Pr. Joseph G. Crippen, The Holy Trinity, year A; texts: Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a; Psalm 8; 2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Recently astronomers using NASA’s Hubble Telescope released a photograph of nearly ten thousand galaxies that the telescope had photographed over nine years. What’s astonishing to me about the picture is that it’s in full color, and the shapes and sizes are an incredible variety. What the astronomers are doing is opening up the way they look at Hubble images to include information received on the whole spectrum of light, adding in the ultraviolet end of the spectrum, where previously all they had studied was visible and near invisible infrared light. Opening up the whole spectrum has given the astronomers a huge amount of what has been missing information.
But for those of us who simply look at the picture and are used to white dots in the sky, all I can say is that it’s breathtaking. I could never adequately describe what it’s like to see it.  What is even more moving to me is that there are some who have already imagined a creation far more beautiful and breathtaking than we could see with just our eyes. The painter Vincent van Gogh, in The Starry Night, saw for us what now the Hubble sees for us, and he showed it to us on his canvas. Great artists of all media visual and aural have this ability, to see and perceive the depths of the beauty of the creation, and when they give us their art, point us to the same perception and sight.
For those who believe in God, the awe and wonder in such visions, whether from digital photos of outer space or pigments in oil on a canvas, or melody and harmony that seem to come from outside our very world, in such vision and sound and beauty we see God. And, like our psalmist today, we gasp at our smallness and at God’s greatness, we are sometimes even struck silent in praise.
There is much that has been said about having proper fear of God, and most of it is unhelpful. Because to truly understand what the Scriptures mean by fear of God is to simply find the proper awe and respect at the vastness and beauty of the God who has made all things.
That is to say that on this Sunday when we celebrate that the true God is Triune, we really do not celebrate a doctrine. True fear and awe of God precludes any doctrinal certainty and the reality of God is beyond doctrine. We like to speak theologically – to speak words about God, literally – but in truth, given the vastness of the creation and the Creator all that vastness implies, we can really know nothing about the true nature of God.
In fact, humility and awe before the Creator of all would be in order. To recognize that there is literally no way we can comprehend who God is, how God is, when God is, except that which God reveals to us.
In this, it is helpful that our first reading was that long beginning of Scripture, the first chapter of Genesis. Beginning from nothing, God speaks, God sings, and all things come into being.
Genesis 1 helps us find the appropriate humility and awe, as in this familiar narrative God is put over all things, where God belongs. In a world where people worshipped all sorts of gods, including the sun and the moon, Genesis speaks of God who existed before all things, and created all things, including the many things worshipped as god by others.
In a beautiful, subtle way, the author of this chapter doesn’t even name the sun and moon, for those names themselves were names of the corresponding gods. No, says this ancient writer, the true God made those things, the big light during the day and the little light during the night, and all the stars. What you think of as gods are only creations of the true God, to enlighten the whole creation.
And the same thing happens elsewhere in the creation story: anything you might praise or fear is still just a creature. So sea monsters, Genesis says, the fear of the great unknown, the chaos “out there,” these are just creatures of the true God. This chaos – seen also in storms, volcanoes, earthquakes, wild beasts, freezing blizzards, anything we fear – Genesis says all this is under God’s control. And all the beauty – animals, plants, stars, fish, birds – all these, worthy of praise, are still just creations of the true God.
All things begin with the creating song of God, sung into the world, into the void, into the chaos. So once more we are where we began, as we conclude the story of creation, in a place of awe and wonder. To fear God is to recognize how truly small we are, how truly great God is, which we know and see and experience in this amazing, beautiful, frightening, sustaining creation.
Yet – and this is the truly stunning thing – we dare to claim that this awesome, unknowable God comes to us and even loves us.
The psalmist speaks our overwhelmedness. This star-gazer and poet starts with this awe at the creation, but then asks the truly profound question: how is it possible, who are we humans, that you care for us? It’s the question we’d never ask if we hadn’t experienced God’s love and care, but it’s the question that must be asked. The psalmist, though, knows it is true, for the song says, “Yet.” “Yet you have made us a little less than divine.”
