Sunday, August 19, 2018

13 Pentecost

August 19, 2018

Proverbs 9.1-6, Eph. 5.15-20, John 6.51-58

+ Sometimes it helps having a poet as a priest. Sometimes.  Even if you don’t like poetry, it’s hard to escape poetry in our world, in our church, or in the Bible.

Today, we get some poetry, especially in our reading from the Hebrew scriptures.  In our reading this morning from Proverbs, we find several beautiful verses of poetry referring to Wisdom.

“Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars….
she has mixed her wine
She has also set her table.”

In fact, most of our scriptures this morning refer to Wisdom in one form or the other.  The question might arise as we hear this reading from Proverbs—who or what is Wisdom as referred to here?

Wisdom certainly seems to be something more than just an abstract idea.  It seems almost as though Wisdom is a person—some powerful and wonderful being who speaks in a very special and enlightening way to us.  

Our answer to who Wisdom is as referred to in our readings from Ephesians.  In his letter, Paul states clearly,

“be filled with the Spirit.”

Of course, Paul here is talking about the Holy Spirit, that part of our faith that we sometimes overlook in our lives.

We don’t think of the Spirit as we should.  Whenever we talk of spirits or anything spiritual, we instantly think of something heady and other-worldly. We think of smoky, Halloween-like ghosts. It is difficult sometimes to think of God’s Spirit—as something airy and light and ephemeral  

Most of us, after all, are pretty well-grounded. We can relate better to God, whom we pray to, whom we know as Father or Mother or Abba or Parent.

Or we can relate to Jesus as God’s Son, who takes on flesh like our flesh, who suffered like we suffer and who died like we will die.  Jesus, after all, speaks to us in the Gospels in a very clear and straightforward way. And our belief in Jesus as incarnate Son of God—as this gift from God, this way in which God reaches out to us—is one that we can truly wrap our minds around.

But when it comes to God as Spirit, our first reaction, no doubt, is one of distance.  The Spirit seems to some of us like a wispy mirage in our thoughts rather than something solid that we can cling to when we need to.

Nor do we think of the Spirit as that wise and steady voice in our souls that leads us forward into a closer relationship with God.  That is the Voice of Wisdom (see where I’m going with this?)

Over the years, I’ve heard some very strange explanations of who the Holy Spirit is and how we should relate to this manifestation of God. I know I have shared this story with several of you over the years. It’s usually in my Pentecost Day sermon.

But, when I was in Sunday School as a child at the Lutheran church near where I grew up, , I remember very distinctly, a Sunday School teacher telling us that if we prayed to the Holy Ghost—that’s what we called the Holy Spirit back then of course—the Spirit would leave us.  Now, at this time in my life, I had already made the decision that I was going to be a Catholic priest—and so I was rebelling against all these Lutheran things, like Luther League (I once told the Luther League leader when he asked if I would join the Luther League, “No thank you. Luther was a heretic.” I actually don’t think I knew fully what a heretic was, mind you...but you get the gist of where I was at this time in my life.)

I was appalled by this Sunday School teacher who made this grand pronouncement that we could not pray to the Holy Spirit.

So, I raised my hand.

You know she must’ve sighed before calling on that 13 year old me. Back then it was teachers who were wary from hearing from me. Now it’s Bishops who are wary of my raised hand.

When she did, I shoved by Bible across the table toward her and said, “find for me in there where it written that if we pray to the Holy Spirit the Holy Spirit will leave us…”

Let’s just say that did not meet with a pleasant response. In fact, what she could’ve done is shoved that Bible back at me and ask, “find me in there where there is any prayer to the Holy Spirit…” But, she didn’t.

Instead, I was sent out of the room.

And to the pastor.

Now, saying all this, I stress that one shouldn’t pray to the Holy Spirit exclusively, any more than anyone should pray exclusively to Jesus. We’re not heretics, after all—I actually know now what a heretic is—(Luther wasn’t a heretic)—practicing the heresy of Christomonism.  We of course should always direct our prayers to God, to the Father, to Abba.

