Rev. Kathy Wolf Reed
Rejoice and Delight
Updated: Aug 27, 2019
First Presbyterian Church | Auburn, AL
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4 "To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
22 The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth—
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world's first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
If you’ve spent any time in Auburn then you already know it is home to some of the most interesting people you will ever meet. Not long after we moved here, Nick and I observed that at least once a week we’ll be in a meeting or having a casual conversation and a subject comes up: be it plants or construction, grammar, history - a lo and behold we find we were sitting with an expert in the field who can not only give a thorough explanation on the topic but also recommend several books. This is what happens when you live in a town full of highly educated people. And, when you attend a church full of people who love to learn.
And that’s no coincidence: the desire for knowledge is a Presbyterian trademark. The late Rachel Held Evans once wrote: “Jesus said his Father's House has many rooms. In this metaphor I like to imagine the Baptists running the kitchen, the Anglicans setting the table… the Methodists stoking the fire in the hearth, the Catholics keeping the family history, the Presbyterians hanging out in the library, and the Pentecostals throwing open all the windows and doors to let more people in.”
But while one of our greatest Presbyterian gifts is a love of learning, there is a shadow side to this trait. Because while we all may love a Bible study or sermon or book that really gets us thinking, the great mystery of faith means there will always be aspects of God beyond explanation. Things not meant to be grasped by human understanding and at times, this can be frustrating for those who want to truly know God.
Today is Trinity Sunday in which we celebrate one of the most mysterious aspects of the God we worship, who is both One-in-Three and Three-in-One. In the earliest days of the church, councils were held, the faithful were excommunicated and yes - lives were lost in the pursuit of figuring out exactly what it meant to say that God was “triune” - mostly because those in pursuit of the answer became blinded by the desire to know for sure: what did it mean to worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
Some attempted to break it down chronologically:
- First came the Father, that God we hear about in Genesis, who created the heavens and earth, made animals and plants and created human beings in the image of God.
- Then came Jesus of the gospels, God made flesh, who ministered to the outcasts, was crucified, buried, and then rose again.
- Finally the Holy Spirit on Pentecost who is here with us now to encourage and comfort us in our discipleship.
But even though that explanation gives a nice orderly timeline, it doesn’t work. It’s far too simplistic. Because Scripture tells us that the three have always co-existed - that “in the beginning was the Word (Jesus) and the Word was with God and the Word was God”. And that the Spirit was present with Jesus, at his baptism and his death. So that explanation just doesn’t work.
Others have attempted to assign jobs to the persons of the Trinity - God the creator makes things, Jesus the Son redeems things, the Holy Spirit sustains things. But that doesn’t work either, again separating the three as though they work independently. Throughout the ages there have been arguments as to whether or not the Father is superior to the Son and Spirit, whether or not there was a time when the Son and Spirit did not yet exist, on and on, time and time again scholars and priests and pastors and leaders trying to know for sure who is this God we call “Triune”?
Years ago Douglas Wood wrote a children’s book called, Old Turtle. And the story begins with an argument.
First, the breeze whispers that God “is a wind who never sits still.”
Then, the stone claims God “is a rock that never moves.”
The mountain says God “is a snowy peak high above the clouds.”
You see where this is going. The fish say God swims deep in the ocean. The star says God is a twinkling and a shining. The waterfall says God is a river that flows through the heart of all things. Birds say God is gentle. Bears say God is powerful. The argument grows louder and louder and louder until a voice says:
And Old Turtle, who hardly ever says anything, begins to speak.
What Old Turtle tells them is that God is wind, and rock. And high above the clouds and deep in the ocean. And twinkling and shining, and flowing through the heart of things. And gentle and powerful. And above all things and within all things.
In fact, Old Turtle says, “God is all that we dream of and all that we seek. All that we come from and all we can find. God IS.”
In our Proverbs text today, Lady Wisdom is our Old Turtle.
She stands over the human race, watching us search and argue about who God is and how God works and why God does what and she smiles (maybe even laughs) at our pursuit. She calls us to get out of our heads and take a pause from our pursuit of trying to figure God out.
“I was there!” she says. “Before any of it, before the waters and the mountains and the fields. I saw it all happen.”
And while she could very well sit us down and explain it all, Wisdom does not do that. Not because she thinks our pursuit of knowledge is silly, but because she knows we will inevitably try to do all that on our own. Instead, she is here to remind us that the truly wise don’t just seek information. They also know when it is time to simply sit back and marvel at God’s greatness and beauty and mysterious, wonderful ways.
Lady Wisdom has seen it all, and her response to God is simple: she rejoices and delights when she looks over all that God has done.
Experts who have embraced the attitude of Lady Wisdom find joy in their pursuit of knowledge. My mom is a retired pulmonologist, and though she could sit here and explain the intricacies of the respiratory system to all of us today, I remember better understanding her love for her work in moments when she would help my with my biology homework and she would suddenly stop and in awe say, “Isn’t the human body amazing?!” The same sense of wonder can be true of any profession - musicians practice the notes of a song until they are executed with perfection but it is the ones who take true delight in their performance that we connect with at a deeper level.
None of us here today fully understands what it means to worship a Triune God. Because we aren’t meant to. God is the Creator; we are the created. Or another way of saying it - God is God, and we are not. But that news should not be discouraging to us. Instead it means that in our lifelong journey of faith we get to make new discoveries about God all the time that come to us through study but also through experience, heartache, joy, and often by surprise - sometimes in Sunday School, sometimes through tragedy, sometimes on the literal mountaintop surrounded by the beauty of creation.
Theologian Karl Barth wrote that God is revealed to us primarily through the study of Scripture in which we come to know the story and person of Jesus Christ. But even Barth, a renowned academic, admitted that God can also reveal Gods-self in other ways: the beauty of a sunset, or a piece of music so stirring it uplifts our souls.
What we do know is that if the Triune God we worship is inherently relational, then we are called to be in relationship with others. If our Triune God is comprised of various gifts and talents that exert themselves at different times and places, then so should the church that worships this God. And if the Triune God does its work creatively and dynamically, in response to the needs of the world - then we should too.
Just as Old Turtle says, our God is all that Scripture tells us: the one who called the world into being and created humans in God’s image. Our God is Jesus Christ, who suffered on our behalf, gave his life for us, and was resurrected with the promise that he would come again to right all wrongs. Our God is the Spirit who abides with us now - like a wind that never sits still, like a river that flows through the heart of all things.
If we find ourselves struggling to explain it, maybe that’s because we were never meant to. Maybe instead we can take our cues from Lady Wisdom, who urges us to pause and wonder at God’s greatness. Who calls us to take time in our lives to rejoice in the love and mystery of the Triune God, and take delight in the understanding that we are God’s beloved.