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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Trinity Sunday 06/16/2019

When we settled on today as Graduation Recognition Sunday, I wasn’t paying attention to the fact that liturgically it was the first Sunday after Pentecost which is always Trinity Sunday. When I did realize that was the case, my first thought was that it wouldn’t be easy to connect those two things, Graduation Recognition and Trinity Sunday and add to that the fact that it’s also Fathers’ Day.

Even without being combined with other commemorations, Trinity Sunday is always a little different, focusing as it does on a doctrine of the church rather than on something about the life and teachings of Jesus. One school of thought even says that there’s no need for a Trinity Sunday because the doctrine should be proclaimed in some fashion every Sunday and it is…not just here but in many churches as the creed is spoken and as we pray in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Nonetheless, it’s on the calendar and today’s the day.

The doctrine of the Trinity is important. My theology professor at seminary called it “the prime statement of the comprehensive Christian vision of God and the world and our lives.” That’s quite a mouthful and that’s why books have been and continue to be written on the history of the doctrine as well as on the various interpretations of what it means. However, to try and unpack it all in a 10 or 15 minute sermon would be an exercise in futility. As Martin Luther is reported to have said, “To deny the Trinity threatens your salvation; to try and understand the Trinity threatens your sanity.”

One of the problems with Trinity Sunday is that while there is no shortage of material written about it, there’s no place in the Bible where the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly and specifically laid out; it’s not strictly biblical in other words; other understandings of God are possible. There are however lots of Bible verses that point to the idea of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, verses the early church fathers drew from in formulating the doctrine, so what the lectionary does during its three year cycle is to offer some of those verses as the readings for this day.

Today though, the lectionary gave me a Graduation Recognition gift in the form of the first reading. Normally I wouldn’t be the least bit excited about a reading from Proverbs, not that it’s not full of useful little tidbits of advice on how to live, that’s what a proverb is, it’s just not easy to preach on those little tidbits. But the book of Proverbs is classified as Wisdom Literature and I thought, that’s perfect for Graduation Recognition because what I should be doing is trying to impart at least a little bit of wisdom as we honor these three young men today. Add to that the fact that it is thought that much of what we have in the book of Proverbs is material that was originally used in schools and intended as instruction to help young men live successful and sensible lives. Again, perfect for Graduation Recognition Sunday.

Proverbs 8, from which today’s verses come, is part of a character study of Wisdom, Wisdom personified as a woman. The opening verses identify her as standing at the crossroads of the public square, making an appeal to everyone who passes by: “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all who live.” She cries out to everyone, wanting to show them the way of prudence and intelligence, but…hers is not the only voice.

The voice of Wisdom heard in today’s verses is only one voice in a larger dialogue. Another voice is that of another woman in the previous chapter, chapter 7. She too stands on the corner at the crossroads. She, however, is a woman who embodies foolishness and danger. With her smooth words she entices “a young man without sense” and her words and her ways are not about prudence and intelligence but instead they lead down to the chambers of death. “With seductive speech she persuades him, with her smooth talk she compels him,” and… “right away he follows her, and goes like an ox to the slaughter.” There’s quite a contrast between her and the woman of chapter 8 who walks in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice.

The objectives of the two women are very different but in other ways they are very similar. Both appeal directly to the young men, both are regarded as compelling and desirable. But the consequences of following one rather than the other are radically different and that’s the choice that these voices present.

To be sure, in some ways Proverbs oversimplifies the complexities of life, dividing things a little too neatly into the wise who accept the teachings that reflect wisdom and the fools who reject those teachings. Along with that there’s the assumption that those who are wise will prosper while those who are foolish and wicked will suffer. We know though, that it doesn’t always work that way and other biblical voices, especially those of Job and Ecclesiastes offer very different perspectives. In defense of Proverbs though, it does describe a process of discernment intended to help young people develop skills in sorting through the competing voices so that they might choose the wiser course.

For anyone graduating from high school in the year 2019, your life has been one that has been exposed to a multitude of voices, probably more than any previous generation has experienced. Some of the voices are so subtle and seductive that you’re probably not even aware of how they affect you as they try to shape your habits, your choices and your character. Voices like that have always been around but in your lifetime they have become more and more pervasive and invasive with the rise of things like social media and websites that track your activity and, for example, seem to know better than you do what your next purchase should be.

The book of Proverbs as we know it has been around for at least 2500 years and some of the sayings included are thought to be much older than that. In all that time though, the choice presented by the two women standing on the corner at the crossroads really hasn’t changed. Which voice do you listed to? Do you take the path of wisdom that leads to life or follow the crooked path of foolishness that leads to disgrace and death?

In Proverbs and in other parts of the Bible, wisdom is often connected to “fear of the Lord,” but it’s not fear as terror, as being afraid of God, it’s about reverence and respect. For the three of you, one of the voices that has been part of your life has been the voice of the church. My hope would be that it’s a voice that has helped to develop in you a healthy “fear of the Lord” understood as reverence and respect and with that I would hope that the voice of the church would continue to be one that is part of your life, a voice that you continue to hear, a voice that will help to provide guidance as you come to the various crossroads of life amid all the voices of those standing on the corner, vying for your attention.

Besides providing guidance, I would also hope that the voice of the church, the voice of this church, has given you a sense of God’s grace present and active in your life. Every church and every denomination claims Jesus as Lord and Savior and that’s good; but I don’t think any branch of Christianity hammers away at grace more than the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America of which we are a part. In any of our churches you should hear Jesus proclaimed as the embodiment of God’s grace, that in and through Jesus you are loved and accepted, no matter what, even when your choices aren’t always good. The God revealed in Jesus will never give up on you and neither will this church and I hope you remember that.

Proverbs does wind up being a good text for Graduation Recognition Sunday but I assume that the reason this text is appointed for Trinity Sunday is because of the last part of it that talks of Wisdom’s presence in the midst of God’s creation of the world, thus highlighting the relationship between Wisdom and the creator, that relationship being symbolic of the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity. What’s described in these verses though is Wisdom’s childlike wonder and delight in creation and that wonder and delight provides a good conclusion to my thoughts for you this morning.

I found a line in a poem by Dunya Mikhail, an Iraqui American poet who emigrated here in the mid-90s having been placed on Saddam Hussein’s enemies list. She writes: “All children are poets until they quit the habit of reaching for butterflies that are not there.” As you move into the next part of your life, choose carefully the voices guide you in the choices you make, that’s important, but also…don’t lose Wisdom’s sense of wonder and delight at the world around you and with that wonder and delight…keep reaching for butterflies that are not there.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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