Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

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1 Proverbs 8:1-4, Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? 2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; 3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: 4 To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live. 22 The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. 23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. 24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. 25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth 26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world s first bits of soil. 27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, 28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, 29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, 30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race. 1

2 God s Wisdom Is Love Last week we celebrated Pentecost, which commemorates the Holy Spirit s anointing the disciples with the ability to speak in different languages. Today marks another special day on the Church calendar: Trinity Sunday. Most special days of the Church are associated with a specific occasion, such as Pentecost with the birth of the Church, Christmas with the birth of Jesus, Easter with the resurrection of Jesus, and Ascension Sunday with the ascension of Jesus. Yet Trinity Sunday is not associated with any particular occasion. Rather, its focus is a doctrine. On the surface it might seem strange that a doctrine would have its own day. There s no Incarnation Sunday, Atonement Sunday, or Election Sunday. What makes the doctrine of the Trinity worthy of special treatment? The reason we celebrate the Trinity and not any of those other doctrines is because the Trinity is foundational to the Christian faith. Think of faith as a house. If the Incarnation, Atonement, and Election are the second, third, and fourth floors, respectively, the Trinity is the foundation on which those floors are built. The doctrines of the Incarnation, Atonement, and Election could not exist without the Trinity. They wouldn t make any sense. It would be like building the upper floors of a house without a foundation in place not only is it not possible, the very idea doesn t make sense. As foundational as the Trinity is to Christian theology, there s no getting around the fact that it s a difficult concept to grasp and even to explain. In preparing this sermon I revisited one of my textbooks from my Systematic Theology class in seminary. Here is the first sentence in the chapter on the Trinity: The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most difficult aspects of Christian theology. Now there s an understatement! The author then spends thirty pages demonstrating just how difficult it is to explain the Trinity. 2

3 There s a famous story about the difficulty of explaining and understanding the Trinity that involves one of the most well known theologians of the early Church, Augustine. The story goes that Augustine was in the middle of writing his book on the Trinity, which was titled, appropriately enough, On the Trinity. Having reached the limits of what even his great intellect could conceive, he needed a break, and so he went for a walk along the sea shore. There he saw a young boy digging a small hole in the sand. Having dug the hole, the boy then walked to the sea and scooped a handful of the ocean into his little hands. He then walked back to the hole and dumped the handful of water into it. He repeated this several more times. Curious, Augustine approached the boy and asked what he was doing. Speaking with the utter seriousness and directness that is common to young children, the boy said, I m pouring the ocean into this hole. The wise, old theologian was amused but dismissive. How did the boy expect to pour the vastness of the ocean into a tiny hole in the sand? The boy turned Augustine s words back on him: how did he ever expect to fit the infinite wonder and mystery of the Trinity into his little book? As I said, it s a famous story, in part because it was depicted in a painting by the Italian Renaissance artist Botticelli [SLIDE]. Seeing the painting begs the question, would Augustine really walk on the beach in his bishop s robe and hat? I imagine that would be uncomfortable, especially since Augustine was from North Africa. What makes the doctrine of the Trinity so difficult is that it seems contradictory to basic logic. How can something be three and one at the same time? The problem is that in explaining the Trinity we reach the limits of human language. We can use language to talk about God, but God is not confined to language. Words alone can t explain God. That s why theologians have for centuries turned to nature and art to explain visually what is impossible to put into words [SLIDE]. A shamrock is a young sprig of clover that is a symbol of Ireland. St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, is said to have used the three-leaved shamrock as a metaphor 3

4 for the Trinity. Perhaps you ve seen this symbol [SLIDE]. Called a triquetra, or trinity knot, it also comes from Ireland, where its three interlocking shapes became a symbol of God s threefold nature. Sometimes you ll see it depicted with a circle woven through the three shapes, which emphasizes the unity of the three. The images of the shamrock and the trinity knot may help us come a bit closer to understanding the mystery of the Trinity. And it is ultimately a mystery. The Trinity is not something the human mind can fully comprehend, and yet it s a truth that we as Christians confidently proclaim. We do so because that s how God has been revealed to us in the Bible, in passages like today s reading from Proverbs 8. This is the first time I ve preached from the Book of Proverbs. It s not one of my favorite books. I m not a big fan because I don t like its premise [SLIDE]. Proverbs is a book that sees the world in black and white. There is God s way and the wrong way, the way of the wise person and the way of the fool. The wise person is rewarded, and the fool suffers for his folly, receiving his due punishment. I think life is more complicated than that. Even the Bible thinks so. The Book of Job is an argument against this type of simplistic binary thinking. Job is no fool. Job is a righteous man who suffers for no other reason than that God allows him to suffer, despite the fact that he is innocent of any wrongdoing. The Book of Job is in tension with the Book of Proverbs. Where Proverbs sees the world in black and white, Job sees many shades of gray. That to me is much more interesting and true. But maybe I m not being fair. Perhaps Proverbs is not as simplistic as I m making it out to be. For one, despite the name Proverbs, the book contains more than just proverbs. A proverb is a short statement that teaches a practical truth. For example, The wise will inherit honor, but stubborn fools, disgrace (Prov. 3:35). The Book of Proverbs does contain many proverbs with this sort of practical wisdom, but as today s passage reminds us, there is more to the book than just proverbs. 4

