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JUNE 3, 2007: Holy Trinity


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

Biblical archaeologist painfully discovered that crucial mistakes can be made when they anticipate what they're going to find before they turn over their first trowel of dirt.

A classic example, the excavations at Jericho (Tell es-Sultan) during the 1930s. Digging to unearth the famous walls Yahweh helped Joshua knock down, John Garstang eventually informed the biblical world he found the fallen fortifications.

Twenty years later, Kathleen Kenyon dug into the same Tell. But to the satisfaction of her scholarly contemporaries, the British archaeologist showed that Garstang's walls had actually been destroyed hundreds of years before Joshua led his army through the Jericho area. This well-documented mistake in identification is one of the reasons today's archaeologists dig without any presupposition about what they're going to find.

Something similar happens when we dig into Scripture on the feast of the Trinity. Without knowing the historical background of today's liturgical texts, some might be tempted to use them to prove the Council of Nicea's famous statement that there are "three persons in one God." Had such a detailed doctrine been in Scripture, the Emperor Constantine would never have been forced to assemble Christianity's bishops to hash out the issue in 325.

The authors of both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures know whenever they attempt to convey concepts of God, they're working with a terrific handicap. As Rudolph Bultmann succinctly put it: "They're on this side, dealing with the other side."

We hear one attempt to cross sides in today's Proverbs pericope. The author expands his readers' idea of Yahweh by personifying their quest to experience Yahweh. Those who seek such wisdom know from the beginning that part of Yahweh's divinity has already been embedded in their search. "When Yahweh established the heavens I (wisdom) was there, when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep . . . made firm the skies above . . . fixed fast the foundations of the earth . . . set for the sea its limit . . . I was beside him as his craftsman . . . ." Our effort to find God is itself part of God.

Christians added another level to the ancient Jewish pursuit to define God in their lives. As we hear in our Romans passage, Paul, who first experienced the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, began to understand how Jesus' relationship with God eventually become the same relationship with God that his followers experience. "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 . . . ."

But as the Apostle reminds his readers, this expanded idea of God doesn't stop there. He states, ". . . The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us." Like all Jesus' original followers, Paul is convinced there's a new dimension of God, a spirit which pervades the communities who profess the faith Jesus professed.

John's Jesus promises this Spirit will be a permanent force in his disciples' lives, helping them treat situations and people as Jesus wants them to. ". . . When he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth . . . will take from what is mine and declare it to you."

Perhaps we, like Professor Garstang, are so driven to find proof for our beliefs that we overlook what Scripture actually tells us. Just as Kenyon was able to demonstrate what really happened when Joshua and the Israelites entered the Promised Land in the 12th century, BCE, so those who stop using Scripture as a proof text for later dogmas will discover the amazing faith journey of those who first tried to understand God, a journey we share with them.