Last year at St. Francis, it was Deacon Pat who had the honors of preaching on Trinity Sunday. I did not envy her. Trinity Sunday is the most problematic Sunday in the liturgical year for a preacher. She could have been forgiven for having had the thought, “Gee, thanks, Fr. John.” Well, it’s Trinity Sunday once more and I’m up at bat.
To preach a sermon on Trinity Sunday without falling into one theological pitfall or another is well neigh impossible. Today, on this Sunday, all across the nation, heresy will be compounded upon heresy as hapless clerics attempt to explicate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. I told my wife that she might as well start gathering the kindling for the heretic’s fire that will be awaiting me following the service.
Frankly, the doctrine of the Trinity is such a nuanced statement in abstruse philosophical language that only the foolish would purport to understand it. I have to tell you now; such an understanding is certainly beyond my pay grade. And frankly, anyone who claims to have a comprehensive and complete understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity is a fake and a fraud – because what we are dealing with here is a holy mystery beyond human grasp.
Our passage from Proverbs speaks of Wisdom — She who was before all creation, She who delighted in the creation of the stars and galaxies, She who romped through all creation: When God established the heavens, I was there.”
Indeed! “Does not Wisdom call and does not Understanding raise her voice?” Only the fool would behold the handiwork of the marvelous web of life and declare it to be of no account.
Of this same spirit, in the gospel of John Jesus declares, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…”
It has been said that it is through our imagination that the Spirit has the best chance of grabbing hold of us. The heart knows. Pascal proclaimed that the heart has reasons of its own which reason does not comprehend.
Does not wisdom call and does not understanding raise her voice?” Let us delight in creation and glimpse a smidgen of the Creator’s mind. Let us delight in our brother Jesus who redeems all creation, leading us to honor the created order and our interconnection as members of the Beloved Community. And let us be open to the promptings of the Wisdom, bearer of insight and the courage to act. Does not Wisdom call and does not Understanding raise her voice?
That doesn’t mean we should dispense with the Trinitarian understanding of divine reality, just because it is beyond our understanding. It is our feeble attempt to grasp a smidgen of God’s glory. Provisional, at best.
When in doubt about things greater than myself, I believe in starting at basics. And the basic beginning of all theology is human experience. The experience always comes first. Through experience the Spirit will teach and delight.
“Does not Wisdom call, and does not Understanding raise her voice?”
When we are talking about the mystery of life – God – our understanding is always provisional. When we stand before absolute and total holiness, we can only lapse into poetry and confession: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.” When we are confronted with the primordial splendor of the universe around us, we can only say: “O Lord my God, how great thou art!” Confronted by a saving grace beyond merit, we may blurt out, as did Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!” And in moments urgently demanding justice, we like the prophets of old, may burn with the Spirit of Truth.
We have known those times when our lives were confronted in the deepest way by Total Mystery and Power. That is the experience I’m talking about. I recall a frigid night in Alaska, sitting on my back porch. A neighbor had called at around 11:30 that night and told me to go outside because the sky was absolutely lit up with the northern lights. As I huddled up in my blankets on the chaise lounge, looking up at the sky, I saw the lights eerily snake across the sky, dancing and skipping. Sometimes pink, sometimes white, or a faint blue. Suddenly it seemed as if all the lights of heaven had gathered right over my head and then cascaded down on me as if someone were pouring a great pitcher of milk over my head. My whole body was seized with goose bumps. It seemed as if time stood still. In that moment I knew I had come about as close as I ever would get to an experience of the One who stretched out the heavens and called them good.
Through experience and imagination, the Spirit continually leads us into all Truth if we are but awake enough to see her actions.
The spirit leads us into that Connection that binds us to one another and to all creation. Does not Wisdom call, and does not Understanding raise her voice?” ALL THE TIME! If we are but awake. Yes, let those with eyes to see, comprehend, and those with ears to hear, listen.
Almost a year ago, when I was out at our farm in West Virginia for our second annual Wounded Warrior event, our younger son Christopher had admonished, “Dad we need to spend some of the money from the farm on this opioid crisis. It’s killing people.” I told him I would explore the possibilities. Well, nothing but nothing was offered in Brooke County, where our farm is situated. In the middle of the night, I believe the Spirit spoke. And she said, “Well, it looks like you are going to have to do this yourself.” Later, I told Christopher, “Well, this is another fine mess you’ve gotten me into – a godly mess indeed.”
Yes, indeed. Wisdom does call and Understanding does raise her voice. And she gives us the gumption to do what must be done to knit up our human community.
When I head out to West Virginia again this Tuesday at O’Dark Early, what will get me out of bed at that ungodly hour will be those visions Wisdom planted in my mind of children raising children because their addicted parents were unable to care for them.
In the New York Times, an article on the opioid crisis told of a five-year-old left to tend his one-month-old baby brother for days because their addicted parents were nowhere to be found. For days. Now, I ask you – what five-year-old should ever face that burden? How many of us at five years old could have managed that? It is the Spirit that has seared this image into my mind and that is what keeps me going.
I read of teachers completely unprepared for such traumatized children in classrooms across our America attempting to teach these students.
Does not Wisdom call, and does not Understanding raise her voice?
To anyone with eyes to see and even an ounce of compassion the urgent message is: DO SOMETHING. DO SOMETHING NOW!
This last week we took note of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Allied landing on the beaches of Normandy. We, and all of Europe, paused to give thanks for these brave men who raced across those beaches under withering fire to roll back the Nazi scourge. No, freedom’s not just another word for nothing left to lose. It is the lifeblood of what it means to be human. On that bitter cold day, those who waded through the surf, those who swam past dead comrades floating face down in bloody foam — they were called to a higher purpose than self. Wisdom gives us pause to honor their sacrifice.
This last Friday, six of us, representing St. Francis, spent another full day planning for a House of Hope and sober living homes right here in San Bernardino. The Spirit compels it. I believe our nation asks it of us with the very same urgency it required of those brave souls on D-Day, June 6th, 1944. To the NIMBY crowd who might fear an opioid recovery center, I would say that the patriotism required of us in this fraught hour of opioid addiction is absolutely nothing less than what was required of those who hit Omaha Beach seventy-five years ago.
As I read the testimony of those veterans, now mostly in their nineties, I am moved by the Spirit to stillness, to humility, to gratitude. What they did in those early morning hours – we can only salute in silence. Wisdom requires nothing less. The men and women who stood against the threat of fascism in that hour were indeed a great generation, if not the greatest.
Does not Wisdom call, and does not Understanding raise her voice?
Does she not call us to silence in honor of those men and women who liberated Europe? Does she not call us to silence to honor those teachers who daily struggle against the greatest odds to raise up a generation of students abandoned by addicted parents? Does she not call us to silent tears as we ponder that five-year-old boy attempting to comfort, to feed and diaper a one-month-old baby brother?
Does not Wisdom call, and does not Understanding raise her voice? O Lord, give us the insight and fortitude to do the right. Give us the courage to admit these searing stories into our hearts. Give us the gumption to respond.
On this Trinity Sunday let us join in heart with the words of St. Patrick’s Breastplate:
“I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three.”
“I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead, his eye to watch, his might to stay, his ear to hearken to my need, the wisdom of my God to teach, his hand to guide, his shield to ward; the word of God to give me speech, his heavenly host to be my guard.” Give us, O Lord, the nerve and care to DO SOMETHING. For Christ’s sake. For our sake. And for theirs. Amen.
Does Not Wisdom Not Call?
Year C, Trinity Sunday June 16, 2019
A Sermon Preached at
St. Francis Episcopal Mission, San Bernardino
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Canticle 2; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15