Sunday, May 22, 2016

Holy Trinity Sunday
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Psalm 8
Acts 2:14a, 22-36
John 8:48-59

My delight was with the sons of men.

It isn't part of our lectionary for this week, but one of my favorite passages is Colossians 1:16, "For by him all things were created, in the heavens and on the earth, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers; all things have been created through him, and for him." I made a painting a few years ago based on this passage. It has a black background and colorful, chaotic swirls dry brushed on top. In the upper right corner, I taped off a cross over the black to protect it from the colorful paint. The swirling pattern represents how I envision the creation of the world as God spoke light and life into existence. The cross reminds us that Jesus Christ was there, in the beginning.

I hear much the same in the text from Proverbs. The early chapters of Proverbs describe wisdom personified, as a woman calling her children to know and understand, teaching us what we need to know for our well-being, success and happiness. The book is based on the truth that wisdom, true wisdom, is founded on the fear of the Lord. This is not that we are too be afraid of God, but that we are to revere Him and trust that He will provide us with all we need as a father cares for his children. We are encouraged to shun folly, to turn from sin that brings death. The proverbs help the young to learn the right path, the foolish to see things rightly and the wise to become even wiser. Wisdom is not simply knowledge of facts or intelligence, it is about knowing that there is a right and wrong, a good and bad, a smart path to follow and one filled with folly. Wisdom is common sense, and most of all, it is about hearing God's Word and following it.

As we look at the passages from Colossians and Proverbs, we see that wisdom was with God in the beginning. We also understand this to be identified with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Father, Son and Spirit are Wisdom. The Father is the sources of all wisdom, Jesus is wisdom in the flesh and the Spirit is indwelling wisdom. Human beings were created in the image of God and therefore are capable of discerning, embracing and espousing wisdom. We are the crown of His creation and He has given us everything we need to be wise.

We see this text today because we are celebrating the Holy Trinity this Sunday. Holy Trinity Sunday is probably one of the most difficult for pastors. They want to preach a message that makes sense and that encourages the congregation to grow in their understanding of God. Yet, how do you do that and avoid the problem of limiting God with analogies and twisting Him with heresies?

There is a group called "Lutheran Satire" who make humorous videos about theological topics. One is called St. Patrick's Bad Analogies. It shows us how some of the most common ways of describing the Trinity actually lead us down the road to bad heresies such as Modalism (God reveals Himself in three different ways), and Arianism (that Jesus and the Spirit are creations of the Father, not one in nature.) One bad analogy is the one about water. If we say that the Trinity is like water in three states, liquid, solid and gas, then we are guilty of modalism. The same can be said with the analogy of a man who is a father, son and brother. An example of a bad analogy that espouses Arianism is that the Godhead is like the sun: the star, the light and the heat. In this analogy the light and heat are creations of the star and not part of the star. Even the beloved example of St. Patrick of the three leaf clover advocates for a view of partialism, which says that each person of the Trinity are part of the godhead.

Every human analogy breaks down because the reality of the Trinity cannot be described in human terms. It is a mystery, beyond our understanding. We want to grasp this idea in a tangible ways and think that we are wise when we can come up with creative ways of describing the indescribable, but the real wisdom is accepting that we can't always explain the unexplainable. I think, perhaps, that Holy Trinity Sunday is a good day to remind each other that God is beyond human reasoning. He is greater than creation. He is greater than us. And it is ok that there are mysteries that we cant understand or explain.

Holy Trinity Sunday is a good day to embrace the mystery of God. Instead of trying to fit Him into boxes or limit Him with words, it is a good time to dwell on the reality that God IS. We have plenty of words to describe Him, adjectives that describe His character, names that establish His rule. The study of theology is about learning about the God who can be described in many different ways. But most importantly, we learn and understand that He IS. He IS, not because He lives in Heaven or even because He created us. He IS, not because we call Him Father or Redeemer or Lord. He IS, not because we believe that He exists, but because He said, I AM. He IS. There is good reason for us to talk about God and study everything about Him, but on this day that we celebrate the Holy Trinity, it is enough to know that He IS.

For those who doubt the Trinity, the oneness of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you only have to hear the words of Jesus Himself to know it is true. Jesus said, "Before Abraham, I AM." Those listening heard that intent because they accused Him of blasphemy. That's why they took up stones and tried to stone Him. It is no wonder that the crowds wanted to stone Him to death, after all, in those words Jesus claimed to be God. Unless Jesus is God, the words are blasphemy. On Trinity Sunday, and every day, we confess that we believe Jesus is who He said He IS.

