Category Archives: Reflections

What if the Earth could speak?

Sermon preached by Christopher Lind on April 22, 2010, the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day, at Church House in Toronto, Ontario.

Psalm 148

1Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

2Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

3Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

4Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

5Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created.

6He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

7Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

8fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

9Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

10Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

11Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

12Young men and women alike, old and young together!

13Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

14He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the Lord!

I want to ask you a question today that you’ve probably never asked yourselves. This is Earth Day. What if the Earth could speak? What would it say? Would it complain, would it celebrate, would it protest against injustice, would it laugh, would it cry?

Psalm 148 gives us one answer: it would praise God from the earth and the highest heavens! Is this just hyperbole? Is this just anthropomorphizing our island home? Surely the earth can’t REALLY speak, can it?

Let’s engage in a thinking exercise. What prevents us from thinking this thought? Where does our resistance come from? Some biblical scholars say our resistance comes from our pattern of “dualistic thinking”. This kind of thinking divides the world into pairs of opposites:

People vs animals

Reason vs emotion

Mind vs matter

Male vs female

Sacred vs profane

Heaven vs earth

Humans (culture) vs nature

Us vs them

This kind of thinking can be helpful when it is the beginning of analysis. However, it becomes unhelpful when it becomes the beginning of hierarchy; when we are not just different than them but better than them!

Another obstacle to this way of thinking is our tendency to think of the earth as a moss covered rock hurtling through space, the 3rd rock from the sun. What if, instead, we thought of the Earth (Capital ‘E’) as a community of all living things on the planet, a community of life. This would mean complex ecosystems interacting, of which humans are just a part. Can a crowd speak? Well maybe…

In philosophy we learn to distinguish subjects from objects. Subjects are capable of communicating, of acting and of forming intentions. The Earth is not a human subject. However, as a community of life, Earth has a collective identity and maybe even a collective voice, capable of rejoicing in delight and groaning in sorrow. In order to hear the voice of Earth, we have to listen for it. Maybe the voice of Earth is a little bit like ‘body language’ – a communication without words. You might say that the Earth is making noise but not really communicating. We used to say that about whales, but we don’t any longer. Just because we haven’t yet learned the language, doesn’t mean a community is not trying to speak.

Has the Earth been trying to speak for a long time? If so, is there evidence of it? What if there is evidence in the Bible? Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation. Specifically, it has to do with becoming conscious of the principles we use when we translate or interpret a text.

There are some metaphors we can use to describe the activity of interpretation. One metaphor has to do with light and dark. Interpreting Scripture is like shining a light in the darkness. You have to be sure what you’re looking for. Every light casts a shadow. This doesn’t make the light bad and the shadow good, its just the way the light works. If you want to see what is in the shadows you have to shift the light or use a different kind of light. On the crime shows, if the forensic team wants to see if there is blood present, they have to bring in ultraviolet light because ordinary light won’t reveal it.

 

In the recent past, the 50s & 60s, biblical scholars were concerned to demonstrate how the bible revealed the story of God’s saving acts through history. This was called “salvation history”. If you studied the Bible in a seminary during this period you would have read the work of scholars like Gerhard von Rad & Oscar Cullman who were shining their light on salvation history. This approach kept questions regarding the Earth & the Voice of the Earth in the shadows.

 

In Australia, another group of scholars, led by Norman Habel, have been concerned with the voice of the Earth. Habel gathered an international community of scholars together to dim the hermeneutical light of salvation in order to retrieve the story of Earth communities.

 

Another metaphor that is used to describe the science of interpretation has to do with the lens we look through or the glasses we wear. When we wear dark glasses we don’t see enough and when we wear rose coloured glasses we only see the things we agree with. Earth Bible scholars have been skeptical of the glasses we wear when we read Scripture Hands up, all the people who wear glasses. Many of us wear literal glasses. All of us wear metaphorical glasses. When we read the Bible we need to become aware of the metaphorical glasses with which we are reading it.

 

As I get older I lose things more often. In order to find them again, I have to become suspicious of my movements. I become sceptical of what I think I did and where I think I put things. It makes it doubly difficult if the item I’m looking for is my glasses! The same is true of biblical interpretation. If you want to find something that is not revealed by current methods of biblical interpretation, you have to exercise suspicion and then retrieval. We learned this from both feminist and then liberation theology.

The Earth Bible scholars have developed 6 hermeneutical principles. One of those principles is:

The Principle of Voice1

Earth is a subject capable of raising its voice in celebration and against injustice.

