Listen to the sermon preached by the Rev. Posey Krakowsky, delivered via Zoom on Trinity Sunday, June 7, 2020.
You can read the scriptures for Trinity Sunday here.
When God began to create heaven and earth, and the earth then was welter and waste and darkness over the deep and God’s breath hovering over the waters, God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness, Night. And it was evening and it was morning, first day.
as anybody else had the feeling lately — that tiny, budding, elusive feeling, that this time, this moment in history, is a first day? It’s been such a slog for so long, hasn’t it? Especially for our sisters and brothers of color. But I’m feeling those first whispers of tiny tendrils. And I hope I’m not fooling myself. Are you feeling it too?
I started with Genesis today because of a quirky story about this passage, especially these first few lines. Last year, when I went on pilgrimage to Israel, I had a long dinner in Jerusalem with a man I had never met before — a friend of my husband’s. My husband warned me before the dinner started to be prepared for someone high octane. “Get ready,” my husband said, “he’s been a war correspondent in the Middle East for 20 years, so he’s kind of intense.”
Right. That was an understatement. My host spent most of the evening grilling this priest in the way that top reporters do— he had a flurry of questions: things like — How can you even BE a person of faith? And: What is God to you? And: Have you ever had a mystical experience? I am sure you can imagine the tension between skepticism and curiosity. It was a lot to handle. Thank goodness it was off the record!
Towards the end of the evening though, he asked me something that changed the whole tenor of the conversation. He asked me about Creatio Ex Nihilo — Creation out of Nothing — and yes, seriously, he really did go there — see I told you it was intense! “How,” he said, “can you believe something like that? And I said to him, “I don’t. Because, first of all, the Hebrew Bible doesn’t say that God created the universe out of nothing, it says that God created it out of the deep — the tehom. And second of all, so much of Scripture is poetic language, you can’t read it as “fact.” You have to approach it the way you would poetry, because then it resonates in a different way.”
My host was incredulous. “No, no way,” he said. “It does NOT say the deep.” He immediately pulled his phone out of his pocket and brought up Genesis 1 in Hebrew. And he started translating it into English, right there, on the fly.
Sure enough, he saw that the Hebrew Bible does not say creation out of nothing. But more importantly, he started reading the passage with a poetic ear — not a jaded reporter’s eye. He went on for several lines, and then got really quiet for a few moments. And then he looked at me and said, “My goodness, this is beautiful. I haven’t read it in years. It’s — it’s amazing.”
Why am I telling you this story? Because the Spirit, the ruach, was so very present in that dinner encounter. And she is now too. That’s why I’m referencing deep listening — grasping for the little whisps of hope. I know I said this in my last sermon, but I’m going to say it again. In order to not let the violence and anger of the current moment overwhelm us, we have to listen with a poetic sensibility right now. In this time of hurt and fear and divisiveness, we have to reach deep to hear what God is saying to us in the midst of the anguish. To me, it feels like we are swimming in the tehom right now, in the heart of the chaos. Sometimes, even a lot of the time, it feels like we might drown. What I want to remind us is, God is here with us. And as difficult as it is to be here right now, we have to embrace where we are and let it lead us into something new. But in order to do that, above all, we have to listen.
Can we hear this chaos as generative? Can we think of it as the exquisite and necessary darkness of gestation and of birthing? Too often in our country, one so seeped in the culture of whiteness, we equate the light with all that is good, and darkness with what is not. But listen more closely: our passage does not say that either. If you read it carefully, God does see the light and say that it is good. God says this because God is assessing something that is new. That doesn’t mean then that the dark is bad. If just means that the dark was already known — the dark was already familiar to God. Don’t forget that God goes on to name both of them. God calls them Day and Night. We all know that any time something is intentionally named in the Hebrew Bible, that is a serious affirmation.
We also know that darkness is good in this story because we can compare it to other creation stories from the Ancient Near East. Biblical commentators look particularly to the Enuma Elish, where the god Marduk defeats and dismembers the god Tiamat in order to create the world. The enormous difference between the Hebrew Bible version of the story and all others is this: the deep, the chaos, is NOT destroyed or dismembered. Creation comes from God’s loving interaction with that chaos — the deep. So, instead of being a rival God which must be dismembered and destroyed, in our scriptures, the deep is instead portrayed as the raw materials of infinite possibility, in other words, as another aspect of God’s own self.
ebrew Bible scholar Lizzie Berne DeGear once described the deep as “the beginning of a beginning.” It is a place for all that is unformed, confusing, and quite often uncomfortable. Where many things which do NOT ever come to fruition exist. Can we stretch our poetic minds to also encompass that which has not occurred? And that which will not occur? And that which might occur? Can we allow ourselves to recognize that possibility itself, potential, is part of God, and is clearly good? That possibility opens up a space of unknowing in which God can act? That it allows God to make a way out of no way?
