Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Every year, on the Sunday after Pentecost, the Revised Common Lectionary invites us to celebrate “Trinity Sunday.” While other designated Sundays mark events in the life of Jesus or the experience of the early church, this Sunday is focussed on a Christian doctrine – the concept that God is three persons in one God-head.
Living Faith, our Presbyterian Church’s statement of Christian belief expresses the idea of Trinity this way:
“… with the one church universal
we believe in one God, eternal Trinity,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
three in one,
one in three,
equal in power and glory.
God is the Father to whom we come,
the Son through whom we come,
the Spirit by whom we come.”
This week, as my pastor friends were preparing for Trinity Sunday, my Facebook feed included quite a few postings and memes about this upcoming theme. I noticed one that suggested that in order not to accidentally preach something heretical, ministers should consider not saying anything about the Trinity, but perhaps show some nice photos of kittens instead. In other words, it’s really challenging to try to explain the doctrine of the Trinity.
All the typical analogies that preachers use like a three-leaf clover, or a triangle, or the three states of water – as liquid, ice, and steam – fall terribly short of describing the mystery of how we believe in one God who is simultaneously three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) in relationship with each other!
You’re probably well aware that the doctrine of the Trinity is not mentioned in the Bible. It wasn’t really described or named until later as the early Christian Church reflected on the Scriptures, on their relationship with God, and tried to express an agreement on how God had come to them and drawn them close in relationship.
I appreciate the way that the SALT Lectionary Commentary describes the ancient doctrine of the Trinity that arose out of early Christian reflection on scripture, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit:
“For his earliest followers, encountering Jesus was somehow encountering God directly – and at the same time, Jesus spoke of God as both distinct from him (as when he prayed to God, or spoke of God as the One who sent him) and yet nevertheless “one” with him. There was both a “two-ness” and a “oneness” in play, and so Christians sought out ways to express this mystery with poetry and precision.
“Likewise, early disciples experienced encounters with the Spirit as encounters with God directly – and at the same time, Jesus spoke of the Spirit as a guiding, challenging presence distinct both from him and from the One to whom he prayed.
“And so arose, over time, the church’s doctrine of the Trinity, the idea that God is properly conceived as both Three and One. Not three Gods – for that would miss God’s oneness. And not merely One – for that would miss God’s three-ness, and wouldn’t do justice to the sense of encountering God in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
“Indeed, rather than an esoteric picture of God “up there” (too often the doctrine’s reputation today!), the teaching’s quite practical upshot is to cast a vision of God “down here and everywhere,” creating, redeeming, and sustaining creation at every turn, with every unfurling leaf and blossom. In a word, the doctrine is ultimately about a world saturated with divine presence, and a God “in whom we live, and move, and have our being.””
On Trinity Sunday, the lectionary provides us with a set of Scripture readings on which to reflect. Of course, not one of them mentions the Trinity, but they do hint at it.
In this morning’s Gospel text, we heard some of Jesus’ final words to his disciples. He’s telling them that he has much more to teach them, but it’s too much for them to take in at the moment. Although he’s going to die and go to live with the Father in heaven, the Holy Spirit is going to come to them, speak to them, and teach them everything that Jesus would have said.
Although Jesus isn’t exactly clear about the relationship between himself, the Spirit, and the Father, there is a strong sense that they are all of one mind. They hold the truth about all things, and through Jesus and then through the Spirit, that truth is revealed to the children of God.
Paul’s letter to the Romans makes similar connections between the three persons of the Trinity, and makes it clear that God comes to us and abides with us through Christ and the Holy Spirit. Jesus has come to us as an emissary of peace – mending our relationship with God through his life of grace and offer of forgiveness. And although God may seem very far away now that Jesus has gone up, God continues to be present with us because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
The Gospel of John and the letters of the New Testament are brimming with texts that express the nature of God in these kinds of ways. And they show us not only what God is like, but more importantly, how God is present and active, and reaching out to be in relationship with us every day.
