Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sermon for Trinity Sunday Prov 8:1-4,22-31 & John 16:12-15 “Dancing with Wisdom”

On any given day, if you go up to Union Station in Washington, DC, you’ll see a preacher with a microphone, a portable amplifier and a car battery. He stands outside the train station – I don’t know why he picked that place, but it works for him – and he preaches. He’s talking mostly about how sinful the world is, and how we need to repent, because Jesus is coming. He makes a lot of people uncomfortable, and they try to avoid him, or else stick their fingers in their ears as they walk past, because, man, this fellow is LOUD.

We don’t always want to hear the message that God sends to us through uncomfortable people, do we? Prophets, preachers, messiahs…most of us don’t want to hear that loud and discomfiting message, and I suspect that’s why God sends us the loud ones to do that kind of communication.

In contrast, imagine you are in Istanbul, standing before the great cathedral called Hagia Sophia. Enormous, beautiful, it looks as if it has been there forever, and it almost has – it was built in 360. It speaks of the power and majesty of the church of God. When you hear its name, “Holy Sofia,” you might think it is named after a Saint. Saint Sophia. But it is something entirely different. Not a saint, but an attribute of God. Sophia is the Greek word for the wisdom of God. This is not a tribute to a saint, but a recognition of Divine Wisdom. And wisdom in this case is big and imposing and something you can’t ignore as you’re standing in the street in Istanbul.

That helps us with our reading from Proverbs this morning. Hagia Sophia, the wisdom of God…it sounds like a woman. That’s no mistake. In the Old Testament, wisdom – the thing we all want, the thing we expect to get from God, a very good thing indeed – is a particular character. And Wisdom is –SURPRISE! – a woman. In the ancient world, “Lady Wisdom” is an attribute of God, one of God’s characteristics, but she is often spoken of as if she were a separate being.

And this “Lady Wisdom” in the reading, well, she’s as assertive and omnipresent as that street preacher in front of the train station. She’s as hard to miss as the gigantic cathedral in Istanbul. “On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads.” This Lady is everywhere, and she is telling her story out loud, and insistently, to anyone who can hear, and probably some people who don’t. The wisdom of God, that divine wisdom whom we call “she,” tells the story: she has been part of this story since the beginning of time, almost as long as God has been around, which is forever. She was created first, before the light and stars, before the birds and fish and animals and Adam and Eve. Lady Wisdom, God’s created wisdom, always part of the story.

And this Lady Wisdom doesn’t act much like the sort of wisdom we expect from the Scriptures. She is not staid and serious. She is, in a word, playful. Look at that line “Then I was beside him, like a master worker, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always.” We read that, and we think a master carpenter and his assistant, doing holy work. But when you take a closer look at the Hebrew, it’s actually a very different picture. It could just as validly be translated “Then I was beside him, like someone learning the craft, and I was daily his delight, dancing and frolicking before him always.” A very different picture, yes? Wisdom growing into herself, learning the craft of being an attribute of God, dancing with God, making God laugh.” An eight-year-old girl perhaps, a little clumsy, making a lot of noise as she plays with God, making God snort with laughter at her antics. I think of my daughter as an 8 year old with lots of opinions about how she saw the world, dancing around the kitchen as I cooked, telling me the way things ought to be. Or Wisdom might be an 80 year old woman, no longer needing to prove to anyone exactly how proper she is, jabbing us in the ribs as she tells a joke that proves what is really important and what is not. I think of my 88 year old mother in the year that she died, saying exactly what was on her mind, with no filter for politeness’ sake, not much caring if she made us us uncomfortable, because she had something to tell us that was important.

This is Lady Wisdom, ever-present, not always very well-behaved. Lady Wisdom is sometimes loud, never shy, and that’s not the way we usually think of the way that God is.

