Trinity C: 3 X 1 = ONE

Celtic TrinityFIRST LESSON:  Proverbs 8: 1-4, 22-31

To read the passage from Proverbs

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

To read the passage from Romans

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

To read the Gospel passage

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 led 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 loved.  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)

 

 

Closing

 

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)

 

Proper 19B: Unconventional Reality

crossing-the-roadOLD TESTAMENT: Proverbs 1: 20-33

Read the Old Testament Lectionary passage

We continue with readings from the Hebrew Wisdom Book of Proverbs. Wisdom literature is often a little odd for us to read because it doesn’t really mention God. In fact, oftentimes, God appears to be absent completely. But we need to remember and understand that at its very core, Wisdom literature presupposes and recognizes that God is the source of everything. Essentially, God IS wisdom, the source of us all. Wisdom is not merely a moral code or a list of prescribed principles. That would limit its significance for human beings. Wisdom, rather, is present in all of Creation, the work of God. The elusive quality of Wisdom is grasped only by God, the source of it all.

The Biblical roots of Sophia go back to the personification of Wisdom (chokmah in Hebrew, Sophia in Greek) that we read in our Scripture today. Wisdom as a Woman draws us to God as the source, womb, and nurturer of all life.

Here, Wisdom appears in symbolic form as a woman who is an active and assertive force in humanity. The woman is at times an angry prophet at the end of her rope decrying the way we humans neglect to pay attention to the world around us and continue to go on down a path that we have ourselves created. Here, the images of the simple, as opposed to the wise, are those who are foolish, who instead choose to ignore Truth as it is presented. Essentially, it is a warning to those who think they have it all figured out. It is a warning that there are consequences for failing to live aware of Truth in our lives. She warns of death to the foolish, to those who choose not to live and follow wisdom, and life for the wise.

Wisdom is not a compilation of things learned and known.  And while knowledge and intellect are helpful things in gaining wisdom, greater knowledge does not necessarily increase one’s wisdom.  Wisdom is not gained.  It is, rather, lived and pursued.  It comes from an openness to exploration of all that life holds, of all the gifts that God has given us. Lady Wisdom warns us here not to miss that which God offers because we think we have it all figured out or because we are so distracted by the ways of the world.

We read the words, “Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice.”  The Jewish midrash tradition (midrash meaning, literally, “what comes between”) from Sefer Ha-Aggadah tells of Rabbi Judah, a Patriarch, who forbade his students to teach Torah in the hustle and bustles of the marketplace.  When one of his disciples taught his nephews outside, his teacher was upset.  When the disciple found out that his teacher was upset, he stayed away for thirty days.  When he came again to see his teacher, the elder rabbi asked why his student had ignored his prohibition to teach Torah outside.  The student answered that Proverbs says that wisdom cries aloud in the streets.  His teacher retorted, “You have read the passage once but not twice.  Or perhaps you have read it twice but not three times.  Or, if you have read it three times, then you have not understood it properly.  When Proverbs says that, it means that wisdom will proclaim the good deeds in the street of the one who studies Torah inside.

Essentially, Wisdom is the “something else” that we all crave in the deepest part of our being, that longed for connection with the very Source of Being, the God who Created us and moves through our life beckoning us toward the Image of God that is already in us.

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What for you is wisdom?
  3. How do we usually think of wisdom is our world?
  4. What lesson do you think this passage has for us in our society?

 

 

NEW TESTAMENT: James 3: 1-12

Read the Lectionary Epistle passage

As we discussed last week, the Epistle of James continues giving advice and exhortations for good and righteous living. Here, the writer is speaking about words and the way we use words for communication. Essentially, it is about “bridling” your tongue. The issue is not about making errors but rather about how and what we communicate. At a deeper level, it is asking us to look at the base or foundation from which our communication comes. It is about how we relate to others.

As the metaphor implies, we essentially control our direction. It is a spirituality of getting some basics right in order to avoid dissonance and disunity. “Taming our tongue” is more than just being tactful. It points to who and what we really are. We are what we communicate and we exist in relationship to others. Mistreatment of others runs contrary to the attitude of God, it is against the wisdom of God. It is the wisdom of realizing that we must become and must be a whole person.