Perhaps the most interesting Scripture reading we heard this morning however, was the first one from the Book of Proverbs. Of course, Proverbs is a wisdom book from the First Testament, so there’s no mention of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is not named as such either. But there does seem to be an extra “person” present with God the Creator, and that “person” is calling out to human beings, just as we have seen God doing that through Jesus and the Spirit.
In Proverbs that “person” is described as the “Wisdom of God” of “Woman Wisdom.” She is similar to Christ when he is described as the “Word of God,” and she’s similar to the Holy Spirit when she is described as the teacher, advocate, or power of God.
In our passage this morning, Woman Wisdom calls out in the streets, calling out to the people and to all that live. We skip over the message that she brings today, but it is an invitation to acquire wisdom, to live in the fear of the Lord, and to be righteous and good.
But this is not any old self-help message or a scheme to get our money and offer us a lame set of instructions for success and prosperity. She is calling out to us with the very Wisdom of God. Like Christ, the Spirit, and the Father are of one mind because they are three persons, but truly one God, Woman Wisdom is wisdom straight from God-self.
As the passage continues, Woman Wisdom tells us that she’s been around from the very beginning of everything. God created her at the beginning of his work, before the earth was made or the heavens. And as God did create the world and everything in it, she was with him. She was beside him while he worked, and she was “daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”
The Book of Proverbs does not name or define God as Trinity. But what it does do is provide a poetic description of God-in-relationship at work in the world. I like the way Cameron Howard describes this passage in the “Connections” commentary. He writes, “While God created the earth, Wisdom was God’s joyful companion. Where the NRSV uses ‘master worker’ in verse 30, an alternative translation is ‘child.’ In other words, the poem imagines the first take-your-daughter-to-work day, when God is busy setting limits for the sea, and Wisdom is trailing along as a happy observer, ‘rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.’”
What a lovely idea – the image of Wisdom as a child of God the Creator – on a take-your-daughter-to-work day as God is creating the world and everything in it! It reminds me of good memories of my own childhood. I would often go to work with my mother when I had days off school. She worked in the church office, and I would help with typing and folding bulletins, balancing the church books, and welcoming people who stopped by the church during the day. I learned, and I felt useful, and I felt special to be participating in her good work.
I only remember doing it once, but I did get to spend the day at my dad’s work one time also. He worked for Statistics Canada, and until I went with him that day in about grade 8, I had very little idea of what he did at work. I loved the view from his high office window, and I enjoyed meeting his colleagues who showed great respect for his leadership and abilities.
But the thing that I remember most clearly is the delight of seeing that he had pictures of his children in his office. And on his desk there was a paper weight that I had made at school and given to him. Being with him at his workplace both helped me to know and understand him better, and it assured me of his love and his pride in his children.
God who is three-in-one gives us a marvelous example of loving relationship which can be an inspiration for our closest relationships as parents and children, spouses and partners, siblings, and faithful friends. We see it in the wonder of Wisdom working together with God the Creator. We see it in the prayer of struggling Jesus, clinging to his Father for strength and courage. We see it in the promise of Jesus that he will not leave his disciples orphaned, because he trusts that the Spirit of God will come to teach them and help them and guide them.
And Trinity is more than just a model of relationship for us to follow, it’s also an invitation from God to us, to join in relationship today and tomorrow with the God of the universe who is present and active here and now and in our lives.
On this Father’s Day, many of us may be thinking about the relationships we have or that we remember having with our fathers, our grandfathers, or our children. At the same time, God our heavenly parent, the Triune God of Love, is inviting us into relationship with him.
There is an open invitation for each of us to participate in a “take-your-daughter-or-son-to-work day” each and every day. God may not be creating the world, but God is still at work pouring out blessing and love and compassion and grace in the lives of God’s children, and we are invited to participate in that good work that God is doing.
When we do so, I have no doubt that we’ll get to know God a little better, to appreciate God’s wisdom, power, and love. And I have no doubt that we will also gain a new understanding and assurance of God’s love for us, God’s children.