May 22, 2016
Donna G. Joy
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
Each year on this Sunday within the liturgical year, we are given the opportunity to unpack the Biblical and church’s teaching on the Holy Trinity, and hopefully, explore ways in which this may inform, enrich, empower our lives in faith.
I recently heard the story (apparently true story) of a young boy (about 12 years old) growing up in a church where questions about the faith were not particularly welcome. While attending Confirmation classes, this young boy became disturbingly confused and unsettled when they began studying the Holy Trinity. Apparently he asked his priest some pretty pointed questions about this, and the response was something like, “The Holy Trinity is not something to be understood. It is a mystery, and must not be questioned.” To which the boy apparently replied, “Well, I’m guessing you don’t understand it very well yourself, which is why you’re so unwilling to explore this question with me.”
I think this story inspires me to begin with a confession, which will hopefully eliminate any such awkward exchanges following our worship today. I need to confess that I – myself – cannot claim to actually understand the Trinity. If that young boy’s parish priest was unable to claim such an understanding, I suspect he’s not – in any way - alone. How is it possible to claim an understanding of a Trinitarian Godhead in which there exists three separate and distinct persons... yet... all of the same substance... three separate and distinct persons... and yet... united as One. So, my goal this morning, is to look at what each of our readings may have to say about this mystery, then imagine how this informs, enriches, empowers our lives in faith.
I’ll begin this process of exploration with our Psalm, which emphasizes the God of all creation: God of awe and wonder; God the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.The Psalmist here addresses God directly in a song of praise for ALL the goodness and beauty that God creates and makes possible: moon; stars; all the creatures of the earth; human beings who are called to care for this extraordinary and endless gift. The Psalmist may identify this member of the separate yet unified Godhead as The ‘rock’ – if you will – of the Trinity. God, the sovereign, ruling over all of creation with power and love, creating us and every living thing, majestic, glorious, almighty, eternal – AND in relationship to and with humanity. God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. The Rock.
Looking into our reading from the Book of Proverbs, we first need to recognize that it comes from a type of creative writing called Jewish Wisdom literature. It gets this name from the way in which it presents religious teachings as ancient, inherited wisdom that guides and informs our relationship with God. One of the features of Wisdom literature is the personification of Wisdom. In other words, this Wisdom is seen as a person with a clearly defined role within the Godhead. Wisdom is often equated with the Holy Spirit.
So, in this reading we are introduced to God the Holy Spirit. In Hebrew, the Spirit is called ruach, that is, wind, or breath; in Greek, she is called Sophia – Wisdom. In this reading, Wisdom (Sophia) is making the point that there never was a time or space where she didn’t exist. She, and God – the creator - were always One Together. Throughout the whole of creation (past, present, future) Sophia’s very breath brings everything into being. (Like blowing into the embers of a fire.)
Before we take a quick look at our particular Gospel passage this morning, I think it is important to first remember how John’s Gospel begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Aha! So here we are reminded that Jesus, the Word, was also there right from the very beginning.
Then, in this morning’s passage in particular, we hear Jesus preparing his disciples for that quickly approaching time when he will no longer be with them, preparing them for the coming of the Spirit of truth (Sophia; Wisdom) who will be given to them – be with them – filling them with all they need to carry out the work of Jesus. There’s that Breath of God – that Wisdom of God – again, breathing life and Wisdom into the church (past, present, future).
In the Epistle to the Romans, in rather explicit language, Paul describes the basis and essence of the new relationship that this Trinitarian Godhead has established through Jesus Christ: who has renewed/restored our relationship with God - the Heavenly Parent and Creator of the whole of creation; Himself, who has through his life, teachings, death, resurrection and ascension – through his very existence/being has shown us how to live in relationship with God; and gifted his followers with Sophia – the Holy Spirit – the Wisdom to carry on his work. Faith, as Paul understands it, is nothing less than trusting in the power and goodness of God to continue to create new life and new possibilities; continue to be with us – inform us – empower us to live (harmoniously) in relationship with the Godhead and building God’s kingdom of love throughout the church and in every community we inhabit.
Together, our readings this morning speak of a triune God who has lived together – been together - grounded in love - working creatively and harmoniously together since before the beginning of time. Together, our readings this morning speak of a God whose creative, redeeming, sustaining powers weave seamlessly in and through each other... always loving... always creating; always redeeming (restoring) God’s relationship with His followers; always breathing Wisdom into those who follow. This is, in fact, absolutely central to everything we believe as Christians.
