Posted Monday, May 20, 2013:
This coming Sunday, May 26, is Trinity Sunday. At the end of this
post I will append the UCC Daily Devotional I did for that day,
which is on The Trinity. The Trinity being a post-biblical teaching/
doctrine of the church, and the Bible being what it is -- largely
narrative and not systematic teaching -- you won't find "the
Trinity" per se in Scripture. You will find, as in today's gospel,
an elaborate account of the Spirit. And you will find God showing up
in different ways with different roles and effects. So, if you are
of a mind, I think "the Trinity" can inspire some useful thoughts
(see the attached Devotional), but if not I don't think preachers
ought to feel obliged to speak on the Trinity per se. Just go with
one, or more, of the texts.
Proverbs 8: 1 - 4, 22 - 31
Wisdom speaks. She is an intriguing and -- in one senses -- an
elusive figure. Elusive in the sense of showing up powerfully in
parts of Scripture, but not in a way a "developed" character. In
another -- and important sense -- Wisdom is not elusive. She is
public, at the crossroads, out in the streets, available to all. You
don't have to go to an elite school or special seminar.
Wisdom is a creation of God, there from the very beginning:: "The
Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts
of long ago." Wisdom, that is, is written into and upon the fabric
of creation. Creation is imprinted with God's plan and purposes.
Might this be taken to say that as human beings our role is not to
create the world or to create our own order, but to fit into the
divine order, the plan and purposes of God? Modernity conveys the
idea that the individual is sovereign and it is up to each and every
one of us to sort out life pretty much on our own. That's a tall
order. Perhaps a loving God, working with Wisdom, offers a pattern,
an order, a way of life. Our role is to pay attention, to heed the
plan with its limits and its possibilities. In heeding this eternal
plan and purpose our own lives find order, meaning and sanity. Apart
from this order, life easily becomes disordered -- a reality which
is abundantly on display most everywhere we turn.
The language of the latter portion of the text really sounds as if
God had/ has a partner in the work of creation. More even that that:
it sounds as if there is a love relationship between this figure and
the Creator. "I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always."
I don't quite know what to make of this picture, but I like it.
Romans 5: 1 - 5
Though the literary and linguistic worlds of Proverbs and Romans are
vastly different, there is a continuity between the two readings.
Note the "therefore" that begins 5: 1. Something has changed. We
have entered, says Paul, into a new relationship with God, at God's
initiative in Christ. Therefore, a new reality -- peace -- prevails.
Instead of being lost or in rebellion with God's plan and purpose
and way of ordering creation (see Proverbs above) we are in synch,
Here Paul is reflecting on what life is like after a new
relationship with God made possible by Christ. In this sense, the
focus of the early chapters of Romans on human sinfulness has given
way to a new chapter, a new reality. Peterson in the Message catches
this well in his translation of 5: 2, "We find ourselves standing
where we always hoped we might stand -- out in the wide open spaces
of God's grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise."
This doesn't mean that all troubles or suffering are past. But its a
different kind of suffering. Not the self-inflicted suffering of a
person at odds with God and with herself, but the suffering of
creation coming to birth and the suffering of those who are faithful
to God's truth and love. This suffering has positive value,
deepening character and hope.
John 16: 12 - 15
This brief text, the last in this series from the Farewell
Discourse, is a very rich one.
In my Congregational/ UCC tradition, venerable words are those of
pastor to the Pilgrims, John Robinson, "There is yet more truth and
light to break forth from God's Holy Word." These were "updated"
with the phrase, "God is Still Speaking." This text might be
Scriptural grounding for such affirmations. Even though the Farewell
Discourse might be thought of as Jesus' "last words," a theme here
is that his words do not cease. He goes on speaking through the
agency of the Spirit.
This has many implications. One is that the church is always to be a
learning community. We aren't done or finished. We are, and must be,
forever in process. These days, especially, it seems important for
the church to be humble, to be learners.
Another implication or meaning of this text is that we stand, the
church stands, between memory and hope, never sacrificing one to the
other. Memory, for the Spirit, will never speak on its own but
rather the Spirit will "take what is mine and declare it to you."
But hope as well, for "I still have many things to say to you." We
are neither frozen in the past nor disconnected from it.
A different way to put this is to note that the Holy Spirit conveys
Christ, or as one scholar puts it, "Pneumatology is subordinated to
And a final thought. Often in churches clergy and laity feel an
"ought" or "should" around "Bible Study." Just as often, interest
flags and dies. What's going on? The point of "bible study" ought
not, imho, be to learn about the Bible, but rather to hear God
speak. Sometimes we get off into J, E, P, D etc. but fail to listen
for or hearing God speaking. Or to locate this thought in this text,
we fail to let the Spirit do its work.
Lastly, here's my UCC Devotion for Trinity Sunday, on the uses of
the doctrine itself:
A wise person once said to me, “Most churches tend to be churches of
one person of the Trinity or another.” Some churches, in other
words, are all about God, Father or Creator, while others are all
over Jesus, Christ and Redeemer. And still others seem to know
nothing but the Holy Spirit, Holy Ghost power and gifts of the
In my experience there’s a lot of truth in that observation. We get
comfortable with one person of the Trinity, one way of thinking
about or knowing God and kind of overlook the others, with whom we
may -- for whatever reason -- be less comfortable.
But the great gift of the Trinity can be to push us out of our
comfort zones, out of the ways we limit God.
So it your church is real comfortable with God, Parent and Creator,
the growing edge might be Jesus, who makes God down-to-earth,
specific and in-your-face who moves us beyond God as “sacred blur”
(in the words of one friend).
Or should your church just love Jesus and honks for him every time,
it might be good to remember that it didn’t all end at Calvery, that
the Spirit is alive and at work here and now, teaching us new
And if you’re all up in the Spirit, digging the power and ecstasy,
remember it’s not about how spiritual or spirited we are, for the
Spirit teaches us Jesus and empowers us to be Christ to our
neighbors here and now (who are themselves all children of God the
Creator of all that is and shall be, world without end, amen).
The Trinity is a little gift of the church intended, among other
things, to keep our heads and hearts spinning and our faith living.
Given half a chance, it will remind us that whevever we think we’ve
got God figured out, we don’t.