Sermon Seeds: All Truth
Sunday, June 12, 2022
First Sunday after Pentecost | Year C
(Liturgical Color: White or Green)
Proverbs 8:1–4, 22–31
In and With: All Truth (Click here for the series overview.)
By Cheryl Lindsay
A few years ago, I had a conversation with a classmate and friend. He’s an ordained elder in the Assemblies of God, and I am an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. My friend is more “liberal” than those in his church or his community, but there is still distance between some of our theological views. He asked me, with genuine curiosity, if there were any parts of the Bible that I take literally. I smiled and said that I believe that all of us who turn toward the Bible have parts that we take literally and others that are considered more symbolically or allegorically.
I told him that there’s a great deal that I take literally, such as loving your neighbor, no condemnation in Christ, and being created in the divine image. He asked me about one particular event in the Bible, and I said that I don’t know but that I realized that my faith isn’t dependent on the Bible being factual. If it isn’t factual, he asked, how do I characterize it? I responded, “I consider it true.” He smiled and said, “I’m glad we’re friends.” The feeling was mutual.
But, what in the kindom, does it mean to be true?
The concept of truth, as part of our public discourse, seems to be evolving from something that is definable, provable, and understandable into a personal choice. The age of enlightenment emphasized quantifiable and scientifically proven realities. As we have lived in the information age, it is possible that we experience a backlash. With so much information readily available and accessible from just a simple computer search, our culture has embraced more subjective understandings.
In part, that may stem from our ability to create and widely distribute our own version of events or realities. We can find, through a simple search, someone who will validate our views and perspectives. If we don’t find it, we can manufacture it ourselves. In such an environment, how can we hold to what is true? How can we find it, recognize it, or claim it for ourselves?
Jesus offers an answer that is simple but certainly not easy. The gospel reading continues to draw our attention to his farewell discourse:
The farewell discourse proper is constrained fairly narrowly by the historical position of Jesus and the Eleven immediately prior to the crucifixion and by Jesus’ need to prepare his followers for the brief interim (the “little while”) between the crucifixion and the resurrection three days later.Andreas J. Köstenberger
These comments he makes read like a letter you might write to your loved one to read after you die to put your relationship in perspective. It is almost confessional in nature, as Jesus shares details that he withheld until now. I imagine the disciples, in the weeks and years that followed, remembering what Jesus said at particular moments…when they actually experienced what he predicted. We benefit from our perspective:
The Gospel writer, and readers ancient and modern, living in the era subsequent to the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost, share a historical vantage point that enables them to understand life in the Spirit in a way not possible when the disciples first heard Jesus utter these words.Andreas J. Köstenberger
Still, I’m not sure that we have an advantage over the early disciples when it comes to life in the Spirit. I’m not sure that we can apply these words and teachings proactively. A life of faith develops from experience and participation. Jesus invites us into a relationship based on presence rather than a religion based on a set of doctrine. In fact, his displays of anger and judgment responded to religious leaders imposing their personal piety upon others and attempting to profit from the gift of grace, which God gives freely.
Truth, in this case, resides within that relationship and the community it inspires, forms, and nurtures. But it originated from the community that God has within God’s self–the Trinity.
The Trinity is an human attempt to define the internal divine relationship. It is mentioned in the scriptures, but there are references and remarks, such as this passage, that allude to its reality. We don’t understand it, yet it is a way of understanding the Holy One. We cannot adequately explain it, yet it is a way of explaining the nature of the Mysterious One. Trinity Sunday may be the most challenging to preach because it requires the humility to affirm that we don’t know, don’t understand, and can’t explain while proceeding with the attempt to make sense of it–to find the truth of it.
My simple explanation of the Trinity is that they are manifestations of the same God. The distinctiveness of the Godhead is revealed in how they show up. I’ve used the illustration of the different forms of water–solid, liquid, and vapor–as a metaphor for the Trinity. I’ve lifted up that moment when Jesus is baptized and the Voice and the Dove come for the celebration. But, I don’t know how it works, because I don’t fully understand God.
