June 7, 2020

Trinity Sunday - Year A


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2020 June7_FrIan

Trinity Sunday - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev. Ian M. Delinger


What a time we are living in! The nation and much of the world’s population are sheltering at home during a global pandemic. Across the nation and across the world there have been days-long protests, some including violent clashes with law enforcement, others more peaceful. With neither situation is our bucolic town of San Luis Obispo untouched. We are sharing in the pain and strife felt across the country and the world just as everyone else is.

Today is also Trinity Sunday with the Old Testament lesson set as the first Creation Story. So, the question I want us to try and reflect on today is:

How can the Creation Story and
the Holy Trinity guide us
through these troubled times?


“Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

There have been centuries of controversy over what this means. Some Christians think it means that humans are divinely directed to dominate the earth and use its resources as they wish in order to be fruitful and multiply. Other Christians believe that “subdue” and “dominion” are better translated to mean that humans are to be stewards or caretakers of Creation.

These two ideologies are competing forces in how we each engage with Creation and what we perceive to be the rights and responsibilities of humanity. We all consume the earth’s natural resources, and we in the United States consume them at a rate higher than anywhere else in the world. During this global shutdown, we are learning just how big our appetite is for food, cleaning chemicals and petrochemical-based products, and how cheap we expect them to be. Our supply chains are completely disrupted to the point that livestock is being slaughtered and burned, crops are being plowed underground, and there is so much oil that there is nowhere to store it. Yet, across the country, there has been a 70% increase in demand at food banks, and a tripling increase at the food bank here in SLO. Yet, very few, if any of our restaurants have shut down because, for good of for bad, so many SLO residents are taking advantage of restaurant curbside pick-up. There’s an incongruency that we need to wrestle with here.

Humans have indeed been fruitful and have multiplied, encroaching on Creation at an alarming rate. The graph of total world population is alarmingly dramatic. In the year 1500, the global population was 461M. It took 300 years to double. From just under 1B in 1800, it took 125 years to double to 2B in 1925. Not even 100 years later, we’re now more than triple the population of 1925 at 7.7B people on this planet, each of whom is a dominator and/or steward of its resources, and each of whom is certainly a consumer of the earth’s resources.

Why do I cite world population statistics? Because The domination or stewardship of Creation is partly – or maybe wholly – to blame for why we are all staying home. It is likely that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 transferred from bats to humans, possibly due to conditions in crowded wet markets. These types of markets exist all over the world, including in California. Mad Cow Disease, Swine Flu, Bird Flu, SARS and HIV, all diseases we are familiar with because of pandemics in the last 30 years, are all transferable from animals to humans.

So, it stands to reason that, when you have large populations of people who are encroaching on the boundary between creation and demanding consumption, you naturally have animal-to-human transmission. The same is true for the California wildfires. We insist on building towns nestled into the beauty of the forest, and then we run high-voltage electrical lines through the forest. Do I really need to elaborate on the inevitable outcome?

About a month ago, we had a conversation during Virtual Coffee Hour about evangelical pastors declaring that this pandemic is God’s punishment for the sins of humanity. It’s not God’s punishment.

Yes. I believe in a Creator and loving God. But I also believe in a God who made us stewards of the earth, told us how to live peaceably with one another and with Creation, sent us prophets to point out how we were distorting or just not following God’s plan for us, and that we ignored all of it. I also believe that God saw that the use of prophets wasn’t working, and the Temple and synagogue system was being corrupted into the unjust political and economic systems that God’s people had devised to benefit a pure, wealthy, elite few at the expense of the poor and of Creation, and decided to come as Jesus to sort it out. Yet, the people still didn’t heed the warning. And so on, and so on.

So, this coronavirus isn’t
God’s punishment.

We are perfectly capable of screwing things up for ourselves, and we are capable of doing it on a global scale. So now, we are all supposed to stay at home while the Golden Calf we continue to construct out of raping of the world’s natural resources that we call the economy is tarnishing. Back in September, 16yo Climate Activist Greta Thunberg addressed the United Nations with:

“We are in the beginning of a
 mass extinction, and all you can
talk about is money and fairy
tales of eternal economic growth.”

Perhaps she was one of those prophets we ignored to our own peril.

The other part of the trials and tribulations that we are living through is also related to today’s OT lesson:

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them...God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

Human beings were created in the image of God, and it was very good. Yet, some humans are treated as if they are inferior to others. We all have heard, and some have studied, the structural inequality that exists in our country:

Structural inequality is defined as a condition where one category of people are attributed an unequal status in relation to other categories of people. This relationship is perpetuated and reinforced by a confluence of unequal relations in roles, functions, decisions, rights, and opportunities. (Inclusive States: Social Policy and Structural Inequalities (2008))

There is well-documented structural inequality in the distribution of wealth, the opportunities for women, in education, in healthcare, for gay lesbian bisexual and transgender persons, and for people of color. For the latter, there is not time to dive into the 400 years of the origins and history of the structural inequality of black people in America. And that structural inequality was not erased by the Civil War, 15th Amendment or the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968. And neither did the Civil Rights Movement erase racial prejudice.

What we see with structural inequality for PoC and for all those who suffer from one form of structural inequality or another is the failure to live up to the Baptismal Covenant to respect the dignity of every human being, to see each person as created in the Image of God, and that s/he is very good. Now, not everyone is Baptized and not every person who is Baptized was done so with the 1979 Baptismal Covenant of The Episcopal Church in which we all affirm that we will respect the dignity of every human being. But it seems like such respect should be fundamental to being human.

So, I put structural inequality out there as the backdrop for us imagining what it is like for a poor PoC today, living what you and I are also living through.

