Sermon Trinity Sunday Year C [RCL Resources Index]
Holy Wisdom in Community
[Note: For a different, less abstract, approach to teaching about the nature of God as the Holy Trinity, see the sermon for Trinity Year B, A practical understanding of the Trinity]

On this Trinity Sunday I want bring an insight into the nature of God as Trinity that comes from the Old Testament lesson about Holy Wisdom. Although the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is largely of New Testament origins because it depends upon the appearance in human life of God the Son, some of its essential elements were present much earlier in the Hebrew Scriptures, and there is one aspect of those early revelations which needs emphasis today when for many people talk of God as Father, Son and even as the Holy Spirit, who is also referred to as 'he', presents us with images of God that some members of the church feel to be too exclusively male, and which can present non-believers with a false picture of what we believe about God.

Deep within the mystery of the being of God, in being itself, there is community. God is one and there is no other beside him, as the people of Israel learned long ago and people of different faiths, especially Moslems, still proclaim today. There is only one God. Yet there is relatedness within this one God; and, furthermore, that capacity for relating, for loving in communion, within the one being, is extended to us, so that we may share in the communion that is in the being of God. As we were remembering a few weeks ago in regard to Christian unity, Jesus prayed for us:

The unity that is Christ's will and his gift for the Church, and is offered to the world, is an extension of the unity of mutual dwelling in and belong to one another that exits between Jesus and God the Father. It is a relationship in which Jesus could say They are one being, yet they have a relationship -- community within identity and identity in community. This is where we begin the see something of what it means to understand God as the Holy Trinity. A similar mutual confidence of the Father and the Son is expressed in the Holy Spirit, who is promised in the gospel reading today [John 16:12-15] and elsewhere in his farewell to the disciples and final prayer of Jesus. It is through the Spirit that we are enabled to respond to the invitation to share in the communion that is in the very being of God. So Paul concluded one of his letters in the classic formula of blessing in the name of the Holy Trinity, which Christians have repeated ever since: The prayer for "the grace", "the love", and "the communion" (or fellowship or sharing) has the same intention at each point, that is, that we will be included in the relationships that exist within God, the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The feminist view

Before I leave this rather abstract way of speaking, for a different way, let me share with you how a contemporary woman theologian, Elizabeth Johnson, expresses the way the relatedness in God is extended to include us is. It is a little difficult, but I think you will get the main point:

At its most basic the symbol of the Trinity evokes a livingness in God, a dynamic coming and going with the world that points to an inner divine circling around in unimaginable relation. God's relatedness to the world in creating, redeeming, and renewing activity suggests to the Christian mind that God's own being is somehow similarly differentiated. Not an isolated, static, ruling monarch but a relational, dynamic, tripersonal mystery of love ...

And she adds, '-- who would not opt for the latter?' That is, for 'a relational, dynamic, tripersonal mystery of love', rather than 'an isolated, static, ruling monarch.'   Elizabeth Johnson is a feminist theologian as you could see from the title of her book about the mystery of God: She Who Is. She and other women writers have enriched our understanding of God with more feminine images in recent work, but it should not be thought that such an understanding is limited to women. Consider this reflection on the nature of Jesus by Anslem of Canterbury, a man, indeed an archbishop in the Eleventh Century:

But you too, good Jesus, are you not also a mother?
Are you not a mother who like a hen gathers her chicks beneath her wings? ...
And you, my soul, dead in yourself,
run under the wings of Jesus your mother
and lament your griefs under his feathers.
Ask that your wounds may be healed
and that, comforted, you may live again.
Christ, my mother, you gather your chickens under your wings;
This dead chicken of yours puts himself under those wings ...
Warm your chicken, give life to your dead one, justify your sinner.

You may remember on Palm Sunday taking note of the scripture passage which inspired those thoughts of Anslem:

It is important to grasp the more feminine characteristics in order to balance the masculine images of God that arise with terms like Father and Son, as when we speak of the Holy Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is more to it than we are familiar with these days, it is well based in scripture, and we need to be ready to use these ancient insights to counter false teaching about the nature of God when masculine images and ways of thinking dominate to the exclusion of a more balanced understanding.

Holy Wisdom and Christ

Did you notice the feminine character of Wisdom as she introduced herself in the Old Testament lesson [Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31]

She appears also, as a woman, in the Wisdom of Solomon [read Wisdom 6:12-15] This winsome, attractive character is described in Proverbs as having been created by God at the beginning before the world was made: She was with God at the beginning -- now where have you heard that before? And she celebrated the creation with God: Where else do we read about a person who shared with God the Father in the creation at the beginning? John writes of the Word, rather than Wisdom, and of he rather than she, but see how similar is the opening part of John's gospel: What John said of the Word is a little stronger than Proverbs said of Wisdom. The Word is said actually to be God, and there from the beginning. Clearly it is the same understanding, nevertheless. The same idea of the pre-existing Christ is found in the final prayer of Jesus we were thinking of a while ago: Paul picks up the same idea in the first chapter of his letter to the Colossians: The Word that became flesh was the Wisdom who shared in making the world. Do you think that it is then conceivable (sic) that is he/she might just as easily have been born a woman?

Even Jesus himself referred to his own work as the work of a female Wisdom. In controversy he said:

Wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. So Christ is also known as Santa Sophia, and the great church in Constantinople (Istanbul today) that was the centre of worship in the Eastern Church for a thousand years bears that name, Santa Sophia or Holy Wisdom, and in its great dome it depicts Christ raised on high and ruling in majesty. Her deeds were remembered. However her deeds are not found only in the deeds of Jesus of Nazareth. The work of Wisdom (Sophia) can also be identified with the work of the Holy Spirit.

Holy Wisdom and the Holy Spirit

At the beginning the Spirit moved over the chaos before an ordered world was born. As Elizabeth Johnson puts it

In the beginning she hovers like a great mother bird over her egg, to hatch the living order out of primordial chaos (Gen 1:2).

She pervades the universe as one who holds all things together:

Job confesses Last Sunday the Psalm praised God for the Spirit in creation Paul uses a feminine image of the Spirit in the renewal of creation that is brought about by the work of the redeemer: It is in fact significant that Jesus himself referred more than once to the coming of the Kingdom as like a woman giving birth.

We always struggle when we try to express the mystery of God in human terms. We have only a very limited understanding, and even then the understanding that we do have through our appreciation of the wonder of God's work as Creator, Redeemer and Guide must remain to a large extent inexpressible. We cannot simply say Creator instead of Father, because the Word that became flesh as God the Son shared in the creation of all that is, and the Spirit which was poured out at Pentecost was there at the beginning hovering over the unformed chaos before the order of creation was called forth.  Nor can we say "Redeemer" in the place of "God the Son", for God the Father is also known as one who redeems his people, and certainly the Spirit is at work in our redemption, while the guidance the Spirit gives in daily life is also the guidance and support of Christ our friend and our Lord who will be with us to the end of the age.   You cannot avoid misunderstanding simply by changing the language in which we speak of God, one being in community, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and thus try to avoid "sexist" terms;  but it helps if we use some feminine as well as masculine images to confess our faith in the one holy God who gives life, bears pain, nurtures, protects and rescues us. That loving outreach from God expresses the very nature of one who possesses community of persons within the one being and extends that loving communion to us.

Let us then respond by entering gladly into that communion and by living out our lives in service, building communities in family, work, city, nation and the world, communities which declare in action the one holy God who gives life, bears pain, nurtures, protects and rescues.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
praise him, all creatures here below,
praise him above, ye heavenly host,
praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

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