Text of Sermon Followed by Video Version
Let us pray.
our lives are hunched over
as we watch our shoes
take one step then another.
We are drawn ever forward
by the suction of decisions
we made long ago
but never re-visited.
Place yourself between us, Beloved,
and the motion of our lives
so we are forced to straighten up,
really see –
and step on fresh grass
making a distinct impression
upon the world around us.
In short, gracious God,
make us students of your Wisdom
so that we can stop ourselves
and redirect our lives
and so refrain from hitting
a wall of immense proportions. Amen.
Welcome to Trinity Place in Geneva, New York.
My name is Cameron Miler
and this is a reflection
on Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16
and a gentle rejection of Matthew 25:1-13.
“If you look for her,
you will soon find peace of mind,
because she will be looking for those who
are worthy of her,
and she will find you wherever you are…”
And besides all of that, it says,
she is quick to be known.
Who is this wisdom?
Who is this female divine, or
divine spirit who wants to be known
by anyone who desires her?
Who is this holy presence
that will find us wherever we are?
Darn if I know,
but she sure makes the notion of the Trinity
a lot more appealing
than that father and son thing
that comes down from on high.
Before going on too much about Wisdom,
allow me to first deal very briefly
with that odd story from Matthew
about ten virgins.
I want to steal a little
from the biblical commentary of Robert Funk
and Roy Hoover who, among others,
believe the story of the ten maidens
is all about Matthew’s agenda not Jesus.
They actually say outright that Jesus
never told this story,
at least not in its present form, context or meaning.
The reason they do not think so,
is because of what is missing. They give us a list:
- The punchline does not cut against the grain of religion and society
- It asserts a common-sense idea – as in, “be prepared” – rather than something that shocks or reverses our usual beliefs
- It lacks humor, exaggeration, or paradox and is instead, straight forward and school marmish.
- Finally, unlike Jesus’ most authentic parables and teachings, this one is not unique in any way.
Maybe most significant of all
for determining the origin of a Jesus-saying,
the parable as it has been delivered by Matthew
asserts social boundaries
instead of attacking or tearing them down.
But this 10 maidens parable, as written,
does in fact fit Matthew’s agenda
like a comfortable old shoe.
We hear in it the echo of other Matthean proclamations like separating the sheep from the goats, or
those who deserve to be wedding guests
and those who should be thrown into the outer darkness.
(The Five Gospels: What did Jesus Really Say? Robert W. Funk, Roy W. Hoover, and the Jesus Seminar)
If we think about that criteria
for why it is NOT an actual Jesus parable,
it should give us pause.
The reason is, that list of criteria
for Jesus sayings
is not even very controversial.
But if we think about what is on it
in relationship to orthodox or popular Christianity,
it is stinging.
Rather than cutting against
the religious and social grain
modern Christianity reinforces a Sunday School image,
as well as a kind of intellectual complacency
regarding secular assumptions
about how things operate in the real world.
Likewise, instead of being surprised or shocked
by unexpected twists to our worship or preaching,
we have practiced the art of rote ritual
in some churches,
and a nationalistic religious capitalism in others.
Where Jesus used humor, exaggeration, and paradox
we have been terribly serious, frightfully literal,
overly rational, and way too earnest.
While Jesus’ stories were imaginative,
layered, and refrained from moralizing
we read them instead,
as if they are a prescription
that cannot be varied or changed
even to account for changing times and circumstances.
We use the Jesus wisdom to paddle and spank
rather than to delight and enlighten.
Our theology, rather than being concrete,
has been academic and theoretical – all about counting angels on the head of a pin
or defining a God that is beyond description.
Finally, instead of being a focus on
destroying the boundaries of race, class, ethnicity,
gender, sexuality, and age
our churches have been one of the guardians
of those boundaries, and more.
How many times have you heard about,
or witnessed yourself,
someone stomp out of a church angry
because of something that was said or done –
probably from the pulpit
but perhaps in the worship?
“Well Dah” as they say.
