The Belief of Holy Wisdom – The Rev. Michelle Meech
July 04, 2021
A sermon preached to the community of St. John’s on July 4, 2021, the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost.
I was watching one of my favorite shows yesterday – the Andy Griffith Show. You may remember it, the lead character is Sheriff Andy Taylor. He’s a sage of sorts, bringing wisdom to his application of the law, with a kindness and compassion that lift other people – his care-taking live-in aunt, Aunt Bee; his young son Opie; his eager deputy Barney Fife, and the rest of the people in the small town of Mayberry, NC. It’s a comedy show so, often, Andy is the butt of a joke. But more often, Andy’s wisdom born out of his love for people is offering a lesson of some kind. As a result, I’ve often called Sheriff Andy Taylor my first ethics professor.
In the episode I watched yesterday, the young son Opie was demonstrating his powerful imagination, riding an imaginary horse around the yard. So, later in the day, when he came to the courthouse talking about Mr. McBeeve, a man who walked around in the treetops, wore a big, shiny silver hat, and jingled when he walked, of course his father the sheriff and Deputy Fife assumed he was using his imagination again, telling tall tales about a make-believe friend. But throughout the day, as Opie showed his father gifts that Mr. McBeeve had given him in exchange for Opie’s kindness in bringing him apples and keeping him company, his father became concerned. Opie insisted that Mr. McBeeve was real so Andy and he went to the spot where Opie met him. But he wasn’t there.
Andy took him home and gave him a talking to, asking him to come clean and tell the truth and all would be forgotten. But Opie kept insisting that Mr. McBeeve was real. And in that moment, Andy’s wisdom, informed by his love for Opie, responded by saying, “I believe you.”
Afterwards, he spoke with Aunt Bee and his deputy Barney about it. And Barney asked, “You do believe in Mr. McBeeve then?” And Andy replied, “No. But I believe in Opie.”
This Gospel reading from Mark today, also demonstrates what it means to have belief because we are offered a picture of what unbelief looks like.
“And he was amazed at their unbelief.” Of course, we are talking about Jesus who is amazed at the unbelief of the people with whom he grew up, the people in his hometown. As a matter of fact, they were astounded at his wisdom and took offense at him, after all, he was just a carpenter and they knew his family. Therefore, as the scripture says, Jesus “could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.”
What does it mean to believe?
Belief is a tricky word. It can refer to a statement or a doctrine – a belief we have or profess, such as a creed – the Nicene Creed or the Apostles’ Creed. These are statements or affirmations of what the church says is true about how God works in our lives.
Which gets to another definition of belief – assertions of that which we know to be real or known to us in some way. We believe in the existence of something or in the power of something to have an impact in our lives. I believe in love. I believe in Santa Claus. I believe in fairy tales. In this way, belief is about hope. A faith in things unseen.
There’s still another definition and it has to do with the core of who we are, with our true nature.
Have you ever said to someone else, “I believe in you.”?
Or has someone else said that to you? “I believe in you.”
It’s a powerful thing to say and it’s a powerful thing to hear someone saying it to you.
“I believe in you.”
When someone says that to us, we are filled with confidence and feel connected to the person who says it. We don’t feel alone anymore. We feel a part of something. We belong because someone sees us. Someone has taken the time to know us and, although they cannot know the full truth of our heart the way we can, they are telling us that they trust us to bring forth that truth because God’s spirit is with us.
Aside from the words, “I love you.” the words, “I believe in you.” might be the most important we could ever hear from another.
What are we saying when we say, “I believe in you.”?
It’s more than trust or a conviction that there is a capacity to get something done. We are saying we believe in who they are as belovedness incarnate. We are recognizing their true nature and asserting their inherent magnificence. So, we’re recognizing God’s Glory as manifest in this beautiful person in front of us, affirming this person as a beloved child of God and their own deep connection to God’s Wisdom. It’s similar to the Hindu greeting, “Namaste”, which roughly translated means “The Divine in me honors the Divine in you.”
It’s a way of praising God and the Wisdom of God manifesting in this child of God. When we say to someone, “I believe in you,” it’s a reminder to them that they are holy and beautifully made and beloved. That they are capable of bringing forth God’s Wisdom of Love so they can think and move in this world from a place of their own goodness and their own wholeness while recognizing the goodness and wholeness of others.
If this is what belief does, then unbelief has an opposite effect on us. Unbelief sometimes comes in the forms of skepticism, cynicism, or playing the devil’s advocate.
It masquerades as wisdom but, as comedian Stephen Colbert says, it’s really just a “self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world…” It’s a self-protection or control mechanism that actually renders us incapable and causes others to doubt themselves, as if the rug has been pulled out from under them. When someone experiences this often enough, when the people they love continuously demonstrate unbelief in them, they become anxious, without a sense of agency in the world.
There is a now-famous study of how words have an impact on us. Dr. Masaru Emoto took photos of molecules of water from various places, clean rivers and polluted rivers, water exposed to different kinds of music, and water exposed to different words. He discovered an enormous difference between the effect of loving words and hateful words on water molecules. And considering our body is over 80% water, it stands to reason that these same words and thoughts have a physical effect on us as well as the mental and emotional effect we know they have. You can view of video of him talking about it here.
For Jesus, in today’s Gospel, the cynicism and the gossip and the unbelief of the people around him prevented even him from performing deeds of power. They could not believe that God’s spirit was with him, could not believe in the truth of who he was. And so, they missed out on his wisdom and his ministry. They missed out on saying yes to learning something and becoming something new. They missed out on experiencing God’s presence among them.
When Holy Wisdom speaks, I think it’s sometimes hard to hear because it doesn’t conform with our preconceptions of the world. We are so used to being disappointed that we say no before we even allow ourselves to consider something.
But Holy Wisdom shows us a new path, a new way, if we let it. And this way reminds us of Love’s very real presence – inside of us, and inside of others. And if we believe that Love is there, then we can believe in its power to speak its wisdom into the world. Holy Wisdom is an invitation to say yes.
Love can become the center of everything a person does if we cultivate it, if we believe in it, and if we nourish it with words of support. Which is to say, if we believe in one another, with love we can do anything and anything can be done in Love. Because it is from Love that true Wisdom flows.
Richard Rohr offers this about the importance of Love: If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. Thus, for example, justice without love is legalism; faith without love is ideology; hope without love is self-centerdness; forgiveness without love is self-abasement; fortitude without love is recklessness; generosity without love is extravagance; care without love is mere duty; fidelity without love is servitude. Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated or informed by love.
So, in keeping with Rohr’s conception, I say that wisdom without love is cynicism. It’s unbelief. But wisdom born of Love is Holy Wisdom, true wisdom. A response of yes to the becoming of another person.
Whether that comes from parent to child, like Sheriff Andy Taylor to his young son Opie, or it comes from one friend to another here as members of St. John’s.
Let us love one another as Christ loved us. Let us practice believing in one another.