Can the earth speak? Funny question but our Scripture answers us all the time. Why don’t we hear it? In the 12th chapter of Job we read “Ask the animals and they will teach you, the birds of the air and they will tell you!” Our Cree and Innu and Ojibway sisters & brothers understand this very well. Why don’t the rest of us?

Today’s Psalm, 148, is very clear on this question:

“Praise the Lord from the Earth, you sea monsters and all deeps!”

(Sounds like a great children’s story! Where the Wild Things Are)

“Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!”

This is Earth Day and this is our Psalm. Do we believe the Psalm or are we resisting it? I wonder why?


1 Taken from THE EARTH BIBLE PROJECT, Norman C. Habel, Series Editor, Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press. Published in Canada and the USA by The Pilgrim Press, Cleveland, Ohio.

“Seek the Welfare of the Place I have Sent You” (Jer. 29)

Sermon by Christopher Lind on the Eve of the Feast of St. Mark for the Ordination of Nola-Susan Crewe

This past January my mother died. She was 93. She lived a full life. She died in her own bed of a heart attack in the house where she had lived for almost 60 years. Would that we could all be so lucky.

My mother was a hoarder. She never threw anything away if she could help it. In her closet we found 50 purses. Downstairs we found 30 years of National Geographic. My parents were readers and we have catalogued 2400 books. She also saved letters. We have letters I wrote as a child. We have letters she wrote as a child. We have letters her parents wrote. We have lots of letters and some of them are very old.

I am going to read you some excerpts from one that I think is most relevant for today. It is from someone named Jeremiah and it is addressed to:

“all the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon ….

4Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce … 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare ….

Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. 11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the Lord … and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”

Now I know what you are thinking. You’re thinking “he didn’t find this letter in his mother’s house. That’s from the Bible!” Well, you’d be wrong and you’d also be right. I did find this letter in my mother’s house. I found many copies of it because it is from the Bible and we found over 20 Bibles in my mother’s house. (My father’s house may have many rooms but my mother’s house has many bibles!)

Now why would this letter be relevant today and why have people been saving this letter for, now, thousands of years. This letter describes a world dominated by empires and a religious community torn by conflict and divided. Sound familiar? When Jeremiah was writing, Jerusalem had been sacked and the people of southern Israel had been deported to Babylon. Some Jewish interpreters consider this to be the beginning of the Jewish diaspora, 2500 years ago. Where is Babylon? Today we call it Iraq and Jewish communities continued living there into the 20th century. That’s a long time to be away from home.

Consider the reading we heard from Isaiah. In that reading (Is. 52:7-10) the prophet offers words of comfort to the Israelites because “Jerusalem is in ruins”. Even in Isaiah’s time, the trauma of the sacking of Jerusalem is close to the surface.

The leaders of the exiled community are writing to the prophet Jeremiah, asking how than shall they live in this strange land. What will be their ministry? Jeremiah writes back and says “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent youand pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare”.

Nola, this is the kind of Church & world where you have been called to minister. As today’s events illustrate so clearly, we are a divided church. We are conflicted. The temple has been sacked and the religious authorities have been dis-established. You have been sent away from your home by the authorities. How then will you minister? What will be your guide? “Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you … and pray to God on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Our God is a God of surprises. One of God’s surprises for you, Nola, was to call you to the Church of the Holy Trinity for your curacy. (Maybe God is a God of mischief too!) God has also called you to hospital chaplaincy and God will call you to other places too. There is conflict and division in all these places. How then will you be guided? My counsel to you is to return to the letters that our religious ancestors refused to throw out. Turn to Jeremiah and heed his words: “seek the welfare of the city where you have been sent … and pray to God on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Nola, in the “examination” you are about to undergo, you will be told that you are “to fashion your life in accordance with [the] precepts [of the Gospel]”. Some people have an idea this means you are supposed to be “nice”. I can’t find anywhere in the Bible where it says that. I looked it up in my Concordance and I couldn’t even find the word. I thought it might be a matter of translation so I looked up the word “polite”. You know, I couldn’t find that word either! Instead I found that people of faith should be humble, as in this injunction from the prophet Micah: “What does the lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (6:8)

In the reading you selected from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4:11-16) we hear Paul entreating us to “speak the truth in love”. We are to do this not as children but as adults, for “we must grow up in every way”. What does it look like to speak the truth in love, in a grown up way. Sometimes it means speaking out and protesting against discrimination by whatever means is available to you. To speak and act in this way is not to act out. It is to do what is normal when faced with injustice.

