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 14B: Transcendent Bread

BreadinOven_croppedOLD TESTAMENT: 2 Samuel 18: 5-9, 15, 31-33

Read the Old Testament Lectionary Passage

Absalom is dead. The Kingdom is again secure and, yet, David pours out his grief. This is the anguished cry of a father who has lost his son. Absalom was known as David’s third son with Maachah, daughter of Talmai, King of Gershur. According to lore, he was David’s most beloved son. But surely he also sings out of guilt at the role he played in Absalom’s death. When he arranged the murder of Uriah, husband of Bathsheba, he consoled Joab, his partner in the crime, by saying that “the sword devours now one and now another”. Those words came back to haunt him when the prophet Nathan announced the consequence of David’s taking of Bathsheba: “the sword shall never depart from your house”. Nathan’s words have come painfully true, and David has borne ongoing responsibility for them.

David served as a kind of accomplice when his son Amnon raped Absalom’s sister, Tamar. Even after the rape he did nothing to punish his son. Absalom seethed at this injustice. Eventually he set a trap and killed Amnon. Then he fled, and David refused to see him until Joab and a wise woman from Tekoa worked a kind of reconciliation. Shortly after this moment of reconciliation, though, Absalom started positioning himself to supplant David as king. He won the favor of the people, ascended to the throne, and then continued his war against his father, raping his father’s concubines in full public view. David’s beloved son had turned against him.

David’s guilt comes from his role in these larger processes of violence. And yet, he did beg for a gentler handling of Absalom. What would it mean to “deal gently” with the young man? Would it mean to capture him alive? To let him go? To kill him quickly and painlessly? David’s words are open-ended, and Joab does not necessarily misinterpret them when he leads a gang of men in executing Absalom. David has a history of speaking in a code that only Joab can understand. When David wants Bathsheba’s husband killed, he sends a cryptic note to Joab. Joab knows what to do.

The story of David and Absalom (like many stories) can be looked upon as a kind of mirror to society. As this story shows, rivalry often drives humans to destroy one another, even those to which they are related, and we often bring others down with us. In fact, this family argument turned into an out and out slaughter between armies. Usually our grief and guilt linger just under the surface, festering and unnamed. Acknowledging this grief and guilt is difficult, because its exposure threatens so much of how we understand ourselves and the meaning of our lives. Once again, David’s power had been threatened and once again he chose to deal with it in a violent and murderous way.

The image of Absalom hanging “between heaven and earth” is interesting. Walter Brueggemann sees it as a depiction of a sort of liminal status: “Absalom is suspended between life and death, between the sentence of a rebel and the value of a son, between the severity of the king and the yearning of the father. He is no longer living, because he is utterly vulnerable, but he is not dead.” (Brueggemann, Interpretation: First and Second Samuel, 319)  It is the story of us all.  We live suspended between brokenness and wholeness, between sinfulness and the very image of God in which we were created, between who we are and who we are meant to be.  But, in the midst of it all, is the God who both judges us and saves us.  And it’s a good reminder that there are no absolute victories in this world.  We are all winners and all losers.  We are children of God but children with limitations.  Maybe loss reminds us of our deep need for God, of our deep need for true redemption and restoration.

 

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What do you think of David’s show of grief over Absalom? What did guilt have to do with that?
  3. What does this say about human nature and about how we treat each other?
  4. How does this speak to our win-lose culture? Is there a positive side to failure?
  5. How does this passage speak to redemption and hope?

 

NEW TESTAMENT: Ephesians 4: 25-5:2

Read the Lectionary Epistle Passage

The verses leading up to this passage, which are not part of the lectionary, calls the Ephesian converts to discard their old nature and don a new one. Beginning with the part that we read this week, the author of the epistle insists that we need to speak truth because we actually are all part of one another. Not speaking truth to each other is the same as not speaking the truth to ourselves, and vice versa. Throughout the passage, the author sets up contrasts: avoid destructive behaviors and do edifying ones. Discard spiritual clutter. To imitate God, only one thing is needful: kenotic love, the love that sacrifices for the good of others.

In all honesty, this passage contains exhortations that resemble moral prescriptions that are present throughout the world’s religions and cultures. But if we read it as merely a “morality check” or a sappy vision of all of us singing “Kum ba yah”, we have missed the point. This is not just a vision of good behavior. Rather, the author wants the Ephesians to make the connection between this new life in Christ and these new behaviors. This is deeper. It is about being rather than doing. Essentially, we are called to BE something different now. No longer can we dismiss our shortcomings as “only human”. Being fully human, becoming Christ-like, means entering that love of humanity itself, a love that exists in the midst of our diversity and even in the midst of our disagreements. That is the way we show our love for God. Ephesians immerses us in truthfulness and Truth. Truthfulness is necessary for pure love in Christ.

Notice that the writer doesn’t say “don’t get angry” but, rather not to sin when one is angry. In other words, don’t let it get away from you. Anger has its place. It can effect change or improvement. It can effect justice. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that “to ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.” Perhaps it gives us the reminder to deal with our anger in a loving, but truthful, way and not let it get away from us. The passage does not call for us to BE God, to be perfect; the passage calls for us to imitate God, to BE the image of God that is revealed for each of us. Maybe even conflict somehow reveals that for us. We just can’t let it change us into something that we’re not meant to be.

