I doubt I will go see “A-Team” when the movie comes out in a couple weeks, but I’m guessing that one line from the old television show will find its way into the film script. In the old series, after a clever scheme has rescued the team from certain disaster, Colonel “Hannibal” Smith, played by George Peppard, would say, “I love it when a plan comes together!” As we read from Proverbs 8 this morning, connecting it with the rest of Scripture, and especially with Christ, it could almost be God’s tag-line as well. He loves it when His plan comes together. That plan is Wisdom. That plan is Christ.
This Old Testament text is assigned for Trinity Sunday because there is a long Christian tradition of identifying the female figure of Wisdom here in Proverbs with the person of Christ. When the writer has Wisdom say that she was at God’s side when the world was made, that struck early Christians as the same thing they said about Jesus.
Turn to John 1:3 and you read, clearly about Jesus, “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that was made.” Colossian 1:16 tells us, again speaking about Jesus, “For in him all things were created.” Hebrews 1:2 says, “in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he also made the universe.”
So when Christians heard Wisdom say in Proverbs 8:27, “I was there when he set the heavens in place,” and in verse 30, “Then I was constantly at his side,” they immediately connected Wisdom with Christ. They also put verse 25, in which Wisdom proclaims “before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth,” alongside Colossians 1:15, which says Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation,” and concluded the person calling herself Wisdom in Proverbs is the person we know as Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Now, if you’ve read The Shack you’ve experienced a different take on this text. William Young takes the Proverbs figure of Wisdom and gives her a role and significance that almost makes her a fourth member of the Godhead. Yet long before anyone would get upset about gender issues, Christians refused to keep dividing up God in a way that is inconsistent with the rest of Scripture and simply identified Wisdom with Jesus. That’s why we are here today to celebrate not four, five or six persons, but three Persons in one God.
We hardly ever read and study this text from Proverbs. But just because they identified Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 8 with Jesus Christ, Christians especially in the fourth century talked about it all the time. With everyone agreeing it was Christ speaking before His incarnation, verse 22 became troubling. Our translation this morning reads, “The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works…” You could even translate it, as the New Revised Standard Version does, “The Lord created me at the beginning of his work…”
A bishop named Arius was teaching that, while Jesus is the Son of God, while Jesus died and rose again, while Jesus is great and wonderful and worthy of worship, He is not actually God. Jesus was the first and most important and most glorious of all God’s creations, but He is still not quite God. To that idea the rest of the Church rose up, discussed the matter, fought about it, and under the prodding and leadership of a saint named Athanasius said a great big, “No way!” to Arius and his followers.
Athanasius held onto what the very first Christians had experienced. Jesus forgave their sins. The disciples fell down and worshipped Him as Lord. Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” After Jesus rose from the dead, Thomas went down on his knees to cry out, “My Lord and my God!” From the very beginning they learned Jesus was not just a man, not just one of God’s creations, but God Himself born as a human being.
That’s why when Athanasius and all other true, orthodox Christians read Proverbs 8 they took everything said about Wisdom, who is the same as Jesus, being “brought forth” or “given birth” as verses 24 and 25 say, not to mean Jesus was less than God, but that God is more wonderful and mysterious than anyone before had imagined. There is not only God the Father. There is God the Son. There is God the Holy Spirit. And they are all one God.
The Wisdom of God is the same as what John 1:1 calls the Word of God. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” And the Word is Jesus because John 1:14 says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
Athanasius and the Church together put it all down in the Nicene Creed, which we recite every Sunday in our early Communion service. Together with Christians down through the ages we say that Jesus is, “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father; through him all things were made.”
“Begotten, not made,”—that’s the key. The Hebrew word translated “brought forth” in verse 22 is not the same as “created” in Genesis 1:1 where “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” God did not create His Son. Instead, God created heaven, and the world, and you and me through His Son. Jesus is not part of creation. He is the design and plan for creation. He is everything that everything else is meant to be.
In December a water pipe froze and broke in the ceiling of our newest church building. It was a major mess that flooded it all an inch or two deep. As the cleanup proceeded, Stan and our architect pulled out the blueprints, the drawings, and discovered that our builder hadn’t followed the plan accurately. He had placed insulation under the pipe rather than above it to protect it from the cold.
That’s the way it often happens. Plans don’t always come together. Architects and builders are usually two different people and even if the designer is the builder, mistakes get made. The drawings aren’t read carefully or something gets forgotten. The same thing happens when you or I try to put together that bookcase we lugged home from Target or connect up that new computer from Best Buy. The plan is there, but there’s a gap between what’s on paper and that mess of parts we pull out of the box.