Jeremiah was speaking into a situation of deep division. Jesus confronted an empire that crucified its dissidents. The Anglican Church was also born in a time of deep division in the 16th century and that division has continued to today. There was a time in your adult life when this same church would have refused to ordain you just because of your gender. This new possibility of your ordination did not come about because women were nice and polite. It came about because women protested against discrimination and sought to speak the truth in love. They refused to be treated like children and insisted on being treated like adults. Instead of being nice and polite, they followed the injunction of the turn of the century Canadian feminist and Christian, Nellie McClung, who declared: “Never retract, never explain, never apologize; get things done and let them howl.” Even today, I regret to say, there are parts of the Anglican Communion where not only would you be considered ineligible for Episcopal office, but, because of your gender, this ordination will not be recognized.

Protest and objection, complaint and dissent is so common in the history of the church, there is even a place in the service of ordination where such voices are invited to speak. They must be heard, because actually, that’s part of what it means to be Anglican. As long as there is injustice in the world, conflict is normal.

Nola, my mother would have liked you, and you her. She would have been as delighted by this ordination as I am, and delighted by your willingness to accept this call. One of my observations of your ministry here at the Church of the Holy Trinity is that you have indeed been seeking the welfare of this place. Sometimes you challenge us to see ourselves in new ways and that makes us uncomfortable, but even in the planning for this service you have sought your welfare in the welfare of this place, where you have been sent. As my mother would have said: Keep up the good work.

My most fervent prayer is that all people who are qualified, and whose call has been tested and affirmed by the community, could share in the delight you are experiencing today. Amen.

Christopher Lind

25 April 2010

Believing Is Seeing

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter (11 April 2010)

by Sherman Hesselgrave

Readings:  Acts 5:27-32     Psalm 150      Revelation 1:4-8     John 20:19-31

O breaking and entering God:
There is no place we can hide from your presence,
no deadbolt strong enough to keep you from slipping into our midst,
no barricade too high for your Spirit to surmount;
may your Risen Christ steal into our hearts, our imaginations, and empower us to take your message of healing and forgiveness and grace to a broken world.  Amen.

That prayer was inspired both by today’s gospel reading and by a New Yorker cover that has graced the wall of my office for many years—a Charles Addams drawing for a Valentine’s Day issue that depicts the interior of an apartment whose entry door has a deadbolt lock, a sliding bolt, a chain, and a security bar planted at an angle into the floor.  The man who lives there is staring down at a white envelope with a large red heart on it that someone has slipped beneath the barricaded entrance of his secure world.  Ready or not, grace happens.

During the season of Easter, the 50 days between last week and the Feast of Pentecost, we will hear numerous stories of God’s grace breaking into human experience.  Every year on the Sunday after Easter we read the account of the risen Christ appearing to the disciples, who are hiding behind locked doors, fearful that the same authorities who killed Jesus will hunt them down as well.  Running and hiding is a defense mechanism that has served the human race well.  I can still visualize the swashbuckler in some black and white movie from my childhood declaring: “He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.”  But to live perpetually holed up in fear is not why God put us here.

Thomas, the disciple who missed Jesus’ first resurrection appearance to the cowering disciples, has earned the moniker, Doubting Thomas, for telling his fellows that unless he saw the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands, and put his finger in the mark of the nails and his hand in Jesus’ side, he would not believe.  It is rather unfair to wag a finger at Thomas for his reaction, because, in the end, we have to acknowledge that without doubt, faith is meaningless.  Or, as Frederick Buechner remarked, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith.”1  That is one of the things we can take away from the story of Thomas.

Another is that Jesus gives Thomas what he needs to reassure him of the truth.  As disciples who missed out on Jesus’ appearance on Easter Sunday evening, all of us are in the same position as Thomas was.  The reassurance we are given, though, is not through touching the marks of the nails or the wound in the side.  For us, the real presence of Christ is found in the Eucharist, and when we “take and eat” the bread and wine we are literally touching the One who said “do this to remember me.”  “O taste and see how gracious is Yahweh.”2

Which leads to the third thing we can take away from the encounter of Thomas and the Risen One, namely, that believing is seeing.  What humans believe has always shaped what we see.  The names for planets and constellations come from a pre-Copernican belief system about the universe in which people would look at the night sky and see movements and patterns that led them conclude they were observing the activities of gods and goddesses.  Xenophobic beliefs lead people to see those different from themselves as worthy of all sorts of horrors.  But if we trust God the way Jesus taught us to trust God, our faith opens our eyes to see things with the corrective lenses that Jesus left behind for us, and when we need an adjustment, the Holy Spirit acts as divine optometrist.