The writer claims that even as small as the tongue is compared to the whole body, it has the power to steer the entire being into a different direction. With our words, we name the world and each other, and in some sense we create a genuine reality. Once our speech takes hold, it has power for either good or evil. It can exclude or embrace, heal or humiliate, lift up or tear down.

This an interesting passage to read in light of what goes on in our world today. We read of bullying by children toward their classmates. We know that there is bullying in the workplace, when one who has power inflicts that power in force (whether physically or emotionally) rather than wielding power as a creative and life-giving force. And in the midst of this campaign year, we know that the rhetoric that we hear is anything but conducive to good human relations. There are often times when our speech and our words in this world and society are indeed toxic.

Words are powerful things. They can harm, incite violence, wound, and inflict deep and sometimes irreparable pain. But they can also heal and soothe, comfort, and bring life. The Epistle of James includes the longest passage in the Bible about the role of speech in our lives. The truth is, our words cannot be separated from our being. They exhibit our true character, our true self. Maybe that is why the silences between them are so important. Words unchecked become toxic. Life-giving words are balanced by listening, by thinking, by silence. It’s hard to hear that in this passage. We take it more as the writer’s somewhat austere exhortation to watch what we say. And as members of a society that proudly practices freedom of speech, it almost flies in the face of what we believe. But with great freedom comes great responsibility. So what is our responsibility with that freedom? What is our responsibility with those words?

And yet, perhaps implicit in the message is also the call to listening, to contemplation, and to silence.   Perhaps it is the call to create space between our words and let the Word of God breathe into them. Because even though we have a hard time realizing it, silence is as much a part of speech as words. Maybe it is a call to a balance between speaking and listening, between words and silences. Maybe it is a call to allow them to feed each other.

 

  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. What power do you think what we say has on others? What about on ourselves?
  3. Is there such a thing as “good gossip”?
  4. What does this have to say about wisdom?
  5. What is your feeling about silence?

GOSPEL: Mark 8: 27-38

Read the Lectionary Gospel passage

This passage is often seen as a turning point in the Gospel According to the writer known as Mark. It signals a recognition and a confession that Jesus is the Messiah. But apparently that is not enough. Attributing status to Jesus, even adoration of Jesus, is focusing on human ways. The point is to focus on God’s ways.

It is not unlike what we talked about in the Proverbs passage. Peter knows and acknowledges that Jesus is the Messiah. But he really did not grasp the full meaning of what that entailed. Understanding Jesus as the Messiah is about much more than following Jesus’ teachings. After all, as we have seen, Jesus was not a typical “rule follower”. It also means to let go of the life that we have created for ourselves and to embody the wisdom, the source of us all, the Word made flesh, the very essence of Christ.

So Peter got it right in form, but wrong in substance. He rejects the idea that Jesus would not prove to be a success in this world. He misses the concept that Jesus is part of another way, another type of wisdom. Following Jesus is not done for gain or to get ahead in this world. It is not the “right” thing to do. Following Jesus is about realizing where God exists and where God calls us to be. But Peter was still living in the tradition of the return of a David-like king, a mighty conquering hero. He had an image of who Jesus was—it was just the wrong one. He was following the Jesus of Peter’s image rather than the Jesus who was God Incarnate.

But we are probably just as guilty. Much of our commitment is about doing what we should be doing so that God will do certain things for us. As Wiley Stephens says though, “Jesus is not your therapist; he has come to be your Savior, the Messiah, not to soothe your pain.” There is danger in trying to hold onto that which cannot be held. There is joy in finding the greater way when we finally let it go. And the only way to figure out which way to go is to realize that we have to look at things differently. Take up thy cross and follow me.

Marcus Borg talks about two types of wisdom.  One he calls “Conventional” wisdom, which describes the mainstream or dominant “voice” of a culture—essentially what everyone knows–and the other he calls “Subversive”, which is from a different path outside of the mainstream.  It involves heading in a different direction, toward a different reality than conventional ways.

