Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Sermon: "Just Do It"

Luke 9:51-62  -  Intro to Scripture

The passage we’re about to hear begins with one verse that sets the stage for the next 10 chapters in Luke’s gospel.
We’re told that when the day drew near for Jesus to be taken up, he set his face towards Jerusalem.
Nearly one third of Luke’s gospel is a travel narrative,
detailing Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem and the series of events that would result in his arrest and execution.

These 10 chapters in Luke also contain some of the most familiar stories in our gospels – the story of Mary and Martha – the story of the healing of the ten lepers – the story of the Good Samaritan.
But if we were to plot Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem on a map as Luke lays it out we would find it to be quite meandering –
If we picture Jerusalem as the center point
we see that Jesus leaves Galilee and heads southwest of Jerusalem to Samaria,
and then over to Bethany in the southeast
and then back to Galilee in the northwest,
and then back to Samaria in the south,
and then up to Jericho in the northeast. 
Bypassing Jerusalem several times on the way.
We soon realize that Luke’s travel narrative is less about a geographical journey and more about an existential journey –
as Jesus words and actions in his meandering ministry garner attention and add fuel to the fire of those who wish to see him removed from the picture. 
By the time Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration the stage has been set for a very dramatic ending.

What we don’t know is how long this journey took – it may have taken a few months, or it may have taken a few years.
But as we’ll hear in today’s passage – it begins with a sense of urgency.
Jesus has turned his face towards Jerusalem.
He is preparing himself and his disciples for what is to come.
And in the same model of the prophets of old, who were often said to have set their faces towards a city that was not living into God’s calling –
on this journey, Jesus will have a few words to say about Jerusalem and its future.

Oh, and one more thing – in this passage Jesus says a few things to his followers that may have us questioning his compassion  – yet again.
But more on that later.
Let’s listen to the passage from the gospel of Luke and listen also for the word of God. 

Luke 9:51-62

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem.
When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
To another he said, “Follow me.” But the man said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

The Rev. Maureen R. Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, NH
June 30, 2019 – Third Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 9:51-62

“Just Do It!”

When we look at the meandering journey that Jesus took towards Jerusalem and plot it on a map, there’s one overarching question that springs to my mind.

Was there a well thought out itinerary that Jesus was following or did he just go wherever the Spirit and his curiosity carried him?
In other words, if Jesus were to take a Myers Briggs personality test, would he be a planning and purposeful J or a loosey-goosey and spontaneous P?

If you’re familiar with formal personality assessments –
like Myers Briggs or the MMPI – or if you’ve ever taken an informal personality quiz in a magazine or on the internet – then you know that they consist of a series of questions where your answer determines where you fall on a defined spectrum of personality types.

There are a multitude of different factors that go into determining personality type but one of the more notable areas where we differ has to do with whether we approach life in an orderly and structured way or in an open and flexible way.

If someone asks you to drop what you’re doing and take on a new task or do something unexpected – do you say “yes!” without hesitation or do you have to go away and think about it for awhile?
Do you work well with deadlines and schedules and due dates, or do you tend to leave things to the last minute, or past the last minute?

In other words, are you spontaneous or a planner?
Are you punctual or a procrastinator?

Keeping in mind, we can be any combination of the above.

You can be a spontaneous procrastinator
who gets so distracted by living in the moment that you conveniently forget what it is you were supposed to have done yesterday.

You can be a procrastinating planner
who has all the steps to follow fully mapped out, but you may lack the motivation, or the means, or the courage to take the first step.

You can be spontaneously punctual
because you’re eager to have new experiences and you don’t want to miss a single minute of it. 

And you can be a punctual planner
and if you are, you’re probably an engineer.

Personality quizzes are fun because they give us some insight into how we might handle a situation in comparison to others.

Looking at Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem we might assume that he went where the moment carried him – addressing needs and situations as they arose.

