FIRST LESSON: Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31
The concept of “Wisdom”, or Sophia (the Greek word for Wisdom) is a powerful Old Testament character. Usually depicted as a female (giving rise to some often really bad translations that struggle with that!), she is a figure of poetry, the principal of order in creation, the very personification of God’s own self. The Book of Proverbs is part of the writings that are known as “Wisdom Writings”, along with Ecclesiastes, Job, and the Song of Songs and often some of the Psalms. Also included are several of the deuterocanonical writings known as the Apocrypha to Protestants.
Oswald Chambers offered a summary of the five (including Psalms) Wisdom books from the canonical Old Testament. His claim was that the Book of Psalms teaches us how to pray; Proverbs teaches us how to act; Ecclesiastes teaches us how to enjoy; Song of Solomon teaches us how to love; and Job teaches us how to suffer. The Book of Proverbs presents many directives that almost sound merely like being good citizens, rather than people of faith. But there is a repeated refrain that “fear of the Lord” is the beginning of the way of righteous and faithful living. This refers not to actually being afraid of the Lord, per se, but rather holding a deep and abiding sense of reverence and awe unlike anything else.
This feminine imagery of God here is depicting not merely a female God but the aspect of a birthing God, one who, at the beginning of all that is, “brings forth” Creation. And, here, Lady Wisdom stands on the corner of life—for our purposes, the corner of Main and Binz—and cries out with a reminder for all. Essentially, she is telling us to pay attention, THIS IS GOD!!! In The Message, Eugene Peterson paraphrases it as “….Right in the city square where traffic is thickest, she shouts, “You—I’m talking to all of you—everyone out here on the streets.” A large part of the passage is Wisdom’s way of telling us how she came to be—created and birthed by God, nurtured and sustained, “nursed” if you will. She was God’s delight. What does that mean to be God’s delight, to be free enough to let oneself exist with God and just be—be and play and delight?
In this week when we celebrate and affirm the idea of a Trinitarian God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, or Birther, Nurser, and Companion, this passage could see Lady Wisdom as the Spirit, the very essence of God, pointing to God as Creator, God as birther, and God as redeemer, an over-abundance-showering, joyous God, who pours all of the Godself out for us and makes the Godself totally available to us—if only we will pay attention. Wisdom is a way of seeing differently, a way of seeing with the eyes and heart of God. Wisdom speaks to our hearts and our hearts must be filled with Wisdom to hear her. It is who we’re called to be. Think about it—our scientific name is “homo sapiens”. The Latin “homo” means human; the Latin “sapientia” means “wisdom”. We are meant to be “wise humans”, made in the image of Wisdom, made in the image of God. We are meant to be God’s delight.
Joan Chittister says it like this:
Clearly, wisdom is not a gift; wisdom is a task; wisdom costs. Wisdom calls us, the Scripture says, to know ourselves, to squeeze out of every moment in life whatever lessons it holds for us, whatever responses it demands at that time. It is wisdom that calls each of us to be everything we have the capacity to be. It is wisdom that is the internal force that drives us to become the fullness of ourselves. It goes without saying then that wisdom is not life lived at its most docile. It is, instead, life lived at its most demanding. Let those who seek wisdom, in others words, beware.
Scripture maintains that wisdom—which it defines in another place as “fear of the lord”—means holy astonishment, complete wonder and awe at what God does in my life and the life of everyone around me. Wisdom is the first thing God created, “The first of God’s acts long ago,” Scripture says. It is important beyond all telling, in other words. It is basic to life, fundamental to holiness, and full of unrelenting challenge…The real point of the reading lies in the fact that wisdom, if we seek it, is that which simply does not let us alone. Wisdom doesn’t settle down nor does it allow us to settle down. Wisdom leads us from one point to another in life until we learn what we’re supposed to learn, until we do what we’re supposed to do, until we each become what we’re supposed to become. With who and what we are Wisdom leads, prods, and will pursue us to our graves. Life—wisdom—is pursuing each of us, indeed sinking its teeth and nails into every one us, calling us to what the world calls madness, forcing us to mix the wines of our life…
“So now, O people, listen to me,” the Scripture pleads, “instruction and wisdom do not reject … for the one who finds me finds life…” As time goes by two things become more and more apparent: first, that life is a process, not a place. And secondly, that it is wisdom that leads us there.