I remember hearing writer Barbara Crafton once speak about this space of infinite possibility by telling a story about the film Dead Man Walking. At the end of the movie, when the murderer, Matthew Poncelet, is about to be electrocuted, Sister Prejean is there, bearing witness to his death. The camera pans around, showing the murder scene, then his victims, showing the victims’ parents, then Sister Prejean’s face, and finally the murdered, about to be murdered by the state. This swirl of images force us to ask, what confluence of possibilities brought him here? Who he might have been if even some small things had been different in his life? Who might his victims have been if they had lived? What other choices might there have been instead of execution? How will participating in that act change those who are there?
There are a thousand other lifetimes that we each could have lived in the space of infinite possibility. Those lifetimes are also real for God — both ones that seem more good than evil as well as the ones that seem more evil than good.
If we tried hard, could we imagine a world in which Hillary Clinton was president right now? Could we imagine an America where Covid-19 had been kept under control by a more resourceful and decisive government? Could we imagine a country where white people know that Black Lives actually do Matter and act accordingly? I’m guessing that all of those scenarios might be available to us— because they are the kinds of things we say we wish for and want to see. They’re the kinds of unrealized possibilities that we are comfortable imagining, aren’t they?
But can we also imagine a world in which, for example, the South won the Civil War? Who would each of us would be if we had been born into that reality? That’s harder to sit with, isn’t it? But in the last few years, as our diocese and our parish have done research about our history and complicity in enslaving black bodies, we have come to realize that we in New York were far more bound up in our country’s “peculiar institution” than we like to believe. We still see Confederate flag images around us here more often than we like to admit. So —-can we acknowledge that in some ways, we are actually living in a world where the Confederacy won? Would George Floyd be dead right now if we were NOT?
It’s hard, isn’t it, to handle the discomfort of that sense of infinite possibility —knowing that when we make choices, we may make the wrong ones — or that even the right ones may have unintended consequences. Can we inhabit the true humility of not knowing what will happen as we make our next steps? Can we sit in, as my friend Lizzie says, a place that allows us to be aware that there is always a lot that remains available to become that is still not yet?
Theologian Catherine Keller wrote an entire book about The Deep, which she calls the intrinsic value of all actualities. God knows every one of those actualities — every single one. We Christians say that God is LOVE. And that God is calling us deeper and deeper into love. Knowing this, can we hold on to the idea that even though we truly do NOT know what will happen next, that God is in the place of unknowing with us? And that God knows it is good, and God knows it to be a place from which hope might spring? That the love of God in Jesus is there with us, as our gospel says today, even to the end of the age?
Remember, when we hear about the Spirit, the ruach — God’s breath — moving over this deep place of infinite possibility, the verb used to describe God’s action is pulsing or hovering. It’s the verb for the action of a mother bird hovering over her nestlings. Let’s also note that the root of this word in Hebrew is the same root for the word WOMB. And what else is a womb than a generative place of darkness, of becoming, of not knowing. So our passage from Genesis assures us that God is in both of those spaces – both in the space of infinite possibility and in the space of hovering over and nurturing those possibilities. Just as God is in both the darkness and in the light, so is God in the unknowing and the knowing. God is in the intersection of all that is and was and shall be. God is in the becoming.
n a country and a culture where dualism reigns, where people are sorted and categorized and made to feel “other” — can we find a source of hope in living into the space of in between? Can we accept the humility of not always knowing? Can we refuse to accept that dualistic categories are the only way to see the world? As I have said to you all before, I was called back to the Christianity of my childhood via the third person of the Trinity, through the Holy Spirit — through the Christian expression of the powerfully unmanageable untame-ability of God. The Trinity, for me, is such a great way of naming that space of unknowing — of possibility — of the intrinsic value of all actualities. The sacred geometry of an equidistant triangle is one of the most stable shapes that exists — and yet is also has an immediate sense of energetic flow that our eyes register — when we look at a triangle, is it possible for them to rest in any one angle for long? Not mine! In this chaotic year, do we need to “explain” the Trinity then? Or can we instead allow the Trinity to point us towards a poetic sensibility? Can its dynamism help us find a path to make The Way out of no way?
Last week, Mother Liz asked us questions at the end of her sermon — where are we sensing change happening? Where are we hearing the wind of the Spirit blowing?
I’d like to finish with a story of something I saw this week that gave me hope and pointed me there. On Tuesday evening, I happened to tune in to CNN when they were interviewing Rev. Dr. William Barber and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. There was a split screen, one side showing the interviews, and the other side showing all the young people gathered at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial. Heavily armed soldiers were assembled on the steps. And I noticed as I watched the protesters — those young people were praying. Their heads were bowed, and they each had their right hand on the shoulder of the person in front of them. It brought tears to my eyes to see and hear this — to know that these young people were praying as they peacefully protested. The young man leading the prayer said this, “God is blessing us right now in ways we do not even realize.”
In the days and weeks ahead, please remember that wisdom from such a wise child. Hold it close to your heart. Because God called the light Day, and the darkness, Night. And it was evening, and it was morning, first day.