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Sunday message: The playful side of God

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Trinity Sunday – June 16, 2019

Scripture readings:

Romans 5:1-5

John 16:12-15

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

In a scientific age it’s not strange to ask what causes people at church to speak about the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit? Is there really such a thing?

Another question that could be asked, is whether there really is such a thing as the Trinity? Where does this idea come from? Three in one, what’s that?

Today this is what our Sunday is about. Yes, the Holy Spirit is supposed to be the third person in the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This morning my main focus will be on the reading that we heard from the book of Proverbs.

Here in Proverbs 8 we meet Lady Wisdom, being playful by delighting in this created world as well as the human race. Somehow this Lady Wisdom fulfils the role that is interwoven into the role of the Holy Spirit and also of Christ, along with our creator-God. 

We can truly find much comfort in knowing that this is a reality that lives in our midst, mysterious, mystically and never really comprehensible. 

There is another name for Lady Wisdom that has been quite popular among Christians. 

Now, if I were to mention the name “Sophia” to you, what memories would it evoke? Would you think of the 1982 movie called Sophie’s Choice, starring Meryl Streep as the Polish immigrant, Sophie, along with Kevin Kline as Nathan and a young writer, Stingo, played by Peter MacNichol? 1) Or perhaps you just know of someone whose name is Sophia. Maybe even the movie star, Sophia Loren? Some might think of a controversy stirred up several years ago at a women’s conference that was exploring feminine images for God. Some who objected to their ideas accused them of pagan worship when they used Sophia to refer to the feminine side of God.

For Christians, our understanding of the role of Sophia in the faith can be traced back to this morning’s passage from Proverbs 8. Here Sophia, the Greek word for wisdom, is personified as a woman who was with God before creation. It’s sort of a pre-creation story. “The Lord created me,” says Sophia, “at the beginning of his work — before the beginning of the earth.”

This personified wisdom then goes on to describe how she was an intimate part of every aspect of the creation. Some manuscripts describe how she was “beside (God) like a little child — daily (God’s) delight, rejoicing before Him always.”

If you allow your imagination its freedom, you can almost see this little girl, Sophia, skipping around delighting God as God pro­ceeds with creation. For those of you who have little children, you may be able to fill out that image. 2)

Isn’t this image of God very liberating, knowing that while God was creating, there was some joy present, and that God was delighting in all of creation?

Now, compare this liberating and playful picture of God with the notion that some students had to read certain sermons painting God as angry. Alan Brehm, Presbyterian Minister now at Hickman Presbyterian Church in Nebraska reflects on one particular sermon he had to read. “When I was in college, Alan says, one of them was Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards was one of the driving forces in the “First Great Awakening” in the early 1700s with his insistence that we recognize and repent of our sin. Here one finds God described as one that is downright sadistic. The picture painted of God is as someone dangling sinners over the fires of hell like a person might dangle a spider over an open flame. I’m not sure this image would let anyone come closer to God. Maybe it could serve as a good incentive to flee away from God as quickly as possible. 3)

It might even be that your own image of God could have stemmed from the such a depiction. 

How sad and even destructive it was, when, back in the day, fathers understood that “not sparing the rod” lest they “spoil the child” meant ruling over their young children as some form of dictator? Perhaps Hitler might have been less of a Nazi than such fathers. It’s not every year that Trinity Sunday coincides with Father’s Day.

When our ingrained image of who God is gravitates towards an angry and unforgiving Father in heaven, it’s important to take note that God is much larger, much less containable than such limiting experiences.

I don’t know about you, but it sounds to me that in our day and time, the work of “Lady Wisdom” from the Book of Proverbs has been assumed by the Spirit of God. Does the Spirit of God also have the feminine quality of Wisdom? It’s hard to say for sure. But there’s something about the Spirit that seems to fit a feminine image in my mind. For me, the idea of the Spirit as a feminine image enhances the comfort of knowing that we are constantly supported by God’s presence.

In our day, not many people have much use for the idea of God as Trinity. It seems an abstract and far-fetched concept for theologians to debate. But I think nothing could be further from the truth. The point of our belief in the Trinity is that God is a God of love—not just love that cherishes from afar, but love that acts for us and among us. Love that reaches out to us and seeks a relationship with us. “One God who is the Creator and Sustainer, the Saviour and Lord, the Giver of life within, among, and beyond us.” This is an image of God who takes great delight in the beauty of the natural world, and takes great delight in the human family. That’s right—all this means we are all a part of God’s delight! 4)

Listen to how the Revised English Bible puts a selection of verses in Proverbs 8:

Then I was at his side each day,

his darling and delight,

playing in his presence continually,

playing over his whole world,

while my delight was in (hu)mankind. 5)

There seems to be a distinctly playful side to God. May God’s Spirit continue to remind us of this. 

 

  1. Sophie’s Choice (1982) the movie (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0084707/?ref_=nv_sr_1?ref_=nv_sr_1)
  2. Stephen P. McCutchan in a sermon with the title “God’s playful wisdom” found on sermons.com (paid subscription required)
  3. A blog entry by the Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm by the title “God’s delight” (http://thewakingdreamer.blogspot.com/2013/05/gods-delight.html)
  4. Towards the end of the same blog entry at 3)
  5. The New English Bible can be found online at http://www.katapi.org.uk/katapiNSBunix/master.html?http://www.katapi.org.uk/katapiNSBunix/Psgs/versionsPsgsByB.php?B=20&version=NEB 

 

Copyright 2019 – Heinrich Grosskopf, Minister of Dayspring Presbyterian Church

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