5 There are no proverbs in chapter 8; instead, the voice of wisdom herself speaks [SLIDE]. Verse 1 reads, Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? That s right, wisdom is personified (it takes human form) and is portrayed as a woman. But let s back up for a moment. There s a lot to digest here. In a way Chapter 8 calls back to chapter 1. That s where we first see wisdom appear in person: 20 Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. 21 At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks (Prov. 1:20-21). The idea of wisdom is portrayed as a woman. This is wisdom in a specific sense. It s not wisdom in the worldly sense of knowledge and good judgment gained through experience. What a wise teacher, so full of wisdom! No, that s not what this passage means by wisdom. This is wisdom understood as the mind and will of God. The Book of Proverbs imagines the wisdom of God as having a life of its own a life that is separate from God even as it s connected to God because it s God s wisdom. Does that sound confusing? If it does, that s because we re entering into Trinitarian language. For centuries the Church has seen in this personal language this talk of wisdom as she the basis for understanding the Second Person of the Trinity, i.e., the Son. Wisdom is separate from God she walks the streets and calls out to the people but she is also deeply connected to God for she is the personification of God s wisdom. She is God s wisdom come to life. It s not all that different from the beginning of John s Gospel [SLIDE]. John s Gospel begins with a hymn of praise to the Word. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1:1). The Word was with God 5

6 and the Word was God. The Word is distinct from God and yet at the same time the Word is identified with God. That is the essence of the Trinitarian understanding of God. The life of God can be understood as the shared life of Father, Son, and Spirit. They are distinct, and yet they share a common bond, an essence. In other words, the life of God is lived in community. The essence of God is life together, a shared life. In the shared life of the Trinity the relationship among Father, Son, and Spirit we have a model for the life of the Church [SLIDE]. Last week we celebrated Pentecost the beginning of the Church. Let s note again that the Holy Spirit of God calls a Church, a community. The Spirit doesn t call isolated believers to remain in isolation, concerned only with their own salvation. The Spirit gathers individuals and forms them into a community. The Christian life is like the life of God it s a life lived in community. It s a shared life. Shared burdens and shared blessings. Shared suffering and shared hope. Shared sorrow and shared joy. I ve tried to emphasize this from my first days in this English ministry. On our website, just under the name PCL English Ministry, it says that we are a community Gathered, Formed, and Sent in God s Love. We re gathered as individuals from the ends of the earth. As we heard last week, the Spirit speaks in many languages and gathers believers from around the world. But within these walls we re formed into a community of believers. We remain individuals, but we also share a common identity, just as the Trinity is three and yet also one. We are many, but yet we are one in Christ. Having formed us into a community, the Spirit then sends us into the world as both individual believers and as a community of believers. Although the Church meets within these walls, we are not confined by them nor are we defined by them. The Church isn t a building. It s the community that God gathers, forms, and sends. The Spirit is restless, not recognizing any boundary. That s why the Spirit sends us into 6

7 the world, across borders and boundaries to proclaim God s community the kingdom of God that has come and is coming. At this point I suspect that you may be thinking something like this: Pastor John, that all sounds great, but wasn t this passage about God s wisdom? What is the connection between wisdom and all this talk about life in community? That is an excellent question, and I always encourage you to ask questions. I think there are two ways of answering that question. The first is from within the passage itself. Let s look again at the opening lines [SLIDE]: 1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? 2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; 3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: 4 To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live (Prov. 1:1-4). Wisdom calls. She raises her voice. She stands at the crossroads, the busiest part of town. She stands beside the front gates of the town, at the very entrance. She wants to be seen. She wants to be heard. By everyone and everywhere. To you, O people, I call / and my cry is to all that live. God s wisdom is relational. It reaches out to human beings who walk in ignorance. God s wisdom wants to be known. Again, God s wisdom is not an abstract concept. We re not talking here about a worldly wisdom of good judgment and knowledge acquired through life experience. We re talking about the mind of God and the will of God. God s wisdom calls to us to be in relationship with God. We ve looked at the beginning of the passage, and now let s look at the ending [SLIDE]: 7

8 30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, 31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race (Prov. 8:30-31). God s wisdom was there beside God in the creation of the world. She was the delight of God and rejoiced before God. She rejoiced in the world that God created and delighted in the human race. God s wisdom is not abstract and impersonal. God s wisdom is relational. God s wisdom calls to and delights in human beings. The second way of answering the question of the connection between God s wisdom and the life that we have in community is not found in this passage from Proverbs. Instead, it comes to us from Paul. In the first chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul writes that Jesus Christ became for us wisdom from God (1 Cor. 1:30). Jesus Christ is God s wisdom personified. Jesus Christ, who was born into poverty to a peasant family fleeing persecution, is the wisdom of God. Jesus Christ, who called a group of uneducated fishermen to become his disciples and change the world, is the wisdom of God. Jesus Christ, who associated with sinners, healed the sick, and welcomed outcasts, is the wisdom of God. Jesus Christ, who died even for those who abandoned and rejected him, is the wisdom of God. This is the wisdom of God this ever surprising, reckless, gracious, and wildly inclusive love as shown in Jesus Christ. In his life and in his death, Jesus embodies for us God s wisdom. In Jesus Christ we see God s wisdom for what it really is God s love. 8

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