But as we see in today’s passage from Luke – Jesus began the journey with a specific goal in mind – and a sense of urgency to get there.
We find this urgency in Jesus’ response to those who stood up and announced that they would follow him anywhere at anytime…
but when Jesus then stood up and said, “Okay, follow me” they each had their own expectations of what this actually meant.

One man says fervently, “I will follow you wherever you go!”
And Jesus says, “Really? Foxes and birds have holes and nests to sleep in – but don’t expect those kind of creature comforts on this journey, because we’ll likely be tossed out of towns – like we were in Samaria - and wind up sleeping on the side of the road most of the time.

Another man said, “I will follow you….but first I have to say goodbye to my family.”
And Jesus says, “Really? If you’re looking back towards what you’re leaving behind instead of ahead to where we’re going, you’re of no use to any of us.”
And another man said, “I will follow you…..but first I must bury my father.”
And Jesus said, “We don’t have time for that. Those you’re leaving behind are all going to die eventually, they’ll always be someone to bury, we have God’s promise of new life to proclaim, what’s more important than that?”

On first read, we may think Jesus is being a bit rigid here.
We might even go as far as to say he’s being a bit of a jerk.
He seems uncharacteristically lacking in compassion for those who wish to tend to their familial obligations and their relationships.
Isn’t there a commandment that tells us to honor our father and our mother?
Wasn’t Jesus himself always stressing the need to love one another and treat even strangers like family?

Is Jesus saying that to be one of his followers we have to drop everything and walk away from all that we have and everyone that we love –
without so much as a goodbye?

The short answer is: No, Jesus is not saying this – to us.
But he is saying this to those standing before him in that moment.

This is a good time remind ourselves that our Bible is a collection of stories, histories, poems, and other writings that tell us how our ancestors came to know God in their lives.
It’s not a rulebook or a How-To manual.
It’s not a book where we can look at every interaction between Jesus and his disciples and say, “This is how we’re expected to act as well.”
As we keep saying, context matters.

In that moment, Jesus was setting his face towards Jerusalem.
A series of significant and life altering events was about to play out and Jesus needed his A-team by his side.
Those who understood the gravity of the situation and the extreme challenges that lay ahead.
Jesus was single minded in that moment because he had to be,
and he was preparing those who wished to follow him IN THAT MOMENT
to be so as well.
Essentially he was saying, “Hey fellas, I’m leaving, so get in the car, now….I don’t have time for you to dawdle or run to the bathroom one more time, so get your shoe’s on and let’s go!”
Every parent can relate to this.

But knowing that Jesus was speaking here to a specific set of followers in a specific time and place doesn’t completely let us off the hook when it comes to understanding the cost of discipleship…
and what it’s going to take to bring about this love-based – grace filled –
justice-seeking Kingdom of God that Jesus is calling us to help build.

What makes this particular biblical text relevant in our own time –
even as it’s placed in its time –
is that it prods us to think about what may be keeping us from saying
“YES”, to Jesus’ call to follow him, wherever he goes….
What may be keeping us from living into our potential as children of God?

Think of something you’d like to be doing more of – or less of –
Something you’d like to take on ….or let go of…
And then think about what is keeping you from doing so. 

Do you tell yourself that you could do it if you just had more time,
or more money,
If you were in better health, or better shape,
If you had fewer responsibilities, or fewer people relying on you,
If you had more patience, fewer doubts, less anxiety, and more faith….

“Jesus, I will follow you wherever you go…but first I have to convince myself that I’m ready to do so….”

Because Jesus asks us to follow him into some pretty tough situations,
some pretty scary places, some pretty ambiguous spaces.

Into inner city shelters and soup kitchens.
Into prison cells and half-way houses.
Into the back alleys of questionable neighborhoods.
Into the trenches of war zones.
Into refugee camps and detention centers and border processing facilities.
Into the hearts of our enemies.
Into the hearts of our neighbors.
Into the hidden recesses of our own hearts as well.