That tiny word “yet” changes the whole thing. It’s the profound word that we still do not understand. God is transcendent, immense, unknowable, vast, astonishing, beautiful, frightening, beyond us.
Yet. Yet. God somehow loves us.
Even Genesis 1 opens up this wonder, for the Creator actually speaks to the human beings. In the whole of this narrative it might be the most eye-opening thing: this Creator God makes humanity, and then, for the first time in the story, instead of singing and speaking things into creation with the divine voice, God speaks to the people. Gives them promise of food and sustenance, enough to live on in this beautiful creation. And calls them to care for the creation, to tend it, to have dominion over it, the first commandment given these new creatures.
There is no sense to this relationship, the psalmist might say. Yet. Yet. It is so, wonderfully and mysteriously it is so.
But it is Paul, in his brief benediction, who truly moves us to the silence of wonder. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he says, “the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Stop and hear that once again. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. The love of God. The communion of the Holy Spirit.” These things are with you, with me.
That’s what Paul says. Maybe because we hear it every Eucharist, we don’t truly understand how remarkable it is. If God is transcendent, immense, unknowable, vast, astonishing, beautiful, frightening, beyond us, how do we dare believe that we receive such gifts from God – grace, love, communion – that we deserve such gifts?
Yet, the psalmist says. Yet, it is so.
And it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the center of what our faith knows about God: we can and do know nothing about the true nature of the Triune God, we know only what this God has brought to us in coming to us.
But that is, astonishingly, grace: we who are nothing and tiny are in the grace of the Son of God, whose forgiveness is as undeserved as it is unexpected, and it transforms our lives and the way of the world.
And it is, amazingly, love that God brings: we who are but specks in the vastness of the galaxies are loved by the Creator of all things, loved enough that this Creator took on our flesh and lived among us, and in dying and rising showed us the true shape of divine love, of the way of the universe.
And it is, wonder of wonders, communion that God brings: we who struggle to live in relationship with each other, let alone God, are given the gift of communion, fellowship, with each other through the Spirit of God who moves in and among all people, so that we are brought closer and closer together in love for our neighbor and in love with God.
Do you see how unknowable God is, and yet how stunning it is that we know this much, and that what we know is such life and hope for us? We could sit in awe and wonder at that one verse of Paul all our days and not begin fully to grasp how truly outlandish it is that we say it and believe it.
Yet, the psalmist says. Yet, it is so.
In this wonder we begin to understand what Jesus is asking of us.
In this ending to Matthew’s Gospel, we see disciples, even doubters, sent to pour out this love and care into the world, to bear the Triune Name into the world. Making disciples is not, as the Church sometimes has thought, tallying up more and more people on membership rolls or thinking we’re saving anyone. The world needs a Savior and thankfully, they have one. And it isn’t us.
But this Savior does send us out. He sends us to make disciples the only way it can happen: by our living as disciples, bearing the name of God into the world, washed in the waters of our baptism. In our lives of faith and love, our lives of discipleship, we witness to this improbable “yet” of the psalmist, and through meeting God’s love in us, people come to know God.
They know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ through us, wonder of wonders. They experience the love of God through us, amazement of amazements. And they are welcomed into the relationship of love the Spirit has made, the communion of the faithful, through our love and welcome, miracle of miracles.
That’s the mission our Lord Jesus needs of us, to bear this astonishing truth about God into the world with our lives along with that little word “yet.” So that God’s love reaches to all nations, all peoples, everyone.
This is our wonder on this Sunday we celebrate the God-ness of God, the unknowable mystery: the incarnate love of this Triune God still inhabits the creation. And all is being restored.
It turns out there is a massive word, “yet,” that changes all reality, that the transcendent, immense, unknowable, vast, astonishing, beautiful, frightening, beyond us God who made all things actually does care about this world, these people God has made, this whole creation.
And has poured grace and love into us, into it, and brought us together in communion for the sake of the world.
And we get to go out and live that with our lives, show it with our love, make it real with our grace. That’s the gift of “yet.” That’s the life we get to share, so that all may know.
It’s almost too much to believe. Yet. Yet, it is even so.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
The Hubble image (larger versions available at the hubblesite link):
The Starry Night (1889):