MAY 22ND, 2016: HOLY TRINITY
Thus says the wisdom of God:
"The LORD possessed me, the beginning of his ways,
the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;
from of old I was poured forth,
at the first, before the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no fountains or springs of water;
before the mountains were settled into place,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
while as yet the earth and fields were not made,
nor the first clods of the world.
"When the Lord established the heavens I was there,
when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
when he made firm the skies above,
when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;
when he set for the sea its limit,
so that the waters should not transgress his command;
then was I beside him as his craftsman,
and I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
playing on the surface of his earth;
and I found delight in the human race."
Brothers and sisters:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith,
we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have gained access by faith
to this grace in which we stand,
and we boast in hope of the glory of God.
Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions,
knowing that affliction produces endurance,
and endurance, proven character,
and proven character, hope,
and hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Jesus said to his disciples:
"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.
He will not speak on his own,
but he will speak what he hears,
and will declare to you the things that are coming.
He will glorify me,
because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you.
Everything that the Father has is mine;
for this reason I told you that he will take from what is mine
and declare it to you."
In listening to today’s readings, we must remember that the definition of the Trinity we learned in our Baltimore Catechism – “three persons in one God” – wasn’t formulated until the Council of Nicea in 325 CE, more than 130 years after John’s gospel was written. It certainly wasn’t a “dogma” his disciples understood either on Easter Sunday evening or on the day after Jesus’ ascension. It took many generations before his followers were able to put their experiences of him/her into such precise words.
Yet, even before followers of God encountered Jesus of Nazareth, they knew when they were dealing with God they were dealing with someone totally “other,” someone who went far beyond any definitions or metaphors they could apply to one another. This is certainly clear in today’s Proverbs passage.
The author actually personifies Yahweh’s wisdom. Though scholars presume he or she is speaking metaphorically, they’re convinced this insight comes from the writer’s experience of Yahweh in everyday life. God’s ability to bring meaning to that life is something which symbolically stands outside any “normal” individual’s personality. If we’re expected to make sense of creation, God’s wisdom must have been “poured forth” before creation began. To surface meaning in creation is to surface God in creation.
Centuries after Proverbs was composed, people began to experience Jesus of Nazareth. And the more they experienced this itinerant preacher, the more they experienced dimensions of God they hadn’t surfaced or noticed before. As Paul of Tarsus realized in his own life, when he gave himself over to the risen Jesus in faith and love, he also received the same Spirit which had driven Jesus throughout his earthly ministry. Amazingly, he reminds the Christian community in Rome that one of the places he most noticed this Spirit was in a situation he never could have imagined his/her presence before it actually happened: affliction.
Affliction is usually something we try to avoid. Yet, because of the Spirit’s presence, Paul began to recognize a unique endurance, character and hope that he could attain no other way. Instead of affliction being a lack of something, the afflicted Apostle found himself overwhelmed with “the love of God,” a love that only could have come through the Spirit which Jesus had instilled in his followers. What a Spirit-filled insight!
Writing about 35 years after Paul’s martyrdom, John reflects on even more aspects of Jesus’ divine personality, especially when it comes to his Spirit. Though he’s convinced the risen Jesus totally identifies with Yahweh/Father, he’s also certain that Jesus’ Spirit is the force which breaks the limits of this Galilean carpenter’s earthly ministry. John’s Jesus assures us, “I have much more to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.”
Followers of Jesus don’t just repeat what the historical Jesus said and did. They believe the Holy Spirit is leading them through doors the historical Jesus never went through, doors most of his early disciples didn’t even know existed. One example which immediately comes to mind is slavery. No Christian biblical author ever condemns slavery as such. Paul even sends the runaway slave Onesimus back to Philemon, his master, something Christians wouldn’t even think of doing today. Without Scriptural backing, we can only blame Jesus’ Spirit for leading many Christians to the forefront of the abolition movement.
But there’s a problem. If we acknowledge Jesus’ Spirit as the force behind such a radical change in our culture, into what areas is that same Spirit leading us today?
Maybe we’d feel more comfortable if we could conveniently forget about that Spirit dimension of God’s personality.