Based on: Proverbs 8: 1-4; 22-31 “Wisdom’s Part in Creation”
and John 16: 12-15 “The Spirit of Truth”
Opening Prayer: God of the sunshine, God of the rain, God of the good green earth, and the bright blue sky, may we know your immanent and transcendent presence as we reflect on your word for us this day, amen.
Last Sunday, the day of Pentecost, was a very big day in the life of the church as we, along with Christians around the world, celebrated the birthday of the church. It was a day when the Holy Spirit was thought to have come among the body of Jesus’ first followers as they gathered together with many others for the Jewish festival of Shavuot at Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit blowing through the community as wind and fire breathing new life and new expressions of faith into their midst! It was also a very big day for us here at Knox as we celebrated an inter-faith baptism for one of our beloved toddlers, who, at the tender age of 14 months, was formally welcomed into the Christian faith.
Following on from that great day in our faith history, this morning we have another celebration we share with other Christians. This one, celebrated with much less fanfare focuses on the gift of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
Conceived some 325 years after Jesus lived and died on the cross, was raised to new life, and ascended to God leaving us his followers with the hope and promise of that the Spirit of truth that would always be present, there is the Council of Nicea, one of the first gatherings of religious leaders trying to bring clarity and cohesion to its understanding. To this day, we continue to wonder how to describe it.
Hence, we acknowledge these attempts at grasping the mystery of the holy Trinity or what we might call the creative and life giving synergy of the relationship between God as Father, Jesus as Son, and the Holy Spirit alive and at work in our own lives and our life as a church is not a task for the faint hearted.
With that in mind, and knowing that a picture can and does tell a 1000 words this morning, I am wanting to invite us on an imaginary journey travelling a long way back through time and space….
Imagine yourself at the Council of Nicea, near to Constantinople, 325 years after Jesus walked in the earth, located in what we now refer to as modern Turkey.
Called to Nicea by the Emperor Constantine, in our mind’s eye, we imagine ourselves observers of some 300 religious leaders (church bishops) and others gathered together for the work of trying to create a living statement of Trinitarian belief. Here, in the midst of controversy and confusion, they gathered in the hopes of clarifying how Jesus could both human and divine and how all of that overlapped energetically with God and the Holy Spirit!
Here at the Council of Nicea, this intense grappling gave rise to the gift of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and to the shape of that first foundational statement of faith emerging out of a very particular historical, social, and political context:
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God , Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made….
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church…
We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.”
(A portion of the Nicean Creed as outlined in your Voices United Hymnbook, p.920)
Fast forward then to the year 1925 and our own Canadian historical, social, and political context.
Imagine yourselves invited to a conference of a very particular group of Canadian Christian leaders gathered by our then Canadian Prime Minister. Their task?
To come up with the a body of statements comprising the Basis of Union, a new foundational formula for describing the same dynamic of interconnectedness with God as Father, Jesus as Son, and Holy Spirit as God’s power ever active at work within, between, and among us.
What must it have been like to be there with the fathers of our own denomination? Grappling with this task on behalf of Presbyterians, Methodists, and Congregational Christians as they created a new Trinitarian statement of faith to describe this United Church of Ours would have been nothing short of fascinating!
Here are but three samples of the resulting 20 Articles of Faith statement:
Article 1: “We believe in one living and true God, a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable…we worship him in the unity of the Godhead and the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, three persons of the same substance equal in power and glory.
Article 2: We believe God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ the word made flesh…
Article 8: We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life who proceeds from the Father and the Son….
Now, fast forward about 15 years to a new era in Canada and a new generation's need to grapple with the gift of the doctrine of the Trinity and the development of our 1940 amplified statement of faith.
Again, imagine all the diversity of thought and debate going into this version of our statement of belief some aspects of read as follows:
“We believe in God the eternal personal Spirit, Creator, and upholder of all things. We believe in Jesus Christ, Son of the Father, who, for our salvation became man and dwelt among us. We acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Son of God Incarnate, the savior of the world. We believe in the Holy Spirit by whom God is ever at work in the minds and hearts of men, inspiring every right desire, and every effort after truth and beauty.
Knowing God thus as Creator and Father and Redeemer in Christ as the Holy Spirit working in us.”
Travelling further along our time path, we come to year 1968, and again, we imagine ourselves gathered with a group of committed United Church of Canada folk; another generation of ones eager to come up with fresh language for understanding the words to describe our relationship with a Trinitarian God; again in keeping with the changing social, political, and historical landscape.
To use contemporary and inclusive language describing a living faith actively engaged with the trinitarian formula of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit alive and at work in our lives and in the life of the world.
Listen again to how these words might have brought a sense of cohesion and clarity to a time of confusion and chaos.
Confusion and chaos related to the historical, political, and social climate of the time:
We are not alone, we live in God’s world.
