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Introduction To The Scripture For Trinity Sunday - Year C
Proverbs 8:1-4,22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

The following material was written by the Rev. John Shearman (jlss@sympatico.ca) of the United Church of Canada. John has structured his offerings so that the first portion can be used as a bulletin insert, while the second portion provides a more in depth 'introduction to the scripture'.

INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE	
Trinity -  Year C


PROVERBS 8:1-4, 22-31    The Book of Proverbs comes from a type of creative
writing called Jewish Wisdom literature.  It gets this name from the way in
which it presents religious teachings as ancient, inherited wisdom to guide
the morally and spiritually inexperienced.  The Books of Job, Song of
Songs, Ecclesiastes and some Psalms belong to this class.  In this passage,
Widsom is personified as God's first creation who also shared in all other
acts of creation.


PSALM 8                  The psalmist first contemplates the glory of God
manifested in the wonders of the heavens.  This brings to mind a reflection
on the place of humanity in creation.  Sadly, by taking the text literally,
we have excessively exploited our role as God's vice-regents with
"dominion" over nature. 


ROMANS 5:1-5             Two of the most important doctrines of our faith
had their roots in this passage: justification and sanctification.
Justification means putting our trust in the power and goodness of God
whose grace gives us peace instead of the sinful conflict between God's
will and our will.  This transforms our moral character.  We are not only
changed, but we also find hopeful assurance that God's love reigns in this
hostile world.  Through God's gift of the Holy Spirit, love becomes our
sole motivation, i.e. we are sanctified, made holy.


JOHN 16:12-15            In Jesus' final discourse to his disciples, John
defines for his own community the purpose of the gift of the Spirit at
Pentecost.  This is the closest any New Testament author comes to a
statement of the doctrine of the Trinity.  The role of the Spirit is to
guide the church into all truth.  The fundamental criterion of truth for
the church is that it must always witness to Christ and reveal God's
purpose.  This requires much careful reflection before being expressed in
life.

************

PROVERBS 8:1-4,22-31   The Book of Proverbs comes from a type of creative
writing called Jewish Wisdom literature.  It gets this name from the way in
which it presents religious teachings as ancient, inherited wisdom to guide
the morally and spiritually inexperienced.  The Books of Job, Song of
Songs, Ecclesiastes and some Psalms belong to this class.  Outside of the
standard canon of scripture, however, many other books of Wisdom literature
were written to interpret the ancient tradition in different styles.  Some
are contained in the Old Testament Apocrypha.  One of these, Ecclesiasticus
or The Book of Wisdom, is also found in the accepted canon of the Roman
Catholic Church.   

One of the features of Wisdom literature is the personification of Wisdom.
The recasting of this human characteristic as a person with a clearly
defined role within the divinely mandated order of the universe is at once
a theological and a literary tour de force.  
     
The late Professor R.B.Y. Scott, formerly of McGill and  Princeton
Universities, wrote a trenchant paragraph in his *The Way of Wisdom,* (New
York: Macmillan, 1971, p. 212).  This comment brings together references to
Proverbs 8:1-21 and the apocryphal book Sirach 4:11-19 and 24:19-22.

     "Wisdom came to every people and nation.  Yet it was in Israel
     alone that she took root and became embodied in the Law of Moses.
     Thus the idea of Wisdom, [is] on one level is a quality of human
     life to be attained through training and the gift of God, and on
     a second level is personified almost as a goddess offering
     herself to mankind... as an emanation from God himself.  She is
     God's Word, spoken in the divine assembly in the presence of the
     heavenly host.  Here the streams of gnomic wisdom, prophetic
     word, covenant faith, and personal religious devotion converge
     and coalesce in wisdom piety."

In the latter segment of this reading, vss. 22-31, Wisdom makes the claim
of being God's first creation who subsequently shared in all other acts of
creation.  This characterization may well owe something to Greek philosophy
in which the material and the spiritual were so distinct as to isolate God
from God's creation.  On the other hand, it may be no more than a later
development of the Hebrew concept of holiness which came to the fore in
post-exilic Judaism and also resulted in the separation of God from the
created world.      

