Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained; what is man, that you think of him?
Words matter. We learn as children that sticks and stones may break bones, but words never hurt. But words do hurt. A girl who hears that sheís fat too often will begin to believe that sheís fat, and even worse sheíll begin to feel worthless. A boy that hears that he canít do something will eventually give up trying. A special needs child who hears that other children are normal will see themselves as abnormal. But we have a hard time understanding the importance of certain words, or the importance of avoiding certain words, if we do not have personal experience with it. Most of us do not understand why it is so hurtful to call someone with special needs Ďabnormal.í After all, they are different than the norm, but for those who live with the children of special needs know that though they are different, they are beloved.
The language of faith is difficult for those outside the faith to understand. Sunday is Holy Trinity Sunday, the day when we focus on the whole Godhead: the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, the One in three, three in one God. This is the most difficult of our Christian doctrines for outsiders to understand. Our human brains canít find any way to describe the Trinity so that we will understand, so we donít want to bring up the subject because we know we canít explain it. Human analogies are so limited, unable to truly describe the reality of the Trinity. We arenít the first to have this difficulty; the Christian church has been agonizing over the concept since the beginning.
The Trinity is a mystery that many have tried to understand and explain in human terms, but it is beyond the human imagination. Every analogy falls apart in some way. Many suggest using water/ice/steam, but the water canít be both ice and steam at the same time. Others describe the trinity using our human titles like mother/daughter/sister, but I canít be my own mother or daughter. The story of St. Patrick talks about the cloverleaf, but the leaves are not unique to one another, they are all the same.
My personal favorite is to use the ocean as the analogy. God the Father is the depths of the sea, unreachable, unknowable, endless supporting life. God the Son is the surface, visible, active, touching the lives of men. God the Spirit is the mist and the waves, constantly moving, changing to world around it, invisible and yet visible, unstoppable, affected and affecting all that it touches. The ocean is all one, but the way the different parts are perceived by the human mind is different. One cannot exist without the other, they canít be divided, but they can all be understood as uniquely different from the others. Yet even this is less than the reality of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit because it is merely the creation, not the divine Godhead.
Many argue that the Trinity is not Biblical, that the word Trinity is not found in the scriptures. Yet, the concept of the Trinity has been around since the earliest days of the Church, when the first disciples wrestled with this idea that God is present in different ways in the world. They knew that there is only One God, but they also recognized that some of what Jesus taught pointed to the idea that the Godhead was plural, involving Father, Son and Spirit. Even the Great Commission is worded to include this formula for the making of disciples. Baptism was meant to be given in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They had to discover how it could be three but one. They had to try to explain this threeness while holding to the oneness of God.
Proverbs 8 was one of the Old Testament texts used to explain the idea of the Trinity. In this passage, we see that Wisdom is both personified but also possessed by God. Wisdom is separate, but also a part of God and equal to Him. The Proverb talks about the divinity and eternity of Wisdom. Nothing is equal to God, or divine like God, or eternal like God. Therefore, Wisdom being possessed by God is an aspect of God and is God. Early Christians recognized that Wisdom, particularly in this Proverb, is the Word, the Logos, Jesus Christ. He, the Son, is also by God, brought up with God, ever present and before all time, equal with God. Godís attributes are a part of Himself. Jesus the Son is an attribute, a unique part of the Godhead, separate but not separate, unified with God the Father. We certainly hear that in the Gospel of John, ďThe Father is in me and I am in the Father.Ē
Today's Old Testament text is part of a larger passage from Proverbs that compares Wisdom to Folly. Folly is darkness, loud and defiant, brazen like a prostitute with crafty intent. Folly hides her intent. Wisdom is like light, openness. She stands at the gates where justice is served and does not hide. She is available, public, manifest and visible. As we consider the life of Jesus, we see that He too was light. He was available, public, manifest and visible. It is no wonder that the early Christians saw Christ in this personification of Wisdom.
