Texts: Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
Imagine for a few moments that you are at a party. It’s a summer party on a warm evening with many guests: a diverse crowd spread out in a generous space. There are people in the garden, people by the pool, a few others standing near a well-laid table, precariously balancing laden plates and cups. Everyone seems engaged in earnest discussion and as you make your way further into the party snatches of conversation reach your ears.
In one group a woman is speaking as others listen attentively. Perhaps she is a writer, her voice is measured and rhythmic. As you wander past, her cadences slow to a stop and there is an extended and appreciative pause before the others begin to respond with thoughtful comments and questions.
In another group there is energetic chatter, but one man in particular seems to be making a rather impassioned defense of an idea. It’s something about peace, and suffering. Is he a lawyer or a politician? He’s emphatic, that’s for sure. You don’t have the context of the group’s discussion, but you get the sense that people in this group know each other rather well.
This is an impressive party indeed. It’s a collision of people, ideas, experiences, and thoughts. The table is laden with foods both familiar and strange. You could go home afterwards reveling in a night of deep conversation and sumptuous food or overwhelmed with a headache and terrible indigestion.
Welcome to the Trinity Sunday party! It’s a celebration of God who is One. And yet, also Three.
The poet at the party is the psalmist in full praise of God as cosmic Creator. Psalm 8 is among the most often memorized, recited, and studied of the psalms. Not long ago the Society of Biblical Literature asked scholars not to propose a paper on Psalm 8 for the annual gathering, because so many have been presented over the years. And we can see why. It is a beautiful and lyric part of scripture.
The emphatic man is Paul speaking to the Roman Christians about the power of faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Faith is their path to God’s grace and glory. With faith, nothing can stand between them and God’s love which the disciples once knew through intimate friendship with Jesus and the Christians of Rome now know in their hearts through God’s Holy Spirit.
Proverbs is here too, introducing us to Wisdom with language and imagery that defies easy categorization. Wisdom is feminine spirit, and older than the hills, quite literally. Yet Wisdom is a master craftsman, a masculine reference.
Was Wisdom created by God? It’s not so straightforward. The phrase “brought forth” In the Hebrew text of verse 22 can also be rendered: “The Lord acquired me before his works of old...” Depending on how verse 30 is translated it may mean either that Wisdom accompanied God as a co-worker, or that Wisdom delighted God as a playful apprentice at work.
To complicate matters further, Wisdom (in Hebrew, Hokhma) has many roles in the bible. Even within the book of Proverbs Wisdom is diverse. The book is actually not one single piece of writing, but an anthology of musings gathered from many people and many places about a presence, an influence, something holy, something difficult to name, but a thing nevertheless quite real and of infinite value to humankind.
Wisdom in Proverbs came to be associated with God’s Spirit at least in part because its creative impulse seems implicit in the creation story of Genesis 1. There God’s wind or breath (in Hebrew, Ruah) hovered over primordial emptiness and called things into being. Likewise, in the Greek bible Sophia is Wisdom and pneuma is wind and breath and both are aspects of God’s Spirit in creative action.
The Spirit’s activity is Jesus’s subject today. Jesus announced that God’s Spirit of truth was coming. The Spirit does not possess the truth, but guides faithful people into all the truth. You could contemplate this verse of John 16 for a lifetime. Which is more or less what Jesus was trying to say to his followers about his teaching. It’s not over people…
Through Jesus, God opened people’s ears to hear truth. Jesus had much more to say. But he was about to die, and his followers’ minds and hearts were still processing what he’d already taught them. So God would have to continue speaking in another way. After Jesus was risen and ascended, the Spirt of truth would come to enlighten, advise, and direct all seekers of God.
What a fantastically complex view of God we get from Scripture! From the rich testimony of just four texts today, you can see how many ways God has been known. Our historic Christian Creeds: Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian, were written to put some boundaries around what we believe. Creeds also allow us to define our terms so we can have meaningful conversations about God. These are noble things. For this reason we recite and teach the creeds.
And yet creeds also divide us. Orthodox Christians say the Nicene Creed but not the Apostles’ Creed. Protestants object to the word catholic though it actually means the universal church not the Roman church. Wars have been fought over truth and right belief. People have died for it.
But Jesus came to bring light and life. And more than anything else, Jesus brought love. That’s a whole different kind of truth. Why did God send Jesus, if not to address the problem of valuing belief more highly than an active and living faith? Or placing human knowledge above the wisdom of the cosmos? Or permitting truth to be defined by the world’s most powerful and eminent people.
Whew! Time to take a deep breath. Let’s step back into the Trinity Sunday party. It’s a rare sight: people listening to one another with appreciation. There are nods of agreement along with lively expressions of disagreement. But in every conversation there is charity and respect.
Surely God’s Spirit is here hovering, breathing life, and guiding. Lady Wisdom is mingling and more than once a flash of Holy truth is glimpsed as the evening closes in softly. There is laughter and the sound of people enjoying the last course of food and drink together, though…look! It appears to be only a shared plate of bread and a cup of wine. Amen.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.