What’s keeping you from joining Jesus on this journey?
More than likely it’s fear.
Fear for our well being, fear for our safety and security.
Fear of the unknown, fear of the difficulty, fear that we won’t live up to the challenge.
Fear of what we have to lose,
fear that others will take advantage of our kindness,
fear that the problems of the world are so complex that just showing up to help another in need may not be the best thing to do.

So we hesitate, we delay, we ask for more time to consider the options,
and Jesus heads off towards Jerusalem without us.

We are not first-century disciples.
Jesus is not asking us to leave our homes, or our families, or our livelihoods, or any of the things that give our lives meaning and purpose and joy.

But Jesus does ask us to push ourselves, just a little farther or a lot further than we may feel comfortable going…
To listen to someone who may have a different story to tell.
To offer hospitality to someone we wouldn’t normally welcome in.
To seek understanding of a situation that we struggle to comprehend.
And to do so not from a place of fear, but from a place of compassion and love.

Because as we often find when we face our fears and just do whatever it is we’ve been hesitant to do…
We gain an experience that enriches us rather than harms us.
We build a relationship where one didn’t exist before.
We find that we’re less hesitant to embrace something challenging the next time around.
And we end up going so much further down that road with Jesus than we ever thought we could go.

Regardless of our personality type –
our willingness to try new things,
our capacity to be flexible in the moment,
our ability to make a plan and stick to it -
so we’re not wasting our efforts or meandering all over the place,
we all have a Jerusalem road that we’re hesitant to step onto.

Because we fear that we may lose something along the way.
What Jesus wants all of his followers to hear,
then and now,
is, Yes, we will most definitely lose something along the way –
our narrowed perspective,
our need for constant stability, comfort, and control,
our reluctance to offer others mercy and grace,

and we will have gained so much more for having done so.

Thanks be to God, and Amen.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Sermon: "It's Not About the Pigs"

Luke 8:26-39 – Scripture Intro

In this passage, Jesus travels to the other side of the Sea of Galilee,
outside the land of Judea, where he encounters one of the most bizarre and frightening characters in all of the gospels –
A man possessed by a multitude of demons, who calls himself Legion.
The man is naked, shouting at the top of his lungs, and was likely bruised and battered after having broken free of the shackles that were used to contain him, again and again.

It is no coincidence that the name this demon-possessed man gives to himself is the same name that the Romans used for their military forces.
Historically, a Roman legion was a contingent of about 5,000 soldiers.

We know the name is no coincidence, because Luke also tells us that this encounter with Legion took place in the country of the Gerasene’s.

The region of Gerasene was the setting of a horrific historical event that took place about a decade before Luke wrote his gospel.
According to the first century historian, Josephus, at the end of the Jewish revolt in the late 60’s CE, the Roman general Vespasian sent soldiers to retake the Jewish city of Gerasa.
The Romans rounded up every able bodied man in the city and executed them, took their wives and children captive, then burned the city and every neighboring village to the ground.  Thousands were killed.
Most of the victims of the Roman legions were buried in the Gerasene tombs – a vast expanse of caves in a now empty dessert, where only the dead and the as-good-as-dead resided.    (Think 9/11)

This is where Jesus found the man possessed by thousands of evil souls,
who collectively called themselves, Legion.

Jesus goes on to heal the man of his possession, but in the process we’re left to ponder the political, historical, and spiritual undertones of this passage,
as not everyone who learns of the healing is happy that it occurred.

As you listen to the story, pay attention to what feelings arise in you…
when you first encounter the naked and screaming Legion and when you’re told there’s no longer a reason to fear him, because he has been healed.

Let’s listen to the passage from the Gospel of Luke, and listen also for the Word of God:

Luke 8:26-39

Then they arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.
As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him.
For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs.  When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me”— for Jesus had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many times it had seized him; he was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the wilds.)
Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. They begged him not to order them to go back into the abyss. Now there on the hillside a large herd of swine was feeding; and the demons begged Jesus to let them enter these. So he gave them permission.  Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned.
When the swineherds saw what had happened, they ran off and told it in the city and in the country.
Then people came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. And they were afraid.
Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.
So he got into the boat and returned.  The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.”
So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.