“Holy One, what is the difference between knowledge and wisdom?” the disciple asked. And the Holy One answered: “When you have knowledge, you use a torch to show the way. When you are wise, you become the torch.”
Those who follow God down circuitous paths wherever life steers become a torch for others. It is that kind of wisdom each of us celebrates and each of us prays for in our own lives. The book of Proverbs reminds all of us again that life is a series of unending changes bred by the demands of our personal present and nourished by a faithful past for the sake of a faithful future. All of us who find the wisdom to follow God wherever God leads by paying attention to what we are learning at the present moment will somehow, somewhere finally find whatever it is that for us is fullness of life…(Sr. Joan Chittister, from “Wisdom: A Gift or a Task”, available at http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/chittister_4108.htm, accessed 26 May, 2010.)
1) What is your response to this passage?
2) What, for you is wisdom?
3) What does it mean for God to “delight” in you?
4) What meaning of the Trinitarian image of God does this bring about for you?
NEW TESTAMENT: Romans 5: 1-5
This section of Romans begins a section on what Paul called the “true humanity” of God’s people in Christ. There begins more of a focus on the connection that humanity has through Christ, rather than Jesus himself. Essentially it is about what follows once one is justified by faith.
The passage that we read focuses on a new relationship of love on both sides—both humans and God. So God’s justice has led to that perfect peace. (Keep in mind that this “perfect peace” is set in the midst of Rome, where August Caesar had established the Roman Pax, which sought to move in on the entire world.) Paul essentially takes the “motto of the day” and turns it toward belief in God’s coming peace. Paul focuses on this as a different kind of peace, one that places its hope in glory, but one that will include suffering as part of that larger hope. Paul maintains that we should indeed celebrate this suffering. He claims that suffering produces patience, which produces character. Indeed, suffering deepens hope.
This thought denies that idea of God having some sort of reward and punishment system (where suffering comes out BECAUSE one has not had the right relationship with God.) Instead, God enters our suffering with us. And being in a “right relationship” with God means that we embrace all that is God—even the God who stays in the midst of suffering. That is where we will find God. The point is that all of life is lived with God, so even in our suffering is hope.
Paul is essentially claiming that God can indeed make something out of nothing—or can make something wonderful out of something horrific. (Hey…didn’t God do that before?) God’s love has been poured out for all—even for those that have no hope. We no longer have to believe that God can only love perfect, Stepford Christians; God loves us all and it is probably true that the ones that know that the most are those that have felt the most hopeless. This is a hard concept to swallow. It is not that God wills us to suffer; it is that from our suffering God wills hope.
Here’s some additional thoughts by Barbara Brown Taylor (from When God is Silent, p. 72-73 and p. 33):
It is no coincidence, I think, that so much of the literature on the silence of God has been written by Jews. (The Exile of the Word: From the Silence of the Bible to the Silence of Auschwitz by Andre Neher; The Disappearance of God by Richard Elliott Friedman; In Speech and In Silence: The Jewish Quest for God by David Wolpe; The Eclipse of God by Martin Buber) Each of these writers is a Holocaust survivor, even if he never set foot in a camp. Each writes with the knowledge that the sky can grow dark with smoke from burning human bodies without so much as a whimper from God.
For some survivors, this knowledge has resulted in a relinquishment of God. For these particular writers, it has resulted more in what I would call a relinquishment of certain language about God. As Buber makes clear, a divine eclipse does not mean that God is dead, as rumor had it in the sixties. “An eclipse of the sun is something that occurs between the sun and our eyes,” he explains, “not in the sun itself.” He goes on to suggest that what blocks the sun from our eyes is the radical subjectivism of our age, in which our knowledge of God is limited by our language. As “pure Thouness,” he says, “God is not objectifiable. Words serve only as mute gestures pointing to the irreducible, ineffable dimension where God subsists.”…
In his poetic eulogy “The World of Silence,” the French philosopher Max Picard says that silence is the central place of faith, where we give the Word back to the God from whom we first received it. Surrendering the Word, we surrender the medium of our creation. We unsay ourselves, voluntarily returning to the source of our being, where we must trust God to say us once again.
