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May 30, 2010
Pastor Caroline Satre
Today is Trinity Sunday; it is the day we affirm our belief that God is one, yet three. We believe that one God has been revealed in three ways or in three "persons:" Father-the one who creates us, Son-the one who redeems us, and Holy Spirit-the one who sustains us. Therefore, each reading today focuses one "person" of the Trinity.
Did you notice, however, that another "person" shows up in one of these readings? Known primarily by her Greek name, Sophia, Woman Wisdom (or wisdom personified) shows up in a genre of biblical literature called Wisdom Literature and therefore in books like Proverbs and Job. Although certainly not a separate person of the Trinity, Sophia is definitely part of the biblical witness.
In the Western Christian Church, we haven't talked much about Sophia since the fourth century. She is enjoying a bit of a resurgence these days, though, thanks to feminist theologians like Elizabeth Johnson who wrote a book called "She Who Is" and novelists like Dan Brown and his bestseller "The DaVinci Code." In the latter book, one of the codes that the main character has to solve is about a woman of wisdom who I recognized immediately as Sophia. (Except that Brown spelled her name with an "f" instead of a "ph"...) Because Sophia is enjoying a rise in notoriety...and because we don't often talk about the Bible's wisdom tradition...and because Holy Trinity is one of the more challenging Sundays to find something interesting and inspiring to talk about...it's a good day to spend some time with Sophia...Woman Wisdom...wisdom personified to see what it means for us to understand God in this way and how ancient Israel's tradition of wisdom might still hold meaning for us today.
First, what does it mean for us to understand God as a wise woman?
On Church Music Sunday I lifted up the fact that how we praise God matters. The names we call God...the metaphors we use...form us. Largely because of the great music we are privileged to enjoy and to sing, we've become comfortable with God as rock and fortress and Father. What might it mean for us to become familiar and comfortable with other biblical metaphors like woman in labor, mother hen, and woman wisdom?
I have a friend who was raised Roman Catholic. She likes how we think as Lutheran Christians, but she misses an emphasis on Mary, the mother of Jesus. As a life-long Protestant, I always thought the Roman Catholic emphasis on Mary was their way of simply appeasing today's modern women...as in "there, there, dear, there's always Mary." My friend saw it entirely differently. She looked at Mary as a bit of the Feminine Divine. That was an eye-opener for me...a completely different way to view the veneration of Mary. It reminded me, as does Sophia, that there is value in embracing God's feminine side. What does it mean for you? What does it mean for our daughters...and our sons?
The second question to ponder this morning is: What does ancient Israel's tradition of wisdom mean for us today? What meaning do those parts of the Bible hold for us in this time and place?
I've always found it odd when people think of the Bible as a book of rules to follow. There are some rules in places like Leviticus and Deuteronomy or even in places like Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. But there also seems to be this deep awareness within scripture that rules, even divinely authorized and given rules, are never enough. For so many of the deep moral dilemmas of life we need more than rules.
Certainly, there are some decisions that require only the facts. Should I buy a new car or not? Well, what is the cost of the car, and how much debt load can I manage? Then, there are some decisions that simply require obedience to a rule. Should I stop at the stop sign at the corner of Westmoreland and Garden Place? What does the law say and what are the possible consequences for disobeying it? Those decisions are simple enough, but there are plenty of other decisions that one must make in life-and they are often among the most important decisions-that require more than facts...more than rules. Should I marry this person? Is this a good course for me to take with my life? Will this job make me happy? Should I play it safe, or take a risk in this circumstance? These are situations that require something considerably more than knowledge. They require wisdom.
The philosopher Aristotle said that it isn't enough to tell somebody the truth. Rather, that truth is best which is told to the right person, at the right time, for the right reasons. And of course, you can't come up with a rule for that. You've got to know yourself. You've got to be able to be self-critical and honest about yourself. And you've got to know other people. You've got to know when to push in a certain situation and when to hold back, when to move, and when to stand still. In other words, you've got to be wise.
If wisdom is, as Proverbs says, more valuable than wealth or fame, and as the early church said, one of the most noble of the ethical virtues, and as the entire wisdom literature tradition says, a successful way to cope with life, how do we acquire such a thing?
Of course we get some wisdom from our parents and the generations that have come before us. We get some through the trial and error of our own experiences. But mostly, we learn to live wisely by rubbing elbows with Woman Wisdom who, in the book of Proverbs, is associated with God the Creator, who built wisdom right into the structure of creation. The Bible doesn't stop there. Some theologians have said that the Gospel of John associates wisdom with God the Son...the one who was filled with grace and truth...the one who was with God from the beginning...the one who is called the logos...which can be translated from the Greek as not only the Word, but also the Wisdom of God. He is the one who gave himself in wisdom for you and for me and told us to love one another. And, as you might now surmise, there is one more way the Bible suggests we are able to rub elbows with Woman Wisdom. As the Gospels and the book of Romans say, when you don't know what to say or what to pray, the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness by giving us the words and the wisdom to know what is needed.
Perhaps, then, coming to a place like this with people such as these is wiser than some may imagine, because it is here that we learn to watch for and to discern what could only be described as the wisdom of God the Father-the one who creates us, God the Son-the one who redeems us, and God the Holy Spirit-the one who sustains us.
May God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--bless you and keep you and guide you into all the truth. Amen.