The Rev. Maureen R. Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
June 23, 2019 – Second Sunday after Pentecost
Luke 8:26-30

“It’s Not About the Pigs”

How many of you have read “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy?
(and I mean read the whole thing – not started it, put it down, and left it on your nightstand never to pick it up again?)
How many of you have read “Ulysses” by James Joyce?  Also cover to cover?
How many of you have read and finished “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner?

How many of you tried to read any of the three and never made it through?

If you have read these books – either completely or partially – congratulations, you have tackled three of the most difficult books ever written, according to an extensive poll taken amongst avid readers.
Even those who love to read rated these books to be challenging –
for their language, content, and length.

Works by William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Charles Dickens also made the list of difficult books.
While many of us may have read or attempted to read these works in high school or college, what the poll also tells us is that there isn’t a huge percentage of average readers who fully understood them or enjoyed them enough to want to go back and read them again and again.

Then we have the Bible.
Which it may come as no surprise to you also wound up on the list of books deemed difficult and challenging to read.

Don’t worry, I won’t ask how many of you have read it from cover to cover.

But you may be interested to know that 20% of Americans claim to have read the Bible in its entirety at least once or more than once.
27% said they’ve read at least half of it.
And 53% said they’ve read a few passages here and there, or none of it at all.

This in contrast to another unsurprising statistic:
According to the American Bible Society, nine out of ten US households contain a Bible, and the average household has three.

So why aren’t we reading it?
Even among regular churchgoers, very few pick up the Bible and read it on a regular basis.
As one researcher said, “The only time most Americans hear from the Bible is when someone else is reading it.”

When poll responders were asked why they aren’t reading the Bible,
some said they don’t have the time or they don’t prioritize it,
or they’ve read it so many times so there’s no reason to read it again (somehow I question that last one).

But for the most part people said they don’t read the Bible because it’s difficult to understand, or they struggle to relate it to their own lives,
or there’s too much in it that they either disagree with or doesn’t represent their understanding of God and how God intends for us to live in the world.

The passage we read this morning from the Gospel of Luke is a prime example of all above.  
It’s confusing, deals with a subject matter we don’t fully understand,
and challenges our modern day perceptions of who God is and perhaps who Jesus is as well.

First - this passage revolves around a demonic possession.
Which automatically causes some of us to dismiss it.
Because we don’t believe in demons or possessions,
or we think it’s an outdated understanding of physical or mental illness,
or it conjures up images of Linda Blair in the Exorcist or other pop culture portrayals of demonic beings that only serve as a distraction and cause us to not take this text very seriously.
Second, we’re given specific details in this passage that may leave us confused because we’re unaware of their original meaning and context –
like the aforementioned inclusion of the name Legion and the location of the encounter in the country of the Gerasenes. 
Lacking an understanding of the historical context, we may overlook these details entirely and never reach the depth of interpretation that the author,
or Jesus, intended.

And finally we have the pigs.
The poor innocent pigs.
Who were just minding their own business hanging out on the hillside when Jesus sent a legion of demons into them causing them to run headlong into a lake and drown themselves.
That image alone is enough to distract some us from the rest of the passage.
Because we feel bad for the pigs who lost their lives.
And we feel bad for the pig herders who lost their livelihood and means of feeding their families.
Some of us may be left questioning Jesus’ compassion and sense of justice –  for the pigs and the pig herders –
as we wonder if we should be reporting him to the ASPCA and the ACLU.

The point is, there’s a lot here that can trip us up, or distract us,
or cause us to completely miss the depth of meaning in this passage.
Because it really is a beautiful passage with a wonderful message.
And I can tell you – it’s not about the pigs.