Conventional wisdom provides guidance on how to live.  It’s pretty much based on a typical system of rewards and punishments.  If you do right, if you act right, you’ll get good things; if you don’t, bad things will happen to you.  In this type of wisdom, living well is the best revenge.  Conventional wisdom creates the world in which we live.  There are rules and instructions and a call to “measure up” to a life of requirements.  Conversely, “Subversive” wisdom is a world of paradox and reversal of the norm.  Think about it…what kind of world is it where outcasts are invited in as heroes, where long lost children who have squandered their family’s inheritance are welcomed back, where wealth and power is possibly seen as a source of idolatry, and where death is life?  This is certainly different from the world in which we live.  This subversive wisdom is the wisdom of Christ, the wisdom of God.  Remember, Jesus didn’t walk this earth so that we could be handed a list of rules.  Jesus came that we might live.  But “if any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

Jesus did not teach wisdom; Jesus did not give us a “how to guide to Wisdom”; rather, Jesus showed us the way to become it.  It’s about incarnation, about being.  Jesus was the incarnation of the Word, the embodiment of the Wisdom of God, and called us to follow down the same path.

There is a wisdom story of a traveler who came upon three masons cutting stone.  Curious as to what the workers were doing with the stones, he asked the first worker, “What are you doing with these stones?” Without hesitation the worker quickly responds, “I am a stone cutter and I am cutting stones.” Not satisfied with this answer, the traveler approached the second worker and asked, “What are you doing with these stones?” The second worker paused for a moment and then explained, “I am a stone cutter and I am trying to make enough money to support my family.” Having two different answers to the same question, the traveler made his way to the third worker. The would-be philosopher asked the third worker, “What are you doing with these stones?” The third worker stopped what he was doing, bringing his chisel to his side. Deep in thought, the worker slowly gazed toward the traveler and shared, “I am a stone cutter and I am building a cathedral!

There is truly always something more. Life is not the simple thing that we have allowed it to be, living by a set of rules within our limited understanding of God. It is something much, much more glorious. The way of wisdom invites us to look at life differently, to walk a different path, and to follow Christ. Several years ago, popular religious culture told us to ask ourselves the question, “What would Jesus do?” The interesting thing is that the answer is probably not the one that we would ever imagine. Perhaps a better question, then, is “What would Wisdom do?” After all, I’m thinking that’s the way that Christ was probably trying to get us to go anyway.

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. In what ways do you identify with Peter?
  3. What is it that you need to let go of in order to truly follow Christ?
  4. What does it mean to “take up your cross”?

 

 

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

The beginning of wisdom is found in doubting; by doubting we come to the question, and by seeking we come upon the truth (Pierre Abelard, 14th century)

A [person] who won’t die for something is not fit to live. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

 

He became what we are that [God] might make us what he is. (Athanasius, 4th century)

 

 

Closing

 

Here in this place new light is streaming,

Now is the darkness vanished away,

See in this space our fears and our dreamings

Brought here to You in the light of this day.

 

Gather us in the lost and forsaken,

Gather us in the blind and the lame;

Call to us now and we shall awaken,

We shall arise at the sound of our name.

 

We are the young our lives are a mystery,

we are the old who yearn for your face.

We have been sung throughout all of history,

Called to be light to the whole human race.

 

Gather us in the rich and the haughty

Gather us in the proud and the strong,

Give us a heart so meek and so lowly,

Give us the courage to enter the song.

 

Here we will take the wine and the water,

Here we will take the bread of new birth,

Here you shall call your sons and your daughters,

Call us anew to be salt for the earth.

 

Give us to drink the wine of compassion,

Give us to eat the bread that is you;

Nourish us well and teach us to fashion,

lives that are holy and hearts that are true.

 

Not in the dark of buildings confining,

Not in some heaven light years away,

But here in this place the new light is shining,

Now is the Kingdom, now is the day.

 

Gather us in and hold us forever,

Gather us in and make us your own;

Gather us in all peoples together,

fire of love in our flesh and our bones.

 

(Marty Haugen, “Gather Us In”, (1982, GIA Publications), The Faith We Sing, # 2236)