NRSV PROVERBS 8:1-4, 22-31
8 Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4 “To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.
22 The LORD created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth–
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker (or little child);
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.”
On Wednesdays, when I am working on the sermon, I will come in here every once in a while to take a break. It’s a good time and great place to clear your head. It’s also a different place when it is empty, but I still feel your presence. I take a seat in one of the pews, maybe one of the pews of someone specific – I mean, after all, I’ve been here a while and I know where you all sit. As I do that I often find myself asking, “What do they need to hear on Sunday? What needs to be in their spiritual diet so that I can help feed them?”
I hope I don’t say that too arrogantly; after all the Lord requires of us a humble walk with God, and I have known too many preachers who get so caught up in themselves that they think their words are going to be the only way people get saved. But I also wonder if anything I say will make a difference. Especially on this particular Sunday. Not just Father’s Day, though that is special and those who fill that role should be remembered, just like they need to remember that their calling for that role is given by God, a role to be received with humbleness. But this is also something else – the Sunday after the Day of Pentecost has traditionally been called “Trinity Sunday.” It is the one and only Sunday in which the worship celebrates a doctrine of the church. No wonder folks would rather remember Father’s Day. Celebrating a doctrine sounds as exciting as watching paint dry.
But it’s there because it is important. The Trinity is, of course, the Doctrine that God is one in three persons – God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit; or if you are of a more inclusive mindset, Creator, Savior and Sustainer. Because the whole notion of a God who is one in three can give anyone a very serious headache there have been various explanations given to help people understand the Trinity; from St. Patrick using a three-leaf clover to people doing children’s sermons on water as ice, liquid and steam. All of which are very nice and somewhat helpful for people are various phases of their spiritual journeys, but which in the long run leaves us longing for something more than an intellectual or philosophical exercise.
I mean, we are talking about God here, the One who is beyond us, the One whose words are not our words, the One whose thoughts are not our thoughts, the One whose Holy Name is an imperfect verb – I am who I am, or I will be what I will cause to be. God is not so much a noun as a verb, but we like to keep God a noun so we think we can keep God boxed up and figured out. Verbs are not so easy to compartmentalize. Verbs are always moving, always flitting around from here to there. Verbs are on the move or a state of being, we were told in English class years ago. But with God the old rules fly out the proverbial window. God is verb as both movement and state of being. Which can totally blow your mind.
It still begs the question: what’s the big deal about the Trinity? Or to use common parlance when it comes to this one Sunday that we celebrate a doctrine: “So what?” So what that God is three in one – what difference does that make in my life? How does that change the way I look at things, the ways I deal with difficult issues or difficult people? What does that have to say about tariffs and blogs and fake news and that neighbor or family member who drives me nuts?
In my younger years I would have thrown my hands up in despair and thought I was being cool and hip and relevant by dealing with something else. But as you go through life you find that those thoughts – or in this case, doctrines – that you thought were so out of touch are actually very relevant and very pertinent with what is going on with us, our world and our time. A year ago I read Richard Rohr’s book, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, and as always Father Rohr opened up all kinds of new ways of viewing the Trinity. Another one came this past week when Debi Thomas wrote about this day, coming at it from the Gospel reading for today out of John. What I liked about both Thomas’s and Rohr’s work is that they did not even attempt to explain or figure out the Trinity. For them, the Trinity was not so much an abstract concept to explain as it is the dynamic, active, and very often playful presence of God to be experienced. Rohr came at it from the old Greek term perichoresis, or a dancing God; a God who in the three persons dances in a wonderful flow of love that permeates and transforms all of life. Our call, Rohr says, is not so much to try to figure out who God is or to condemn other people who don’t have the same view of God that we do. Our call is to accept God’s invitation to join in the Divine Dance, the one that is marked by love for ourselves, for others, and for the Triune God who invites us to dance. The God who calls on the divine within us to greet the divine within others.
