Monday, May 31, 2010
Creating God: Sermon on Proverbs 8
There were so many things on my mind and in my heart as I sat down to write this sermon… I was thinking about the passage from Proverbs, of course, the mysterious and marvelous work of our creating God; and I was thinking about the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, about how God’s creation is being affected there; and I was thinking about Trinity Sunday, because, after all, this is a unique day in the Christian year, a day when we take on theology and mystery head-on. I was also thinking about the Natural Church Development program, upon which we have embarked as a congregation, and how that process will soon begin to unfold and affect us all. I was thinking about change.
And it occurred to me: all these things are related, they are all connected.
We believe that God created all that is—the universe, the stars, the earth and all its bounties and beauties, including the bounty and beauty that is humanity. I believe God might have done this any number of ways, but it seems to me scripture gives us insight into the mind, the intention of the Creator, whatever the creative process. In the mind of the creator was the creation of something good, something marvelous. In the mind of the creator was creation for the sheer joy of it, pure delight.
As the consciousness of humans dawned—and I believe there’s good evidence it dawned gradually—they, we, tried to account for the marvels of things like light and dark, the waxing and waning of the moon, the inward surge and outward flow of the tides. Fire. Thunder. Life. Death. The first attempts at understanding these things and how they came to be was the creation of gods—many gods, a god for the sun and a god for the thunder. This made sense to the developing human mind.
Along came Father Abraham and Mother Sarah, bless them, and the Creator—who knew the secret all along, of course, that God is One, unique and holy—the Creator struck up a conversation with the aging couple and sent them off on a late-life trip to a land of promise, a land said to be flowing with milk and honey. And in their conversations along the way, the Creator invited Sarah and Abraham into a relationship, with just one God: YHWH, the LORD.
In time the people of the promise came to understand that YHWH the LORD was not merely the biggest and best God, the greatest and most powerful God. They came to understand that God is, can only be, one. That the origin of all things is, and can only be, singular.
And then, along came Jesus. And… a people who know that God is one had to struggle to understand a God who seemed to express the divine nature in ways that burst open categories of “one” and “many.” In Christ Jesus, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell [Col. 1:19], and after Jesus’ sojourn on earth was ended, the Holy Spirit of God was poured out so that the presence of God remained in, with and among us, forever. And this multiplicity of experiences of God has kept theologians lying awake at night and staring at their ceilings for 2000 years.
I’m not going to try to exhaust the mystery that is the Trinity for us today. In 2000 years of thoughtful Christian lifetimes, no one has been able to do it. Instead, I’m going to direct our attention towards one description of God-in-action, and ask that we let it play with us, let it resonate and rattle around in our brains and in our hearts, and maybe show us something about the inner life of God that might, in turn, show us something about our lives together as God’s people.
The book of Proverbs falls into the category called biblical wisdom literature—writings intended to teach about the purpose of life and the nature of God. Throughout Proverbs, Wisdom—who is personified as a woman—is contrasted with the Fool, the one who has no interest in learning about God or morality. In our passage, Wisdom is speaking to us—making her case, giving us her pedigree. Wisdon is telling us of her deep, intimate and ancient connection to the LORD.
Ages ago I was set up (established),
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth… ~Proverbs 8:23-25
I was there, Wisdom is telling us. She is saying, I have been around just about as long as God has been around. In fact, Wisdom is reminiscing about a pretty spectacular front-row seat for the work of God in creation. And all the images she uses have to do with birth—she talks of the depths and the waters, she reminds us of the waters of the womb; she is brought forth, as a mother brings forth a child. She is born.
Later, Wisdom says,
when [God] assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race. ~Proverbs 8:29-30
Again, the watery images continue the theme of childbirth. And that phrase, “master builder”—which seems to give Wisdom an even greater role in the act of creation—can also be translated “little child” or even “nursling” or “nursing baby.” God is creating—planning and mapping out the intricacies of the world, while at the same time giving birth to and nurturing Wisdom.
In the early days of the church, when the architects of Christian theology were meeting in councils to try to understand the identity of Jesus Christ and the precise nature of his relationship to God, they turned to this passage. Here they found echoes of another passage in which God is creating. This is from the gospel of John:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. ~ John 1:1-4
The early church councils read these passages and said, these things are related; they are connected. The figure of Wisdom in Proverbs, and Christ the Word of God in John’s gospel, are one and the same.
God is One, unique and holy. But God’s oneness is not stony and remote and set apart. God’s oneness contains eternal fountains of relationship: God, in God’s self, is relationship, the relationship we traditionally refer to as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I think it is this very relationality of the inner life of God that gives rise to the desire to create, specifically, to create us. A relationship of love—pure love—always wants to share that love. A relationship of love always wants to create, to give, to give back.
In our passage from the gospel of John, Jesus says, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.” (This week, it occurred to me: maybe he was referring to the doctrine of the Trinity.) He continues, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” [John 16:12-13]. The loving relationship between Jesus and God is amplified and continued in the loving relationship of both with the Spirit—the one who comes to help us to sort it all out, thanks be to God.
All these things are related. They are all connected. From the late-life journey of Father Abraham and Mother Sarah to our journey as a congregation, listening hard as God strikes up a conversation with us. From Christ the Word’s joyous participation in creation to our own participation in caring for God’s good earth, listening carefully for Wisdom to show us the way. From the promised sending of the Spirit to our own confidence that the Spirit is with us still, in us, among us, prompting, prodding and guiding us.
Someone once described human attempts to explain the Trinity as being like an oyster trying to describe ballet; we just don’t have the vocabulary. You notice, that has never stopped us from trying. And I believe that, as much as our ponderings no doubt evoke utter mirth and merriment in the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord beyond our comprehension, they also please God greatly. Because God is relationship, and don’t we always hope to better understand the one we love?
All these things are related. They are all connected. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen. Amen.
Illustration: Adam Howle at Artists for Christ.