We should expect to be agitated by church.
If we are open to the wisdom
coming at us
from Jesus and the Bible,
then we should expect to feel prodded,
every time we hear it spoken.
Jesus wasn’t cutesy, sweet,
or boring as far as we can tell.
While the historical remoteness of the Bible
may cause the wisdom we read
to seem exotic, subtle, irrelevant, or even incoherent,
wisdom is all about surprise, paradox, and
shocking twists and turns.
Spiritual wisdom is not about
upholding the status quo in any culture –
even though the practitioners of religion
and religious institutions
often get co-opted to be that way.
Ours has been that practice
of domesticating God’s love
But God’s servants, like Jesus,
are wildly undomesticated
and all about poking at us
through the finery and politeness
and our domesticated religion and social order.
While we come to religion,
especially in difficult times like these,
serenity, and calm soothing delight…
we are greeted by Jesus
and a tradition of spiritual wisdom
turns us upside-down,
pushes and prods,
and just plain unsettles us.
Even the Eucharist,
which many of us were taught
to think of as a warm embrace
that is supposed to flood over us
like a mother bringing her infant to the naked breast,
we instead caution not to “come for solace only
but for strength,
not comfort only
but for renewal.”
So what the heck makes this “Good News?”
Why would anybody
in his or her right mind
willingly subject themselves
to being challenged
when they could get coddled elsewhere?
I think the answer is that wisdom,
when we have encountered her,
makes us feel as though it will all be worth it.
Because the plain truth is,
once we have met her
she is impossible to forget.
There is a knowing
that cannot be left behind or forgotten,
and no substitute comes close.
It is a knowing
that resides somewhere deep inside,
if indeed, we have allowed ourselves to deepen –
if we have allowed the roots of the holy
to grow steadily down
into our hearts,
and into our mind.
Wisdom is a knowing
that no amount of time
or humiliation from other people
will allows us to forget or deny.
It is a knowing
that lies underneath our every effort
to cover it over
and pretend it isn’t there
because it may be a knowing that is painful.
The knowing I am talking about
does not have a universal content
but it does have a universal presence –
and that presence will not be denied
We can try
but wisdom has its way of looking at us
through the other side of memory
as if a face looking back
from underneath the water.
Once we have known her
she will always find us.
If you think I am sounding a bit mystical
it is because I am.
Wisdom is mystical
and she offers us ordinary spiritual shmoos
a taste of the mystical
that the spiritual big boys and girls feast on.
For us, wisdom is a knowing in our hearts –
for some of us, in our head –
that cannot be dislodged
even by pain, hatred, or deprivation.
I am talking about a truth
we have stumbled onto sometime in our lives –
it could have been as a small child
or as we aged.
It may be about our essential self-worth
or it might be an understanding of how the world works.
It could be some strange and unique knowing
about God, or about the presence of God,
or it might be an ability to see through people
and their facades.
Maybe it is an ability to know what will happen,
or the gift of knowing how others are feeling.
It might simply be knowing we are loved,
deeply and totally.
Trust me, there are so many different ways and things
of knowing this knowing.
But I suspect as I have been talking,
you have filtered through your thoughts
and put your finger on the knowing or knowings
wisdom has given you.
Whatever it is,
once this truth of yours has been grasped,
can take it away.
We may wander far from it
and even pile pillows over it
to shut it up,
but it will be there
once it has been given.
That is the nature of wisdom.
I am talking about the voice of God
as it whispers to us across time and space
on the lips and pens and keyboards of human beings.
It is not magical or superhuman,
it is a concrete and ordinary element
in the physics of God’s relationship with the cosmos.
If that sounds strange to you,
the physics of God’s relationship with the cosmos,
it may be that your faith and theology
needs to be more concrete and ordinary too.
Go back to your knowing.
Allow it to speak to you
from inside the room of your ordinary life.
That is where she lives
and where you will know her.
Thank you for being part of this today,
I hope it will, in some small way,
contribute to your growth, healing, and wellness.
Peace be with you.