Does not wisdom call…delighting in the human race?
What wonderful concept—God's wisdom not only calls us, but also delights in us! We desperately need to hear God's wisdom in an era of political and global crises! What prevents us from hearing? Trinity Sunday offers us a clue: we are brought face to face with the mystery of God and the human struggle to understand our experiences of God.
Trinity Sunday is full of rich and complex themes. As one hymn expresses it we worship the Three in one and one in three. It is a day when we focus on God's mystery as Creator, Redeemer, and Advocate. At the height of our service today we will sing (say) the ancient words of the Sanctus offering a threefold Holy, holy, holy as we commence the Eucharistic feast. This use of Isaiah's ancient song with its threefold "holy" is a very early part of the Christian liturgy, dating from at least the 2nd century and helped to promote the Trinitarian focus of Christian worship.
But a century later the idea of the Trinity became something of a political football in a very divided church. Some wanted to protect the eternal mystery of God uncompromised by the presence of the human Jesus; others wanted to protect the divinity of Jesus as the incarnate Son of God and equal person in the Trinity. The resulting division of the church was a problem for the Emperor, Constantine. He needed a united church to help consolidate his empire. Constantine summoned all of the bishops to the city of Nicea where he secured their commitment to the Trinitarian formula that is now preserved in the Nicean Creed that we recite every Sunday.
I do not intend to bore you with the complex linguistic issues the framing of this creedal document faced, but I do want to draw attention to the political consequences of this event in the life of the church. By exercising his imperial power in this manner Constantine gave shape to a view of God, and of Jesus, that had all of the overtones of his own imperial authority. The ancient historian Eusebius says that in many ways Constantine displaced Jesus as the primary earthly image of God. God was now seen to be like an emperor. Jesus became a King. In subsequent eras monarchs came to rule with divine favor and embody the kingly rule of God.
This imperial use of religion is an ever-present temptation—as servants of God the King crusades have been launched to eradicate evil. Much of our own self-image as Americans is shaped by ideas of our special status as a people chosen to show God's way of righteousness by ridding the world of evil. But as we witness the debacle in Iraq we see how dangerous it is for any nation to have this kind of missionary zeal.
Many have said that by projecting images of imperial or royal power onto God we are guilty of anthropo-morphizing God; that is we make God into some kind of human entity that we admire. But I suggest that the real theological issue is not the anthropomorphizing of God; it is the deification of humankind. Our tendency is to make humankind into whatever image of God we project: if God is an emperor or a monarch, then in God's name we rule all that is before us; if God is a creator-mechanic, then we create and manage the earth as we see fit. We view humankind in our image of God, sometimes with profound consequences for our life on this planet. Currently we are facing an ecological crisis that is a direct consequence of our view of ourselves as the sovereign species on the planet. We live as if we are the only species that matter.
Sally McFague, who has written extensively on the idea of God and creation, says that how we view God and consequently how we view ourselves, is the source of many of the problems we face as a species. We have assumed a role on this earth that ignores what she calls the household rules: "take only your share; clean up after yourself; and keep the house in good repair for those to come." It does not take a great deal of imagination to see the devastation that we have created on this "fragile planet, our island home." There is increasing evidence that we are facing a global challenge as we witness the effects of global warming, increasing hunger and poverty, and the rampage of AIDS in Africa, not to speak of the increasing danger our abuse of the planet is bringing to the survival of several non-human species. McFague says that we need a new ecological economics to replace the current dominant model of economics. The current model rewards the survival of the fittest, but at the cost of community and belonging; we need a model that views our place here as a part of the whole community of nature and learn to live in such a way as the needs of all are met; not just the few who currently benefit from the present system of greed.
It is time to listen to that voice of wisdom that delights in us as we heard in the first reading. Many scholars say that Jesus was attuned to this voice of wisdom and that much of his teaching was influenced by the wisdom traditions of ancient Israel. Instead of domination and greed, Jesus speaks of God as one who welcomes all to the table, who acknowledges the least among us, who is the sower of seed, and the protector of birds and children. This God invites us to live into the rhythm of life, not to dominate creation, but to join in the harmony of creation and learn to treat it as a gift.
Jesus brings a new dimension of God to our consciousness. Brian McLaren describes this as the difference between God A and God B. God A is the macho ruler whose power and will drives all into submission; God B, Jesus' view of God, is of a "unified, eternal, mysterious, relational community/family/ society/entity of saving Love." Jesus came with a message of the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom unlike all the imagined kingdoms we humans have relished. In this Kingdom all will receive a living wage instead of half the world that lives on $2 a day. In this Kingdom all will be invited to the palace for a feast, instead of the few who can afford to eat sumptuously. In this Kingdom children will be prized as gifts to cherish, instead of fodder for violence or consumption. As McLarne puts it, "When greed and consumerism are exposed, when arrogance and irreverence are unplugged, when hurry and selfishness are named and repented of, when the sacred-secular rift in our thinking is healed, the world and all it contains (widows, orphans, trees, soil) are revalued and made sacred again."
Wisdom calls and delights in the human race. There are no chosen people, privileged people, special people; the God who brought them to life delights in all people. Trinity Sunday is an invitation to expand our image of God to see fully the "human face of God in Jesus" and to join with Jesus in the Spirit filled community that is about the care and sustaining of all of creation. (Note what some of our members are doing about our care for the environment as they suggest new ways to manage how we enjoy food and refreshments and consider attending "An Inconvenient Truth" this Saturday.)
William Wordsworth meditates on our place in nature in a poem called Lines Written in Early Spring. He writes about the "thousand blended notes" he hears and sees as nature abounds all around, and then he writes these sobering lines:
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.
Trinity Sunday is about the expansive vision of God who is at once present in the humanity of Jesus and in the Spirit filled communities that seek to renew and care for all of creation. For people who meet God in this threefold manner the church is not about who is in, or who is out, it is not about creating a safe haven of like-minded people, it is about meeting God who is abroad in the world seeking and saving the lost, it is about a shared commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, and is about embodying the same love for people and creation that we see in Jesus, the Son of God and that we see in the renewing power of those Spirit filled communities among us. Blessed be the name of the Holy Trinity. Amen.