Legion is a man with a past.
Regardless of how he came to be in his current state – our first impression of him is of a man possessed – with an illness, with a debilitating pain, with a traumatic experience that has left him naked and screaming – and hiding in the tombs in direct defiance of those who had tried to contain him.
We assume that they bound him with shackles so he wouldn’t be a danger to himself or society.
But allowing him to be free was a danger in other ways as well.
In naming himself as Legion,
He invoked the memory of a tragic event that no one wished to relive.
He was the pain of loss and grief.
He was the fear of violence and destruction.
He was the threat of chaos and unpredictability.

Better to keep him locked away so the people would be safe –
as they cast all of their pain and fear and suspicions onto him –
so they didn’t have to acknowledge that it actually resided within themselves.

Jesus, as always, shook things up in an unexpected way when he came sailing across the Galilee and healed the man.
He cast the demons out – the pain, the fear, the wild unpredictability –
and he sent the man back to live among the people.
And the people responded with renewed fear of their own.

We may understand that fear, if we think of how we might respond if we learned that a convicted violent felon is now living next door.

Or how we might respond if that new neighbor was someone who had been repeatedly institutionalized with a mental illness,
or had spent time in a drug rehabilitation facility, on multiple occasions.
or came bearing the uncertain label of refugee, or sanctuary seeker, or undocumented migrant.

How would we respond if Jesus cast them into our midst and said,
“I’ve returned them to their home, so they might declare how much God has done for them.”

We see how the people in Luke’s gospel responded.
They were said to be in great fear of the man – and what he might do next.
And they were said to be in great fear of Jesus – and what he might do next. 
Jesus had a way of stepping into neat and tidy worlds and creating chaos.
He has a way of transforming lives and situations that naturally throws change and unpredictability and instability into the world –
when what we crave is stability, predictability, and sameness.

But we knew what we were getting into with Jesus.
This is the man who announced his ministry by saying,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me – He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, release to the captives,
and to let the oppressed go free.”

But release and recovery and setting others free may not be our idea of Good News – when it makes us feel less safe, more fearful, and more suspicious of those who seek to be our neighbor.

Which is why we see resistance to zoning changes that allow low-income housing in our upscale neighborhoods,
And why we hear objections raised when half-way houses or drug rehab programs seek to set up residence in our cities,
And why it’s deemed acceptable to separate and detain migrant families and asylum seekers at our nation’s borders – leaving children traumatized and funneled into a system where they may never see their parent’s again –
because laws were broken and a price must be paid for the transgression –  
so we can feel secure and safely distanced from those who we’ve been told mean to take from us or do us harm.

Legion was screaming in the wilderness.
Wild and naked in his pain.
And Jesus set him free.

The wonderful message here is that our past and our pain does not define us – our trauma, our crime, our illness, our addiction, our fear, our brokenness, our demons do not define us.
And we all have these demons to some degree.
What defines us is our humanness –
and our innate status as beloved children of God.

The Good News of Jesus Christ –
the good news of release and recovery and transformation –
is meant for us all.
It is meant for those of us held captive by our pain,
And those of us held captive by our fear.
If we were to rate our Biblical texts on level of difficulty and readability,
this passage from Luke would likely fall in the challenging range.
It’s confusing, and contextual, and messy, and loaded with uncomfortable triggers that may leave us arguing with Jesus –

Because what’s the deal with the demons,
and what about the pigs,
and why should someone else’s healing take precedence over our fear –
our need to feel safe and secure?

Because the Good News is for all of us.
And the Good News is that truly welcoming someone who needs healing
will drive out our fear – if we allow it –
and we will be healed as well.

Then we too might return home
and tell others how much God has done for us.

Thanks be to God, and Amen.


Sermon: "When Wisdom Calls"

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 – Scripture Intro

On this Trinity Sunday, the lectionary gives us a passage that helps us to better understand how God moves in our world –
as Creator, Companion, and Spirit.
In this reading from the Book of Proverbs, this presence of God comes alive in the voice of Lady Wisdom.  
"Wisdom” is the most developed personification of God's presence in the Hebrew Scriptures.
The word for Wisdom in Hebrew is “Hokmah,” in Greek it is “Sophia,”
Throughout the Old Testament Wisdom is depicted as a prophet, the establisher of justice, the breath of God that is blown into the world to create order out of chaos.
Wisdom is also consistently named as sister, mother, and an assortment of other female roles in which she symbolizes transcendent power ordering and delighting in the universe.
She is that presence which pervades the world, interacting with both nature and human beings in an effort to lure them along the right path.
Looking through our Christians lens, Wisdom is the Holy Spirit.

