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MAY 26, 2013: HOLY TRINITY

Readings: 

Proverbs 8:22-31
Romans 5:1-5
John 16:12-15

It's always difficult to comment on readings for a feast which our sacred authors knew nothing or very little about. The technical definition of the Trinity - three persons in one God - was formulated at the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, more than 200 years after our last scriptural writing took shape. Though our Christian biblical writers speak about a Father, Son and Holy Spirit, they don't join them together into a formal Trinity. Just as one can define a real connoisseur of classical music as an individual who hears the William Tell Overture and doesn't think of the Lone Ranger, so a real connoisseur of Scripture is someone who hears a biblical writing that speaks of a Father, Son and Holy Spirit and doesn't think of Nicea's Trinity definition.

But what should someone be thinking?

Certainly we should appreciate the "otherworldly" experiences with which Jesus' earliest followers had to deal. By coming into contact with this Galilean carpenter, they also came into contact with someone who went far beyond the words and concepts they had traditionally employed to describe their God.

We know from John's theology that Jesus' disciples eventually reached the conclusion that Jesus and God were one and the same. But they also realized that this insight only came long after the historical Jesus' death and resurrection. That meant that only Jesus' Spirit - a special gift they all received after his death and resurrection - could have led them to understand that oneness.

This seems to be why, during his Last Supper discourse, John's Jesus states, "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth." Our Christian sacred authors were convinced revelation didn't end with the demise of the historical Jesus. It's an ongoing process, instigated and guided by Jesus' Spirit.

Some of Jesus' earliest followers compared Jesus' Spirit to Yahweh's spirit in the Hebrew Scriptures, especially zeroing in on the "wisdom" which Yahweh's spirit embeds in all creation. Unlike our modern ideas of wisdom, scriptural wisdom springs from the ability to surface and appreciate God working in everything God created. Along with other wisdom authors, the writer of today's Proverbs passage believes we're able to learn about Yahweh by carefully observing patterns in nature - patterns which help us uncover and understand God's actions and personality. Of course, other biblical writers, especially the author of Job, contend we really can't discover who God is by following that process, forcing scholars to talk about the biblical "wisdom debate."

As a proponent of the "pro" side of that controversy, our Proverbs author poetically describes the wisdom aspect of God's spirit, actually personifying that dimension, a trait he or she believes was present from the "beginning of God's ways."

Though Paul, in our Romans pericope, doesn't seem to get involved in the wisdom debate, he's convinced that Jesus' Spirit leads us to recognize and appreciate the "love of God (which) has been poured out into our hearts." His Spirit helps us look at everything in our lives in a different way than other people view those events. The Apostle goes so far as to "boast in (his) afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint…." The Spirit changes everything - or at least the way we look at everything, even the way we look at God.

Thankfully the historical Jesus doesn't seem to have been concerned with definitions of God. He was simply committed to showing us how to experience God, the very thing his followers eventually experienced in him.