Here we are on Trinity Sunday—the Sunday when we celebrate one of the most difficult concepts in Christianity (God being three in one). And this is the Sunday when the lectionary committee has decided to lift up the Wisdom image from Proverbs—one of the more prominent female images of divine activity in the Bible. But this is Father’s Day. Anyone else see the irony?
Fortunately, human beings are capable of complex tasks. Yes, Virginia, we can walk and chew gum at the same time. And maybe, today’s Trinity/Wisdom/Father’s Day is a reminder of the mystery of God. And a reminder that if we downplay either “side” of God—masculine Father or feminine Wisdom, we lose part of the beauty of the divine—and risk stunting the wonder of our own human life.
This is a moment in history when gender, male/female “ness” is a topic of much discussion. Whether it is pressure from the #metoo movement (exposing the disgusting way that men have abused their power over women in every space, including the church). Whether it is the push from our younger generations trying to create a place for those who feel trapped by the male/female duality (go home and google “cisgender”). Whether it is the attack on women’s control over their own bodies, or the reemergence of hate speech directed at anyone who is “other.”
So I step into today’s topic with trepidation. I could have ignored our Scripture and chosen a different Father’s Day message. I could have relegated the secular “Father’s Day” to a gift and preached only on the much needed feminine image of Wisdom. But either choice seemed wrong. Trinity Sunday is the reminder that God has revealed God’s Self to us as community: as this, that, and the other; as Lover, Beloved, and the love between them; as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We do not need to denigrate maleness just because it has been wrongly used as an oppressive tool. Just as we should not poo-poo the cries of those who have felt they were not fully included in the image of God.
I was struck by a piece in the June 24th issue of TIME magazine by David French. In his beautiful tribute to his father, David shares these musings.
“That … was a model of my father’s approach to raising his kids. Walk your talk. Live your values. Provide for and protect your family. He told me to be kind to women, sure, but I watched him love and honor my mother. He exhorted me to work hard, but the lesson stuck because I saw him grind night after night as he went back to school to get another degree and took on side jobs to help pay the bills.
…With good reason, many of the most harmful attributes associated with traditional masculinity are being re-examined. But as we reckon with the damage of these freighted expectations, we can’t lose sight of the essential role fathers play in shaping sons into men of character.”
Yes, we need to hold onto the image of a Father shown in God’s desire to shelter us from harm, to urge us towards justice and peace, to be ready to welcome us home with open arms. We need to remember the wonderful stories Jesus told and was a part of—the Father of the Lost Son (running to welcome his prodigal child home); and Jairus (a leader of the synagogue, but more importantly the father of a little girl who is ill)—are the two that readily come to mind. We need to have (as our anthem this morning puts it) “in this troubled world… fathers of strength and steadfast mind;” fathers who recognize it is not on them to be all and be the end all, for fathers too, just like the rest of us, are held in God the Father’s hand.
We know not all people have had wonderful experiences with those called “father.” But we hold up the ideal. And we celebrate the gifts that men can bring to our world, both as biological fathers, and father figures for us all—from their strength, to their tenderness, to their vulnerability, to their daring, to their individuality.
If I can piggyback on the phrase Rev. West has been preaching at 8am the last month or so, “it takes a village” not only to raise a child, but to create human community. So as we hold up our honor of fathers and men on the one hand, we also need to lift up images that are more feminine in nature—so that they too can be honored. This is where our Scripture lesson comes to the fore. Wisdom is unapologetically female. In Proverbs, Wisdom is called “she” and states that she has been with God from the beginning. There were whole schools of mystic thought that grounded themselves on Wisdom literature. Jesus is often considered to have been influenced by this Jewish Wisdom culture, seen most notably in the beginning of the gospel according to John. So don’t think that because our reading for this morning was from the Hebrew Scriptures that it has nothing to do with us!
Wisdom in Proverbs is not only a she, but she takes the position of God present with us in the world—(like the Holy Spirit). I also love that Wisdom in this passage is not some wise old woman but more like a little kid, reveling in creation, delighting in all things: you can almost see her dancing. I find it extraordinary that this obviously female portrayal is described not only as with being around God always, but also as tasked with trying to help humankind figure out how to be in relationship with God.
It is Wisdom’s role to call to all people (in prophetic stance)—and this call is not contained to the home, or with the children, but is “on the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads, beside the gates, in front of the town (where law and justice were meted out) and finally at the entrance of the portals (the doorways to home and store and even temple!).
She calls out to “all that live”—to everyone--to come and join her in “rejoicing in [God’s] inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” The Wisdom tradition wants us to learn God’s wise and righteous ways and govern our lives by this knowledge. Reverence for God is the beginning point, but partnership with God’s beautiful creation is not far behind.
God is Trinity—three in one and one in three, dancing through all time and space—and yet, God does not stay self-contained. The dance opens up to include creation and creature in new patterns of relationship. As we are made in the image of God, we are invited into our own dance—with one another, and with God’s good creation. Dance and delight are not often ways we talk about our own interactions or our care of the earth. Wisdom has much to teach us about that.
On this Father’s Day we lift up all the good that fathers and father figures have given to us. On this day where we talk about Wisdom, we lift up all the good that females bring to this earth—and we are challenged to widen our image of God and how God works. On this Trinity Sunday we lift up all the mystery and majesty, the power of creation and community, the One who transcends the either/or leaving us with a glimpse of more.
Last Sunday we celebrated Pentecost: the gift of the Spirit that Jesus talks about in our John reading, the one who will guide us in the truth. We know this Spirit can stir us as Wind, can refine us like Fire, can be wrapped up even in unintelligible Words, and dwells in our hearts. We ask once again for Spirit blessings as we try to glean the teachings of Wisdom.
Let us not be enticed by those who promise to simplify the ways of God in the world. For our God is one who is complicated and past description.
Let us not be misled by those who insist that hierarchy and power over others are God ordained. For we have been called to revel in the human race, each and every precious one of us.
Let us not be lazy in our quest for knowing God and one another better. For Wisdom and Spirit are our guides, and we were created for just such work.
Let us not be arrogant or irresponsible in our stewardship of planet Earth. For it is a work of God, just as we are, and we have been asked to tend and oversee its existence.
Let us not be overwhelmed by this intricate, ever-changing relationship we have with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. For at bedrock, there is only one thing—the greatest thing, Love. Alleluia, Amen.