In this passage, we’re told that Wisdom was with God at the time the universe was created.
In fact, Wisdom claims that she was the first of God’s creations.
If we look back to the opening line of the book of Genesis, we’re told a wind from God swept over the face of the formless void and there was light.
That wind, that breath of God, was the manifestation of God’s Spirit.
That wind was Wisdom.

We Christians with our Trinitarian theology may think that we developed the concept of God’s Holy Spirit taking up residence in this world to guide us and delight in us.
But our Jewish sisters and brothers were way ahead of us on this one.

In the Hebrew scriptures, Lady Wisdom is a street-wise, justice-driven, passionate figure who wants nothing less than for everyone to follow in her playful, determined footsteps as she seeks both to transform and delight in the created world.

Listen to the words from the book of Proverbs, and listen for the Word of God:

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
“To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
The Lord created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth—
when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.
When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.

Here ends our reading from the Book of Proverbs.
May God grant us understanding of these words. 

The Rev. Maureen R. Frescott
Congregational Church of Amherst, UCC
June 16, 2019 – Trinity Sunday
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

“When Wisdom Calls”

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God…”
This opening verse from the Gospel of John was intended to mirror the Creation story we find in the book of Genesis.
For Christians, the Word is Jesus
– the physical manifestation of God’s teachings -
 birthed into this world as a human being –
for us to learn from and lean on and exemplify.
Our Christian scripture tells us that Jesus was with God from the beginning.
And our Jewish scripture tells us that Wisdom was there as well.   
Showing us that from the very beginning creation occurs in community.

From the beginning God was three in one.
One God expressed in three different forms.
Moving in our lives in three different ways.
This is the Trinity in a nutshell.
But if you’re still confused or even wondering why any of this matters,
it might be more helpful to think of the Trinity in terms of family.

You may have noticed in our Call To Worship,
the three different expressions of God are framed in terms of family.
Our father mother Creator.
Our brother Jesus.
Our sister Spirit.
In the simplest of terms, God is a relational being – made up of three expressions of the Divine that live in relationship with one another.

And because WE are created in the image of God –
we are relational beings as well.
We have an innate need to live in relationship - with one another –
with the created world -  and with the power that lies outside of us –
whether we call that power God – or the Universe –
or the collective creative energy, spirit,
and wisdom of all of humanity over all time.

Even those who struggle with their understanding of God would admit to living in relationship with the collective wisdom that informs our lives.

This is a good time to remind ourselves that wisdom and knowledge are not the same thing.
Knowledge centers on facts and ideas that we acquire through study, research, observation, or experience.
Wisdom is the ability to discern and judge which aspects of that knowledge are true, right, lasting, and applicable to our lives.
Knowledge is about learning.
Wisdom informs how we apply what we learn.

Like many of you, much of the wisdom I gleaned early on in life came from my parents.
My father in particular saw it as his role in the family to impart his wisdom upon his children, to ensure that we didn’t make the mistakes that many do.  

From my father we learned commitment and responsibility –
He exemplified the Protestant work ethic.  
He’d leave for work at 6 in the morning and didn’t return until after 6 at night.
On occasion, he would eat dinner and then go back to work until 9 pm.
With ten children to feed and clothe, he discerned that, financially, this was a wise use of his time.
Raising ten children in a tiny 4-bedroom house, he likely also discerned that staying at work an hour or two longer was a wise move for his sanity as well.