But there is a delight to seeing an aspect of God in a new way…it opens us up to the possibility of understanding God differently. That is, in fact, a good thing, because God is so much bigger and more complex than we could ever understand that if we get fresh glimmers of the light of who he is, that’s a gift. Sometimes I think of God as a jigsaw puzzle. Most of the pieces are turned over. I try to figure out the puzzle, what goes where, I have a vague sense of the outline, and some sections are assembled, and I see some of the other color groupings of pieces, but I don’t have the whole picture, nor will I ever have the whole picture in this life. Every now and again, I figure out another section as I turn over the puzzle pieces, but I still don’t have the whole picture.

And today, on this Trinity Sunday, we are faced with the challenge once again of figuring out who God is, what God is, how this thing called the Trinity works. Good luck with that.

Some have thought that the Trinity is God playing different roles, doing different jobs at different times, depending on the need. But Scripture clearly says that they coexist, so it can’t be that. Some think that this is three facets of one personality, as if God was some sort of creature with multiple personality disorder. But the Scripture says “three persons” not “three personalities,” so it can’t be that. Some think that God the Father is the chief and the other two persons, the Son and the Holy Spirit, are subordinate. But that’s not what the creeds of the church tell us – they are co-equal and unique, so it can’t be that.

We’re not the first to wrestle with the question of the Trinity.

St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the great doctors of the early church, lived in the late 4th and early fifth century. He thought he would write a book about the Trinity, about that relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, how God could be three persons in one God, how they were different yet the same. That book, De Trinitate, almost 800 pages long, ends up being rather like the jigsaw puzzle…he senses pieces of how it fits together, but never quite gets the whole picture. He tries to use an analogy: think of the three aspects of love: beloved, loving, love. Three different aspects of love: the object of love, the process of love, the fact of love. That sort of gets us there…but only sort of. How do the three persons of the Trinity exist simultaneously as one God and as three persons?

We cannot completely understand this – I have come to the belief that this is one of the questions I’ll ask God when I present myself in heaven – but perhaps we can get some clues. And Lady Wisdom, dancing through Proverbs, might help us get there.

We have a pretty clear understanding of God the Father – he is the creator of all the universe, all powerful, all knowing, all present. We also seem to understand that Jesus is God’s Son, although he, being God, has been here since the beginning as well. We know that Jesus was sent to earth by God the Father to save us from our sins, and that he was given a fully human nature as well as a fully divine one. Jesus himself talks about how he was sent so that we human beings might know the father in heaven. That much, we can start to comprehend.

The part that seems to stop us in our tracks, though, is the Holy Spirit. The dove coming down in little tongues of flames on the head of each of the disciples as we heard last week in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles about Pentecost? The Spirit who is sent down to remain with us forever? What is this Spirit, this third person of the Trinity?

New Age enthusiasts might think of the Holy Spirit as some sort of cosmic energy force, but that seems too unfocused.

No, Lady Wisdom is the clue. Wisdom is that ever present sense of the order of the universe that God created. That playful one who invites us to dance with God, with the wholeness of God, both the one who creates, the one who saves, the one who enlightens and sustains us. In fact, the Eastern Church talks of the “perichoresis” of the Holy Trinity, a word that means intertwining and dancing around together. Imagine a square dance with the dancers weaving in an among each other, the relationships handing off, bowing, embracing….this is the way the Eastern Church sees the Trinity, and it’s a beautiful way to recognize the individuality of the persons of God and their interrelationship.

The three persons of the Trinity complement each other and give us the fullest possible experience of God. The Trinity invites us into that dance that the three persons enjoy with each other, and Lady Wisdom, who might also be called Holy Spirit, teases us and invites us to join in the dance. We may not know all the steps, and we may not see everything that is happening as we dance, but we can feel the love of the three persons in one God as we enter into the frolic.

The dance will make us dizzy, but it will make us as joyful and frolicsome as six-year-olds doing the Electric Slide. That, in the end, may be our truest understanding of the Trinity – the emotions, the intimacy, the energy, the joy. That may be all we really need to know.



Anonymous said...


KimQuiltz said...

Ah! Beautiful. Thank you.