Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
The Emperor is in a bind. The Christians are fighting each other tooth and nail. Some love the Ecumenical Council that was held a few years ago, and some hate it. Christianity is becoming so diverse its not even one religion any more. If the Emperor can’t unite his people, how is he ever going to stand up against the outside invaders and other religions? How is he ever going to deal with Christians when they can’t agree who represents them? So the Emperor calls for another council – and says Christians — you need to come together.
So they come to chat — all the different bishops and priests and representatives of the different churches. And they ARE super diverse. They speak different languages, they follow different religious leaders, and they come from different cultures.
But they come, and they come with their big questions:
Was Jesus divine?
Was Jesus human?
Was Joseph Jesus’ biological father?
Was Mary a young maid or a virgin?
Was Jesus God?
Picture the room of five hundred plus people!
So over here, there are followers of Arius or Ebious, and they argue Jesus was all human, and not divine. He was either adopted by God at his baptism, or at his incarnation, or after his death, and given the powers of God through the Spirit. They state Jesus was definitely NOT God. I mean, if Jesus was God – why then did it seem Jesus didn’t always know everything? And who was controlling the world while Jesus was on Earth?
Some in this group concede Jesus became divine from the Spirit — and others say he did not. He was always mortal, like us, but so pure God favored him.
Now a days, some of this thinking is still found in some Asian churches and in Islam.
Across from those who said Jesus was all human, there sat the Docetists, and Marcions. They believe the complete opposite and say Jesus was all divine, not human. They argue God cannot suffer, cannot change, and cannot be corrupted. Therefore, Jesus – as God – could not suffer, change, be tempted by sin, be corrupted with human flesh, or even die. What we witnessed was just an illusion meant to teach us.
Similar to them are the Monophysites who argue what was human in Jesus was absorbed by divinity, leaving just a shell of humanity on the outside but all divinity on the inside.
Marcion went so far as to say the greatest God didn’t make this world, because this world is fallen and flesh is so bad. There were intermediaries… such as the Word… lesser gods who did the work.
The Gnostics nodded, and agreed with Marcion. This world is fallen and needs to be escaped. We need to become purer and escape to the heavenly world. Jesus, who only appeared to be human, was from this heavenly world to teach us the secret knowledge of how to ascend.
Sitting near the Docetists was the Apollianarist. They agree Jesus was divine. Yet they said for Jesus to be divine, he couldn’t be corrupted with sin. Sin is the opposite of God. What is sinful? For the Apollinarist it wasn’t human flesh that makes a person sinful, but a human soul. All souls are born with Sin. Therefore, they think that although Jesus was a mortal with a human body, his soul was the Word. His soul was divine and not a human soul.
Nestor wasn’t happy with this all divine or all human arguments. He said Jesus was BOTH human AND divine. He said Jesus was clearly the Word made flesh, but also a human. These two natures — divine Word and common human — were together in Jesus but not mingled. You see, it takes the power of God to forgive Sin, and Jesus forgave Sin. But also it takes God meeting humanity on our terms – as human – because we can’t meet God as gods. So Jesus had to be both all human and all divine.
Of course, then others began to say ‘Nestor! You’re arguing Jesus was divided within himself!’
So along came some who argued these natures comingled into something new: like how red and blue make purple. Divine and human comingled into a new being called Christ.
And along came Modalist. Why do we have to define what part of Jesus was God and what part wasn’t? There is only one God, but we experience this one God in different aspects or modes. It appears God is made of three people: Father, Son and Spirit, but in actuality, this is just an appearance, not a reality. Much like a person can put on a new hat for a new job, but is still the same person. God can act as Creator, or as Sustainer, or as Redeemer, but God doesn’t actually have three persons who make up one.
Trinitarians shake her head at the Modalists and say, no no – you’ve got it close but wrong. God doesn’t put on new hats and stop being the old hat. God is three persons, but unified as one God. God is Father/Mother/Parent who creates, Son/Jesus/Christ who redeems, and Spirit/Ghost who sustains. All of these simultaneously. Word-God was incarnate, while Spirit-God remained active in the world and Father-God is who Word-God prayed to. Otherwise, wouldn’t have Jesus just prayed to himself?
Therefore, God the Father is not God the Son nor God the Spirit. But any of the three and all three together are God the Godhead.