1) What meaning does this passage hold for you?
2) What does that mean for you that suffering deepens hope? Why is that so hard for us to fathom?
3) There are many claims that those who do feel the deepest hopelessness also experience God in the most profound way. What do you think of this claim? How does that speak in your own life?
GOSPEL: John 16: 12-15
We have read many parts of what could be counted as Jesus’ “farewell discourse” in the Gospel According to John. Last week, we read of the promise of the coming Paraclete, the Advocate that would teach the disciples everything that they needed to know and remind them what Jesus had told them. Now the promise broadens a bit. The disciples are promised that they will be lead to all Truth, will speak what is to hear, and will announce to the disciples what is to come. Taken the wrong way, this almost sanctions a sort of “free for all” when it comes to Spirit proclamation. But, keep in mind, read in context, the Truth is not separated from Christ. Jesus embodied the Truth. Jesus embodied Wisdom. Jesus embodied the very essence that is God.
That’s the reason this doctrinal construction that we call the Trinity is so important. No, it’s not REALLY Scriptural. But it’s a good way of holding all of these things together, of making sure that “righteousness” and “right living” do not get separated and become some sort of elitist dangerous ploy to scare people into religion. That was never the intent. The Trinity is not a static, set rule of who God is. It is only an attempt to wrap our understandings around what has always been and what will always be a mystery. Our theology begins, continues, and ends with the inexhaustible mystery of God. A Roman Catholic bishop Christopher Mwoleka put it very well when he said that, “Christians have made the basic mistake of approaching the Trinity as a puzzle to be solved rather than as an example to be imitated.”
The Trinity is a model of mutuality. The parts cannot be separated. They are all part of the same thing—all aspects of the one and only God: God as Creator and Maker of Creation, God before us and over us; God incarnate as Jesus Christ, fully human, fully divine, God beside us; and the mutual love and Wisdom that is God breathed into our very lives, God beneath and within us, the Eternal lived through us and through the Church. The model denies any degree of subordination. God’s Spirit is poured out and offered to all. All act in concert with one another. THAT is the mystery of God. It is the divine community of being.
The truth is that we make it too complicated. St. Augustine explained it like this:
“A trinity is certainly what we are looking for, and not any kind of trinity either but the one that God is, the true and supreme and only God…Here you are then—when I who am engaged on this search love something, there are three: I myself, what I love, and love itself. For I do not love love unless I love it loving something, because there is no love where nothing is being love. So then there are three, the lover, and what is being loved, and love.” (from On The Trinity) (But without all of them, there is nothing.)
We’re not called to be right; we’re called to be righteousness. We’re called to enter Wisdom and become Truth. God is beckoning us to become Trinitarian—a model of mutual, self-giving love that by living for others and looking toward God, we find who we are supposed to be, we find that image of God that is created just for us. And that will truly be God’s delight.
1) What meaning does this passage hold for you?
2) What does the Trinity mean for you?
3) What does God as mystery mean for you?
Some Quotes for Further Reflection:
Any God whose existence can be proven is an idol. (Justo Gonzalez)
Only those who live beyond themselves ever become fully themselves. (Joan Chittister)
We must find out what part of the mystery [of God] it is ours to reflect. We all stay inside our comfort zone and pull everything down to our own level without God’s spirit. (Richard Rohr)
Thou who art over us,
Thou who art one of us,
Thou who art:
Give me a pure heart, that I may see thee;
a humble heart, that I may hear thee;
a heart of love, that I may serve thee;
a heart of faith, that I may abide in thee. Amen.
(Dag Hammerskjold, UMH # 392)