9-13-2015--Proper 19 B

Readings for Proper 19 B

Lady Wisdom—Sophia in Greek-- is a mysterious figure in the Hebrew scriptures.  She’s a personification of the Wisdom of God, and she shows up several times in a collection of books known as the Wisdom Literature.  Christians from the earliest centuries have associated Sophia with the Logos—the Word of God—incarnate in Jesus.  The first chapter of John speaks of the word—logos—being with God before creation (the word was with God and the word was God, through him all things were created and have their being) and Proverbs 8 uses similar language for Wisdom, who was beside God “as a master worker, and delighted in the inhabited world.”  But we don’t have to look that far, because in our readings today Jesus and Sophia make same speech to their wayward, would-be followers—“Here I am, offering you the way of life, and you just don’t get it!”  The Message version of the gospel has Jesus telling Peter–“You don’t understand how God works.”

There is a human tendency to create gods in our own image—largest best version of ourselves, and then multiply that to a higher power.  Sometimes the angry and violent gods human beings have bowed down to are the not so good versions of ourselves!  In any case—whether benevolent or violent--these gods are always strong, powerful, invincible, and they confer that strength and power upon humanity.  Very stereotypically masculine, if you think about it.

But the God, the true God, comes to us in surprising ways.  I had a refrain I repeated often in my preaching the first few years at St. Luke’s—maybe you remember it—God’s thinking takes human thinking and turns it on its head.  Our gospel story today is one of the best examples of that.  As soon as Jesus is declared the all-powerful Messiah, the one to save Israel from the oppression of the Romans, he begins to talk of suffering at the Romans’ hands, of rejection, crucifixion, and death.  And after that shock, you may imagine the disciples might have missed the part about rising from the dead.

God’s thinking takes human thinking and turns it on its head.  We just don’t understand how God works.  We want a strong, powerful, mighty and invincible God, one who will swoop in and save us from our struggles.  A God who will bless us with strength, with power, who will champion our cause and humiliate our enemies.  That’s the God we want.  That’s the Messiah we want.

But that’s not the God we get.  Instead, we get a God who comes to us in weakness, powerlessness, even, as a newborn in a barn.  A God who lives just like one of us—with hunger and pleasure, with heat and cold, with temptation and frustration.  A God who walks among the poorest and most vulnerable, those on the margins of society, and calls the mighty and powerful to task.  A God who, instead of erasing our sufferings, joins us in them, showing us that those very sufferings that we would escape are the way to life.

I began participating in triathlons three years ago as a previous non-athlete.  It was cancer in both of the mothers in my life that finally convinced me to do it.  I did it for physical reasons—I wanted to get in good enough shape that I would reduce my likelihood of getting cancer someday, and be in better condition to withstand treatment if I had to.  But it has been a surprisingly spiritual experience.  I’ve learned something about suffering, freely embraced, as a means to life.  I’m really not a good runner.  I have knee problems and have to coax a couple miles out of myself, and the last thing I want to do when I get up in the morning is go for a run.  I enjoy swimming, but suiting up and getting down to the pool is just a pain in the butt.  And frankly I’m terrified of riding my bike on the road.  Yesterday I was jogging against my will, and the first half mile was just terrible.  I had to make up a mantra in order to keep plopping one foot down in front of the other.  The second half mile was a little better.  And then something opened up, subtly shifted, and the life and energy that had been missing all morning crept into me, almost without my noticing, and lasted almost all day.  And when I get to that place, through the actual literal suffering of my body, that my mind and my heart and spirit are lifted up—it’s so much easier for me to realize, God is there.  God’s been there all the time, but when I am lifted up, I can be in communion with God. 

Most of our suffering, most pain and difficulty in life, we do not get to choose.  It’s just there.  A part of life.  Some see pain and suffering in the world and rail against God, or swear that a God who would allow such things cannot exist.  Others find that in the midst of their brokenness, somehow in a way beyond words, God is there. 

Wisdom offers her wares.  Jesus invites us to follow him.  If we follow in this way we should know that it’s a way that will be counterintuitive from a human perspective.  God’s thinking… It’s embracing the suffering that comes our way and the suffering of the world instead of running and hiding from it, and maybe expecting a gift to come out of that suffering.  It’s giving instead of taking.  It’s death as the door of life.  It’s not an easy path.  It takes everything the world tries to sell us—products, image, wealth, success—and turns it on its head.  But it is the only path to real life.

Jesus’s questions to the disciples in The Message translation ring out clearly: “Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”

Will the real you please stand up?  How easy it is to lose ourselves in this harried and break-neck world.  I think it’s so interesting that Jesus speaks these words about our real selves, our life, the life of our souls, immediately after asking the question, “Who do you say that I am?”  It may be that we can only see ourselves, our real selves, in the mirror of Jesus. If our answer to that question is “You are the eternal word, logos, Sophia.  You are the Son of God.  You are the Messiah.   The one who saves me by joining me in my mess.”  If that’s our answer, how can we not but follow him on this path he promises is life?  If looking into Jesus, we see our true selves, how can we go back to primping in front of the broken mirrors of the world? 

Writer Flannery O’Connor in a book called Habit of Being wrote:

Just being who you are

not justifying or apologizing

it sounds so easy

it’s a life work

not to get caught in

producing

performing

proving

keeping accounts of indebtedness

waiting for gratitude, reward

ambition

manipulation

staggering self-pity

but cultivating

the habit of being.

At the end of our service each Sunday we pray, “Send us now into the world in peace, and grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.”  It takes strength and courage to say no to the world’s efforts to define us.  Singleness of heart—when our hearts and our minds and our words and our deeds are of one with our truest selves reflected in Jesus—singleness of heart brings gladness, brings joy, brings peace that passes all understanding.  That peace comes from knowing we have nothing to fear.  In the world we will have tribulation, but be of good cheer—he has overcome the world.

 

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-c 2015 The Rev. Amy Denney Zuniga

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