It is central because it speaks of a communal Godhead, who calls us to live in this communal, harmonious way. The Triune God we worship doesn’t simply call us to live lovingly, faithfully, harmoniously with Him and each other. No. The triune God we worship – God the Father; God the Son; God the Holy Spirit (Wisdom) – lives in this way and has done so since before the beginning of time... breathing this harmonious pattern of living into our lives, our churches, our communities so that this loving harmony embedded in the Trinity may become embedded in us and our relationships.
So, what does that actually mean in terms of living our lives in faith here and now? It means that the harmonious working of the Trinity informs the way we are called to live together. And now for a concrete example.
Let’s say that someone in one of our parish committees has discerned that God is calling the church into something new... (a new creation); Let’s say... Refugee Sponsorship... Let’s say that a proposal is made, urging the parish to embrace this ministry... Initially, people may have some important and necessary questions: (1) Do we have enough money to cover the costs of such an undertaking? (2) Do we have adequate human resources to cover the many ministries and tasks that need attention when sponsoring people into a new country? (3) Do we have adequate diocesan support to help guide some of the more complicated details of this process? Let’s say that the immediate committee (Mission and Outreach) identifies these as critical questions that must be examined before rushing into such a commitment.
Let’s say that once these questions have been adequately answered and worked through this proposal is then discussed at Vestry, where further important and necessary discussion is pursued. Let’s say that once Vestry and Corporation and Mission and Outreach are confident that we really do have everything we need to embark upon this exciting and yet challenging task, a meeting is held after church one Sunday with parishioners, and by the end of that meeting almost all the primary divisions of labour have committed leaders.
I think we all know that we have, just over the past few months, undergone this not-so-hypothetical scenario, and I am suggesting that this whole process that led to our ultimate decision was a profound example of the communal, harmonious work of the Holy Trinity: God the creator, planting a new idea into the hearts and minds and imaginations of disciples here at St. Peter’s; God, the Son, whose very existence is an expression of why such a ministry is faithful to God’s plan that we “Seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God;” and finally, God, the Holy Spirit, breathing Wisdom into our midst through each and every individual who raised the important questions and worked toward creative and fruitful plans. This harmonious weaving of God’s gifts is, I believe, a profound continuation of God’s Holy Trinity which has been working in this way since before the beginning of time.
So, that’s one example of the working and presence of the Holy Trinity within the life of the church... Here’s one from a slightly different context.
This past week the topic for reading and reflection in my current Master’s program was interfaith dialogue. Recognizing that the bonds of friendship within our current global and local context increasingly extend well beyond our individual faith traditions, one of our readings was taken from a Post Vatican document which was/is intended to offer some guidelines for how to proceed with interfaith dialogue and friendship. In an online conversation about this document, one student posted the following:
“Two summers ago, I took a class on Islamic Art, Architecture and Music, followed by a workshop panel on the Muslim Faith and women's rights. This past summer I spent two days with 20 catholic school educators discussing this document and the Catholic Jewish relationship. It was wonderful! I learned so much and had great moments of connection over faith and humanity based dialogue. We then toured a synagogue, unrolled the Torah, joined in at a Shabbat service and dined with Holocaust survivors. The following Monday I then spent time with 59 educators learning about the Echoes and Reflections curriculum sponsored by Yad Vashem: Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. So inspiring! Thanks to these moments the dialogues continue. To summarize, my faith and my knowledge have grown exponentially because I have engaged in open dialogue, not defensive dialogue, with members of other faiths also dedicated to open dialogue.”
Again, I see the working of the Holy Trinity here: God’s beautiful and always unfolding creative powers, recognizing that we are all created in God’s image; Jesus, who teaches us that there are no outsiders; and the Holy Spirit – breathing Wisdom into a peaceful dialogue that is drawing people together – in love.
In closing I wish to share an excerpt from ‘Partaking of God.’ The author, Denis Edwards, writes:
“In giving God’s self to us in the Word made flesh and in the gift of the Holy Spirit, God is revealed as God who is infinitely relational, a Communion of love that embraces difference. This God is creatively present through the Word and in the Spirit with each creature in all its specificity, and accompanies each in love. The incarnation of the Word in the Spirit and its fulfillment in resurrection constitutes an unbreakable commitment by God to bring the whole natural world to its proper, transfigured, deifying fulfillment in the divine life of the Trinity.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.