Woman Wisdom and the Mystery of the Trinity

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Woman Wisdom as portrayed by Barb (with Tyrese Vazquez as a Big Y employee). 

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22:31
John 16:12-15

If you attended our Easter Vigil this past year with dozens of your closest friends, then you saw our very own Barb Callan-Bogia’s brilliant portrayal of Woman Wisdom, along with her supporting cast of Tyrese and Amanda, also aided by screenwriter, Debbie.

For this reason, I always imagine Woman Wisdom as having a slight Boston accent.

If you weren’t there, the skit went like this: Amanda, a Big Y customer, comes in and expresses concern to Tyrese, a distracted employee, that there’s a strange woman wandering around the Big Y parking lot, inviting everyone to a lavish feast that satisfies and telling everyone to relish the day or something like that. A distracted Tyrese directs her to relish on aisle 4. 

Barb as Woman Wisdom called to all of us to food that satisfies and hope that doesn’t disappoint. To look for meaning beyond just making money and buying food and having things.

Today, woman wisdom appears again, just as mysterious as she was at Easter Vigil, on this, Trinity Sunday, day of mysteries. This is where I will freely confess to you that this is just one of those days when I wish I had an intern that I could force … no. Strongly encourage to preach. This Sunday has jokingly been called “associate pastor Sunday,” because no one wants to preach on Trinity Sunday.

What kind of preacherly nonsense is this? you might ask.

Well, I’ll tell you. It’s because the Holy Trinity may seem simple, but quite frankly, the math doesn’t add up, and people who have had to think hard about it — which includes many of you — know that. I’m notoriously bad at math, but even I know that one and three are not the same number. 

Everyone has their own pet analogy for the Trinity, of course, and some of us think that ours explains it perfectly and simply, but you guys, they all break down. 

You might say in a proud voice that water can appear as ice, as liquid, or as vapor, but it’s all water, all the same substance. It’s close, but that doesn’t quite work to describe a mysterious being that created the world, does it? Ice cubes and water vapor? God deserves better. Also, water is water, even in its various forms. It’s not three distinct things, really, but one, acting in this case as three things. That’s a favorite heresy of western Christians called “modalism,” which breaks down quickly by limiting what God can appear and function as.

You could also say that God is like a three leafed clover. But God isn’t like a three leafed clover at all; you know, because it doesn’t work to say that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all incomplete parts of one whole.

Or you could say that God is like Jackie or Debbie — at once a grandmother, a wife, and a mother. We like the relational aspect of that, but BUZZ. It’s modalism again.

You don’t need a theological treatise, of course, and I can see some eyes glazing over already. This is why preachers don’t like Trinity Sunday. We quickly turn it into an exercise in avoiding heresy and trying to say something true about someone who’s entirely a mystery while devolving into a theological essay that’s actually quite boring.

Preachers’ lives are hard. 

So I saw the Proverbs reading and I thought that maybe Woman Wisdom could help. She’s helped me out before, after all. 

In a world of filter bubbles and anger and chaos on the news and in our lives, we hear this Proverbs text and we might notice that not much has changed in the last few thousand years. 

“Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?”

There has always been conflict and violence and distraction and corruption, and there has always been Woman Wisdom beckoning to us to pay attention. 

She calls out to humanity, past, present, and future, to slow down, to really look at the world, and to consider that all of this life around us had a beginning. In a world where we can’t seem to agree on the simplest objective truths anymore, wisdom raises her voice: “When [God] established the heavens, I was there… I was [there], like a master worker; and I was daily [God’s] delight, rejoicing…” 

Wisdom, like the Holy Spirit, is as simple as she is complicated. How do you live a good life? How do you make life worthwhile? Simple. Stop. Pay attention. Love those around you. Learn to let some things go. Take care of other people. Take care of yourself. Respect that each human that you interact with is a different individual than you are, has a different set of boundaries and values and opinions than you do, and you have to respect those, even if you don’t agree. We all have a different angle on this thing called life, and we get to share it together and we get to live it separately. 

You’ve likely heard me say this before: in the Gospel of John, there’s only one moral teaching: “Love one another as I have loved you.” 

It’s been said that there’s only one such teaching because that simple command takes a lifetime and beyond to even begin to learn. How do you love others well? We all know a little about this, but none of us, no matter how experienced, can do it perfectly.

Indeed, Trinity Sunday is for complicated things that are also simple that are also complicated — not unlike Pentecost. These things: how to listen to wisdom, how to live a life that matters, how to love well, and how to understand God — they’re impossible to figure out completely, at least, at best, on this side of eternity.

Today’s Gospel is also from John. It is what scholars and other nerds know as the “farewell discourse” and what the rest of the church knows as “that part of John where Jesus rambles on for a good long while.” Talk about a theological treatise.

It’s true. John’s Jesus is the chattiest Jesus. These passages become so familiar that we can easily forget the setting, where the dialogue comes from. Jesus is at dinner with his disciples in this passage, but it isn’t just any dinner. That night, very late, he will be arrested. 24 hours from this point in the story, he will be dead, and he knows that, and we know he knows that. He’s told the disciples that. He keeps telling the disciples. He is preparing them for his death. 

If there is one thing that any person who is afraid needs to know, it is that they will not be alone. So here, Jesus promises that the disciples will never be alone. The Holy Spirit will be with them; and in that, Jesus will be with them. Elsewhere in John he’ll say “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” It probably didn’t make much more sense to them then, either, but the point was this: they would not be abandoned.

It’s entirely possible that the disciples are at the table bewildered, or weeping, or both. It’s entirely possible that Jesus is speaking through his own tears. This text is not as sterile and academic as it may seem. It is deeply personal. It is deeply human. You just have to pay attention, listening for the humanity in the story. Woman Wisdom is calling. 

Look for humanity: in this text, and in every person you meet. See them for what they are, not what you assumed they were or what you want them to be. See their joy and their pain as they share it with you. Care for them as best you can. And know that you are never, ever, ever alone. The Triune God of love is always there. “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”

Just as we established last week, listening to the Holy Spirit is really often just about paying attention to what’s around you. Last week, we did it with the art show. This week, I bid you to do it with those around you.

God is a mystery, and people can be quite a mystery, too. We won’t every fully figure one another out, just as we won’t ever figure God out. But Woman Wisdom is calling: we can pay attention. We can try. 

And the best of all is that we are never alone: pay attention. Listen closely. The Holy Spirit and wisdom are all around us: rumor has it, maybe even in the Big Y parking lot, with a light Boston accent. Amen.

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