But, the point to all of this is that we need to be mindful of God’s Spirit in our life. And if that means praying to the Spirit, asking the Spirit to be present in our life, how can that be wrong?  

I know.  The Spirit is elusive.  When it comes to the Holy Spirit, we all find ourselves grasping and struggling.   The Spirit can be kind of strange and sometimes we might have a hard time wrapping our minds around the Spirit.

Paul tries today to get us back in line with who the Spirit is.  Being filled with the Spirit and living wisely are really, in a sense, one in the same.

So, to help us describe and explain the Spirit, we can, in  all honesty, see the Spirit as the Spirit of Wisdom. As we read through the book of Proverbs and we hear Wisdom referred to again and again as a person, we see that Wisdom and the Spirit are very closely linked.

In moments like this when we encounter poetic language in the scriptures it’s a good thing, as I said, to have a poet in the pulpit.

A Poet in the Pulpit = that’s the title of my autobiography (there’s a few people out there who do not want to see that book published!)

I think it takes poetry to try to make sense of who the Spirit—who Wisdom—is in our lives. For me—as a poet—I don’t see much difference between the two. And I think for the author of Proverbs, they didn’t see much difference either. I can’t help but believe that what the author of Proverbs is getting at in referring to Wisdom in such a way, is that Wisdom is the Spirit of God.

God’s Spirit is the purest essence of Wisdom.  Certainly when we take a look at the scripture from Proverbs again, we find that the word “Wisdom” can easily be replaced by the word “Spirit.” The fact is, Wisdom is just another name for the Spirit.

In a well-known and ancient “Litany to the Holy Ghost,” the Spirit is referred to by many names—

“Ray of Heavenly Light”

“Source of Living Water”

“Burning Love”

And in that same ancient Litany we find the Holy Spirit referred to as “Spirit of Wisdom and Understanding”

See how all of this poetic language helps us to understand who and what the Spirit is in our lives. See how a bit of poetic thinking and understanding helps us to see the work of the Spirit in our lives?  Sometimes, when dealing with things of the Spirit, all we can do is speak in poetry!

When we read Proverbs from beginning to end, it is easy for us to hear the voice of the Spirit in our ears. Because always—always—the voice of the Spirit of God is a voice of absolute and perfect Wisdom.  

Wisdom as the Holy Spirit is the presence of God in our midst. Wisdom dances, in a sense, between us and God.

“Whoever finds me,” Wisdom says earlier in Proverbs, “finds life.”

Wisdom gives meaning to our lives. God makes it clear that we are not meant to live in the dusky, half-lit world of ignorance.

As Christians, we cannot use the excuse that we simply don’t know anything. Wisdom comes into our lives and helps open our hearts and minds to God.  This concept of Wisdom is truly a conduit of God’s presence in our lives. Through Wisdom we learn about ourselves and our place in the world. Through Wisdom we learn how to conduct ourselves.

We learn how to live our lives fully and meaningfully and not wastefully. Through Wisdom, we learn how to live a life fully for God.  And through Wisdom, we learn what God wants of us. We hear God speaking to us and through us.

That’s why, I do look at Wisdom as being synonymous with the Holy Spirit. I can’t help but believe that the book of Proverbs is very much a book of the Holy Spirit.  It is a book in which the Holy Spirit—as Wisdom—speaks to us and, in a very real way, through us.  I love these readings about Wisdom. We all should.

So, let us today and throughout this coming week, take to heart this idea of God’s Spirit as Wisdom. Let us come forward to the banquet the Spirit of Wisdom promises us in today’s scripture, a meal in which God’s knowledge comes to us in the bread and the wine and in our gathering together as the People of God.  This week, let us open ourselves to the Wisdom God is revealing to us in our lives and in the world around us.

Let us come into that soft bright glow of God’s knowledge in our life and revel in it. Let God’s Spirit of Wisdom guide us in all our actions and words, in how we live our lives and how we act toward others and ourselves.

“[Wisdom] has. . . set her table,” we heard in Proverbs today.

Let us join her there.

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