Huston Smith, the great scholar of world religions, claims that Christianity’s unique and most significant contribution is the concept of forgiveness.  When we look around at the state of human civilization, we see unending cycles of violence: you hit me, I hit you back.  Jesus knew forgiveness is the only way to break the pattern.
Rowan Williams, from the time he served as a parish priest, wrote: “There is no hope of understanding the Resurrection outside the process of renewing humanity in forgiveness. We are all agreed that the empty tomb proves nothing.  We need to add that no amount of apparitions, however well authenticated, would mean anything either, apart from the testimony of forgiven lives communicating forgiveness.”3  For Thomas and the other disciples, the “resurrection was an experience of forgiveness. The disciples had all abandoned Jesus, becoming complicit with his murderers. The fact that the resurrection was happening to them was an experience of forgiveness for them.”4

In the early centuries of the Christian church, the season of Easter was a period of introducing the newly baptized to the sacred mysteries—particularly the Eucharist, from which the baptismal candidates had been excluded until their baptism at the Easter Vigil.  There is even a fancy Greek word for this practice: mystagogia.  The baptismal covenant is the articulation of Christian identity, and mystagogy is the process of looking deeper into what it means to be on this journey.  For example, what does it mean to “live eucharistically?”  We are taught that the four-fold action of the Eucharist comes from Jesus and the miracle of the loaves where he took the offered loaves, blessed them, broke them, and gave them.

A bunch of years ago, I had a mystagogical moment that opened my eyes to a deeper understanding of living eucharistically.  I was the celebrant and the gifts had been brought to the altar: gifts of bread and wine, and the financial offerings.  As I held the alms basin in my hands I looked down and on top was a five dollar bill on which had been stamped in bold purple block letters: LESBIAN MONEY.  It was a conservative town, so I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone had decided to do some consciousness raising by annotating their currency.  Just as we place the bread and wine on the altar—fruit of the earth and the work of human hands—to be taken, blessed, broken, and shared, our financial offerings—symbols of our life and labour—are also taken, blessed, broken, and shared.  As I looked at that bill I suddenly imagined every bill and envelope sitting there with a unique stamp on it: RETIRED SCHOOLTEACHER MONEY, PHARMACIST MONEY, NURSE MONEY, UNDEREMPLOYED SINGLE MOM MONEY…you get the idea.  St Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Rome, appealed to them to “offer their bodies as a living sacrifice,” or as a modern interpreter has rendered it: “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.”5  What a contrast from the what’s-in-it-for-me view seen through the eyes of the marketplace.

Last time I preached I mentioned the new Holy Trinity mission statement, which now appears on the front cover of our Sunday bulletin.  A self-described agnostic who read the sermon online told me that he was deeply impressed that our mission statement includes this language, and hence, people like him:

We foster lay leadership, include the doubter and the marginalized, and challenge oppression wherever it may be found.

Wherever we are on our spiritual journey, God invites us to take the risk of observing life through the lens of our faith, evaluating with the mind of Christ, and responding with the empowerment and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

As we encircle the altar today, taste and see that God is gracious, touch the Risen Christ in the gifts of bread and wine and in one another, and may all our doubts lead us ever deeper into the mystery that is God.

———————————–

1 Wishful Thinking, (1973), p. 20

2 Psalm 34:8

3 Resurrection, (1982), p. 118

4 From Paul Nuechterlein’s notes of Gil Bailie’s lectures on the Gospel of John.

5 Romans 12:1 (The Message)

The God Who Won’t Let Go

Sermon preached by Sherman Hesselgrave on the fourth Sunday of Lent, March 14, 2010

Compassionate and generous God:

