Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Experiment of a Lifetime

Russian icon, Sophia: God's Holy Wisdom

Proverbs 8: 22 – 9: 6; Ephesians 5: 15-20
******** United Church of Christ
August 16, 2009

Recently I began a 12-week workshop entitled “The Artist’s Way” that follows Julia Cameron’s book of the same name. Some of you may have heard of it or even completed the exercises in a workshop yourself. The goal is to recover your inner artist, your creative child and connect to the Great Creator herself or himself which we call God. Each week certain tasks are assigned, each designed to help 'loosen the sludge', as Julia puts it, that is blocking our creativity. One of this week’s tasks is to not read. That’s right—no reading for a week. I can only read the book for the workshop, nothing else; the idea being that we distract ourselves from our own inner wisdom and creativity by constantly relying on the wisdom and creativity of others.

Can you imagine a pastor not reading for a week? Can you imagine you not reading for week? Most pastors and many other people I know are book addicts, a book recommendation always at the ready, with a stack of several on the nightstand or desk, a few unread books on the bookshelf, and at least one tucked into a briefcase or purse or totebag—maybe even a stash in the bathroom.

So, how was I to prepare my sermon for this week, I wondered. Usually I read several websites and blogs giving commentary and reflections on the lectionary. I read articles in The Christian Century as well as their invaluable lectionary reflections written by local pastors and educators. I read various prayers and affirmations of faith relating to the theme of the scripture. And of course I read the passages themselves from the Bible, often consulting more than one translation to get a different flavor.

Therefore, I decided that, in order to be as faithful as I could to the challenge and to the responsibility of preparing the sermon, I would read only the Bible, and I would read the book for the workshop. All quotes or references in the sermon or in the bulletin are from those two sources and from my memory and life experience.

It used to be that our faith experience resided only in our memories and life experiences and in stories passed down through the generations. At crucial points in history the decision was made to write down humankind’s different tribal experiences of God, and we became the People of the Book: Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

The Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey

Not only did we all take our holy stories and write them down but we also have some of those stories in common. And because of these holy books, each tradition has its own scholarship. Jews took their sacred stories and created commentaries and built upon those stories in the Talmud and the Midrash. Muslims consider the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian scriptures to be their sacred stories as well as the Qur’an. Christians refer to Jesus as the Word, or logos—the Word incarnate, in the flesh, a sacred story of God permeating human living and breathing, of the teaching of right living and soul-forgiving healing, of brutal death and merciful rebirth.

The Greek word logos can have many different meanings besides ‘word’: theory, message, motive, reason, story or wisdom. And we know this word logos best from the first few verses of the gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” The Word was with God in the beginning and all things came into being through this Word; not one thing came into being without this Word. In this Word was life and the life was the light of all people. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Imagine some of these other meanings in these verses from John: In the beginning was the theory, the message, the motive, the reason, the story, the wisdom; it was with God, and it was God: the theory, the message, the motive, the reason, the story, the wisdom, and the darkness did not overcome it.

We also hear this same rhythm from the gospel of John in the lesson from Proverbs. Wisdom is speaking and wisdom is female—in Hebrew she is hokhmah; in Latin she is sapientia; in Greek she is sophia. Wisdom declares that she was there before creation came into being, that wisdom was the first of God’s acts long ago, and that wisdom was God’s creative companion, a master worker, daily God’s delight, like a little child alongside the artist parent.

Wisdom, God’s holy wisdom, is what we need to know for right living or what the Bible calls the path of righteousness. King Solomon, declaring himself to be only a little child in the footsteps of his great father David, asked God to grant him an understanding mind that he would be able to discern how to govern God’s people and how to discern between good and evil. Delighting in what Solomon asked, God promised him that he would have a wise and discerning mind, that there was none like him before and that none like him would arise after him. It is said Solomon composed 3,000 proverbs.

But of course Solomon didn’t pull these proverbs out of thin air. Even if God revealed them to him, wisdom proves itself out by working in experience. Wisdom is born out from living life, from making mistakes, from failure, and from our successes.

From the time we begin to realize that we are separate entities from our parents, we become little scientists, discovering our own wisdom for living. What happens when I smile? Those big people smile back at me! What happens when I lie on my stomach, push up with my arms and lift my head? I can see around me! What happens when I grab the couch with both hands and pull up, using my legs to support me? I can stand! What happens when I stick a pea up my nose? I can’t breathe so well and we have to go to the doctor!

And ever since then we’ve been doing the same thing, asking the question “what happens when I…?” but as time moves on and we get older, we do it with perhaps not the same amount of enthusiasm and mindfulness because the level of responsibility has increased exponentially. We’re no longer child scientists but adults, parents, employees, leaders. What happens when I’m going to be late and I don’t call? People who care about me worry and get mad at me. What happens when I say I’m going to do something and then I’m just not up to the task, whatever it is? People I respect may feel disappointed in me but I know I’m going to feel horrible. What happens when I leap? I just might fall.

Some of us conducted different experiments than others, some the same experiments with different results, depending on the family we grew up in or the genes we inherited or the personality we came into this world with. Some of us grew up with God in the mix and some of us didn’t. Many of us learned to fear. Some of us, now that we’ve known God awhile, don’t know what do with God. And others are firmly on that path with God, learning how to dance. We all have our own unique wisdom for living our lives—some of it meshing with others and some of it not.

“Ask and you shall receive. Knock and it shall be opened to you…” Julia Cameron writes, “These words are among the more unpleasant ones ascribed to Jesus Christ. They suggest the possibility of scientific method: ask (experiment) and see what happens (record the results).”
[1] Our whole lives, even our life with God and with each other, are an experiment. We keep trying to find a plan, a map, one right way to do things but instead God gives us purpose. And that purpose is love. It may sound simple in theory but we all know how difficult it is to do. Love is the purpose, the way, the truth, the life; the theory, the message, the motive, the reason, the story, the wisdom. For us Christians it is our hope that we see that wisdom, that story, that love most clearly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. And church is the experiment, the place, the people where we endeavor to live out that wisdom, that love as best as we are able.

Church is the experiment of the kingdom of God on earth. It’s where we learn how to love and forgive so we can bring that wisdom into the rest of our lives. Church is where we ask: What happens when we live together in community, each with our own unique wisdom, striving to live out God’s holy wisdom? Sometimes it’s messy. Sometimes things just flow. Sometimes it’s chaotic and confusing. Sometimes it’s creative and joyful. And sometimes it’s painful. That’s the paradox of the purpose of love: without love, we wouldn’t feel pain and without love, pain would be unbearable. But the wisdom of love is that when we leap, we can trust that the net will appear, that the darkness has not overcome that love.

What leap do you need to take? What is the darkness that creeps into your trust of God? What is the collective wisdom of this church? What have you learned over the years of being a family of faith? What wisdom that you possess could be brought to bear during this time of transition? Is there a particular piece of God’s holy wisdom that gives you comfort, that challenges you, that speaks to you right now? Who are the wise ones among you, likely and unlikely, who are sources of creativity and wisdom? Think of the many saints of this church who have passed on; what would they say?

Thanks be to God, for that wisdom was shared with us in Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God, whose wisdom continues to speak to us through the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God for the wisdom through which all creation was made, even each one of us. Thanks be to God for the wisdom gained in the experiment of human living and for love, that purpose that makes it all worthwhile. Amen.

[1] Cameron, Julia. The Artist’s Way. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2002, pg. 64.

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