5/22/16 – THE THREE-LEGGED STOOL by Lynn Naeckel +


Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

John 16:12-15

I love today’s lesson from Proverbs. “Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?” As in other parts of the Old Testament, Wisdom is here personified as a woman. Then immediately she is placed in a concrete world – beside the gates in front of the town, crying out to those who pass by.

But it is her claims that are the most interesting. The Lord created me at the beginning of his work. . . Before God created the universe, he created wisdom/understanding/reason. “Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.” It makes a certain kind of sense, doesn’t it? God needed wisdom to create such a complex and fascinating world. And what is the final act of wisdom? She was the daily delight of the Lord, “rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.”

This insistence on her connection with the created world caught my attention, not to mention her tone of joy. What does this have to do with Trinity Sunday?

In trying to make some connection, I’m not going to talk about Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Instead I’m going to talk again about Richard Hooker’s three legged stool. That was his metaphor for where the Anglican Church looks for its authority.

Whether rectangular or triangular, the seat holds the three legs in proper order. The legs cannot exist as legs apart from the seat. One leg represents Scripture; one represents Tradition; one represents Reason (or Wisdom). If the legs are not exactly the same length the stool will be crooked or fall over.

Just so, a church that puts too much emphasis on the Bible alone, or reason alone, or tradition alone will be out of balance. They need to carry the same weight, to work together to keep the stool even. They must stay in the same equal relationship to one another. You can see how this metaphor might also apply to the Holy Trinity.

I’ve mentioned before that the ministry team, while we were studying, wanted to add another leg called experience. This week, as I was mulling all this over, I realized that the seat of the stool is what represents experience. The seat is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. This is where the real world and the abstract world meet. It’s sitting on the stool that proves whether it’s in balance or not!

We can’t understand scripture, tradition, or reason apart from our own experience of the world. It’s the lens through which we see things around us. That’s why we understand them differently today than they were understood a thousand years ago. We live in a different world with different understandings and a great deal more knowledge that did the Christians in 1000 AD.

There’s nothing wrong with re-interpreting scripture, tradition and reason in this way. In fact, if we don’t, it becomes useless, an empty form that no longer carries any meaning.

Most folks assume that Scripture is the primary leg – or the first among equals, but I’d suggest, after reading today’s lesson that that place belongs to reason. Reason predates creation, whereas Scripture and Tradition came later. Also God created Reason, whereas scripture and tradition come from the hands and minds of men.

It is reason, or wisdom, and our church’s insistence on using it that allows us to include all fields of study in our attempts to understand God. It is the use of reason, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit that makes it possible to reinterpret scripture in the light of new knowledge.

For a simple example, Scripture accepts slavery as normal and slaves are told to make the best of their lives where they are. We no longer believe slavery is OK. We understand those parts of Scripture that accept slavery as representing what the people of that time held to be true, but not something that we have to follow today.

The role of tradition is to slow down this process of change, to keep us from running after current fads, to test the new understandings against the best minds of the past and the present. I believe this is a good thing, even though I often grumble about it taking sooooo long for change to happen in the church.

The problem is that humans like tradition and do not like change, so we cling to tradition much longer than is necessary, and we often do it without conscious thought about it. Simple example – we continued to build churches in the 20th Century with railings around the altar to keep out the pigs and goats and chickens that used to wander into the churches a thousand years ago.

The balance required of the three legs of the stool mirrors the relationship of the Trinity. In each triad, any one cannot do all the work alone. Look at today’s Gospel. Jesus is speaking and passes on some of the work to the Spirit of truth, who will come and will speak on behalf of Jesus. “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 a few sentences the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all referenced and shown to be deeply related, inseparable, really. No one of them can do the work alone.

What struck me most about this is that they are a community into which we are welcomed as members. The Spirit of truth will guide us into all the truth which comes from all three.

We aren’t in this alone, and neither is God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. We’re all in it together. Now I have friends who consider themselves Christian, but do not worship with other Christians. I don’t say this to them, but I don’t know how you can BE a Christian outside of a worshipping community. Christian religion is not just a matter between God and me. It involves a community that includes Jesus, the Holy Spirit, other people with whom we worship, and the whole cloud of witnesses who have gone before us.

Have you ever stood in church and thought about all the other people who are standing in churches around the world doing the same thing? Or of all the people who have stood in these same pews in years gone by? We are not alone in this life. God is not alone either. Isn’t that the whole point of creation? Let us rejoice and be glad. AMEN

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