Recent generations - or was it always so? - have tended to displace divine
wisdom with expanded human knowledge based on scientific experiment and
rational analysis.  Advances made in such fields as neurology, psychology,
psychiatry and pharmacology have given us the sense that the spiritual
realm or soul really do not exist beyond the neural synapses of the human
brain.  Recent experiments in brain scanning with highly sensitive
technology have revealed that certain areas of the brain are less active
and others more active during religiously motivated meditation.  This
occurs particularly, the research appears to show, when a transcendent
state is reached. 

The other side of this debate, however, argues that heightened and even
hyper-religious experiences can occur in people whose brains have been
damaged in specific areas.  We simply do not know why certain brain changes
are associated with religious feelings.  Nor do we know whether or not the
human brain simply invents the religious insights which have filled the
scriptures of many different religious traditions.  Long before humans
learned to write, they communicated such experiences for countless
generations in the languages we now read from a page. 

God is not contained in any book or in any brain.  God is God; and God can
only use the divinely created human brain incorporated in a complex system
of body and mind to communicate with us.  This is Wisdom as the Jewish
tradition experienced it.


PSALM 8   The psalmist first contemplates the glory of God manifested in
the wonders of the heavens.  One can imagine a devout courtier like Isaiah
standing on the flat rooftop of his Jerusalem home or a herdsman like Amos
watching over his resting flock on a Judean hillside.  As either of them
gazed into the heavens they saw the panoply of stars spread out above them
and a full moon rising over Jordan.  We who have spent summer nights at
Canadian camps and cottages or watched the northern lights illuminate a
winter sky know well how such a scene gives one an overwhelming sense of
how infinitely small and insignificant we are. 
     
And yet, the psalmist reflects not only on the minute place of humanity in
such a vast universe.  Even as he brings his faith to bear on the his sense
of smallness, he knows that we have a special relationship with the Creator
of this universe and hence a special relationship with the created world in
which we presently live. (vss.5-8). 

The environmental issues for us are vastly different than they were when
this psalm was composed.  Sadly, by taking the text literally, we have
excessively exploited our role as God's vice-regents with "dominion" over
nature.  That calls for repentance and radical change in our attitudes and
our actions, individually, communally, globally.  We must think of
ourselves as stewards rather than dominators of creation.  We can only
continue to praise our Sovereign Lord's majestic name if we accept total
responsibility for restoring our right relationship with God's creation.

That does not mean that we must espouse all the extreme aspects of the
environmental cause.  Growing a small garden or planting a few trees may
contribute more than joining a protest which turns to mob violence in a
vain attempt to persuade the politically and economically powerful to cease
destroying the plant.  Changing our driving habits, using electricity more
cautiously or heating our homes more temperately may achieve the same end.
Equally foolish,  however, are the declarations of politicians supported by
powerful lobbyist and spokespersons for special interests that concern for
the environment is only a personal moral issue, not a matter for public
debate and democratic decisions. 


ROMANS 5:1-5   While two of the most important doctrines of our faith,
justification and sanctification, receive full exposure from 5:1-8:39, 
this passage serves as link between the two.  Justification means putting
our trust in the power and goodness of God whose grace gives us peace
instead of the sinful conflict between God's will and our will.  In 3:21-
4:23 Paul had dealt extensively with the means by which we have been given
a new status in our relationship with God.  In this subsequent section of
the letter he tells us why God has done this: it makes possible our
salvation.  It also elaborates the implications for everyone who believes:
it transforms our life in the world.

One of the best analyses on the passage is in C.H. Dodd's commentary in the
Moffat's New Testament Commentary Series.  He regards this passage as a
transition from justification to sanctification.  The key to the whole
segment is vs.9: "Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by
his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God."  Those 
words - justification, sanctification, salvation - have tended to become
code words for Christian theology and preaching.  Our task is to
communicate what they mean to people who no longer know the code as did our
ancestors.     