I have to admit that as the mother of two children, I canít help but hope for great things for them. I want them to have satisfying jobs, find spouses to love. I want them to be happy. I have always had hope that they would do well in the world, to do things they love, and I have rejoiced with them when their wishies and dreams have come true. Unfortunately, over the years we have also been we disappointed because some of those wishes and dreams have fallen apart. But this is true for us all, isnít it? We do not always do well on those important tests that we hope to pass or get the job that we want. We often suffer from illness and dis-ease even though we hope to stay well and happy. The world around us is imperfect and that imperfection manifests in our lives, creating roadblocks to the utopian world we hope for in this life. It is impossible to rejoice in hope knowing that our hopes might fail.
The hope we hear about in Paulís letter to the Romans however, is not a hope that will fail. We often think of hope in terms of things that are little more than wishes and dreams, trusting and hoping in things that are created and perishable. However, when God speaks of hope, it is something more. Hope in Godís promises is not something that will fail or disappoint; it is the expectation of the fulfillment of Godís Word. Paul writes that we are justified by faith and we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus. Through Him we have access to the faith that justifies us. All of this comes because the Love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Our hope rests on the Trinity. That hope does not disappoint.
This does not mean that we will never suffer. As a matter of fact, suffering is part of the circle of faith; joy in the hope and joy in the suffering leads to perseverance leads to character leads to hope. It is part of the life of faith. The joy we feel is not a giddy happiness because everything is perfect, but it is living in the expectation of Godís amazing grace. Will Godís grace grant my children all the rewards of this earth? Not necessarily. However, if those hopes fail there is always a greater hope, one that will never fail. That hope rests on the promises of God through Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. He does not disappoint.
When we look at the life and ministry of Jesus, we are saddened with the disciples that Jesus had to go. He was the visible manifestation of the Eternal One, raised from the dead to a new life that would last forever. Couldnít He stick around to continue guiding and leading His disciples? Wouldnít it have been easier that way? We certainly would not have questions, like we do today, about all our differences of opinion on theology and the things of God. When we have a problem, we could just go to Jesus and ask Him for the answer.
However, there would come a time, much sooner than we would ever realize or expect, that the disciples would no longer be able to receive from Christ what they needed to do His work in this world. We think it impossible for Jesus to fail to be enough, but as a flesh and blood man Jesus was limited as we are limited. Jesus would never have been able to be personally involved with every Christian today. It would have been hard even in the early days of the church as the evangelists traveled to the four corners of the earth to take the Gospel. On God in the person of the Holy Spirit would ever be able to accomplish His work in all our lives. In our Gospel passage for this week, Jesus said that they could not bear to hear everything. They could not because they did not have Godís Spirit dwelling with to give them the gifts necessary to bear it. As long as Jesus existed in flesh on earth, they could not have fully what He had to give.
With Pentecost, we usher in a new season in the Church year. This season, which lasts until Advent, is a season of learning, growing and becoming that which Christ has called us to be. The first half of the Church year focuses on the story of God: the coming and birth of Christ, the Epiphany and revelation of His presence to the world, the journey to the cross during Lent, the death and resurrection and finally His final lessons to His disciples then ascension into heaven. The second half focuses more on our story: how to be disciples in the world.
Before we begin this season of learning how to live an extraordinary life in the midst of ordinary circumstances, we stop for a moment to discover this mystery of God. Trinity Sunday gives us the chance to reflect upon our God, to draw deeper into His heart and ponder His majesty. It is a time for us to discern not our place in Godís kingdom but rather our understanding of God Himself. Who is this God that we are called to follow? What is my relationship with Him? As we come to understand more clearly who He is, we can follow more closely according to His Will and purpose for our lives. We have plenty of time to figure out who we are, which is a popular practice in modern life. For just a brief moment, letís spend time focused on Him and who He is.
