Sunday, May 30, 2010

In the Flesh

Texts: Proverbs 8:1-6, 22-31; John 12:44-46

According to our liturgical calendar today is Trinity Sunday, the day in which ministers all over the country exhaust their mental capacities trying to figure out how to explain in 15 minutes or less the great mystery that is the Holy Trinity. Father, Son, Holy Spirit, all unique and all one. Over time we’ve developed many ways to explain the divine mystery of the Trinity – some good, some not so good.

If you’ve ever gone through elder training here at Covenant, you’ve probably been exposed to John’s use of geometry to illuminate the subject. Or if you’ve gone through a confirmation class with me, you would have had the excitement of learning about the Trinity through the hands-on metaphor of Aquafresh toothpaste… give that one awhile to sink in.

However we try to explain our God – the Holy One – the One who is Community, we come up short. Human words to explain the divine are never going to be adequate let alone complete. A colleague of mine suggested to me yesterday that Trinity Sunday is the day God laughs the most, as we try and explain the mystery of three in one, try and wrap our finite minds around our infinite deity.

It is good to make God laugh. And we humans have been doing it for eons. Even before the mathematical confusion of three being one, even before we were given the metaphor of the Trinity as a way to understand God, finding ways to speak about our God has been a challenge, and one we have taken up. God is an eagle, a rock, a mother hen. God is strong, steadfast, compassionate. We search for ways to speak about God, to comprehend the divine, in part to understand our creator but also in part to understand the created – to understand ourselves.

If we know who God is more fully, than we may know who God calls us to be, more fully. If we know more about the one in whose image we are created in, we will know more about ourselves.

The figure of Wisdom – Lady Wisdom, Wisdom Woman – seen in the book of Proverbs and other wisdom literature in our scriptures is one way our ancestors in faith tried to understand and explain who God is and who we are to be in response.

Wisdom appears most prominently in Proverbs – a book we’ll get to know well throughout the summer, a book which is a series of collections of wise sayings and thoughts, with a broad purpose of instructing the young. It compares the good with the bad and the wise with the foolish, enticing the young (and all of us who might be called simple) to follow in the ways of the righteous

Those who seek to be righteous, those who would seek to follow God’s law, to be in relationship with God, they would do well to follow Wisdom’s path. “Happy are those who keep my ways,” Wisdom says a little further in Proverbs, “For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord; but those who miss me injure themselves; all who hate me love death.”[1]

Wisdom is more than just a guidepost to good living, as her speech this morning reminds us. She is—as the first of God’s creation, a master worker of creation, and a delighter in creation—the one who calls us to righteousness. It is by her words that we might know what is right.

“She is” as Old Testament scholar Kathleen O’Connor puts, “another way to look at God, another metaphor to speak of the beauty, power, and attraction that God holds out to human beings.” [2]

In the Wisdom Woman, an attribute of God has been personified in order that we human beings might know God a little more clearly. When it comes to God, we’re like little children – we want to see and touch. We want tangible things – not abstract images and metaphors. We turn to other gods we can see in our midst, can understand concretely, because our God’s mystery can seem too much. We join in with Moses who must have been quite moved by the majesty and mystery of “I AM” revealed as God’s name but probably would have been a little bit happier if God had said something like “my name is Bob.”

But in Wisdom, we get just a little bit of the concrete, of the tangible. By engaging the tradition of Wisdom Woman, a reader may encounter an aspect of God and might understand God’s ways just a little bit better.

Around the time of the birth of Christ, another book of wisdom sayings was written in a Jewish community in Alexandria. This community had continued with the wisdom traditions of their ancestors and seen the figure of the Wisdom Woman as a way to live with and for God. In the Wisdom of Solomon, this community images King Solomon – David’s son and reportedly the wisest of all the Israelite kings – as praying for wisdom. This is what he says:

“For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of God’s goodness.” [3]

In Wisdom, this community of faith imagines they may see a glimpse of who God is. In Wisdom we may see a drop of the glory of the Almighty, know at least a breath of God’s power. She offers yet another way to look at God—at least an aspect of God.

The Wisdom Woman is a helpful metaphor but a limited one. Yes, Wisdom may, as the writers of Wisdom of Solomon say, be a reflection of eternal light, but she’s only a reflection. She may help us to comprehend an aspect of God, and therefore an aspect of who we are to be, but she can go no further than that.

The fullness of God – the fullness of who God asks us to be – cannot be found in the figure of Wisdom, nor in any other metaphor we human beings have developed to try and speak of and comprehend our God. No Trinitarian eggs or toothpaste or anything else we so cleverly devise can begin to express God’s glory in full. Even the Trinity itself – three persons in one being – is a limited metaphor to express the totality of God.

After Wisdom, after the Trinity, after every other metaphor and expression, we are still left with our question: Who is God?

God is beyond words I can say, any words the most learned scholars and theologians may say, but God is not beyond the Word – for it is in the Word Incarnate that we may know all aspects of God, all of who God is. In Jesus the Christ, we have Word Incarnate, Wisdom Incarnate, Love Incarnate, God Incarnate. God—not in some bush, not through some messenger—but in the flesh. The fullness of God is revealed in the carpenter from Nazareth, in the cosmic Christ who defeated sin and death. We can never create the perfect expression or doctrine or analogy or metaphor to communicate and know the fullness of God. But God can – and did – choose to reveal God’s self perfectly, fully, totally, in the person of Jesus Christ. All of who God is – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit – is there in Christ. Even if we never fully understand.

We may not every fully understand God but in Christ, we can begin to dare to answer the question: who is God?

Who is God? God is the one who chooses servanthood over power, love over hate, inclusion over exclusion.

Who is God? God is the one who risks safety and security for what is right.

Who is God? God is the one who refuses to let our sin have the last word over us, refuses to let our past dictate our future.

Who are we to be? As Paul says, we are to be imitators of Christ.

We are to be followers of the God revealed fully in Jesus Christ.

We are to seek after the way of Christ as the ancient Israelites sought after the way of Wisdom.

In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, Holy Community, Three in One, Amen.


[1] Proverbs 8:32, 34-36

[2] Kathleen M. O’Connor. The Wisdom Literature. Message of Biblical Spirituality. v5. Michael Glazier: Wilmington, DE, 1988. 83

[3] Wisdom of Solomon 7:25-26