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Rev. Cathi King

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May 22, 2022 – Sermon delivered by Rev. Cathi King
Scripture: Genesis 1:1-31

Since September, we’ve been exploring different Christian practices in our worship and education. Each one is typically four weeks and includes references in Scripture and invitations to grow in faith and discipleship by practicing it today. Today we begin a new one: Honor God’s Diversity. 

We know what diversity is. Or do we? It’s become such a freighted word. The Oxford Dictionary defines diversity as a range of many people or things that are very different from each other. Biodiversity for example describes the variety of life in the world or in any given ecosystem.

The story we read from the first chapter of Genesis paints a picture of abundant biodiversity: all manner of fruit and seed-bearing plants and trees… all the tiny living things that swarm in the waters… every kind of creature that crawls on the ground… every species of living thing…   Diversity is a singular noun that describes a composition of plurality.

Here’s an example: Our church Nominating Committee is tasked to slate a list of candidates to serve as  leaders that will represent a diversity of age, perspective, tenure with the congregation, gender, spirituality style and personality. The leadership team is ideally designed to represent the whole of the congregation demographically. When you, as individual congregation members, see the photo of the board members, ideally you will see yourselves reflected in the decision-making team. 

When we get together as a leadership team, we seek to honor that diversity around the table, knowing that each person brings something different and valuable. Some of our eldest elders serve alongside people the ages of their children. Women and men sit next to each other. People who have joined the church in the last couple of years serve with others who grew up in this church. Thinkers and feelers, activists and contemplatives… all are colleagues together and honor one another. In their diversity they are unified in purpose, as together they seek the will of God for this church.

Another example: the new rain garden next to the parking lot is being planted with diversity. Lee Walsh showed me the diagram she created that shows all of the plants, the colors of their blooms and when they flower. They will be varying heights and attract different types of insects. We are honoring diversity in the design: many plants in one garden, unified in purpose: to improve the health, vitality and productivity of the space. 

What is God’s diversity? Is God inherently diverse: one presence yet composed of difference? Unified in purpose, yet multi-dimensional? Expressed and experienced in a variety of ways? 

Christians refer to God as Trinity: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit: three persons, one unified heart. It’s a confusing doctrine. We worship one God not three gods.

No matter how we describe it to our Muslim and Jewish colleagues, to them, it feels polytheistic. As polytheists, our Hindu colleagues think It makes perfect sense, until we insist we are montheistic. Our Buddhist colleagues think it’s just another way to describe the beautiful oneness of all. And we say God is transcendent above all, even as God is in all and through all.

In the end it’s a mystery and we take it on faith. And yet…

Honor God’s Diversity. What if, in this practice, instead of dismissing the Trinity as mystery, which it is, what if we intentionally explore the mystery… the diverse nature and character of God? 

In 2010, the PCUSA introduced a document for study throughout the churches called: The Trinity: God’s Love Overflowing. It was a project borne partly out of a frustration with the limitations of language and a faith steeped in the sins of patriarchy. 

How can children of abusive men find their way to the heart of a loving God only called Father? How can women and girls find themselves in a story that only talks about mankind, refers to masculine images of God and references God exclusively as He and Him – with capital “H”? And how can the family of faith enter into a deep and meaningful relationship with the Holy Spirit who is an “it”?

The Trinity document offered a range of options to explore in prayer and personal devotion… a wide diversity of metaphors and images for God plucked from the psalms and prophets. God is neither male nor female. God has no body and transcends gender. God’s intimacy toward us transcends any human category. 

John Calvin reminds us: “no figures of speech can describe God’s extraordinary affection towards us; for it is infinite and various.” We honor God’s diversity by expanding the language we use to talk to and about God and God’s children.

Ron Rienstra is the author of a book called Worship Words: Discipling Language for Faithful Ministry. In it, he shares a story about his conversion to inclusive language.

He was a student at Princeton Theological Seminary in the 1990’s. He listened to the arguments his fellow students made for gender-inclusive language. He didn’t get what the fuss was about.

Of course mankind included women. Of course saying Christ came to save all men didn’t only mean males!

Then he attended a chapel service led by courageous and creative leaders who introduced the service by saying: Throughout this entire service, all references to people will be feminine. This is only an experiment of course, they said. Please hear words like women and her with an implied asterisk: intended to include everyone. 

He rolled his eyes. Determined to fully participate in worship, he found he couldn’t. Every reference to woman and her was like a slap in the face, that said you’re not welcome here. When he heard the psalm: Blessed is the woman who walks not in the counsel of the wicked… When prayers were lifted for women preparing for ministry…  he did not feel included… did not feel prayed for.

He vowed to incorporate inclusive language whenever he led worship in the future.

Words matter. Honoring God’s diversity through more expansive language is hospitable… generous… and it may well heal broken hearts… may indeed welcome someone home to the embrace of God.

Listen with me to one of the verses we read this morning, offered in a few different translations: 

God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.

God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.

God created humankind in her image, in the image of God she created them.

God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them.

Do you hear the difference? Let’s be attentive to language and the way it includes and excludes… the way it honors and dishonors.

Honoring God’s diversity is about honoring the inherent diversity of God and about honoring God’s diverse design for the world. 

In his 180 page document, the 18-year-old Buffalo shooter included all kinds of dishonoring language about other human beings made in the divine image of God. It was anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-black, anti-other. 

An analysis done by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism concluded: The Buffalo shooters’ manifesto reflects a young white person who believes that their future has been compromised due to the mere presence of others. Simply by the existence of diversity in the world, he and his kind feel threatened… enough to take up arms.

Why is diversity said to be our greatest strength? He wrote, said throughout the media, spoken by politicians, educators and celebrities. But no one ever seems to give a reason why. What gives a nation strength? And how does diversity increase that strength?

What gives a nation strength? That’s one of the big debates of these days. Is it a muscular domination of others? Or is it dominion according to the heart of God? 

God said, “Let us make humanity in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.

That we are in a position to exercise power over the created world is true… this world in the fullness of her beauty and diversity, creativity and potential. The question is how will we?

Domination is the pursuit of self-interest. Dominion embodies the likeness and character of God as a faithful steward of power: with love, generosity, compassion, justice and mercy… caring for all… providing for all… blessing all.

I was planting my vegetable garden this week, and as I pulled living plants out by their roots to make way for the things I wanted to plant, I was reminded again that we hold the power over life and death in our hands every day. Our seedlings emerge from the earth and we thin them… we choose this one over that one. 

Honeysuckle and wild roses and thistle… phragmite and poison ivy… we put on our armor and yank and pull and poison and kill. Carpenter bees drill holes in our house made of wood and we hang mason jars to trap them until they suffocate. Woodchucks burrow under the ground into our garden and eat what we planted for ourselves and we trap and kill them. 

Honoring God’s diversity is confessional. It recognizes humility in the choices we make, and it acknowledges the ever greater need to learn more and understand more about the world around us and the life therein, that our choices will be responsible and bear even greater life.

May we be mindful in this practice, attentive to the image of God in others… all others. May we be thoughtful with our words, choosing wherever possible to be hospitable and inviting. May we go outside, into the garden or a park or under a tree in the backyard and read Genesis chapter 1, slowly and humbly, reflecting on the power that rests in our hands and how to faithfully exercise it with love. And in all things may God: creator, deliverer, comforter… midwife, healer, encourager… parent, preacher, prophet… lover, beloved, love… be honored.

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