People have done this for generations, ever since the earliest days of the Church. The Church gathered repeatedly in the early days to define the teachings to be standard for all Christians throughout space and time. They wrote the most important ideas into creeds so that Christians could speak with one voice about the beliefs of our faith.
The creeds that have developed over the generations are statements of faith about God; they are proclamations of what we believe together. We learn these creeds early in our lives of faith and our journey of understanding often begins with those words. There are those, of course, who would suggest that the creeds have a sense of brainwashing, forcing the believer to conform to a human understanding of God. However, the first creeds are found in the scriptures, in the letters of Paul and the other disciples. Creeds are simply statements of faith, defining the things that matter to the body of Christ.
Most churches use the Apostles Creed on a regular basis, and many also use the Nicene Creed. There is a third creed, however, that is valuable for our knowledge and confession that is largely ignored. There is some question as to its author, but not to its authority. Many do not like it because it includes anathemas, condemnations of those who disagree with the creed. It is also terribly long, and you can hear an audible sigh in the congregation when it is used. It is the Athanasian Creed
It is important, however, that we not only know how to recite these creeds, but that we understand what they mean. Creeds are meaningless if they are just memorized words that are regurgitated on cue each Sunday. The creeds define God and to fully live the life we are called to live, we must know the God we serve. The creeds that we accept as Christians were created as the body of Christ pondered together the revelation given to the world through the scriptures and Jesus Christ. As they worked through the teachings of Jesus and the manifestation of God in their experiences, they came to more deeply understand the complexity of the God which we worship. Though words like Ďthe Trinityí are not present in the scriptures, there was no denying that the concept existed. As the Christians sought to understand God, they came to see that He is truly greater than our human ability to identify, so there must be some things about Him that will remain forever mysterious.
I once saw an email that showed the objects in the universe proportional to the others. The earth seems large when compared to some of the other planets, but it is dwarfed against Jupiter and Saturn. The sun is a huge ball compared to the planets, but is dwarfed by other suns in the Universe. In the end, the earth is so small that it is nothing but a tiny speck that could barely be seen in the vastness of space. Where do we stand in the greatness of all God created? If the earth on which we live is nothing but a speck, then we are less than a speck on that speck.
In the Garden of Eden, God made us the crown of His creation and gave us the authority to rule over it. This does not mean simply that the farmer rules over his fields or the rancher over his domesticated animals. We have authority over the entirety of Godís creation. In recent history, weíve had the ability to travel into space. Our telescopes are so incredible that we have been able to take beautiful pictures of what happens millions of light years from earth. We are able to send probes and cameras to almost all of the planets, to study them and learn about the chemical make-up of the surface and the atmosphere. We have landed on Mars and have made amazing discoveries.
Yet, as we travel into the vast reaches of the universe which God has created, we should be humbled by the reality that we will never fully understand it all. While it is amazing that we can send rockets into space that will send us pictures of objects that are billions of miles from Earth, we have to remember that we are limited by our humanity and we may never really understand many things that will continue to lie beyond our reach. Despite our inadequacies, God has given us the most incredible gifts, the ability to reach beyond what we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch so that we might understand the bigger and the smaller world around us. The fact that we can see an atom or visit the moon is a gift from God. As we continue to explore the far reaches of the universe we should remember that it is God who has given us dominion over these things, to care for it and to use it for His glory.
The same can be said about the spiritual things. God has made it clear through His creation that He is God and that He is Sovereign. We can know Him intimately, which is amazing when you think of how small we are compared to all that He has created. We are nothing, yet the psalmist reminds us that we are the crown of Godís creation. We are given dominion over all that He created, but even more importantly, He has made us children and heirs to all that is His. In the reality of our place in Godís Kingdom, let us always remember that we are specks on a speck in the universe. Even the universe is a speck compared to the fullness of God. His ways are higher, His thoughts greater than anything we can imagine. The Trinity, no matter how we try to explain it, is a mystery. That is ok. We are called as Christians to be humble before God and to simply believe.
A WORD FOR TODAY
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