The Holy Trinity Matthew 28:16-20

Once upon a time.

That’s how all good stories begin, with those four beguiling words: “Once upon a time.” And we’re immediately hooked. We want to know what happens next. And the next line could be anything!

In today’s Old Testament reading we have what is possibly the best once-upon-a-time ever. Four different, equally beguiling words: “In the beginning, God.”

That’s a complete sentence right there, if we think about it. “In the beginning, God.” What does that tell us? It tells us that God was in the beginning and before the beginning and that before anything at all was, God was. God is the beginning.

And then what happened?

In the beginning, God created. Just by adding a word, one word, we are learning more about this God. God who was, in the beginning and before the beginning, God created. To create is to make something in a very hands-on, very involved fashion. To be creative is also to add beauty to the world. So we have an eternal God who is involved and who is making beauty.

And then what happened?

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. So the eternal, creative God makes distinctions. There is the realm of the heavens, and there is the realm of the earth, and they are separate. They are related to each other, they are adjoining each other, they work symbiotically with each other – but they are separate. On this Trinity Sunday – where the running joke among clergy is that to try to explain the holy mystery of the Trinity is to choose which heresy you will commit – it is the divine work of creation that shows us the Trinity. God the Father, who makes order from chaos; God the Son, who has just reminded his disciples, “Lo, I am with you always; even unto the end of the age.” And God the Spirit – “while a wind from God moved over the face of the waters.” The Hebrew word for moved is closest to our word for brooded, like a mother hen brooding over her chicks. Here is the mystery of the Trinity set before us.

And then what happened?

And the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

In the ancient myths of creation, and in the times when this story was first recorded, darkness was powerfully symbolic. Darkness stood for chaos. There were always monsters under the bed, lurking in the dark, unseen forces up to no good. So, interestingly, the eternal creative God appears in a void, appears in darkness, so that means that when we are in darkness and chaos, God is there with us. In the darkness. In the void. In the face of the deep, there is God.

And then what happened?

          And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said: Let there be light. And there was light.

So that knowing that God is with us in the darkness allows us to feel God’s spirit moving within us, and God spoke. And things happened.

God speaks things into being, and God names them into being. God not only says, “Let there be,” God names what the thing is to be. Light. And then God divided the light from the darkness. So, again, there’s a separation. The light and the dark work together, there cannot be one without the contrast of the other, but they are distinct. This is light, this is dark. And again, we find ourselves being shown the mystery of the Trinity.

And then what happened?

God saw that it was good.

This is very important news. God who creates, God who is present in the darkness, God who makes distinctions, God saw that it was good. That means that our default setting, the one on which the universe is meant to operate, is goodness.

That can be hard to swallow, some days. Because of the universality of social media, we are often aware of a great many unfortunate things happening in the world. And some days it seems as though all we are encountering is bad news. But the fact that the news is bad actually gives me encouragement. Here’s why.

For twenty years, before leaving to go to divinity school, I worked as a newspaper copy editor. And I would sometimes encounter people who, upon learning what I did, would complain that all the newspaper ever published was bad news. “Why don’t you ever print good news?”

Well, newspapers do publish good news, but I got the gist of it. Most of what’s in the paper tends to be bad news. Here’s what I would tell those people.

News, by definition, is something happening that is unusual. Something that is different from what is normal or expected. So the fact that what we read in the paper is bad… means that the normal, the expected, is largely good. It is not news that eleven thousand forty-nine commuters made it safely home on Friday – it’s news that one driver swerved off the road and struck a guard rail. It’s not news that three hundred thousand Guilford County residents passed a quiet evening; it’s news that one man got into an argument with a neighbor that escalated to gunfire.

The default setting for our world is still good. For all the reports of unimaginable tragedies reaching us every day, the vast majority of the news is good.

When we remember these things, we have confidence, we have faith, in where the story is headed next, because we know how it starts. A good beginning is worth a great deal. And if you remember all those old childhood stories, the ones that started with, “Once upon a time…” how did they invariably end? “And they lived happily ever after.”

So when the story begins with the greatest “Once upon a time” ever, those four words that change everything, when the story begins with “In the beginning, God,” we know already that we have a loving, creating, abiding God who is forever showing Himself to us as the Father, and as the Son, and as the Holy Spirit, the divine wind. The God who is with us in the darkness, who knows how to create order out of chaos, and who promises us that we will all live happily ever after. “Lo, I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age.” Amen.