From my father we also learned the importance of punctuality and planning. My father was one who liked to arrive at least 2 hours early for any appointment, meeting, or train/plane/or bus departure. 
Just in case he encountered traffic on the way, or the car broke down,
or he missed a turn and got lost.
And if he did get lost, he seemed to think it was wise to never admit it.
At least not to my mother.
My father also leaned heavily on the wisdom of pragmatism and frugality.
When we each turned 18, he made sure we had our own bank account and life insurance policy, and if we had a credit card, we were to pay it off every month and never carry a balance.
In our house, my father also controlled the thermostat, and made sure we never wasted heat by opening a window in a month that contained an “R”.

My father passed along most of his wisdom by example.
He was a man of few words, despite being of Italian descent and a native New Yorker.
When we made a mistake or demonstrated a need for wisdom to be imparted upon us, he would take note of our infraction, sit us down, look us in the eye and say…. “What’s the matter with you…huh?” 

We were never quite sure if this was a rhetorical question or if he actually wanted to know what the matter was with us.

The point of my telling you this, is that like most fathers, my father was far from perfect.

He was exceedingly kind, he had a wonderful sense of humor,
and he was generous to a fault.
He was punctual and pragmatic, and he poured himself into his work –
but he also struggled with patience for those who didn’t do the same.
He liked things to be ordered and predictable, and as we know, both children and life, rarely are either.

It helps us to frame the Trinity in terms of human families because this is our understanding of what it means to live in relationship.
We may call God “father” or “mother” but it’s important to remember that God is not like our human fathers, or our human mothers.
God is not imperfect or limited.
God can handle our chaos, our messiness, our tendency to make mistakes, and offers us unconditional love and grace in return, always.

Likewise, our sister, Wisdom, is not like our human wisdom.
Which is restricted by our human limitations…
Our limited perspective, our limited understanding,
our limited capacity to use our wisdom for the benefit of all,
rather than for the benefit of the small circle of relationships that we’ve cultivated and value.

Our sister, Wisdom, shouted at the city gate:
“To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live” 
She carried within her the wisdom of our all-powerful and un-limited God.

Would she deem it wise to follow the human wisdom that we often rely upon?
The wisdom that tells us it’s practical and frugal to create barriers that keep some on the inside – well fed and favored - while others stand on the outside, with little hope of ever being the same?

The wisdom that tells us that war and violence, and inequity and injustice
are a natural byproduct of our humanness – our aforementioned limitations – and therefore it’s pointless to seek peace, or equity, or justice –
even in a limited way?

The wisdom that tells us it’s compassionate and kind to teach others about a God who loves them unconditionally, while simultaneously creating a list of those who are destined to be rejected and punished by that same God, because WE see them as broken, and imperfect in some way?

Our sister, Wisdom, speaking through our brother, Jesus, had much to say about the human wisdom that we often call upon to guide us.  In response,
Jesus offered divine wisdom, which looks very different from our own.

“Love your neighbor, and your enemy, as yourself.”
“Do unto others, as you would have done to you.”
“Whatever you do for the least among you, you do also for me.”

We are relational beings. Created in the image of God.
Through our brother Christ and our sister Spirit,
God teaches us what it means to live in relationship.ZS
If we can just get ourselves out of the way,
our fears – our biases – our misunderstandings -
there is much wisdom to be had in the sacred Word
and words that we hold dear.
There is much wisdom to be had in the examples that Jesus set for us in his time, and the movement of the Spirit that is still whirling around us in our time.

Our sister Wisdom is constantly pushing us, pulling us,
in some cases dragging us –
towards the life of full relationship that we were created to have –
and long to have – with others, with God, with Creation…
even as we resist it, over and over again,
because we fear what we will lose,
rather than anticipate all that we have to gain.

When Wisdom calls, are we listening?

To the voice of our divine Father and Mother,
Brother and Sister,
who together as one God,
delights in this created world and the human beings contained within it,
and who continually calls us back into relationship.

And reminds us that God does not create alone.
Wisdom and Word were with God at the beginning.
Creation occurs in community.

Thanks be to God, and Amen.