In Christ you have made us participants in your new
creation, where those who have been estranged and
alienated from you and from one another are brought
into the commonwealth of grace through the ministry
of reconciliation. Give us grace to be your
ambassadors of reconciliation wherever we may be.
Amen.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son, or as I have come to call it, the Parable of the Compassionate Parent, is found only in the Gospel of Luke, and so, unlike many of the other parables of Jesus, we encounter it only once in the lectionary cycle. Three years ago, before Toronto was even a twinkle in my eye, I was scheduled to preach on this set of readings, and the new pastor at the Lutheran Church where I was working at the time recommended a book by Henri Nouwen with which I was not familiar: The Return of the Prodigal Son. The book was written after Nouwen had left his teaching position at Harvard and had come to Toronto to serve as Chaplain to the L’Arche community here. The catalyst for the book was Nouwen’s encounter with Rembrandt’s painting of the same name. The painting is large, like many of Rembrandt’s most famous works–eight and a half by nearly seven feet–and hangs in the Hermitage museum, once the Winter Palace of Russian emperors. Nouwen describes sitting with the painting for long hours, watching the changing light of the day animating the painting’s already dramatic chiaroscuro treatment of the subjects in the scene.

Rembrandt has taken license in his portrayal, for in the biblical narrative, the elder son does not witness the reunion of his younger brother with their father, but arrives on the scene when the party is in full swing. In staging the scene the way he does, Rembrandt reminds us of the confrontation that prompts Jesus to tell this parable: “All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The elder son, standing erect and wearing fine red robes also represents the scribes and pharisees, while the man seated nearby, beating his breast, represents the sinners Jesus welcomed and with whom he broke bread. This was one of the artist’s last paintings, having suffered tremendous losses: financial insolvency, five of his children and both of his wives had died. And yet he could create a work of such power and beauty.

One of New Testament scholar Walter Wink’s suggestions for “transforming Bible study” is to find ways to get inside a passage. For instance, in today’s parable, you might enter imaginatively into one or more of the biblical characters and experience them in either their historical setting or in a modern context. Anyone who has donned a costume in Christmas Story has an idea of what it is like to get inside a Bible story; but it is only by plumbing the depths of our imagination that we can begin to live a parable: experience the unspoken curse implicit in the younger son’s request: “I wish you were dead;” smell the ammonia of the pig sty, fume with the seething resentment of the elder son, feel the tears of joy and delight running down the cheeks of the compassionate parent. Who do we identify with in today’s parable? Henri Nouwen tells of explaining to a friend how strongly he had been able to identify with the younger son, whereupon Nouwen’s friend looked at him quite intently and said, “I wonder if you are not more like the elder son.” Nouwen writes: “With these words he opened a new space within me.”

I suddenly saw myself in a completely new way. I saw my jealousy, my anger, my touchiness, doggedness and sullenness, and, most of all, my subtle self-righteousness. I saw how much of a complainer I was and how much of my thinking and feeling was ridden with resentment. For a time it became impossible to see how I could ever have thought of myself as the younger son. I was the elder son for sure, but just as lost as his younger brother, even though I had stayed “home” all my life.1

For most of the twenty-five years I have been a priest I have understood the father in the parable to be God, but reading Nouwen’s thoughts about the painting and parable three years ago “opened a new space within me.” When Jesus exhorts his disciples to “be compassionate as your [Heavenly] Father is compassionate,” 2 he lays down one of the most radical pieces of truth in the Gospel. The compassionate father in today’s parable is the embodiment of spiritual maturity. “No father or mother ever became father or mother without having been a son or daughter,” Nouwen writes, “but every
son or daughter has to consciously choose to step beyond their childhood and become father or mother for others. It is a hard and lonely step to take–especially in a period of history in which parenthood is so hard to live well–but it is a step that is essential for the fulfillment of the spiritual journey.”3

So what does this parable teach us about compassion? Nouwen sees three ways to compassion: grief, forgiveness, and generosity.

Grief,” he writes, “asks me to allow the sins of the world–my own included–to pierce my heart and make me shed tears, many tears, for them. There is no compassion without many tears. If they can’t be tears that stream from my eyes, they have to be at least tears that well up from my heart. When I consider the immense waywardness of God’s children, our lust, our greed, our violence, our anger, our resentment, and when I look at them through the eyes of God’s heart, I cannot but weep and cry out in grief:

Look, my soul, at the way one human being tries to inflict as much pain on another as possible; look at these people plotting to bring harm to their fellows; look at these parents molesting their children; look at this landowner exploiting his workers; look at the violated women, the misused men, the abandoned children. Look my soul, at the world; see the concentration camps, the prisons, the nursing homes, the hospitals, and hear the cries of the poor. 4

