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)

 

Lent 5C: Meeting Jesus Now

mary-anoints-jesusOLD TESTAMENT: Isaiah 43: 16-21

To read the Old Testament passage

This passage centers on the promise that God is going to do a new thing and calls Israel (and us) to be on the lookout for the fulfillment of that promise. In our culture, we are continually bombarded with predictions of the “end of the world”, warning of a time to come that is filled with gloom and despair. But, really, how can you read this text and fall into such a look at the future? The crux is that God is indeed going to do a new thing. It will be a time when the former things will not be considered, a time when all of Creation will come together and finally be the Creation that God had formed from the beginning. It is a message of hope, rather than gloom and despair.

But implicit in this passage is the call to look for these things, to make oneself aware of what is to come. In The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann reminds us (when talking of this message to Israel) that “they will have no joy, no public justice, no corporate repentance, and no family humaneness until the community received a newness it cannot generate for itself.” It is a call, then, to look to God, to look to what God promises and what God is doing and not try to “fix” it ourselves.

Here, the passage begins with a reminder of what God has done and then, as if immediately, the hearer is told to forget about those things, to not dwell on what did or did not happen, to let it go. Perhaps what is about to come will be so much better than what we presently see that it will indeed make us forget the “former things”.

Remember the background of the context of this passage. This chapter is the fourth chapter in what we have come to call “Second Isaiah”. The time is probably the end of the exile, the end of a time of great communal loss and despair and one that is definitely shaping their identity and how they see God. At this point, they had lost everything—homes, land, their way of making a living, even their very sense of who they were before God and as a people. They couldn’t help but ask questions that still reverberate for us today: Where was God? Why had God let this happen? What kind of future did we really have waiting? But into this despair, God comes and promises hope. It is a reminder to them and to us that God is always there, whether or not we are in a position to be aware of God’s presence. In Feasting on the Word, Kristin Johnson Largen says that “From this verse, we know that Isaiah’s message to God’s people will be a word of encouragement, a word of consolation, and, most importantly, a word of hope, and from the thirty-nine chapters that preceded [Second Isaiah], we know that it comes to a people in dire need of a good word from the Lord. No wonder the great Hebrew scholar Abraham Heschel calls the proclamation of Second Isaiah ageless, saying “No words have ever gone further in offering comfort when the sick world cries.”” (Kristen Johnston Largen, Feasting on the Word, Year C., Volume 2, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., “Fifth Sunday in Lent” (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 122-124.)

God is indeed a God of new life. It is our own call to look beyond the past and dare to hope, dare to believe in the restoration of life and of Creation that God has promised. We Christians sort of have a “hind sight” view of the recreation that God can do. We Lenten journeyers who walk toward the cross this season know how the story turns out. It is our own call to let the past go and to open the tombs of our lives…if nothing else, just to see what God can do, just to see what wonderful surprises God has in store for us. It is a call to open our eyes so that we don’t miss the signs of resurrection that are everywhere. It is a call to “come and see this thing that has happened”.

 

  • What is your response to this passage?
  • What things in our lives make it difficult to be hopeful?
  • In this Season of Lent, when we walk to journey to the Cross, what message of personal hope does that mean for us?
  • What signs of recreation, of “resurrection”, if you will, do you see in Creation when you allow yourselves?
  • How does this speak to you in the midst of this Lenten journey?

 

 

NEW TESTAMENT: Philippians 3:4b-14

To read the Epistle passage

This passage begins with Paul boasting about his own life and his own self. In fact, he sort of presents his resume’, as if he is quashing any readers or onlookers who might consider themselves above him. And then, just as quickly, he deflates himself. He essentially now claims that whatever good (or bad) that he’s done in the past is nothing in terms of his knowing Christ. We need to understand that Paul is not tossing away his past. He still claims it—good and bad. It is part of who he is. But he uses it to put it all in perspective. For him, the things that he valued in the past are no longer as important to him. (And the things that he regretted in his past are no longer in his way either.)

