Sermon preached for Trinity Sunday at Crescent Springs Presbyterian Church.
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Does not wisdom call,
and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way,
at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
“To you, O people, I call,
and my cry is to all that live.
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up, at the first,
before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills,
I was brought forth–
when he had not yet made earth and fields,
or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
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,
then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the human race.
[Jesus said,] “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 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. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
In 1953, my grandmother was a senior at Sweet Briar College, majoring in what was then called zoology, which would now be called biology. That was the year everything changed for students studying life—in all its forms.
It was the year Rosalind Franklin, James Watson, and Francis Crick discovered DNA.
It was a discovery that rocked the scientific world. The idea that all the diversity of life on this planet could be determined by these tiny helical chains set scientists off and running in a million new directions, leading to many of the scientific truths we know take for granted. The explosion of medical progress in particular traces back to this 1953 discovery.
But Franklin, Watson, and Crick weren’t actually the first to discover DNA. They were just the first to be able to clearly explain what they’d seen.
Almost 100 years before the famous trio, a Swiss scientist named Johann Friedrich Miescher was researching the immune system and white blood cells in particular. He was able to isolate a substance by dissolving most of the cell in acid—and that substance was DNA. What Miescher was not able to do was know exactly what it is he had found—he called it nuclein, and never could quite discover what its role was in the cell, without the more sophisticated tools that would be developed over the next century. He was also hesitant to call attention to his discovery without knowing exactly what it was, sharing mostly only with his friends and not with the wider scientific community.
Miescher had found DNA, but he didn’t know it. He couldn’t say what he had found, even though it was right there on his microscope slide.
And even before Miescher, even without microscopes, even without any concept of cells or nuclei at all, farmers have known for thousands of years how to manipulate DNA to breed new varieties of crops and animals, or how to keep breedlines or plant varieties pure. Farmers grafting one tree into another were working with DNA without knowing it. They didn’t need to know each and every scientific detail to create fruit that was sweet and branches that were strong. They knew enough. Now we know more.
This is often how scientific discoveries work. We know things on a large scale, and we go about our lives manipulating scientific principles without ever knowing it. Then we discover things at a more precise level, and then must set about to learn what we have discovered, how to talk about it, how it works. From there we go deeper, into more complicated, more targeted truths. There is knowledge that is good and useful at every step, but there is a joy, a passion, a usefulness in going deeper.
Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday, and I find myself thinking that science has much to teach us on this day. Coming to know the Triune God, Creator, Christ, and Spirit, is a process of divine discovery. We have always known God—felt that there was somehow morethat what we could see in the world around us. But we have not always known how to talk fully and precisely about this God—who God is, in all truth.
And I don’t think we do now. We are still learning about God. Still discovering God. Still searching for words and images that capture even a fragment of the reality we call God, Christ, Spirit, Father, Mother, Friend, Rock, Fountain, Grace, Lord.
Today we take time to celebrate the triune God, three in one and one in three. We use language that is nonsensical, paradoxical, mathematically inaccurate. We try to remind ourselves of what we do know—that God is present always with us, seen and felt in three persons, yet always one God with one heart and mission and goal. We speak of the Triune God as the faithful one, the saving one, the guiding one; and the one who is around us, and beside us, and within us; and the source of life, the source of new life, and the source of renewed life; and so many other ways to see and know this God we love.
But today we also remind ourselves of what we do not know—how to speak of God in ways that make total sense, how to capture the immensity of God in a few English words or strokes of paint. Precisely what God wants of each of us. Precisely how this faith thing works.
We don’t know. Yet.
DNA was not created in 1953. It had been there all along, since God first took delight in twisting the strands together. It is only that we found vision to see it and language to describe it just in the last seventy years.
So much more so has God always been there—unchanging from generation to generation. Yet each generation has kept seeking, kept exploring, kept discovering more of what there is to know about God.
The trinity, oddly enough, is not in the Bible. Not clearly, not the way we explain the concept today. The phrase one-in-three and three-in-one is nowhere in scripture. Neither is God in three persons. Our biblical authors would have been fairly baffled by our songs of praise to the triune God. They knew the creator, they knew Christ, they knew the Spirit, but they did not yet know—or feel a need to express—how these manifestations of God were different and yet one.
A few hundred years later, as the church began to form and kept seeking ways to talk about and share the God they knew, that the language of trinity began to take real shape and form. The church argued and debated, and to be honest they did a bit of name-calling too. For the most part, at stake was just who Jesus Christ was—was he like God, or a very godly man, or was he actually, somehow, God? And so the church came to the conclusion, over the course of several gatherings and conversations and explorations, that Jesus was indeed God, and the Spirit was indeed God, and God was still the God they’d always known, and somehow this worked and it was called the Trinity.
It took the church hundreds of years to discover this divine truth about God, and we still don’t have the idea perfected. We still don’t know all there is to know. That’s a beautiful thing to me.
Our poem from Proverbs this morning speaks of Proverbs as a woman who created the world alongside God, imbuing it with joy and delight. Wisdom that has been there since the very beginning, waiting for us to listen to her, to tap into what she has to offer. And at our best, over the years, we have, listening for Lady Wisdom as the bridge between us, the created ones, and our creator, learning more and more about the God who delights in us.
In our gospel lesson, Jesus speaks of the Spirit of Truth, who will come to us to reveal more about God, since his disciples were not able to know any more at that moment than they already did. This truth-telling spirit will help us know God more deeply, and that knowledge will glorify God.
And over the years, we have tapped into the wisdom that has always been, and listened to the voice of truth that is always saying just a bit more, leading us forward. We have discovered that God has always imbued women with the wisdom, gifts, and power to preach God’s gospel. We have discovered that all people are called into ministry, whether they are pastors or teachers or dentists or truck drivers or children or retired, that no one has more access to God than anyone else. We have discovered that God calls us not to simply cater to the rich and powerful but to lift up those in suffering, those excluded, those desperate for a word of grace, forgiveness, or plenty. We have discovered that God designed the church to be a place of welcome for all God’s children, regardless of where they come from or what language they speak or who they love or whether they doubt as much as they believe. We have discovered that peaceful action and reconciliation draws us more quickly to God’s kingdom than violence and war.
Like the DNA hiding in bumblebees and sunflowers and babies, these truths have always been there. These have always been part of God’s wisdom. But we have kept seeking the truth, and been given new tools, new vision, new language to understand and proclaim it now.
Our faith is not a fossil. It is a lifelong dedication of the pursuit of truth—truth from the past, wisdom still being mined from scripture and history and our ancestors; truth from the present, wisdom found in our own hearts and from our neighbors and from the spirit’s still, small voice speaking to us; and truth we do not yet know—truth that will come in the future, things god has yet to reveal, or we have yet to be able to hear, or we have yet to develop the tools or language to understand.
Like those farmers grafting fruit trees without knowing DNA even existed, God has given us enough to be people of faith, but there is always more to know—deeper pathways into the mystery of god. I pray you never give up listening for new truths and seeking those divine discoveries.
We are theological scientists. What new discoveries may await us?
In the name of the triune God, I pray. Amen.