Sunday, September 13, 2015

Wisdom Calls (Sermon)

The first thing I want you to do this morning is to look at the first banner up here to your right – the banner that proclaims “Light.” I don’t know whether or not you know – I didn’t until a couple of weeks ago – that these banners were created by a very young man, the young man who was to become SA’s son-in-law.  I often pray with these banners, using them to imagine God’s calling and our response, but I did not know how they had come to hang here.  And I think it’s quite remarkable that such a young person should have so beautifully captured the words, and most especially the word “light.”  If you walk up to the banner, you’ll see that the light is varying shades of white and pink against a background of different hues of blue – just wonderful.
The word “light” today comes to us first in how we are invited to understand Wisdom.  Wisdom in the Bible is characterized as a woman, as Lady Wisdom, who is a mysterious extension or part of God.[1] In the Book of Proverbs, we hear her claim to have been present with God at the creation of the world.  The Book of Proverbs is where we usually learn about her, and where the words of the cover of our bulletin come from.  Those words are from one of today’s official readings, and they tell us that Wisdom calls out in the streets.  She is, in other words, a public figure, out among the people, reaching to us in community.
But there’s another place in which we learn about Wisdom – in a book called Wisdom of Solomon, which is found in the Catholic Bible, but not in the Protestant version.  And it’s in this wisdom book that we hear about Wisdom as more dazzling even than light.  Listen again:
For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of God’s goodness. . . .  She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every  constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it issucceeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail.

So Wisdom reflects and mirrors and images light and the goodness of God, and is superior to light itself.  As beautiful as our banner is, as powerful and bright as light is, they are only reflections of Wisdom herself, that all-encompassing, deeply-pervading source of knowledge and of discernment, and that grace-filled companion to God.   

We see Wisdom in another form today as well – in the form of Jesus himself.  We know that Jesus identifies himself as light – “I am the light of the world” he says in the Gospel of John – and is also identified with wisdom. In Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians, we are told that “he is the source of [our lives] in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God . . .”.  So Jesus is light, and more than light – Jesus is wisdom.
In today’s gospel passage, Jesus asks his disciples who they think he is.  And it is Peter who answers clearly and without equivocation, “You are the Messiah.”  You are the anointed one. You are the one who has come to restore us to life.  You are the one.
Jesus goes on to provide something of a job description for the Messiah.  The Messiah will suffer, he says, and be killed.  And rise again – but it’s too late – Peter is already protesting.  And Jesus, who needs support, not dissent, at this point, become angry, and tells Peter that he has his mind set on human things rather than divine things.  “Get behind me, Satan!”  And then Jesus tells his disciples, and thus us, “For those who want to save their lives will lose them, and those who lose their lives for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save them.”
The Christian life – the life of light and wisdom -- is about recognizing and following Jesus – even into difficult places.  Into place where we lose that which we think of as our lives.
Light, and wisdom are not all about Easy Street.  The light shines, and the darkness does not overcome it, but the light shines on some pretty tough spots, on some rugged roads and in some dark places. 
Places not unlike the one in which we find ourselves today.
Today, we are called to vote to close our church, to bring our congregational life to an end.
Today, we are called to be a community of wisdom and discernment.  A community which listens to Wisdom call and which follows Jesus, Light of the World and Wisdom of God.
In the wisdom of our Presbyterian forbears, we look for wisdom in community.  We are not a church which places its reliance in bishops or in councils of elders far removed from us.  Although it is the Presbytery which officially plants and which closes congregations, it is we, the congregation, who bear the weight of the responsibility for this decision, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Under the guidance of Wisdom herself.  Under the guidance of Jesus himself.
And that is as it should be.  We believe that each one of us can hear and trust in what God has to say to us.  We believe that God speaks through community – that what we understand of God, we can test in the community of faith, in the historical community which speaks through Scripture, and in the contemporary community – us, speaking though our prayer and our conversation and our love for God and for one another. 

It might be easier to let someone else carry the weight.  It might be easier to turn to some sort of hierarchy, and let the decision be made elsewhere, by others.  But that is not what Presbyterians do. 

And so I urge you today: Let your voice be heard.  Let your vote be counted.  Several of you have told me that you’re not sure that you can cast your vote today.  But it is a great privilege, a great gift from God, to be a member of a congregation which makes its decisions in community, by voting.  It is also a great call to faithfulness: to understand what it means to be stewards of all that God has given us. 
And so: what wisdom do we bring to our discernment?  What light can be shed upon our decision-making this afternoon?  I want to suggest three qualities needed for discernment[2] which we have tried to exercise for the past year and which we are called to bring to our vote today:

The first is openness.  “We must approach our decision with an open mind and open heart.”  I do believe that many hearts here have softened and opened in the months just behind us, as we have come to understand that the old ways no longer suffice and that God is asking us to be willing to trust in something new.  Remember that unfolding trust we talked about last week in the form of that wet origami that unfolds, that OPENS, into graceful and surprising curves?  That’s what we are called to emulate.  We cannot discern for the future if we insist on closing our doors around the past and on locking ourselves in to a season whose purpose has expired. We are called to open our hearts and minds to the reality that what God has in store for us is not what we have known, to the consistent truth of our faith that God is always preparing us for new life – for resurrection life.

The second quality of wisdom to which we are called at a time of discernment is generosity.  “To enter into a decision-making process with . . .  openness requires a generous spirit with which we, with a largeness of heart, put no conditions on what God might call us to. God is asking us to give ourselves away to God with . . . no strings.  God is asking us to consider both present and future in the most generous way possible.  We in this congregation have many gifts to share, gifts which have been honed and which have flourished right here at Boulevard.  And now we are called to be good and generous stewards, of both a building that we ourselves can no longer afford, and of the gifts which God is calling us to take and share elsewhere.  If we are open to God in discernment, then we can also be generous with God in discernment, as God is generous with us.

And the third, the third quality of wisdom for decision-making is courage.  The openness and generosity we are talking about demands courage, for God is asking something difficult, challenging, and risky of us. It takes courage to give up control and in trust in God’s plans.  It takes courage to open ourselves to the future, to be generous when we do not know the outcome, and to act when the cost is high.  It takes courage to follow Jesus, who tells us that his path involves a cross – that to journey with him is to know sadness and uncertainty, suffering and sorrow.   To give up even our lives.  Even our lives at Boulevard.

But you, my friends, are up to this task.  You are up to the call to respond with wisdom and to follow Jesus into unknown territory because you – we – are a resurrection people.  We are an Easter people.

The Christian faith does not end at the cross.  Our lives as Christians will not end with Boulevard’s closing.  The Christian faith, and our lives – as the people of Boulevard, as Presbyterians, as Christians – our faith and our lives are about resurrection.    Unlikely as it may seem to us, those events which look like endings to us are steps on the path toward God’s new creation.

We have a difficult congregational meeting and a hard vote ahead of us.  We cannot deny that.  But let us also not deny – let us remember – that when we vote to close our church, we are voting for life and for resurrection.  We are voting with openness and generosity and courage for a new future, for an Easter future. 

Yes, this looks and feels like the end.    Our experience must be something like that of the the disciples after the crucifixion, when all seemed lost. 
But let us remember: Wisdom is calling.  We are followers of Jesus, Light of the World and Wisdom from God.  Let us respond in wisdom ourselves, and “let [Jesus] Easter in us.”[3]  Amen.

[1] See Wil Gafney, Working Preacher, 9/16/12.

[2] Warren Sazama, S.J., “Ignatian Principles for Decision Making.”


Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” 1918.






No comments:

Post a Comment