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Delight in the Human Race

Jun 16, 2019

Passage: Proverbs 8:1-31

Preacher: The Reverend Andrew Van Kirk

Detail:

Did you get up early today to contemplate the mystery of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit? How the one are three, and the three are one? How each of the persons is coeternal with the others, but they are not separate. Happy Trinity Sunday!

Or maybe you got up to make dad breakfast — which also would have been good. Happy Father’s Day.

Look, I know that Fathers’ Day is the thing today, at least outside these walls. But knowing that it’s Fathers’ Day won’t help you make sense of the scriptures chosen for today. And “does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice?” No seriously, that’s how our Proverbs reading begins. Wouldn’t you like to understand something about it?

Actually, I think this is really important. The Trinity — the Christian doctrine that the one God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, sets us apart from the other monotheistic faiths. It’s hard to get by in a world of religious difference and fracture without being able to talk about our own understanding of God clearly and with wisdom.

But I have prepared no treatise on the Trinity for you this morning. As you may know, most of my week involved hoards of children…and the gap between “When life is unfair…God is good,” and “treatise on the Holy and Undivided Trinity” was more than I could navigate.

But I do what to show you something about this Proverbs reading. First, let me explain why we read it.

Has God always been Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Yes. God’s Triune nature is eternal and unchanging. But that nature was only fully revealed to us human beings with Jesus Christ, the Son of God come to earth. This means that the authors of the Old Testament didn’t yet have the fullness of that revelation, they didn’t know about the Trinity yet, and so the language, Father, Son and Holy Spirit doesn’t appear there.

Jesus helped us understand something about God in the Old Testament that we couldn’t see before. So what happened is Christians, after having come to know God as three-in-one through Jesus Christ, went back through Old Testament and looked for places where — once you understand God’s Triune nature — you could see it in the scriptures.

And one of the things we saw was that there are places in the scriptures, like the passage from Proverbs we read today, where wisdom speaks. Wisdom in Hebrew — just like the Greek “Sophia” — is feminine. She speaks, it’s her voice. She is personified truth, understanding, intelligence, insight, strength. Wisdom is, Biblically speaking, the greatest treasure a human being can have — better than riches, gold, jewels, all the stuff.

King Solomon, you might remember, famously asks God for wisdom rather than power or glory or long life or anything else kings tend to go in for. God was so impressed that God gave him all the other things too.

So in this passage, wisdom is speaking for herself, and one of the things that wisdom says is about herself is that she is older than all creation. That she’s prior to sky, sea, earth, heavens — she’s before all this. She was with God the Father always, like a master worker she helped lay out the foundations of the world. Creation makes sense because it was ordered by wisdom.

And so the church looked back on this and said — wait, now that we know God if Father, Son and Holy Spirit, doesn’t that sound a lot like the Holy Spirit talking? And so we read it on Trinity Sunday — to let the Spirit, manifested as wisdom, speak for herself.

What I really want to go home with today is what wisdom says matters to God. Look at the very last verse of the reading — she is “rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”

Wisdom’s delight — God’s delight — is in the inhabited world. Not beautiful chunk of rock hurtling through space, but in the people who are walking around on it. That we exist on purpose; that there is a why.

Human beings are the natural, created containers for wisdom. We are amazing precisely in that we can hold in ourselves some measure of the divine wisdom, some secret of the Spirit. In verse 25, wisdom says, “Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth.” There are two types of beings that understand anything about “before the mountains had been shaped.” God and us.

We human beings can hold in our head the height and breadth of the universe. That’s amazing — this semi-rigid mass of mostly water that walks around on two legs and secretes all sorts of liquids and gasses can look up at the Milky Way and actually understand what that is. We can hold the wisdom with which God created the universe; yet, we can also measure heartbreak in the droplet of a tear.

There is a line like this in the prophet Isaiah too. In 45:18, it says, “the Lord established the earth, he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!” This is not all blind luck; people are the point.

And if God formed it with that goal in mind, if God rejoices in the inhabited world and delights in the human race, that might just has some implications for how we should approach the life too, right?

I don’t know if you ever have this problem, but I don’t always delight in the human race.

Nearly 30 years of so ago, I got my first camera. It was a little Nikon point and shoot model, and it took film — kids, film is an ancient and archaic manner of capturing photos on long strips of chemical covered plastic. After you took 12 or 24 or maybe 36 photos, you’d have to take the photos somewhere (we always went to Ekerd, the drugstore) and get the film developed and the pictures printed, a process that could take days. So you’d go on vacation, take a bunch of photos, and never see them until you got back in town and got the film developed.

The first trip on which I took my camera on was a road trip where we visited a series of Civil War battlefields, the Great Smokey Mountains National Park, and drove the Blue Ridge Parkway. Lots of beautiful stuff; I took a lot of pictures. We got home. Went to the drugstore. Dropped off the film. Picked up the prints.

I got back several rolls of unsatisfyingly amateurish landscape photos. Outside of a couple where my siblings had unexpectedly ran into my shot, I didn’t have a human being in any of the photos at all. An entire summer vacation, no human beings in the pictures. My mom even commented, “Maybe next time you ought to take more pictures with people in them.”

Part of it was I wanted to be like Ansel Adams, and he didn’t have people in his photos. But it wasn’t just aspirations of greatness; I didn’t want the people. I was with those people all the time. I was not rejoicing in the inhabited world; I was not delighting in the human race. I was quite specifically delighting in the uninhabited world; the part where I could see no trace of the human race.

I’m better about pictures, but I still have an element of that; give me a lonely mountain top over a crowded overlook; let me get out past the break at the beach and look out across the sea; I’d take a cabin over a condo any day.

And I don’t think there’s any great sin in any of that — but just a reminder for me that my instincts about where my greatest delight is might not align God’s. That the walls of our Father’s house, the one with the many rooms, probably aren’t decorated with Ansel Adams, but with snapshots of people. Lonely beauty is, in wisdom’s point of view, just loneliness.

I don’t have any of those pictures from that trip. And all my memories about that adventure have people in them. I suspect God is right.

Today we are saying goodbye to Dana Jean, who has led our outreach ministry for years. And one of the things (among many things) Dana was really good about was reminding us to rejoice in the inhabited world; reminding us of God’s sense of beauty and delight in the human race — even where the human beings in question weren’t always beautiful or delightful.

Dana’s greatest wisdom — the truth I’d pray we can all learn from her — was to rejoice in this inhabited world and delight in the human race. Sure there are buildings to be built; lessons to be taught; emails to send; reports to be written; posters to be designed — but most of all there are people to be loved. Hungry people, lonely people, hurting people, people with secret shame, women and men, and little girls in juvie. And that if we’re going to delight in the human race, if we’re going to be like God, we’ve got to care for all of them.

Divine wisdom is to delight in this human race.