SCRIPTURES – Prov. 8:1-4, 22-31; Acts 2:22-36; John 8:48-59; Ps. 16
You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence. (Acts 2:28, quoting Ps. 16:11)
James Alfred Wight, better known by his pen-name James Herriot, was a veterinarian in England who wrote a number of books about his experiences. In “Memories of a Wartime Vet” he tells about a dog named Cedric. Cedric was a huge, muscular boxer whose friendliness and enthusiasm knew no bounds. His entire body wagged with delight when he greeted someone. He had a problem, however: he had gas. And, his gas was like himself. Cedric’s farts were not tiny, barely audible toots, but loud, vigorous blasts that caused him to turn and look in wonder at his rear end to see what had happened. What followed was worse: an almost palpable sulphurous wave that enveloped one like a toxic fog.
Cedric’s owner, Mrs. Rumney – willowy and proper, like a heroine in a Victorian novel – sought help from Mr. Herriot, but nothing he tried was of any help. He changed Cedric’s diet, he gave him medications, but to no avail. Cedric happily continued blast-ing away, embarrassing Mrs. Rumney and ruining every society occasion she hosted.
Finally, Herriot proposed a solution: Mrs. Rumney could give Cedric to her gardener, Con Fenton, a big muscular man himself who greatly admired the dog, and she could get herself a smaller dog, like a poodle. And, this is what she did.
A few months later Herriot stopped to see the gardener in his small cottage. He wondered: had Cedric changed? But, no, as the huge dog jumped on him with delight, a loud blast erupted from his backend and a noxious wave descended. Herriot wondered: how could Con put up with this? Seeking escape, Herriot buried his nose in a vase full of carnations. “They’re beautiful, a credit to you,” he told the gardener.
“Ah, but I don’t get the full benefit of them,” he responded. “You see, I had an operation on my nose as a child, and something went wrong. Since then, I’ve had no sense of smell.”
Now, but you may be wondering: what does Cedric have to do with God, the Holy Trinity? The Triune God is certainly vastly different and far greater than a dog. True; but, there is one thing about God that Cedric reflected: joy; the utter, boundless joy of life. “In your presence there is fullness of joy,” proclaims Psalm 16. God is joy, and He rejoices to share His joy with us, that we might live in His joy forever.
Con Fenton was able to enjoy Cedric and be cheered by his joy of life because he had lost his sense of smell. To be blessed by God’s joy we, too, must lose something – many things, in fact. But, one of the main things we must lose is our wisdom. Now, I don’t mean that we must be unthinking and never question God or wonder. Not at all. God praises wisdom, as we hear in today’s reading from Proverbs 8. The wisdom that is praised there is not man’s wisdom, however, but God’s wisdom. “The Lord possessed me [wisdom] at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth... when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.” True wisdom precedes us, for it comes from God.
What this means for us is that we cannot begin to understand or know God, or receive His eternal blessing, if we start with our wisdom. If you demand that God make sense to you so that you accept only actions and judgments that you think are wise, then, instead of rejoicing in Him and seeing the wisdom of His ways you will become uncomfortable with Him. God’s actions and words will become like loud blasts and noxious fumes that embarrass and make you uncomfortable.
Our wisdom rebels, for instance, against the Athanasian Creed. “It’s too long, too wordy, and too confusing! What must visitors think of us when they hear us speaking these words?” Man’s wisdom will turn away from confessing such words. They proclaim God’s nature and wisdom, however, what God tells us in His Bible about who He is and what He does.
With the Triune God there is joy and the fullness of life! With pride and joy, then, let us confess the Athanasian Creed, and so confess our God.
In the Gospel reading today we have clear evidence of the futility of man’s wisdom. “Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death," Jesus proclaims. Now there’s a loud, odorous blast! His opponents proceed to evaluate His words on the basis of man’s wisdom: "Now we know that you have a demon! Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, 'If anyone keeps my word, he will never taste death.' Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?" Why, He makes Himself out to be God! If you listen to Jesus and accept what He says, without doubting or demanding that it go along with your own or the world’s wisdom, you will believe this. You will have the joy of knowing that God is not far away, for He became man for you! How great is His love for you, and how great and mighty to save are His words! God the Father, who is one with Jesus, will honor you and fill you with His Spirit, and Christ’s words will for you be words of life that save you from eternal death. But, if you judge Jesus on the basis of your reason and only accept and believe what is in accord with it, then you will miss all of this. Out of fear of offending, you may even end up denying Him, as his opponents did.
It is not easy to believe in and confess the one God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It never has been. Jesus was accused of being demon possessed. You may be considered nuts, or even dangerous, if you accept everything He says and trust Him completely. For, you see, God does burst forth at times with blasts that cause us to reel. He may allow, or even send, an illness or a tragedy. Sometimes He offends simply by what He says. Many statements of Jesus and teachings of the Bible smell horribly to people and are very offensive to them.
What should you do when you are reeling from a blast from God? Remember and confess what we proclaim today: “Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to him because He has shown his mercy to us.” God is holy. His works are always good, and for our good, for He can do no evil. And, God is undivided. His works are one. This means that the works of Jesus are works of the Father and the Holy Spirit. God is not divided, nor does He change. He is one and His works are one. You know that Jesus loves you because you see that He willingly bore your sins and paid the eternal penalty for them by giving His life for you on the cross? You believe that His cross is your forgiveness, and His resurrection is the promise of eternal life for you? Well, He was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God,” we are told in Acts 2. This means that the Father loves you also, and sacrifices for you to give you His good, His joy!
When you believe in the Holy Trinity – believe that God is always and only holy and good – then His blasts will not distress or shake you. “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken,” we are promised in Psalm 16. God will give you trust and confidence instead of doubt. In place of worry and sadness, He will give you joy – His joy. His joy does not change or end, and so with His joy God will share will you His eternal life. The Son of God gained all this for you by His life, death, and resurrection for you, and He shares it with you in His wise words. Listen to them, and you will be filled with joy, for “in His presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand” – who is Christ! – “are pleasures forevermore!”