In his analysis of the passage, Dodd so clearly points out that "salvation"
is not just a new status, like being elected the vice-president of a labor
union or graduated with a degree from a particular university.  It is a new
life.  It is a new life in being delivered from death, with the assurance
of life beyond death; and it is a new life in being able to overcome what
had previously been wrong in our lives and given the freedom to do what is
right.  Salvation not only happens after death when we are admitted into
the eternal presence of God.  It is ethical and effects what we do and how
we live here and now.

Faith as Paul understands it is nothing less than trust in the power and
goodness of God to bring this about for each one of us.  This trust results
in a profound change in our relationship with the spiritual world, a
relationship we access not by our own efforts, but through the grace of
Christ.  It also transforms our moral character and our relationships with
everyone and everything we meet in everyday life.  We are not only changed,
we also find hopeful assurance that God's love reigns in what constantly
appears to us as a world that is hostile to love and right living.  Through
God's gift of the Holy Spirit, i.e. we are made holy - sanctified.

No, we don't immediately become saintly in the sense of performing a
superabundance of good works and causing miracles to happen.  We simply
find our lives motivated in every way by love.  More and more, we become
people like Jesus, the one person in whom the Spirit of God dwelled fully.


JOHN 16:12-15   On this particular Sunday we usually concentrate on what
traditional creeds have called "the Holy Trinity" - Father, Son and Holy
Spirit.  The authors of the New Testament, rooted primarily in the Hebrew
thought, did not give us a clear definition of what the later doctrines and
creeds stated in orderly propositions.  Those were the product of long
reflection by Greek and Latin scholars on what the New Testament had said
about the earliest Christian experience.  These terms and definitions may
no longer have much meaning to modern church members no matter how many
times we may repeat them or learn to recite them by rote. 

In Jesus' final discourse to his disciples, John defines for his own
community the purpose of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  This is the closest
any New Testament author comes to a statement of the doctrine of the
Trinity, except perhaps the Trinitarian baptismal formula of Matthew 28:19.
Here John gives a much more functional definition of how the Trinity
actually touches the life of the apostolic community.

The role of the Spirit is to guide the community into all truth. 
Obviously, John does not believe that "truth" consists of what he has
written nor that it is only found in the scriptures.  He is speaking, of
course, of spiritual truth rather than the philosophical or scientific
truth which so enthralled the Age of Enlightenment.  His understanding of
truth is much more dynamic.  One might go so far as to say that it is
inspirational in that it is always available. 
     
John also gives us a means of determining what is spiritually true and what
is not.  The fundamental criterion of truth for the church is that it must
always witness to Christ and reveal God's purpose that love shall reign in
all creation.  This is no easy formula for discerning what is required of
us as we seek to perform the discipleship of love in the contemporary
world.  It requires much careful reflection before being expressed in the
ordinary affairs of daily life.  Those who dream of travel to distant
galaxies in search of other inhabitants of the universe will quickly
realize that dramatic presentations such as we revel in through television
and movies still do not remove us from the moral discipline of love.

Spiritual reflection and meditation, waiting for the Spirit to lead us into
truth, are not a habitual forms of religious discipline for most of us in
the Reformed tradition.  As we are pushed more and more to the margins of
current events and realize that we are a dwindling minority in an almost
entirely secular society, there are signs that the contemplative life may
indeed be a special gift of the Spirit for our time.  There are significant
movements toward renewed interest in basing our daily lives on meditation
to be found in the Buddhist, Hindu and Christian traditions. Some of these,
such as the World Community for Christian Meditation (www.wccm.org), have
been influenced not only by the Benediction monastic tradition, but by the
Tibetan Buddhist tradition led by the Dalai Lama (www.rigpa.org).  The
Irish Jesuits have also contributed to this movement through their daily
practice of prayer and journaling based on lectionary readings from
scripture (www.jesuit.ie/prayer).  A similar contribution has been made in
the Carmelite tradition found in a website sponsored from Great Bend,
Kansas (www.shalomplace.com). 

                         
copyright  - Comments by Rev. John Shearman and page by Richard J. Fairchild, 2006, 2004
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these resources.



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