What if that plan the builder was trying to read, that manual you try to follow, actually came alive? What if, as that workman hummed along stapling insulation to studs, the building drawings rose up, tapped him on the shoulder and said, “No, not down there. Up here.” Or as you’re struggling to open your new cell phone and put in a battery and a SIM card, the instructions nudged you and said, “Don’t push that. Lift this.” A living plan wouldn’t just sit there in hoping it would come together. It would participate, it would help make it all happen. That’s what Wisdom says beginning in verse 27, “I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep…”
Wisdom, Christ, is God’s living plan for all creation. He is the plan and design for our lives. He didn’t leave us helplessly struggling to figure out His instructions for ourselves. He came alongside, He was born as one of us, to help the plan come together, to show us the way to build our lives as He intended.
Just lately I talked with Garry and Carolyn who are vacationing in New Mexico this weekend. I urged them to stop and see the Loretto Chapel when they visit Santa Fe. Built in 1878, it has a sweet little legend. After it was finished, the Sisters of Loretto had to use a ladder to get into the balcony. There was no solution because there wasn’t room for a staircase. They prayed and God sent a carpenter who was an incredible craftsman. He constructed a marvelous spiral staircase made of wood not found in the local area. It’s fitted together with pegs, not nails, and seems to stand without any support. When the staircase was done the carpenter disappeared and no one learned his name. For over a hundred years, visitors to the chapel have speculated on the identity of that mysterious craftsman.
Jesus Christ comes like that to us, appearing when the design problems of our hearts and lives have no solution. He gives His instructions, teaches His plans, and then by the grace of the Cross and the power of His resurrection helps us start building our lives according to His plan. Proverbs 8 reminds us that the Craftsman of all creation is the Craftsman of our own selves. He made us, and He makes us over to complete His design.
The Loretto staircase builder disappeared when his work was done and that’s the last anyone knew of him. Yet Jesus is still with us. That’s the point of our Gospel text here on Trinity Sunday. The Wisdom, the Truth that is Christ and that He brought into the world, is still being given to you and me. This is Trinity Sunday. There is a third person of God who comes to remind us of the design, of the plan. In John 16, verses 12 and 13, Jesus says, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
Christ our Lord ascended into heaven, as we celebrated two weeks ago. He is there once again as verse 30 of Proverbs 8 says He was originally, at the side of God the Father. But by the Holy Spirit, Jesus is still with us, still nudging us, correcting us, guiding us into His truth, into the living plan which is His own wonderful life.
We might still ask, “What’s the meaning of it all?” Why is God’s plan so complicated, not just sea and sky and worlds and galaxies, not just amoebas and apes and lichens and lilac bushes, but why all the messy disappointments and losses and failures of being human? Why all the fuss? The answer is in verse 30 and 31. Wisdom says, “I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in the whole world and delighting in humankind.”
That’s the meaning of it all. God delights in God. Not because He’s a selfish, self-centered, vain tyrant, but because God the Son delights in God the Father, and the Father delights in the Son and their mutual delight is poured out in the third Person of the Holy Spirit who delights in them both. That’s why John 16:13 says the Holy Spirit “will not speak on his own.” He’s too busy delighting in and teaching us about Jesus and about the Father. For all eternity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit have delighted in and loved each other. And our text from Romans 5:5 this morning says that love, the love God shares in His own being, “has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.”
God’s catch-phrase could very well be, “I love it when a plan comes together.” God’s plan is His Wisdom. God’s plan is His Son. God’s plan is for the life He enjoys, the mutual delight and love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to come together in us through the grace of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit. It delights Him. God’s Wisdom is “rejoicing in the whole world and delighting in humankind,” delighting in us.
This is where I’m afraid The Shack gets it wrong again about Wisdom. It makes her the vehicle of serious critical reflection about mistakes in judgment. But Wisdom here is not about self-reflection, not about self-critique. Wisdom all about delight, about God’s joy in the world and in us. As verses 1-4 say, Wisdom is calling to us, inviting us to join her in the great eternal banquet of delight, love and joy God wants to share with us. Jesus invites us. “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
That’s why Romans 5 says, “hope does not disappoint us,” or “hope does not put us to shame.” God takes delight in His plan and that means He takes delight in us. His plan is not shameful sorrow, but eternal joy for anyone who will accept it.
I could quibble with much that appeared last Sunday evening in the final show of “Lost.” Yet there was one note that seemed absolutely right and true. The show’s main characters, one after another, were struck with revelations and remembering that brought smiles to their faces, laughter and tears of joy to their eyes. That is Wisdom. That is God’s plan. That is our hope. God’s great design for us is to know delight, to share in His joy, to participate fully and completely in His love. Though it may sometimes be hard to see, the delight and love of God’s Wisdom is always there, waiting for us to join it. Amen.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2010 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj