Trinity C – June 12, 2022
St. Paul’s, Bellingham – Trinity C – June 12, 2022
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
The Rev. Rachel Endicott
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Probably just like there is for you, there are places in the world that are or have been special to me, places where it seems that I am closer to God. On a regular basis, God reaches out to me through the forests of the Pacific Northwest, drenched by God’s life-giving water and filled with flora and fauna that are most wondrous. The Oregon Coast is wondrous with the open public spaces and the white noise of the ocean, making me aware time and time again of the water that covers much of the face of the earth. Canterbury Cathedral, along with several others, always seems to still hold the breath of the saints bumping up against the invitation of God in the soaring interior spaces.
And one of the very specific places that I miss, because it is no longer after being destroyed by wildfire, was Mt. Calvary, one of the monasteries of the Order of the Holy Cross, a beautiful space on the hills high above Santa Barbara, California. I’m not sure what was most life-giving there: the far-off view of the ocean, the bunnies on the lawn, the cycle of prayers with the brothers to which we were called by a giant bell, the quiet at most times except worship and meals, the mountains behind the buildings just down a short trail off the driveway, or the cool of the Monastery against the bright sunlight of the California days.
And it was there years ago that I bought a small calligraphy piece of artwork, made by Brother Roy Parker (OHC). The piece is a calligraphy version of a translation of Proverbs 24:3-4: “Wisdom builds a house; understanding establishes a home. Knowledge furnishes the rooms with all that is precious and pleasing.” The text in English is surrounded by a circle with the Hebrew letters for the same Biblical text, beautifully done in gold leaf. And this piece of Scripture hangs in a special place, right in the small entry hall of my home.
Now this reference to Wisdom is just one of many places in Scripture where we find this term. Wisdom literature is found not only in Proverbs – both early in the book with today’s Old Testament lesson and later in the book as in the calligraphy piece – but elsewhere in the Old Testament and Apocrypha: some of the Psalms, Job, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Book of Wisdom, Wisdom of Sirach as well as portions of other books.
Today, I don’t want to do a scholarly recounting of the unique focus of Wisdom literature, we need to know that central to wisdom literature are folk sayings, a connection with the natural world, and has a somewhat foreign flavor to much of the rest of the Old Testament, paralleling literature found in Egyptian and Ugaritic writings.
But, for today, I want to focus in on this particular text which I must say called to me, rather than preaching a sermon on the Doctrine of the Trinity. As an aside, I’m sure that you know that the Bible doesn’t have a consistent way the Trinity is portrayed. Often Jesus talks about God as Father and him as being related. Sometimes there’s discussion about how the Spirit changes or comes alongside people. Certainly, the descriptions about baptizing people in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are there. But the Trinity is really a doctrine that was first developed at the first council of Nicea in 325, then further formed at the Council of Constantinople in 381. Those two councils, along with further theological wranglings of Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus further refined and formed the doctrine into substantially what is now its current form.1
But let’s go back to the text. I found several portions leapt out to me.
First, did you notice that Wisdom is portrayed as a woman and is referred to by feminine pronouns: her and she. In the first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs, Wisdom is presented through poems and is in contrast to many masculine ways the attributes of God are presented, Wisdom is “amazingly personified as a woman.”2 The positive emphasis on education and the positive views of women is contrasted against in other places the strange woman, sort of the evil twin to Wisdom’s goodness and positive female imagery. If we looked at chapter two where this other woman is discussed, she’s usually called by a less literal translation as a “loose woman”3, probably because this Woman is not faithful.
Secondly, I was very aware of the parallel sense I had in reading “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.” It made me think of the Spirit of God, the breath of God being blown across the still not created world, the waters that were there. And, indeed, verse 22 is one of the most controversial verses in terms of translation. Commentaries argue about whether the meaning of this verse should be about being a child of a creator God (with the sense of the old-fashioned word begot) or rather that Wisdom is acquired to move forth the work of God which is perhaps the way most translators touch on in verse 30 where Wisdom is the “master worker” besides God. Some translations which use the begot manner of thinking translate this section as little child, rather than master worker.4
Thirdly, did you notice that the whole long section ties wisdom to the natural world, something common in Wisdom literature. Springs, mountains, fields, soil, heavens, skies, and more. This summer, our youngest members of the parish, the elementary-aged kids are going to diverge from a straight Godly Play curriculum and follow a curriculum that is about creation care, about the world in God’s hand. Celtic Christians have for thousands of years taken a very hands-on, intimate view of how God and prayer are inseparable from that which God has created. And by that which God has created is not just people – our hearts, minds, and souls which many academics spend all their time contemplating as they do their theological reading and reflection – but all that upon which people walk, live, and from which are fed, this earth, our fragile island home.
Lastly, and that which drew me most personally to this passage, is verse 31, that Wisdom joins God in “rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.” And this human race is you. This human race isn’t just some of the human race. This human race is each and every person. And perhaps, with all the evil going on in the world, we especially need to hear that God is delighted (day and day out) in us. What image do you have of a God who delights in you? Perhaps you’ve had an experience of a grandparent, teacher, even a dog who always took delight in you – what you did and just who you were. And this is the way with God, of which we are reminded here.
Friends, may you find yourself in this coming week being aware of this sense of God. May you appreciate that God delights in you. May you be connected to all else that God has created. And may you hear Wisdom calling to you from the crossroads and portals.
2 Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe, Ed., The Women’s Bible Commentary, Louisville, KY: John Knos, 1992, p. 146.
3 The New Oxford Annotate Bible (NRSV), NY: NY, Oxford University Press, 1991, OT 805.
4 The New Oxford Annotate Bible (NRSV), NY: NY, Oxford University Press, 1991, OT 812.