/TWIG__WoW/2011/21-Tohuwabohu.html

[3] Will Storr, ‘It was quasi-religious’: the great self-esteem con, published on Saturday, June 3 2017 (18:00 AWST) on The Guardian’s online newspaper.