If that, or anything I just said, is incredibly hard to get your head around… you’re SO not alone. Not at all.
Many pastors, Christians, and theologians simply say “God is a mystery.” This isn’t a cop out. This isn’t being lazy. This is admitting that after thousands of years and tankers of ink and forests of trees… no one is able to wholly explain God. We’ve tried. We’re still trying. But in the end… God is a Holy Mystery.
In this church, we use Trinitarian formula. We sing the Gloria Patri of “Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.” But, when we get down to thinking hard about our theology, and studying what we say and do, often we are Modalists. And sometimes, we’re Gnostic. And sometimes, we’re other of these groups.
Officially – Trinitarians was decided as the true way of understanding God at this Emperor’s council of Chalcedon… however, not every church agreed. And some churches that agreed moved towards other teachings.
You see, for two thousand years we’ve been arguing over these, trying to understand, and trying to explain how we experience God. Each time someone begins to get their finger on it, someone else comes along with a different experience of God.
So, when we can say God is a Mystery, even after we’ve tried and tried and tried to figure God out, we affirm that God is greater, more awesome, more complex than we creations are able to fathom. We praise God by saying: we’ve learned all we can, we’re still learning, and yet you still give us more.
Today’s scripture reminds us that Jesus told us there’s way more to this world and reality and Jesus and the Spirit and God than we can bear. But generation by generation, we are being led in our walk with our Mysterious God and coming to know the Truths God has woven into God’s beautiful creation.
Those Truths are often hard to explain and describe. The Ancient Israelites tried to preserve some of the Truths of their understand of who God is with the Wisdom Literature: Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastics, Song of Songs, and so forth.
The ancient Israelites imagine wisdom as a lady. She stands at the center of downtown, where first and main meet; she is on every channel and newspaper; she stands on the street corners and she rings you up; she is said to be speaking and crying out everything to EVERY person.
Wisdom cannot be silenced, contained, or locked away. She must cry out.
And what does wisdom say?
“Holy God created me. Holy God used me in setting up the earth. God used wisdom in making the heavens and the soils. God used wisdom in making the mountains and the seas. When God used wisdom to set the order of the world, I was there – dancing with joy – and God danced with delight too – what delight is this creation and the human race!”
The ancient Israelites didn’t know God as hating this world and thinking that creation and flesh are fallen and bad. They wouldn’t agree with the later Gnostics. They knew God to take great delight in Creation.
This was in direct contradiction to some of the other creation stories from the people around the ancient Israelites. Some of those stories included gods battling and dying, the world being the destroyed body of an evil god, or gods not really liking, sometimes hating, humans.
The ancient Israelites experienced God differently. We can experience God who loves us through their recorded wisdom.
Our Scriptural creation story says from the very first spark that ignited our sun, to the barren rocks that pulled towards each other to form our earth, a wise and loving hand has been present. A wise and loving hand guided the formation of water, and a wise mind set to motion the systems of rain and evaporation. God danced with delight – the Proverbs say – danced with delightful wisdom when God moved atom to atom, cell to cell, and started the processes of LIFE itself. In the creativity among us, in the wealth of life, in the species that continue to evolve and change, out God delights and loves and wisely intercedes.
My Scriptural understanding of God says that those theologies, those understandings of God as remote, not involved, or even hating us, are shortsighted. God is not far away. God is not inaccessible. God is not pretending to be among us. God doesn’t pretend to love or pretend to know what it’s like to be human.
God IS love. God BECAME human. God’s new world is among us closer every day.
… but yet… other people, other good Christians and wise theologians, experience God differently.
That is a marvel for me: religion, the journey, the walk and education with God is NEVER over. Each time I read a page, understand a single bit of God, I turn the page and find a whole new story.
Every moment, every day, every person is carrying a unique story of God.
Wisdom is embracing these stories, and laughing with joy at the diversity of God – the Mystery of God – who invites us on this walk, teaches us along the way, and always, always has more to offer.
So it’s sort of like God gives us insight, and Truth, and wisdom… but yet God is always more. God also gives us faith, and mystery, and encourages us to be curious and to be humble in our knowledge. We need other people’s perspectives!
So… this Trinity Sunday… let us Praise God! The source of both our faith and learning! Amen.