Paul now realizes that whoever and whatever he claims to be is because of God through Christ. The promise of new life is what now urges him forward in his journey. He, admittedly, is not there but he sees his journey as one of faith and one of life with Christ. This also sort of disputes those who claim that the “prize”, the “goal”, the “reward”—whatever they choose to call it—is because of who they are or what they’ve done. According to Paul, it is nothing WE do; rather, it is something that God does for us. Our journey, then, is a journey of faithfulness in the hope that God has promised.

This is also a treatise on faith itself. Paul would claim that blindly following rules of the religion is not what brings one closer to God. That would be a belief that loses perspective, that lets the rules and the understandings get in the way of one’s faith. Paul is not claiming that he is better than others because he is better-versed in the faith; if anything, he is disputing that very claim.

In this Lenten season, we are called to strip ourselves of those things that get in the way of our faith, that impede us on our journey toward that oneness with God. Paul is reminding us that included in that is a call to let go of our past, let go of the “I” that we’ve built ourselves up to be, and let go of the understandings that frame how we view God. It is a call to open ourselves to God’s movement in our lives and God’s guidance on this journey that we call faith. We’re all in this together. We’re all the same, journeying toward God, guided by God, thirsting for God. Tony Campolo tells this story in one of his online sermons:

Where do you meet Jesus? Well, first of all I contend you meet Jesus in suffering people. If you look deeply into the eyes of suffering people, you will have this eerie awareness that the same Jesus that died on the cross is staring back at you. Mother Teresa learned that, and I’m learning that.

I was walking down the street in Philadelphia and a bum came towards me. I mean a dirty, filthy guy. He was covered with soot from head to toe. You couldn’t believe how messed up he was. He had this huge beard and there was rotted food stuck in the beard. As he approached me, he held out a cup of McDonald’s coffee and said, “Hey mister, want some of my coffee?” I looked at his dirty, filthy personhood and said, “Thanks, but that’s okay,” and I walked by him. The minute I passed him, I knew I was doing the wrong thing, so I turned around and said, “Excuse me. I would like some of your coffee.” I took some of the coffee and sipped it and gave it back to him. I said, “You’re being generous. How come you’re being so generous today?” And this bum looked at me and he said, “Because the coffee was especially delicious today and I think that when God gives you something good, you ought to share it with people.” I didn’t know how to handle that, so I said, “Can I give you anything?” I thought that he would hit me for five dollars. He said, “No.” Then he said, “Yeah, yeah. I’ve changed my mind, there is something you can give me. You can give me a hug.” As I looked at him, I was hoping for the five dollars! He put his arms around me and I put my arms around him. And as I in my establishment dress and he in his filthy garb hugged each other on the street, I had the strange awareness that I wasn’t hugging a bum, I was hugging Jesus. I found Jesus in that suffering man.

Whenever you meet a suffering person, you will find that Jesus is there waiting to be loved in that individual. That’s why Jesus said, “In as much as ye do it unto the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do it unto me.” You cannot reach out to a person in need, you cannot embrace somebody who’s hurting, you cannot minister to somebody who is in desperate straits without having that eerie and wonderful awareness that Jesus is coming back at you right through that person. If there is anything that Mother Teresa would have taught us, that’s what she would have taught us. (Tony Campolo, “Knowing God”, 30 Good Minutes, October 26, 1997, available at http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/campolo_4104.htm, accessed 17 March, 2010.)

 

 

  • What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  • What are the things that we today hold out as “better”, those things that make up who we are and perhaps get in the way of our relationship with God?
  • The first century “boundary marker” for faith was circumcision? What is our twenty-first century “boundary marker for our faith?
  • Are there things on your “resume’” that make faith a challenge for you?
  • What happens to us and our relationships when we let things like that come into play?
  • How does this speak to you in the midst of this Lenten journey?

 

 

GOSPEL: John 12: 1-8

To read the Gospel passage

The Gospel passage occurs in all four canonical Gospels. But it is never told the same way twice, illustrating once again that the Bible was not written as an historical narrative but rather a way to connect us to God and to each other. The Gospel writers place the event at different times and the woman herself is not always named. But the fact that costly perfume is extravagantly poured on Jesus is always the same.