 

  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. What does this passage say to you about truthfulness and truth?
  3. What about anger? Is there such a thing as “righteous anger”?
  4. What does this have to do with discarding the old nature (or even our old views)?
  5. What does it mean for you to imitate God?

 

GOSPEL: John 6: 35, 41-51

Read the Lectionary Gospel Passage

This week’s reading begins with the final verse from last week’s reading: “I am the bread of life…” The emphasis through John’s Gospel is essentially on eternal life, but this is not merely living forever, but, rather living in connection, in the household of God the eternal. It is about sharing in God’s life. While much of John’s Gospel tends to almost sound anti-Semitic, it reflects on the relationship with God and the shedding of one’s old life. (And to be honest, this should not be read as “The Jews”; rather this was a particular group in a particular time. It would be no different than someone referring to a fundamentalist right wing notion of Christianity as “The Christians”.)

The idea of the Gospel was that everyone inherits eternal life, this sharing in God’s life. Sticking to the old rules, sticking to the old boundaries will not get us there. It is more about newness than about wrongness. It is about transcendence. Jesus challenges the people to let go of wanting a God who can give them what they need and to create space for something more. He urges them to let go of the image of God that they have created. He invites them to take on his values as the bread of life. If prayer is only focused on needs, there will be no space to be drawn to God.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta tells of how she came across a Hindu family in India that had not eaten for days. She took them a small amount of rice. She was very surprised at what happened when she did so. Very quickly the mother of the family had divided the rice into two halves. Then she took half of it to the family next door, which happened to be a Muslim family. Mother Teresa asked, “How could you have any left over? There are many of you.” The woman simply replied. “But they have not eaten for days either!” “That” says Mother, “takes greatness. Her greatness consisted in her ability to transcend her own need, a greatness that is often found in the most extraordinary places.”

In a sermon on this text, Rev. Dr. Wiley Stephens says this:

The way we view the world can limit our horizons or expand them to eternity. The crowd that surrounded Jesus in our Gospel lesson in John became angry at what they perceived as arrogance, if not blasphemy, on his part. How dare he call himself the bread of life? The way they saw him–wasn’t this the kid that grew up down the street? Was he not the same one I used to have to run home when it was supper time? You know, the one who was so smart. Wasn’t this that carpenter Joseph’s son? How can he satisfy us? Do you remember that time he got lost in Jerusalem? How is he making such a claim? After all, he is one of us…

If they had seen more than the carpenter’s son, they might have heard the depth of the good news, but when we limit our world to what we know or have experienced, we can miss the vastness of God’s grace. Karl Barth wrote, “Were we to hear only of a god who measures up to our rule and is able to do what we can also do for ourselves without him, what need have we of such a god? Whenever the church has told man of such a tiresome little god it has grown empty. That radical daring, our yearning for the living God, will not be denied. (Rev. Wiley Stevens, “Living in Love”, August 10, 2003, available at http://day1.org/503-living_in_love, accessed 8 August, 2012)

But, when you think about it, bread is pretty basic, pretty ordinary. Maybe that’s why Jesus used it. After all, all it takes is a little flour, a little salt, a little water, and a little yeast. It’s just ordinary. (Although, a buttery cinnamon swirl never hurt anyone, right?) Every culture has bread in some form. People have been baking bread for 6,000 years. That’s the point. There’s nothing out of this world about it. It’s here. Flour, salt, water, and yeast—all ordinary offerings of the earth—vegetation, sea, water, and fungal microorganisms. Nothing is too big or too small for God. Eternal life is not something that is “out there” for us when we get to the end of what we know. It is here, right under our noses, the very ordinary offerings of life made sacred by the Presence of God. Here, now…right now…no waiting, no wondering, just something that requires that we step out of where we are.

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. Once again, what does the term “I am the Bread of Life” mean for you?
  3. What is the dfference between a “needs-based” faith and a “God-centered” faith?
  4. How does our view of “eternal life” change or affect our understanding of God?
  5. What stands in the way of our own transcendence, of our own seeking God?

 

 

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

We must love them both, those whose opinions we share, and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in the finding of it. (Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274)

Good and evil, then, cannot be a pair of opposites like right and left or above and beneath. “Good” is the movement in the direction of home, “evil” is the aimless whirl of human potentialities without which nothing can be achieved and by which, if they take no direction but remain trapped in themselves, everything goes awry. (Martin Buber, 1878-1965)

 

At the age of ninety-three, the cellist Pablo Casals explained how, for the past eighty years, he had started each day in the same manner. He went to the piano and he played two preludes and fugues of Bach: ‘It is a sort of benediction on the house. But that is not its only meaning. . . . It is rediscovery of the world in which I have a joy of being a part. It fills me with awareness of the wonder of life, with a feeling of the incredible marvel of being human.” (Pablo Casals)

 

Closing

 

Only this:  That I may never hunger for that which is not your bread.  Amen.

(Jan Richardson, In Wisdom’s Path, 118.)