Here's another question that doesn't have reasonable human answers: why did Jesus Christ have to suffer and die on the cross? This is not an easy question to answer. It doesn't make sense, especially when we consider the greatness and mercy of God. How could a God willing to forgive the sins of sinners allow His Son to die a violent, tragic death? Where is the wisdom in this? Yet, Peter shows us in the lesson from Acts that the work of Jesus Christ was according to God's set purpose and foreknowledge. Even David, many years earlier, was given the words of prophesy about the Messiah. In the end, all that David said was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

I was once acquainted with a woman in an internet chat room who had what she called "an eclectic faith." She liked certain aspects of the Christian religion, but she also like aspects of many others. So she decided to believe in the things she liked and ignore the things she didn't like. She loved Jesus, but she didn't like the the crucifixion. She saw no purpose in it. It was enough to her that Jesus was a model teacher and that He did good things in the world. She had no need for Jesus to be divine, except in the way that all of creation is divine. She rejected the characterization of God from the Old Testament and the parts of the New Testament that she didn't want to obey. She embraced the more spiritual aspects of other religions and rejected the physical realities of Christian faith. Unfortunately, this eclectic type of faith is creeping into the practice of many Christians, who would rather pick and choose what they like about Christianity and ignore that which makes them (or outsiders) uncomfortable. They claim they do so for the sake of the outsiders. "We have to do this so that they will not come." But what are they coming to if we are unwilling to stand up for the whole character of God?

Our biggest problem is that we all want God to stay within our control. We want a God we can explain and understand. We don't want mystery, we want answers. We are still trying to build that tower of Babel, but instead of reaching up, we try to drag God down. But God has made it clear through His creation that He is God and that He is Sovereign. He is greater than the highest mountain, deeper than the deepest sea, larger than the universe and farther from the furthest sun. He created it all, and so He is greater than it all. He has no beginning. We'd rather keep Him on a throne in heaven or behind a curtain in a Temple. We want Him to stay behind our church doors so we can go to Him at our choosing. It is easier to grasp the concept of an old man on a throne of clouds than to understand the Trinity. God was not in Heaven when He spoke the first words that brought light to nothing and life to chaos. He was. He is. He will be. He is I AM.

We may never have the words to explain the Trinity, to fully describe God or tell others what it means to be a Christian, but we are called to share our faith with the world. It need not be a lengthy dissertation on the meaning of the great doctrines of Christianity. We need only share our experiences of God with others so that He might work in their lives to spark the faith that will make them part of God's kingdom on earth. Isn't it amazing that God has made us part of this process? The psalmist asks, "What is man, that thou art mindful of him?" While attributed to Jesus Christ, these words are meant for us, too. Not only does God care about everyone and everything He has created, He has made man the crown of His creation and given us authority as His children.

With that authority, however, it is our responsibility to treat it as God would treat it. The wise man is one who will walk according to God's ways, without abusing or wasting what God has made. The wise man is the one who will seek to understand what God intends for the Creation and to use it to His glory. The wise man will go forth in faith and share the reality of God's sovereignty and majesty with the world. It won't be easy. We are tempted to do what we want with what we have been given. We face situations that leave us questioning what God would do. We don't always understand what God intends, and we fail. Sin plays a role in everything we do, no matter how much we try to avoid sinful behavior. Though saved by grace and sanctified by the Spirit, we are still sinners who make mistakes.

I suppose the greatest mystery is that God loves us anyway and that Jesus Christ did what He did for our sakes. We can't explain this love with mere human words. We can't convince people to believe. We must simply fear the Lord, to revere and trust that He will provide us with all we need. We are called to live lives which shun folly, turn from sin and walk in the right path. God helps us to know right from wrong, good from bad and He guides us on the smart path, so let us listen and believe even if there are mysterious things we will never fully understand.

Wisdom delights in the sons of man. This personification of this characteristic of God delights in you and I. We often think that we have to chase after wisdom, to study and learn so that we will be wise. But the book of proverbs tells us that she chases us, embraces us, seeks us and tries to persuade us to ignore and reject folly who is trying to entice us to reject God. Wisdom delights in us and does what she can to keep us from believing the folly and temptations that lead to sin and death. She calls us to follow her even though we may not have the words to describe the indescribable or to explain the unexplainable. The wise one will believe and trust because the God we worship in Trinity is faithful to all His promises.

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