23rd Sunday after Pentecost
November 8th, 2020
Today’s readings are:
Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
The other day I opened the fridge for a snack and saw a nice, big candy bar sitting next to a bag of baby carrots. Which should I eat? Later that day, there was a cry from the other room. I went in, and both kids were in tears. Gwen blamed Fiona, and Fiona blamed Gwen. Who pushed who? Two weeks ago I sat down at the kitchen table with my ballot and that nice, hefty voting pamphlet that Oregon gives out. I took up my pen, looked down at those bubbles and thought, “Who am I going to vote for?” How do I choose? And this whole week, we’ve been in the midst of indecision, legal battles, threats, and protests. Our heart goes out to some folks, but it kinda goes out to others as well. What do we do? Who do we support? And, perhaps most importantly, how do we live as Christian disciples in all this mess?
And then we turn to the book of Wisdom, and we might understandably retort, “Wisdom is NOT easily discerned.” What is this about having no difficulty in seeing wisdom? How is any of this easy? I don’t know about you, but from candy bars to the tumult of the national stage, wisdom doesn’t seem all that easy at all.
Now, discernment is an important part of the Christian tradition. Saints from Augustine to John of the Cross wrote about the discernment of spirits – and the discernment of THE Spirit, which is the Spirit of God. We discern with God and we discern in community. When I was choosing a seminary, I called up Bishop Michael to help me discern. He said, “Well, let’s talk about how God is talking to you.”.When we read the Bible together Wednesday morning at Prayer Breakfast, we discern how the Spirit is guiding us in what we’ve read. “We do it together, with God. And, really, most sermons aim to help Christians discern God’s will and hope in their lives.
And this discernment can be tough. Discerning a call to the priesthood took me almost two years before the diocese would support me to go to seminary, and one of my friend’s discernment took literally seventeen years. And all of that time was spent talking with people locally and at the diocesan level, praying and reading Scripture, doing the hard work of going inside our hearts and straining our ears for God’s voice.
And I hope you all brought that same level of discernment to voting – that you looked at the candidates, all of them, from city council to presidential. I hope you sat there wondering and praying, “Who do I choose?”, weighing the good with the not so good. And I hope this week you felt compunction, that the turmoil went to your heart.
And I wish these things upon you not because I want hard times for you, but because these times call for honest, deep, soulful discernment. This isn’t easy stuff, and we shouldn’t come at it with ease and a kind of lackadaisical la di da. These days call for some honest reflection and prayer with God, and some honest dialogue in our communities.
And yet, even still, the book of Wisdom says that wisdom is easy to discern. But I’ve not finished the quote. Here it is: Wisdom is radiant and unfading, the author writes, she is easily discerned by those who love her.
Now, first of all, as an aside, I think it’s pretty cool that wisdom is described as a “she” here. The author sees one of the attributes of God as feminine, which is a good reminder that Heaven isn’t just full of men and masculinity.
But all throughout our little passage here, and also in other parts of the book of Wisdom, the figure of wisdom is seen easily for those who seek her, for those who love her. For the one who rises early to seek her, there’s no difficulty in finding her. And this isn’t about getting up at the crack of dawn, but being ready and willing to seek after wisdom in love at every moment, at each new challenge.
So what does it mean to seek after wisdom in love? This sounds very poetic, and it is; so what does it mean? Well, let me tell you about a friend of mine.
While I was a student at the U of O, I had a friend. She had it rough. She was a single-mom and pretty far from her family. She was trying to do graduate school on her own, which is like a full time job, but also teach (which she was new at and still learning the ropes), AND, at the same time, raise her daughter alone. She was also a member of Resurrection, my sending parish, and she joined us each Saturday evening for our high Mass. And she had this beautiful, golden voice, highly trained, and stood opposite another friend, Kevin Gore (who some of you know) to sing the prayers of the people. It baffles me that the poor woman had any time in her day. I was only doing half of what she was, and I was exhausted.
And she was. My friend was exhausted. She was tired and overburdened, but she also loved wisdom. And it showed. I have rarely met a person so kind, so loving, so open-hearted to those in need, and so devoted to her studies, her family and friends, and her little daughter.
Have you ever met someone like this? Someone who simply radiates goodness? Someone who, when you’re in their presence, you just feel good, as if their goodness rubs off on you? Actually, I felt that way when I met and spoke our bishop-elect Diana, and I hope you will, too. But these people, no matter the struggle, no matter the heart-ache, they just radiate this goodness, because they have given themselves over, completely, to Love.
I learned from my friend something of what it means to be Love. I learned that life is not easy, but Love is freedom. It’s not a freedom from burdens, and God knows that my poor friend struggled mightily. But she was close to God, and in that freedom, nothing can touch us. It is the freedom of the saints of our tradition, like St. Francis, who needed nothing, not even the clothes on his back, to glorify God. It is the freedom of the martyrs, who gave their lives because the Love they saw radiated too brilliantly to live in any other way but to give their lives for others and for the faith. And it is the freedom of Jesus Christ, who was nailed to a cross and died, but was raised again into the fullness of that freedom. It is the freedom of Love, which, if you’ve ever loved another person, truly, you know in your heart of hearts.
It is this freedom we are called to as disciples of Christ. It is here that we are called to discern, to learn, to see, and to live as followers of God Almighty. It is not a call away from the hardships of life, but to a deeper sense of Life and Hope than we could ever build for ourselves. And because of that, it is a freedom that can find a way through any depression, through any hurt, through any oppression. It is a freedom that is also a path, a path towards healing, reconciliation, and community, even when, or especially when, things look their worst. That path, that freedom, is open to you, it is always open to you.
Jesus knocks and offers us that Life. Let us take his hand and turn, once again, away from despair and walk into God’s hope.