Forgiveness is the second way to compassion. Forgiveness allows us to step over–or climb over “the wall of arguments and angry feelings that [we] have erected between [ourselves] and all those whom [we] love but who so often do not return that love. It is a wall of fear of being used or hurt again. It is a wall of pride, and the desire to stay in control…. Grief allows me to see beyond my wall and realize the immense suffering that results from human lostness. It opens my heart to a genuine solidarity with my fellow humans. Forgiveness, [on the other hand,] is a way to step over the wall and welcome others into my heart without expecting anything in return.”5

The third way to compassion is generosity. “In the parable, the father not only gives his departing son everything he asks, but also showers him with gifts on his return. And to his elder son he says: ‘All I have is yours.’ There is nothing the father keeps for himself. He pours himself out for his [children]…. [H]e completely gives himself away without reserve.” 6

At our Annual Vestry a few weeks ago, we adopted a new mission statement for Holy Trinity:

The Church of the Holy Trinity is a community of people who seek to express
Christian faith through lives of integrity, justice and compassion. We foster lay
leadership, include the doubter and the marginalized, and challenge oppression
wherever it may be found.

A “community of people who seek to express Christian faith through lives of integrity, justice and compassion.” There it is, firmly embedded in the statement that describes who we say we are as a community. In his homily that day, Christopher Lind, one of our churchwardens spoke to us about building communities of wisdom, and today I stand before you talking about building a community of compassion. I’d say our heart is in the right place, but we have plenty of work yet to do. The most common complaint I hear about Holy Trinity–even from people who are members of the parish–is that, while we are very good at talking about being an inclusive community, there are more than a few people who don’t feel welcome here because somehow they don’t square with the Holy Trinity template.” The Parable of the Compassionate Parent wraps its arms around our circle this morning, and it won’t let go. The Christ who uttered these words to another circle of disciples who needed to grieve the brokenness of their own lives–the hurts that had been inflicted upon them and the wounds they had caused others; the Christ who showed them how to see over the barriers they had erected between one another and how to step over those walls by acts of forgiveness; and the Christ who emptied his own life for his friends is here with us today, and in a few minutes will dine once again with sinners–with you and with me.

1 Return of the Prodigal, p. 18
2 Luke 6:36
3 Return of the Prodigal, p.114
4 Return of the Prodigal, p.120-121
5 Return of the Prodigal, pp. 121-122
6 Return of the Prodigal, p.122

“Building Communities of Wisdom”

A sermon preached on February 28, 2010 by Christopher Lind

Please repeat after me this prayer:

Serenity Prayer (by Reinhold Niebuhr)

“May God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change;

The courage to change the things that I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.”

I have been thinking a lot about Wisdom recently. Partly this is because of the difficult choices we are faced with as a community. Partly this is because as individuals we are always and repeatedly faced with decisions where the right answer is not obvious. Maybe we don’t have enough information? Maybe our timeline is too short. Whatever the stress, we find ourselves yearning for the Wisdom of Solomon.

You may remember Solomon as the King of Israel who rendered a famous judgment. Two women were arguing about a baby, each claiming the baby as their own. When Solomon suggested dividing the child in two with a sword and giving each woman a half, one of the women refused the offer saying she would rather lose the baby than have it killed and divided. By this Solomon identified the child’s true mother.

In the Biblical tradition, Solomon is considered the model of wisdom. Solomon is the son of King David and when he becomes King, he prays to God not for long life or wealth or death of his enemies, but for discernment in administering justice. God grants his wish and

“The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.” (1 Kings 10:24)

Other wise men and women are also examples of the Wisdom tradition. These are craftsmen, royal counselors, sorcerors, magicians, astrologers & professional sages (see Isa 3:2-3). So, Joseph in his role as the interpreter of dreams for the Pharaoh is a good example of the Wisdom tradition but so too are the most wise men of all, the 3 Kings from the East, who come every Christmas, right on cue.

As you can see, Wisdom is international (Jer 10:4 “wise ones of all the nations”). Wisdom doesn’t come from just one place. It can come from any place and you know it when you experience it. Wisdom is not limited to Israel and it didn’t originate there but Wisdom was one of the major facets of Near Eastern culture. The book of Proverbs refers to God giving us “30 sayings of admonition & knowledge” (Prov 22:20) and some scholars think they come from an ancient Egyptian wisdom book with 30 chapters. In the same way some scholars think large portions of the book of Job (3:1–42:6) may be a reworked Edomite tale.