This passage from the writer that we know as John (which is also read on Monday of Holy Week every year) follows the raising of Lazarus in Chapter 11. Lazarus, Martha and Mary’s brother, had died and Jesus raised him. It marks a turning point of the Gospel. This would be the last straw. It is the event that marks Jesus for death. It’s really unclear whether or not Lazarus and his family knew that. It’s probable that neither they nor the disciples did. But Martha and Mary are so grateful for what Jesus has done and so glad to have Lazarus back, that they invite him to dinner. They pull out all the stops—best dishes, best linens, and cook up a feast. In the midst of the celebration, Mary rises and gathers a jar of expensive oil. Pure nard WOULD have been worth an awful lot of money in that time. It was hard to come by and was reserved to anoint the deceased. You could speculate that the oil has been purchased for the preparation of Lazarus’ body. She breaks the seal and pours it out extravagantly over Jesus’ feet. The fragrance filled the house. She then, of all things, unbinds her hair (improper in mixed company) and wipes her hair over Jesus’ feet.

Well, it was too much for the disciples. They claim that the oil could have been sold and the money given to the poor. In other words, it is as if they were claiming that Mary was wasting the oil by pouring it on Jesus’ feet! The truth was that Mary got it. With deep gratefulness and deep love, she anointed Jesus for his death. Perhaps she knew what was to come. Perhaps she understood it as a distinct possibility. And in the anointing, she, too, enters the Passion narrative. She understood what it meant for Jesus to be sitting there. She did not worry about rules, or what was right, or what was proper. She gave herself over to being truly present in this moment with Jesus.

I’ve often thought that some of the language used or implied here is telling. Mary took…and poured…and wiped…(Sound familiar? Later, Jesus would take the bread, pour the wine, and wipe the feet of the disciples.) Her act was not, of course, a sacrament; but it WAS sacramental. She understood and entered the love that was Christ. She made that love visible (an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace”, so to speak).   She became part of Jesus’ journey to the cross. And in that moment, the house becomes a cathedral and the meal becomes a Eucharist in memory of the living Christ.

Where do we find ourselves in this story? Jesus has begun the walk to the cross. Are we standing on the sidelines watching the events unfold as if it is some sort of prepared video stream? Are we holding back those things we have because the cost is just too great? Or are we waiting to see what the person next to us will do? Each of us is called to take, to pour, and to wipe. Each of us is called to become a living sacrament of Christ’s love. Each of us is called to walk with Christ to the cross. Each of us is called to embody that close a relationship with the living Christ. Each of us is called to see, to hear, to smell, to touch, to feel, to laugh, and to love with the depth and passion of Christ. Because, you see, that is the only way to experience that lingering fragrance of Christ that is still in the air.

 

  • What meaning does this hold for you?
  • What does it mean for you to live a sacramental life or be a living sacrament of Christ’s love?
  • What does being “truly present” mean to you?
  • What does this mean for you on your Lenten journey?

 

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

“Theologically, I don’t think you can see the future. Traditional Judaism sees that as arrogance—it’s like picking God’s pocket.” (Dan Wakefield, Creating From the Spirit)

 

If you own something you cannot give away, then you don’t own it, it owns you. (Albert Schweitzer)

 

All action ends in passion because the response to our action is out of our hands. That is the mystery of work, the mystery of love, the mystery of friendship, the mystery of community…And that is the mystery of Jesus’ love. God reveals [Godself] in Jesus as the one who waits for our response. (Henri J.M. Nouwen, ”From Action to Passion”)

 

Closing

 

There is a long list of threats around us: terror, cancer, falling markets, killing, others unlike us in all their variety, loneliness, shame, death—the list goes on and we know it well. And in the midst of threats of every kind, you appear among us in your full power, in your deep fidelity, in your amazing compassion. You speak among us the one word that could matter: “Do not fear.”

 

And we, in our several fearfulnesses, are jarred by your utterance. On a good day, we know that your sovereign word is true. So give us good days by your rule, free enough to rejoice, open enough to change, trusting enough to move out of new obedience, grace enough to be forgiven and then to forgive.

 

We live by your word. Speak it to us through the night, that we may have many good days through your gift. Amen. (Walter Brueggemann, Prayers for a Privileged People, (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2008), 83.)