In the church calendar, today is known as Trinity Sunday. It’s one of the only Sundays of the year devoted to reflection on a doctrine, specifically the Christian way of understanding God as One is made known to us in three distinct ways: in the traditional language of the church as Father, Son and Holy Ghost or in more contemporary and inclusive language as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer or sometimes Creator, Christ and Spirit.
Now some ministers love to wax eloquently and at great length about the Trinity. I am not one of them. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I preached a sermon on the Trinity or even invited us to acknowledge Trinity Sunday. I’m thinking over 20 years now. But I was drawn to reflect on the Trinity today because of the scripture readings from the lectionary we just heard. The readings that speak of the majesty of God in creation which those of us who live on the West Coast have no difficulty in relating to, and the mystery of God made known to us as Wisdom.
In more orthodox Christian understanding, the Spirit is considered to be the presence that blew through the disciples like wildfire on the day of Pentecost. But in the Hebrew tradition, the Spirit was present with God from the very beginning of time, she hovered over the waters at creation and as we heard in today’s scripture reading she is personified in the Hebrew scriptures as wisdom. Her name is Sophia.
What you may or may not know that is that in the New Testament, Wisdom comes to life in Jesus. She is the Word made flesh. So when we have scripture readings like the ones we have before us this morning with Wisdom and God the Creator on full display, we really have the fullness of the Trinity before us: God whose fingers have created the moon and the stars making them so stunningly beautiful they can take your breath away; God incarnate, come to life in human flesh, love with skin on, made known to us in Jesus and in the physical presence of everyone who ever graced the face of planet earth; God the mysterious spirit that has the capacity to take our hearts by storm, fuel in us a passion for justice and compassion or simply enabling us to embrace the life we were always meant to lead blowing us into places we thought we were otherwise incapable of going.
And it’s this mysterious spirit and particularly the aspect of this spirit that comes to us in the form of wisdom that I really want us to focus on this morning. Our reading from the Book of Proverbs tell us wisdom has been with God since the very beginning of time, a master worker helping to bring all things into being. She calls to us from the gates of the town, at road crossings, at the entrance of the portals. In other words she is at loose and on the run in the world. She will not be confined to a temple or a church. She functions independently of religious structures. She is accessible to everyone in every place. And that is what makes her so awesome and so threatening.
As a little girl growing up in the church no one taught me about her. No one taught me about Sophia. For many years and still today she has been largely ignored by the church. And that makes a lot of sense to me because if Sophia (Wisdom) can be accessed anywhere at anytime by anyone we might want to ask then what do we need the church for?
It’s been interesting for me to discover over the years that in Hebrew thought Wisdom (Sophia) combines both knowing what is right with doing what is right. In other words, we can possess all the right knowledge there is to have in the world, but if we don’t act on that right knowledge, we are not being very wise.
So for example, like everyone in this room today, I know that our environment is in deep trouble and I know I want to be a part of solving that problem instead of contributing to it. I know I need to be careful about the waste I create and the air I pollute and I try to make good choices around that. Yet I regularly get in my car and drive instead of taking transit because it is more convenient, I buy clothes I don’t need and I use an inordinate amount of paper towels in my kitchen.
I also know that eating whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables, preferably organic, is the best thing for my body (and the environment) but as I wrote this sermon I hoovered down a very large quantity of peanut M&Ms – which I am pretty sure are not made with fair trade chocolate.
I know that God has planted within me a deep wisdom about living well and I know that I do not always choose to live wisely. We all know this.
That is one reason I think the church over the years has tried to be the voice of wisdom in the world, tried showing us how to live wisely in an often unwise world by telling people how they should and shouldn’t live. Often what’s come out the other end of that is a kind of morality and hierarchy that has been quite harmful. When we think we have to tell people how to be wise we can easily forget that each one of us is a source of wisdom.
Ultimately, wisdom is something that we need to awaken to within ourselves. The Celts seemed to know this because unlike most Western Christian traditions Celtic Christianity can’t be reduced to a set of doctrines or beliefs. Instead at its core is the conviction that we need to keep listening to what our soul already knows. We need to awaken and listen both to our inner wisdom and to the way our wisdom resonates with the wisdom around us, the wisdom that calls to us from the streets.
Several years ago now I heard a documentary on CBC radio about an Iranian artist who in the days of the Ayatollah Kohmeni counted himself among those who were prepared to kill others for the sake of Islam. He became involved with a group of people who fostered within him a sense of great fear. It wasn’t until he had an experience that in his words “shook him awake” that he realized that he was being manipulated by people who were telling him what he should and shouldn’t think. It wasn’t until he gave himself the time and space to find out about other ways of thinking and to begin to think for himself that he realized what it was that he really believed and what he really valued about the world. When that happened he left Iran and the grip of the Ayatollah and his followers and he became an artist.
This story is a good illustration of the way that we are not made wise about ourselves and the world by letting other people tell us what we are to believe and what we are to do. We are made wise by listening to our inner wisdom.
And yet one of things this awakened artist talked about was how his experience also made him aware of the dark side within each one of us and how easily that dark side can be manipulated by religion, by the media and by our governments. I would add that is especially true if our media, religion and governments are not awake and aware themselves of their own collective shadows.
Wisdom may indeed be on the loose in the world, but too much of the world we live in fosters within us the kind of fear, greed, complacency and desire for power that drives us to make poor choices in our lives. And when we don’t take the time to slow down and notice that, to stop and ponder those things, when we go through our days in a kind of slumbering state, we are not always awake to what it is that is driving our choices. And when that happens, even though we know what is right inside ourselves, we end up making poor choices that often have harmful implications for ourselves and others.
Yesterday at the Pacific Mountain Region’s annual meeting of the church, our Regional Vocations Minister, the Rev. Brenda Fawkes, talked to us about the piece of her work that relates to disciplinary action for ministry personnel. She very compassionately shared with us that when clergy are under a lot of stress, when they become burnt out and exhausted they are far more likely to cross boundaries and to make unwise and harmful choices. Then she reminded us that we’ve all been under a lot of stress these last couple of years inferring that we are more prone to making poor choices right now.
As she said this, I found myself thinking about the way this truth has played out in our wider world. How, when the pandemic began we were all so wise in our care and concern for one another. But as time has gone one and we’ve lived with more and more stress we started to lose our collective capacity to access our inner wisdom. It’s as if we are attending one big slumber party. We’re tired and that makes it harder to care for others, harder to care for our environment and harder to care for ourselves despite the many, many wake up calls our planet and the world keeps giving us. That doesn’t mean there isn’t lots and lots of wise action still taking place in the world, it’s just that the stress and weariness we’ve been living with has made the world a little bit sloppy in our boundaries. We’re crankier and therefore more likely to make poor choices instead of right choices.
That brings us all the way back to the purpose of the church in a world where wisdom is at loose in the world. When the church is at its best awakened self, it has the capacity to remind us of the wisdom we have within ourselves and to encourage us slow down and listen to that wisdom and to the places our wisdom is resonating with the wisdom that is calling to us from the streets, luring us and enabling us into action that is wise.
The scriptures tell us that wisdom is given to anyone who searches to live in harmony with creation. She is found where justice is found, where peace is known and where new life emerges. In the beginning she was with God the Creator, she came to life in the one we call the Christ, and she dwells in each and every one of us, as close to us as our breath. Three in one, one in three. To find her we just need to slow down, listen and awaken to her presence.