We believe in God: who has created and is creating, who has come in Jesus, the word made flesh, to reconcile and make new, who works in us and others by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church: to celebrate God’s presence, to live with respect in Creation, to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil, to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.
A New Creed (1968)
Now imagine yourself at the juncture of the 21st century and yet another gathering of United Church folks committed to the challenge of bringing relevance to our latest statement of belief. Hear but the beginning words from our most recently composed description of faithful relationship with a triune God:
“With the Church through the ages, we speak of God as one and triune:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We also speak of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, God, Christ, and Spirit. Mother, Friend, and Comforter.
Source of Life, Living Word, and Bond of Love, and in other ways that speak faithfully of the One on whom our hearts rely, the fully shared life at the heart of the universe. We witness to Holy Mystery that is Wholly Love.” (A Song of Faith, 2006)
Springboarding from the Council of Nicea to 1925, this morning has provided us with but a bird’s eye view of how United Church forefathers and foremothers in faith have struggled with the doctrine of the mystery of the Holy Trinity since then.
(go to www.united-church.ca for all four statements of faith)
With all of that in mind, let’s take a brief look at today’s chosen readings for this particular year as we celebrate Trinity Sunday.
First, from the book of Proverbs, we are presented a portrait of God’s companion, Lady Wisdom, also known as Divine Understanding or Madam Insight (to quote Eugene Peterson).
Through the reading we learn that Wisdom, God’s co-creator (who has been with God since before the beginning of time), is described as being actively at work in the midst of teeming life.
Here we encounter her standing at the crossroads of everyday life offering wise and heartfelt teachings on how to live life to the fullest.
Offset against that is our reading from the very last portion of Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in John’s gospel, as we are reminded of Jesus’ promise to his beloved disciples.
Handing off the baton of leadership to them, he promises them the Spirit of truth will come to guide and support them. God will be with them. They will not be alone.
Thinking back on where I might imagine this morning’s readings to be relevant to our current historical, social, and political context here and now, I have only to think on the recent media coverage of the house of commons debate on Bill C-14 and the current debate before the House of Commons on medically assisted dying.
Indeed the phrase, “a picture can and does tell a thousand words” pops into my mind again. Eager to do my own instant replay of the events captured on videotape (this is possible with technology!) and observe for myself our own Prime Minister Justin Trudeau striding across the House of Commons carpet, what follows is my own interpretation of what I saw happen:
The prime minister's intention seemed to be break up a huddle of NDP members of parliament who, standing three or four abreast, formed a horizontal blockade of sort impeding the conservative whip, Gord Brown’s access to voting.
The ensuing fallout, response, and critique since about the behavior of all parties to the incident has become a distraction fromthe task at hand-i.e. the movement through the courts of this history-making bill whose purpose is to provide some liberty to those in need of assistance for dying with dignity.
To my way of thinking, Elizabeth May, activist, lawyer, and leader of the Green Party summed it up well, when she offered her own thoughts on the incident.
As I watched and listened to her speech in the House of Commons the day after the incident, it felt to me like she was something of an unwelcome though courageous prophet in her hometown as she went about the painful work of doing a whole lot more than just ‘pouring oil on troubled waters’.
Watching her speech and reflecting on its power, I perceived her to perfectly embody Lady Wisdom’s introductory words from our reading from Proverbs this morning: Imploring all parties involved in the House of Commons conflict, I heard her entreaty to all who might have ears to listen, to do just that and in the bargain, to pay attention to what matters-that is, getting on with what's needed for legislating the bill for medical assistance in dying.
Further, her heartfelt longing for those politicians offering leadership in the context of House of Commons and to be about that vocation with an intentional focus on “civility, respect, and transparency” felt a spirit-filled breath of fresh, if not poignant air.
Paying attention, listening up, getting with the program, and getting over our own petty concerns, is what we are called to be about as followers in the way of Jesus.
Living as we do in the midst of uncertainty and change as God’s faithful ones is not for the faint of heart!
We, too, stand at the Crossroads of a new era that is leading us off in new directions.
Here, this morning as we pay homage to the doctrine of the Trinity, a concept first formulated some 1700 years ago in an attempt to make sense of the mystery of God, I am reminded that God’s vision of Shalom where the metaphorical lions and lambs of our world might equitably co-exist if not form life giving partnerships, I am reminded how easily we can lose our focus. And then I remember this:
God is Holy Mystery, beyond complete knowledge, above perfect description.
Yet, in love, the one eternal God seeks relationship.
So God creates the universe and with it the possibility of being and relating.
God tends the universe, mending the broken and reconciling the estranged.
God enlivens the universe, guiding all things toward harmony with their Source.
Grateful for God’s loving action, we cannot keep from singing.
For God’s holy mystery ever at work within, between, and among us, my fervent prayer is that it may be so….amen!