St. Michael and All Angels
August 19, 2012
In the first reading today, we encounter Wisdom. She comes to us in Proverbs as a woman who builds a house, slaughters the animals, sets the table and invites everyone to come and eat. Chokmah is the noun for wisdom in Hebrew and Sophia in Greek. Both are feminine and invite us to look at wisdom from a feminine perspective, which involves setting a table where all are invited to come and eat together. The reading from Ephesians calls us to wise living in the form of singing and giving thanks in all things, rather than getting drunk on that which numbs us. What is it that numbs you – surfing the internet, watching television even when there is “nothing” on, eating food that doesn’t satisfy, or something else? The Gospel lesson is a continuation of a long discourse about Jesus as the bread of life. Today Jesus invites us to eat this living bread. All of these texts encourage us to live wisely.
What is the wisdom that guides your life? There is wisdom all around us on Facebook, in daily emails, in the books we are reading, and some great one liners from the movies. One of my summer favorites comes from Sonny in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: “Everything will be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, then it’s not the end.”
Or maybe you prefer the wisdom of a teenager, who said, “I believe you should live each day as if it is your last, which is why I don't have any clean laundry because, come on, who wants to wash clothes on the last day of their life?” (A 15 year old)
Or as Robert Fulghum reminded us several years ago in his book All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten: “Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sand pile at Sunday school. These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody… When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.”
There is no shortage of wisdom out there. However, I don’t think the scriptures are interested in whom we can quote, but in how we live. For lady wisdom in Proverbs, it happens at a meal where we share our lives. There is something that happens when we sit down together and begin to tell our stories and listen to one another. I’m guessing you can recall a wonderful conversation at a table that took you to unexpected places. I have a friend that I meet with each month over a meal and the conversations leave me full and hungry at the same time. I am blown away at what we discover together and how much I am guided by my own soul in those conversations rather than the parts of me that so often speak first. The table is a place where we begin to mine our own wisdom.
Mark Nepo is a cancer survivor and a gifted poet and author. His newest book is called As Far as the Heart Can See: Stories to Illuminate the Soul. Each chapter is a very short story. After each story there are three parts designed to encourage individual and communal reflection: there are journal questions, table questions to be asked over dinner or coffee with friends and loved ones, and a meditation. We are going to use this form for adult formation this fall. A few years ago, A Season of Listening impacted St. Michael’s in significant ways. We spent a summer pairing up to simply have conversations with one another. Those conversations opened up shared passions and opportunities to deepen relationships. This fall you will be invited to join us on Sunday mornings as we share stories of compassion, hope, fear, blessing, and longing.
How will that impact us as individuals and as a community of faith? I am curious that when thousands of hungry people gathered on a hillside, Jesus had them sit in groups in order to feed them. The early church gathered over meals to pray and worship. I think that we have the opportunity to grow in our understanding of each other as we listen to one another’s stories. The Soul of Money class has touched me, as people have been honest about their relationship to money and in telling our stories, our truth; we discover the power of community in new ways. Relationship seems to be one of the paths to wisdom and at the same time, one of the fruits of it.
In the gospel lesson, Jesus invites us to not just follow him, but to “consume” him. Rather than some abstraction we can’t wrap our head around, Jesus became incarnate to show us that our task is not to think about God, but to live as God’s people. We too, are flesh and blood. We will not impress others with our words, but with our lives as we show compassion and love in all that we do. Wisdom is about embodied faith. It is made known in our actions.
I always love hearing great quotes! They inspire me, but I quickly forget them. Yet there are those moments when my life is so deeply resonant with what I believe it is as if wisdom emerges from within my soul. I am outdoors as the darkness gives way to light each morning and I know that I was born for this… to hear the birds, to see the color fill the sky and to move physically into a new day. I am talking to a man at St. Martin’s and I realize that he is living the faith that I talk about and I am growing even as I hear his story. I am frustrated with someone who has been difficult and then she expresses her vulnerability and compassion erupts from me in unexpected ways. That feels more like wisdom to me than being able to repeat someone else’s beautiful words. Perhaps wisdom is less about what we know and more about who we are. Maybe wisdom will not be found in a book or on the Internet, but in discovering and having the courage to be who we are created to be. We are inspired less by what Jesus said and more by what he did. His ability to be present to people was astounding. He was a healer and a teacher, but he was the kind of teacher who taught through his actions. He didn’t use a chalkboard or social media. He taught in the way he treated people.
I can’t say what wisdom is for each of you, but I am guessing you know it when you experience it. It begins by listening to the depth of who you are. My friend Jim called this week to tell me he has been diagnosed with leukemia. He went on to tell me that it has his attention. He’s listening. Wisdom comes from that kind of attention to our days, to our inner most selves, to one another. Wisdom grows out from our center and shows us our path. Parker Palmer says, “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.” (Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation p. 3)
Every day offers us a new opportunity to live into our wisdom, or as Ephesians says, “making the most of the time” (Ephesians 5:15). It is there before us to be discovered not in what we know, but in the choices we make. Come to this table and feast on the bread of heaven. Look around at the others who are gathered here. We are young and old, male and female, many skin colors, from many parts of the country and the world, we bring questions, fears, hopes, and longings every time we step forward to eat this bread and drink this cup. We have been created in God’s wisdom and we are wise when we embrace the goodness of God in us and in each other.