The forms of water: ice, liquid, vapor. A self-description (for me, anyway): son, brother, husband. And does anyone know about 3-in-1 oil?
These are some of the ways the Holy Trinity has been described. To be honest, they aren’t really helpful, and in my humble opinion, they’re actually quite boring. They don’t present the Trinity in a way that is living, vital, and exciting. As our call to worship puts it, “The Trinity is not a definition of God but a cry of faith from the heart of the Christian experience.”
Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe theology is vitally important. For example, you might have your suspicions if I were to say the barking of my dog is a prophetic message from God. I would dare say that’s not very good theology. If dogs do indeed hear from God, they would likely be giving each other the message.
Too often, when Trinity Sunday rolls around, we have descriptions that sound like they’ve come from a dry, dusty, tedious textbook. Here’s an example: the Trinity can be explained as holding that, while God is one, God is also three Persons (or hypostases, to use the Greek). The Persons are distinct, yet one in essence or nature.
There is also the question regarding the Holy Spirit. Does the Spirit proceed from the Father alone or from the Father and the Son? Both options appear in the Nicene Creed. There have been debates about that down through the centuries.
“God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!” (It does sound good when we sing it.)
Trinity Sunday need not be a time of arcane philosophical argument. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Trinity Sunday is a time for celebration!
We see a bit of celebration in the Old Testament reading in Proverbs 8. The book of Proverbs is concerned with wisdom. There are many chapters containing aphorisms, words of wisdom: that is, proverbs! The first nine chapters consist of speeches which celebrate wisdom.
Wisdom is not portrayed as just some worthy ideal; wisdom is personified. Wisdom is personified as female. She’s commonly referred to as Lady Wisdom. Here are a couple quick examples. In chapter 1, we see that “Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice” (v. 20). In chapter 3, we hear this parental advice: “My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments… Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding, for her income is better than silver, and her revenue better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her” (vv.1, 13-15).
(I imagine the women present might say, “Well, I could have told you that.”)
And so we come to chapter 8, where Lady Wisdom speaks for herself. Here’s how she’s introduced: “Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out: ‘To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live’” (vv. 1-4).
She’s overlooking the city and roaming through it, extending her invitation. This invitation is not just to individuals, but by traveling through the public square, she is addressing society at large. Conduct your affairs and carry out political policy that is indeed wise and compassionate.
It’s at this point I need to stop and deliver some bad news. It’s not only Lady Wisdom proclaiming her message; she has a counterpart. She also is a woman, but she’s like her evil twin. Let me share some quotes from chapter 9 to illustrate.
“Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars… She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town, ‘You that are simple, turn in here!’ To those without sense she says, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight’” (vv. 1, 3-6). So speaks Lady Wisdom.
However, here is the one known as Dame (or Madam) Folly. Can we see any parallels? “She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the high places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, ‘You who are simple, turn in here!’ And to those without sense she says, ‘Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’ But they do not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol” [that is, the grave] (vv. 14-18).
They both have prominent positions, and they both call out to the simple. Their advice has a marked difference. Lady Wisdom inspires; Dame Folly seduces. As we see, wisdom—prudence—is life. Folly (imprudence)—foolishness—is death. It can be quite easy to confuse the two. I’ve pointed this out because we will hear from these two later on.
The second half of the chapter deals with Lady Wisdom’s role in creation. Is it possible to see a similarity to the mother who gives birth?
She says, “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth” (vv. 22-23). Lady Wisdom talks about the various elements in creation. I won’t go through all of them.
Of special interest are verses 30 and 31. Wisdom, like the Holy Trinity, is not something dry and tedious. Wisdom is an absolute delight! Remember: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.
When we lived in Nebraska, Banu and I got our first dog from parishioners who raised Shetland Sheepdogs. His name was Duncan. Banu had spoken of her love for ballroom dancing. One time when I was playing with Duncan, inspiration struck. It was time to dance! I stood him up on his hind legs and started walking him back and forth. I praised his choreographic ability, singing, “You dance divinely.” It turns out he was not interested in dancing, but he was interested in breaking free. (Maybe he simply wasn’t interested in dancing with me!)
In later years, I invited our next dog, Aidan, to the delightful exercise. He also was uninterested. Our current dog, Ronan (the one whose barking I doubted is a message from God), is bigger and stronger than our Shelties were. I haven’t had much luck in dancing with him either.
Why bring up this business of dancing?
At the time of creation, Lady Wisdom says, “I was beside [God], like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always” (v. 30). There is a pure joy in creation. It is woven into its very fabric. Most of us only have glimpses of it now and then.
There’s a lovely word that draws our attention. It’s the one translated as “master worker” or “architect.” It has also been translated as “little child.” We’re back to “all work and no play.” (Maybe we can borrow a tune from Snow White, “Whistle While You Work.”) Maybe that fits better with her being the Lord’s delight, with rejoicing before him. Maybe rejoicing in creation, delighting in the human race, means the unguarded, cheerful play of children. There is the euphoria of the divine dance!
At this point, you might wonder, “What does this have to do with the Holy Trinity?” Please bear with me; I’m going to mention one more fancy word, and it’s from the Greek: perichoresis. It comes from two words that, as Danielle Shroyer puts it, “means to make space around…[referring] to the way in which someone or something makes space around itself for others.”
Applying that to God, perichoresis describes “the divine dance of the three Persons of the Trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit make room for each other, move in and through one another, dance with one another.”
They make room for each other. They don’t presume. They don’t insist on being noticed. They aren’t concerned with self-promotion. They don’t get offended. They celebrate the gift that is each other. All of this takes place in a never-ending circle of joy.
Look at how the chapter ends. Here’s where we get back to Lady Wisdom and her evil twin! Lady Wisdom says, “whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord; but those who miss me [and choose Dame Folly] injure themselves; all who hate me love death” (vv. 35-36). Death comes in many different ways.
It can come in the death of relationships. Remember the very spirit of the Trinity. We have the perfect model, the very definition, of giving of self. We have the perfect picture of self-effacement. We have the perfect example of not caring how one’s photograph looks! I’ve commented to Banu that no one posts photos of themselves on Facebook which portray them in an unflattering way. (At least, I haven’t seen one yet.)
Last Monday at the PERC, there was a workshop on poverty. At one point, the presenter asked the pastors in attendance, “What would you like your church to do?” One person gave an answer regarding the call of the gospel to address societal injustice. I’m not unsympathetic with that. It’s hard to read the gospels and miss Jesus’ burning concern for peace and justice. He is unrelenting, and that goes to the very heart of the good news.
In retrospect, that answer reminds me of something I said earlier about Trinity Sunday. It felt more like a definition than a cry of faith from the heart of the Christian experience. “What would you like your church to do?” was the question. What immediately came to mind was, “Come alive with the fire of the Spirit.”
I think I owe all of you an apology. I thought about it, but I didn’t say it. I wonder what would have happened if I had tossed that into the discussion. I’ve done stuff like that in the past, that is, bringing the Spirit into the mix, and it didn’t seem like anything came of it. Still, as Jesus says in John 3, “The wind [the spirit] blows where it chooses” (v. 8). It’s not up to me!
Regardless of my foolishness, if and when we come alive with the fire of the Spirit, we will be heeding Lady Wisdom when she says, “Happy is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors” (v. 34).
We are given the invitation by Lady Wisdom and our Lord. Enter into the divine dance.
 חָכְמָה (chokmah), grammatically female
 אָמוֹן (’amon)