Ms. Thomas takes on the ways that the Trinity is lived out in the Gospels and in the writings of the Christian mystics over the years. But she also uses Rohr’s work to see how the three in one nature of the Trinity that gives so many of us headaches is the way the creation works; it is involved in every part of life. There is life, death and resurrection in everything and everyone. In every atom there is a proton, a neutron and an electron – three-in-one. For the three-in-one that is the Triune God, Thomas explored possibilities of ways to see God not in spite of three-in-one but because of three-in-one. She says that God is dynamic – fluid, not staying still. The Triune God is a God on the move, who calls people to be on the move, too. God has been, is now and will always be moving, and God invites us to join with God on the journey.
God is diverse – as the Triune God is three persons with different gifts and different ways of approaching the world, so the Triune God comes to different people in different ways. It is tempting to think our way is the only way to approach God, but that means we haven’t listened to Jesus telling us to let go of the gavel of judgment so that we might rejoice that people have felt the touch of God in their lives.
She then goes on to make other points which touch on an icon, a painting of the Orthodox Church that I have shared with you in years past that is the best description I have found of the Trinity. It is based on the three visitors who came to Abraham to tell him that in a year’s time he and Sarah will be blessed with a child. In the icon, these three visitors are the three person of the Trinity; and there they are, bowing to each other in reverential respect, with clothing that symbolizes their power and their gifts, and their hand positions that show how each are involved in the world. This is a Triune God who is communal; they are in relationship, with each other and with the world. To worship a triune God means that we celebrate God’s relationship with us, but we also celebrate our relationship with others, a relationship built on love, acceptance and respect.
This is also a God who is hospitable. This is a God who welcomes and receives all who come to God in faith. When Jesus in the Gospel of John talks about him being the Good Shepherd, he makes the point that there are other sheep that are not part of this fold to which we belong. There are people whose closeness to the Triune God may be imperceptible to us. Our call is not to judge or condemn but to be hospitable to others as we would be hospitable to the Triune God, and to feel that Divine Dance of love as we open ourselves up to each other.
That hospitality is shown also by a little square at the front of this icon. Scientists have found that some resin used to be there, some glue that held an object. Most scholars feel there was a mirror attached at that spot, a mirror that drew the worshipper into the icon. The Triune God invites us to join the dance of love, which is another part of who God is. In fact, it is the main part of who God is. God is a God of love. God’s love flows throughout the world, throughout each person made in God’s image. We can reject the flow, we can ignore it, we can dismiss it and stay to ourselves; or we can let it move us into engagement with others, and join the dance of God’s love, grace and peace with all on earth.
That dance of love is what connects Father’s Day, Trinity Sunday and this passage out of Proverbs. It is a text that elevates wisdom as being with God from the very beginning, but with a very special component. At the end of the text, it says that wisdom was with God “like a master worker…” But there is an interesting footnote there. It could also read, that wisdom was there with God from the beginning “like a little child.”
As a father – and now a grandfather – one of the most special things I get to do in that relationship is teach. But I teach them not just with words but with play, by engaging with them in their world, by enjoying their presence as they are, not as I want them to be. It could just be that Trinity Sunday, with its seemingly artificial celebration of something as dry as a doctrine might yet have something to say to all of us about the importance of play; to tap into the inner child that lives deep within us, the one that loves to play, the one that enjoys being with others, the one that touches the heartbeat of God in the act of sheer, unmitigated joy.
In taking a look at various graduation speeches, Presbyterian Outlook editor Jill Duffield noticed a difference between those given by students and those who were older. “The younger pontificators,” she wrote, “talked about the need for each other, the importance of honoring all people, the inevitability of challenges that will not be surmountable alone. The adults relentlessly said: ‘Follow your passion, you have the power to do whatever you set your mind to doing…’ Really? Certainly, such pep talks have their place, but the wisdom of the younger speakers struck me. They refused to capitulate to the very American individualistic sentiment that all one needs in this world is one’s grit and wits and will. Despite their youth, they recognized and knew personally, circumstances and hardships that clear eyes and a full heart did not best. Instead they offered a vision of communal care, corporate creating, mutuality and collaboration in joys and suffering.”
In other words, they were into the dancing God. Rather than sitting on the sidelines may we live out that dance by remembering and living into our mission statement of sharing the love of God every single day, and with every single person. And to do it with joy. Amen.