Wisdom is also a complex theological term because it represents an alternative way of understanding the statement “Jesus is the Christ, the Word of God”. You see, in the book of Proverbs Wisdom is described as the first work of God at the beginning of Creation (Prov 8:21-31). So, when in the beginning of John’s Gospel we read “in the beginning was the Word” we are seeing the writer of John’s Gospel say that the Word of God is the Wisdom of God. This also makes sense of St. Paul’s claim in 1Corinthians when he describes Christ as “the power of God and the Wisdom of God… [and also as the one] who became for us wisdom from God.” (1Cor 24, 30).

There are different kinds of literature in the Bible. There is history, there’s biography, there is poetry, there are songs, there are letters, there are myths of origin, there are even coded attacks against the Roman empire (like in Revelations). One of the other types of literature is Wisdom literature. It includes Job, Proverbs, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs and some other books in the Apochrypha.

If Solomon is the model for Wisdom, the Proverb is the literary prototype. You all know what a proverb is. It is a short popular saying or an authoritative word. When we speak of the improving economy and say “A rising tide lifts all boats”, or when we describe a hockey team and say “ A chain is only as strong as the weakest link”, we are quoting modern proverbs. However, when we say “A good man is hard to find” we are not quoting an episode of the Bachelorette, we are quoting the prophet Micah (7:2). And when Dr. Phil says “Don’t go to bed angry” I wonder if he knows he is quoting St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (4:26)?

As you can see, not all Proverbs come from the Book of Proverbs. In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, when Jesus says “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” he is alluding to another proverb heard earlier in the Gospel when he said “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown” (Luke 4:24).

King David is thought to have composed the Psalms. The Psalms are part of the Wisdom tradition though some are more obviously wise than others. Today’s Psalm confronts the issue of fear & responds with Wisdom. What is the wisdom on offer here?

“Be strong, and let your heart take courage; [redemption will come] wait for the LORD!”

This Sunday is the second Sunday in Lent but it is also our Vestry Sunday which means after this service we have what other organizations would call our Annual General Meeting. At this meeting we will be considering a proposed Mission Statement, some proposed Strategic Directions for the next 3 – 5 years and we will also be discussing a draft Vision statement.

The planning group working on Mission & Vision has worked hard to both represent consensus and also to challenge certain assumptions. We have struggled over what it means to be a parish in the Anglican tradition when the contradictions of the larger Anglican Communion have been laid bare for all to see.

For myself, I wonder what would it mean to claim an identity as part of the wisdom tradition? Wisdom is central to Christianity but it does not originate there. It is international but also local; it is the opposite of folly but is not the same as certainty; it requires memory, action and knowledge: remembering, doing & knowing.

What would it mean for us to identify as a community of wisdom? Diana Butler Bass, in her book Christianity for the Rest of Us, says that “Wisdom [is] not esoteric, a secret for only mature believers; rather, wisdom [is] a spiritual gift whereby thinking (the head) and knowing (the heart) joined and opened the way to God.” (p. 51) This book is a study of liberal protestant churches in the US that are growing! She describes these as the ‘new village churches’ because they have found a new way to negotiate the relationship between religious faith and a secular culture. “Although they have buildings,” Bass writes, “new village churches are primarily the communal journeys of a people finding a home in tradition, practice and wisdom.” (p. 53)

Wisdom requires doing. It requires a memory of doing the right thing in the past. It requires doing the right thing now and it requires discernment of just exactly what that right thing is: Remembering, doing & knowing.

In the very early church, followers of Jesus were known as the “people of the way” because they were people who were trying to follow the teachings of the wise Jesus as a ‘way of life’. Some people summarize the essence of that way of life as the ‘Golden Rule’: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12 & 22:39). It doesn’t say ‘do unto others as they have done to you’ but ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. It is a short popular saying, an authoritative word. It is a proverb! It also exists in ancient Egyptian Wisdom, in Greek Philosophy, in Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism & Taoism. It is recognized as Wisdom in all the major religions. It is international.

Confucius said that wisdom can be learned by three methods: Reflection, imitation and experience. He said imitation was the easiest way, reflection was the noblest way and experience was the bitterest way. I recommend that when we consider our vision for the future, we consider what it would mean to claim Wisdom as our orienting image. If this seems like a scary prospect, I can only quote today’s Psalm ““Be strong, and let your heart take courage; [redemption will come] wait for the LORD!”

Christopher Lind