I haven’t done a lot of square dancing in my life, but I’ve done enough to know the basics. One thing I know for sure is that the Caller plays an important role in the success of the dance. The Caller guides the dancers in their movement and their steps, and if you don’t follow the Caller’s voice, you’re liable to cause a bit of chaos. But, if you heed the Caller’s voice, you’ll be successful in your dance.
It’s Trinity Sunday and we hear the voice of Wisdom calling out to us, inviting us to join with God in a holy dance of joy! If you go out into the narthex and look at our Core Values statement, you’ll find one that calls for us to be spiritually joyful. That is, our life with God should be filled with joy.
As that great hymn of the faith that opens our hymnal declares:
Joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of Glory, Lord of love,
Hearts unfold like flowers before thee, opening to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness, drive our fear and doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness, fill us with the light of day. (Henry Van Dyke).
I was reminded this week by Luke Timothy Johnson that we moderns have been formed by an Enlightenment vision that is very empirical. We’ve been trained to think of faith in very cognitive or intellectually focused ways. We’ve also been trained to see our faith being very rule-oriented. Being a Christian means behaving properly!
In this way of looking at things God is the creator and the law giver, which means that God is finished with us, at least until judgment day! So, just obey the rules and you’ll be okay!
But is this the gospel of Jesus? Is this the good news that will lead us to being spiritually joyful people? Now, a rule-based religion is simple and efficient, but does it allow us to experience the presence of God in our world today?
As you think about these questions, let me suggest that we might find some helpful answers in the Christian belief in the Triune God. Now, I know that some of you don’t consider yourselves Trinitarians. You might even think that it’s odd that a Disciple congregation would celebrate Trinity Sunday. I understand your dilemma, but I’m going to ask that you indulge me for a few moments.
Although the Disciples don’t have an official position on the Trinity, I find the Trinity to be a very helpful doctrine. One reason why I embrace a Trinitarian vision of God is that I was raised with it. I grew up as an Episcopalian, reciting the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. Our hymnal calls these Affirmations of Faith rather than creeds. Whether you call them affirmations or creeds, they invite us to confess faith in the one God, who is revealed in Jesus the son, who is of one substance with the Father, and 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 worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.” Like I said, It’s just the way I was raised, and I can’t get it out of my head!
But that’s not the only reason why I embrace the Trinity. I’ve come to believe that the Trinity helps us envision God in relational terms. God isn’t a solitary entity, but is instead a God who exists relationally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Can you envision these three persons of the Trinity entering into a dance, and then inviting us to join in, with Wisdom serving as the Caller? As Bruce Epperly puts it the “Trinitarian God is constantly dancing, growing, choosing, and changing.” He goes on to say that “the Trinitarian God suggested by today’s [lectionary] passages embodies loving fidelity through intimate and changing relationships with the unfolding world and its inhabitants.”
Although our reading from Proverbs 8 doesn’t speak of Wisdom in divine terms, there’s something about this description of Wisdom that can help us re-envision the nature of God.
In verses 22-31 Wisdom is portrayed as the first act of God’s creation. Before God did anything else, God created holy wisdom, who is envisioned in feminine terms. She is the one who works alongside God creating the world in all its diversity. That is, she serves beside God as the master builder. This is a beautiful word, but that’s not the end of the story.
Too often we think of God as being out there – what theologians call the “wholly other.” This God creates and gives laws, but is otherwise disengaged from our lives. This is the Deist vision of God, which ultimately leads to practical atheism. God may exist, but God isn’t involved in our lives, so we make the best of what we have. But, such a religion has a purpose – it helps support morality.
But surely the Christian faith is more than the kind of rule keeping that leads preachers to use words like “should” and “must” and “ought.” Although this kind of religion is simple and straightforward, there’s very little grace to be found in it. Besides that, it leaves little room for the Spirit to move.
In contrast to this form of religion, Jesus came into the world offering us the Gospel. He offers grace, and invites us to root our doing in our relationship with the Living God, who comes to us in Jesus, and indwells us through the Holy Spirit. There is a place for doing good, but it’s not the prerequisite of faith, it’s the result of our lives being transformed by our dance with the living God who comes to us as Trinity.
The Proverb closes with these words:
And I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race. (Prov. 8:30a-31 NRSV).
You get the sense here that God delights in creation, including the human race. We’re not an afterthought. We’re not a mistake. We’re not a special project. No, we’re God’s delight!
This is a great word, but I’d like you to hear it in a different key, one that I think brings out even more this sense of joy. Hear this word from the Common English Bible:
I was having fun, smiling before him all the time,
frolicking with his inhabited earth and delighting in the human race. (CEB).
“I was just having fun, smiling before him all the time . . .” Does that sound like church? Does that sound like something you would do with a God who is a rule giver and a score keeper? Indeed, does this sound like what worship is supposed to be like?
Last Sunday we were treated to a song by our children. And as the children and their leaders sang the song “This Little Light of Mine,” one of our children broke loose and began to dance before the Lord. What joy there was in watching Sylvia dance. I believe that God took delight in that scene. Yes, I believe the Spirit was present in that moment.
And so here we are, standing before God. As we gather in the presence of God, can you hear the voice of Holy Wisdom calling out to you: “Shall we dance?” If you can hear the invitation, are you ready to break loose and enter into a dance that’s already taking place within God’s divine nature? Are you ready to share in the relationship that God experiences within God’s self? And are you ready to share with God in having fun, smiling, frolicking, and delighting with God in God’s creation, which includes humanity?
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
May 26, 2013