Close your eyes and imagine
this scenario:

•    Because of a national debacle, you may have lost your job.

  • In urban areas, the $1,200 from the US Treasury won’t even pay rent.
  • If you’re a frontline worker, you’re being exposed daily.
  • In some industries, the Government is demanding that your company reopens, and then passes laws to say that you can’t sue if you get sick.
  • Add to that: hearing that PoC are getting infected and dying at significantly higher rates than white people – 2½x higher – because you have to choose between economic security and health security – and other factors that are direct results of the centuries of structural inequality.
  • Yet, if you don’t go back on the job when your employer re-opens, you won’t get unemployment benefits.
  • People in these situations are overwhelmingly PoC – overwhelmingly.

You’re scared! You’re hungry! You’re more frightened about your future, your tomorrow, your today more than you ever have been in your life. It’s real fear on top of the underlying stress that everyone in the entire country is feeling. You fear for your livelihood and for your life – and it’s real! It’s not a movie; it’s not the news. It’s your life.

Then, a video of blatant act of police brutality goes viral and the victim is someone who looks like you...and it’s not the first time. What do you do?

  • Send thoughts and prayers?
  • Call your Congressman?
  • Start a postcard campaign?
  • Bring together a forum of persons of diverse backgrounds to discuss the steps forward?

That’s all been done before. The 5 largest peaceful protests in American history have happened since January 20, 2017, one of which was part of the largest peaceful protest in the world. And since then, nothing has been done to improve the lives of women, curb racism in the Puerto Rican Government, enact sensible gun control measures, or include science as an element of political decision making. In fact, one could argue that all of those situations have gotten worse since those protests. So, you know that won’t work.

So, you’re more frightened than you’ve ever been in your life. You have no source of income. Structural inequality is being forced upon you if you want to make money by going back to work. And your people are attacked. And now, on top of immense fear, you’re angry. I don’t condone violence, but what do you do?

I don’t know. I can’t answer that question because I’ve never been hungry. I’ve never experienced the structural inequality to the same degree. I went jogging this morning and didn’t exhibit any fear nor was I stopped and intimidated. I may be in my place of work with 2 other people, but I am in nowhere near the danger of infection as if I were a grocery store clerk, a janitor, a meat packer or even a person who has no car and has to take public transportation. So, I can’t answer the question “What do you do when you fear for your life and you have lava hot anger at society?” I am fortunate not to have to live the life of these tens of millions of Americans who are at the mercy of our inability to respect the dignity of every human being and to see God’s image in every person. That doesn’t make me a better person, it just makes me privileged.

So, where’s the pastoral message in all of this so you can feel better after our worship this morning, or at least feel closer to God? That’s not always what a sermon is for. Sometimes preaching is designed to make the hearers uncomfortable so that they might effect change, change in their own lives and changes within their spheres of influence. But worship is definitely supposed to bring you closer to God. And on this Trinity Sunday, our readings are telling us that God is on the side of humanity, a common humanity who needs to do better at getting along with the rest of Creation and getting along better with one another. Therefore,


we need to fix our problems.


Structural inequality is too big for me to ask you to fix. But God has given us the tools to fix the problems of our own making.

[B]rothers and sisters…put things in order…agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

And that’s just a small snippet out of an entire Bible filled with God’s love for humanity and how humanity can live in peace with one another and how we can prevent and fix our own problems. The Bible starts with God wanting a relationship with humanity:

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”

  • God the Father, or Mother, or Creator, made each of us in God’s image.
  • God the Son, Jesus, is God as human and the face of every human being.
  • God the Holy Spirit, the Holy Paraclete or Advocate, the Comforter, animates God’s people, animates each one of you, to seek, find and see the good in all that God created.

We’ve got the tools to do this because with God, all things are possible.

I suppose the pastoral nugget is that this isn’t God’s punishment. It’s like when you did something bad as a young teen, and you said to your mother, “Are you mad at me?” and she gives you that look and says, “No. I’m disappointed in you”. Yes, it would be easier if we could blame God for all of this, make God into the Great Scapegoat for the great problems humanity caused by its own pursuits of self-interest. But this isn’t God’s punishment – we have failed ourselves! Over and over again, generation after generation, which is simply a misuse of the gift God gave us to care for Creation and one another so that it all remains “very good”.

To fix our own monumental problems, we need start by listening. Each one of today’s readings wraps up with a tidy positive bow as if that’s the end. Indeed, the passages from 1 Corinthians and Matthew are the end of those books. But in Genesis, Corinthians and Matthew, these scriptures marked the start of the unfathomably hard work of something extraordinary and unforeseen for the main characters.

We are facing widespread civil unrest during a global pandemic. Start the hard work of unraveling structural inequality by listening to the stories of others and learning how to become an ally. Improving the lives of your fellow human beings, your brothers and sisters who, too, were created in the Image of God, will NOT diminish your value or your status or your ability to thrive. We ALL do better when we ALL embody and empower that ALL persons are “created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It’s right here in our Genesis story, right here at Creation.


So, start the change by listening.


Don’t listen to your own stories, opinions and desires. Listen to the stories of those most affected by structural inequality. Hear their fear and their anger and let it make you feel uncomfortable. Listen to the cries of the earth. Hear the pain of our over-consumption and let it make you feel uncomfortable. Listen to the alternative solutions that don’t focus on economic gain for a few people, but for solutions that benefit the most people. And when you do feel uncomfortable, don’t tune out in order to minimize your discomfort. Do what is in your power to effect change.

We are called by our creation
and by our Baptism to be
stewards of the earth and to
respect the dignity of every
human being.

And we can do this because we have been given the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit.

© 2021 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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