The biblical scholar, Dr. Wil Gafney has noted that she does not believe in the Trinity because the concept is too limiting. It’s not that she disputes the communal nature of God or the many ways that God shows up. For Gafney, three is not enough and she shares why in a sermon she preached on a Trinity Sunday:
The church has largely settled on one way of naming God to our great poverty. The blessed, holy Trinity is one way and only one way of naming the God of many names, the God of Isaiah, the God of Jesus and our God. It is not the only way and it is not my way. If you know me you are not surprised by that. I once famously – or perhaps infamously – responded to a question during a job interview about the Trinity in the Hebrew Bible by saying I didn’t believe the Trinity. There’s a reason some preachers call Trinity Sunday Heresy Sunday.Wil Gafney
God is beyond numbering and naming. The scriptures use many more than three names or images to describe God and do not limit us to any. And the scriptures do not mention the Trinity at all. Three names make a nice poetic flourish. But God is not bound or limited by our limitations. God is One, and Two – Incarnate and Incorporeal, and Three and Seven (the “seven spirits of God” in Rev 3:1; 4:5; 5:6) and God is Many and Ineffable.
I hope that we will remember that truth is as much experience as quantifiable data. That does not mean truth is subjective even if our interpretation of it will be.
My prayer for Trinity Sunday is that we take the opportunity to take the limits off our understanding of who God is and embrace the humility of never fully figuring that out. At the same time, we have the glorious possibility to discover more of the character and nature of the Limitless God.
Jesus promises that the Spirit of Truth will lead us into all truth. It takes a journey. It is the journey. And along the way, God shows up in manifold ways. God is Comforter in times of grief. God is Encourager in times of despair. God is Healer when we experience illness and dis-ease. God is Righteous and Just when the world is not. God is Everlasting when we are overwhelmed by the temporary. God is Love when hate surrounds us and consumes us. God is Friend and Companion, Power and Source, Alpha and Omega, and so much more.
The more we know of who God is, the more we understand the image in which we are created. Humanity is a collection of the Creator’s “mini-me’s” deployed in the world and following the path of God with Us to be the beloved community and to live in love and truth. Let the Spirit lead us so that we may show up in many and boundless ways with All Truth.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
Lord, who am I to teach the way
To little children day by day,
So prone myself to go astray?
I teach them KNOWLEDGE, but I know
How faint they flicker and how low
The candles of my knowledge glow.
I teach them POWER to will and do,
But only now to learn anew
My own great weakness through and through.
I teach them LOVE for all mankind
And all God’s creatures, but I find
My love comes lagging far behind.
Lord, if their guide I still must be,
Oh let the little children see
The teacher leaning hard on Thee.
–Leslie Pinckney Hill
For further reflection:
“The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are so with one another that it seems they are in one another. And, to the extend that they are in one another, we call God not three, but one. These three are so with that they are one, three persons in one substance, always affirming one another’s difference and distinctness in person and presence, but always bearing within one another the whole being of the other two persons. The Trinity is the perfect equilibrium of three persons so with that they are in, but in in such a way that they are still with.” — Samuel Wells
“But better to get hurt by the truth than comforted with a lie.” — Khaled Hosseini
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” — Aldous Huxley
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection:
Invite the congregation to begin to generate an extensive list of names of God. This can be done as a verbal response to the sermon, comments on a streaming platform. As a visual reminder, the names can be placed in a word cloud using an online generator and displayed during worship and/or as social media post in the week following.
Gafney, Wil. “Naming and Numbering: God of Many Names on Trinity Sunday.” Sermon. https://www.wilgafney.com/2016/05/17/naming-and-numbering-god-of-many-names-on-trinity-sunday/ Accessed on June 1, 2022.
Köstenberger, Andreas J. John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
Proverbs 8:1–4, 22–31
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.
1 O LORD, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
5 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.