St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401

Sermons

  • Wisdom and Love – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    August 15, 2021

    We start our readings today with the death of David and the beginning of Solomon’s reign.  And the first thing the scripture tells us about Solomon is that he prayed.  He boldly submitted himself to God and when God tempted Solomon by offering him anything he wanted, Solomon asked for Wisdom, for discernment. He recognized himself, first, as a servant of God.  Not a king of God’s people.  And Solomon has become known in the Christian tradition for his wisdom.

    Last week Jesus reminded us that worldly bread will only sustain us but so long.  It will not save us. But with the bread of life, with love, we will never go hungry.  It is love that will save us, not our worldly striving.  This love demonstrated to us by Jesus, memorialized for us in our Eucharistic meal.  The theme reappears this week, helping us to understand another aspect of the bread of life, another aspect of Love, and that is Wisdom.

    Wisdom is what enables us to see more deeply into the mystery of Christ.  Wisdom is what we are given when we realize that, like our worldly striving for gain, our knowing and our certainty only get us so far.  Wisdom is what comes when we become willing to open ourselves to something more than the facts as they present themselves.  Most importantly, Wisdom is what fills us up, when our judgment of how the world should be is released from our frightened grasp.

    I spoke last week about resentment and how, when we hold on to hurts and disappointments, we can begin to see the world only through that lens, which causes us to claim the right to act out – blaming others, becoming aggressive or passive-aggressive, or withdrawing ourselves completely.  This blocks us from receiving true wisdom.  But when we are able to let go of our resentments, Wisdom is given.  When we let go our own opinions, and discriminations, and certainties about the world, God’s voice of Wisdom whispers to the ears of our hearts.

    What are the things of which we are so certain, so convinced, we find we are unwilling to lay down our opinion?  Our concept?  Our self-righteousness?  What are the things for which we carry such a deep conviction, that we find ourselves unwilling to open to a new possibility?

    If we think about it, “religious people” have done a great deal of damage in the world and perpetrated much hate in the name of God, mostly because they refuse to believe that God would act in a way that goes counter to their own per-conceived notion.

    People were once certain that the world was flat.  People were once certain that women were not designed to work outside the home, especially in leadership positions or in jobs that required math and science skills.  And European people were once certain that people who were indigenous to the continents of Africa and the Americas were not human beings.  All of these certainties were once perpetrated by so-called religious institutions.  And, as our own Presiding Bishop has reminded us, if it’s not about Love, it’s not about God.

    Love is curious, not certain.  Love is compassionate.  Love is merciful.  Love is kind.  Love is expansive.  Love is non-judgmental.  Love is fearless.

    So, how do we know that the things of which we are certain now, are really things we should be certain about?  And how much richer might our life be if we opened ourselves to other possibilities?

    This is what Wisdom is about.  Wisdom is Love for God’s creation that begs us to see it more fully and come to know it more deeply.  Wisdom is the increasing ability to see through God’s eyes.  In other words, Wisdom is being able to perceive with our heart so that we are able to better discern what we are called to do… not what others are called to do… what we are called to do.

    John’s Gospel today is talking about Wisdom by using the Jewish leadership as a foil in the story, by depicting the Jewish leadership as foolish, saying “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  As Christians, who have practiced participating in the sacrament of Eucharist for centuries, we’ve come to understand these passages from John’s Gospel through the lens of the Table we come to every week.

    Our Eucharistic meal starts with reminding us of God’s presence:  The Lord be with you…
    And we are reminded to lift up our hearts to God…
    Why?  What are we being asked to do by lifting our hearts to God?

    Last week, I quoted a sermon from St. Augustine, who invited people to the Eucharist and I think it bears repeating:

    Wheat Fields with Arles in the Background (1888) by Vincent van Gogh

    What you see on God’s altar… is simply bread and a cup – this is the information your eyes report. But your faith demands far subtler insight… So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: “You are the body of Christ, member for member.” [1 Cor. 12.27]  If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table!

     It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ”, you reply “Amen.”… Therefore, behold who you are; become what you receive.

    As Augustine tells us, we’re not talking about what our eyes perceive in the Eucharist.  We’re talking about what our heart perceives.  We’re being asked to lift our hearts to God as a way of offering them to God, asking, as Solomon did, for Wisdom to come and whisper to us who we are called to become.

    The Eucharistic meal is a meal of love.  We receive what has been offered in this memorial of Jesus’ loving act – we receive divine Love incarnate.  We receive mercy, hope, and freedom from the things that bind us.  So that we can learn to offer mercy, hope, and freedom from the things that bind others.  We receive peace so that we can learn to offer peace.  We receive compassion so that we can learn to offer compassion.

    As we practice this, we come to new understandings, about ourselves and about others.  We learn more about how God acts in the world, which is through us, and we become more and more willing to do God’s Will.  Over time, we learn how to perceive with our hearts and Wisdom starts to whisper her insight and we start to change.  Perhaps, we find, that our hearts start to open more and more.

    And even if we’ve been at this Table nearly every week for our whole lives and even if our life has been a long one, we find that we are still humbled at this Table.  Asked over and over to open our hearts, to learn more deeply about our own mystery as the Body of Christ called to be broken open to serve God’s creation.

    The question we begin to ask ourselves when we leave worship becomes less whether we got what we felt we needed, but whether or not we see with a more loving heart.  Sometimes these are the same things.  And sometimes we realize that Love is not as comforting as we’d hoped, but is more challenging us to expand our understanding in some way, to include more people, to love more deeply.

    How does this happen in the Eucharist?  Because all are welcome.  Every person is welcome and every part of us is welcome.  Because all are beloved.  We may harbor some shame about ourselves, something we want to hide, but God loves all.  Period.  If we can learn to accept that we are fully loved, if we can hear true Wisdom speaking to us, we become able to accept that all are fully loved.

    And the question becomes, how are we called to act in response to this? What is Wisdom speaking to you in your heart today?

    We behold who we are in the Eucharist so that we may become what we receive.